When You Feel Hard-Hearted by Steve Bezner

But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first.—Revelation 2:4

The world feels harder these days.

I don’t use the word “harder” in the sense of more difficult, although you could certainly make that argument. I use “harder” to mean cynical, grizzled, and suspicious. We are, on the whole, meaner these days—hardened by two years of pandemic living, partisan division, and plain old weariness.

Criticism is more biting than before. Anger is nearer to the surface than before.

Sadly, these qualities are not only found “out there.” They are also in the church. We aren’t immune to the anger. When you simmer in a stew of anger, your blood begins to boil, as well.

While teaching through Revelation, I was reminded of how to best cool our anger and to revive our hearts. We must love Jesus—first and foremost. Jesus told the believers in Ephesus quite simply: “I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first.”

They used to love him. And now they don’t.

First love—at least in my mind—is defined by two qualities: passion and position.

Passion is the emotion that marks a first love. It will drive us to do without sleep, to embark on ridiculous quests, to rearrange our schedules, to even wear neckties. When I first met my wife, I would do whatever it took to demonstrate my affection and devotion. On Valentine’s Day I awoke before sunrise and made breakfast for her and her roommates—and then served each of them breakfast in bed. When I wanted to propose, I saved every penny possible to purchase an engagement ring. I did whatever I could to be with her and to show her my love—because I had passion.

Many of us once had a passion for Jesus that has long since waned. We used to sing worship songs at all hours. We used to pray in the dark hours of the quiet morning. We used to study the Scriptures to understand the very character of our God. We would serve in church. We would do whatever we could to stoke the flame in our hearts until our desire for God burned with a white-hot passion.

But, over time, such passion cools. Just like with my wife, love grows and passions adjust. There is no doubt that I love my wife, but I also enjoy having a regular sleep schedule these days.

That’s why position matters. Even when passion might fade, first love stays in the top position. If I suddenly began elevating the needs of our dachshunds over those of my wife, that would be a problem. If I only did what our sons asked and ignored the requests of my wife, that would also be a problem. I love my sons very much. And, yes, I have an embarrassing amount of affection for my tiny German dogs. But yet, my love for my wife is the love in first place in my house.

Occasionally, however, even those of us who have been married for 22 years have moments where the passion returns. We will take a trip for just the two of us. Or we will have a date night. Or something will happen—and some of those old feelings bubble up in the best of ways, and we can eschew sleep and responsibility once again.

When you maintain loves in the right position, passion may not be constant, but it can return to remind you.

I fear many of us have relegated Jesus to a lower position. Perhaps it was the weariness induced by COVID. Perhaps we got tired of arguing. Maybe our own life circumstances roughed us up. But somewhere along the way, other things became more important and, as a result, we have no passion for Jesus—at all. And, as a result, we’re certainly a harder person than we used to be.

Jesus tells those who want to restore him to first love status to do two things: Remember and repent.

First, remember the love you used to have. Remember the way you felt when you first understood the gospel. Remember how you were amazed at God’s grace. Remember the reality of God saving you from condemnation. Remember the the goodness of God and all that initially entailed. Remember the things you did when you first discovered the goodness of God.

And then repent. Do the things you used to do, Jesus says. Go back to doing those. When you love me like you used to, worship like you used to, serve like you used to—then you’ll find things changing. Your heart will become tender.

Your passion will rekindle once you restore Jesus to his correct position. And that is something you can change with action.

By way of confession: I found myself growing harder of heart in the last two years at various moments. And, in those moments, I also noticed Jesus was not in first place in my heart.

The world is so cynical and hard these days, you might think loving Jesus is the last thing we need. It might seem like a sign of weakness. To the contrary, I am convinced that those of us most committed to love are the ones most committed to the idea of what it means to truly be human. You can only change others when you love them first. I have seen it time and again. And—for me—I love others best when I am loving Jesus most.

Here’s to loving Jesus again.