Making the New Year Count-Part Two


Every new year brings with it new hope. The hope that this new year is going to be better than last year. The hope that I can build on what’s good and put behind me what’s bad—that with God’s grace old things will pass away and this will be a new year of blessing and renewal. The problem is for most people, when they enter into a new year, all they do is hope that things will change. All they do is engage in wishful thinking that things will be different but they never do anything to bring about any change.

In my life I want to make this year a year that I keep the greatest commandment of them all:

Mark 12:30 (NKJV) 
‘And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first (supreme) commandment.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “Yes, that’s what I want more than anything else this year–to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength” then let’s look at how we might accomplish that together.  In our last study on this topic we looked at what it means to love God with all our heart.

I.    To Love God with All Your Heart

A.    Purpose in your heart to live a life of total obedience and commitment to God

B.    Purpose in your heart to control what comes out of your mouth

C.    Purpose in your heart to honor God with your finances

D.    Purpose in your heart to bring God into every decision

Now we want to look at the second admonition in what Jesus said was the greatest commandment of all.

II.   To Love God with All Your Soul

Whereas the heart is the seat of conviction and commitment, the soul is the seat of our emotions.  When we talk about loving God with all our soul we’re talking about having a passion for God!  All Christians love Jesus—but not all Christians are in love with Jesus?

This reminds me of the exchange that Jesus had with Peter after he had denied the Lord three times and Jesus sought to restore him to fellowship and service.

“So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.” John 21:15 (NKJV)

The Greek word that Jesus uses for love is ‘agapao’ the verb form of ‘agape.’ Agape is a word that’s usually used in the NT to speak of God’s love. A love that’s deep, fervent and unconditional. So Jesus is asking Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me, deeply, fervently and unconditionally?”

Peter said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”

Here Peter responds with the Greek word ‘phileo’ which is a word that means ‘friendship love or affection.’  So when Jesus asked Peter—“Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me, deeply, passionately and unconditionally?”

Peter responds by saying, “Yes, Lord; You know that I am fond of You.”

“He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.” John 21:16 (NKJV)

Jesus said a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me deeply, fervently and unconditionally?”

Peter responded, “Yes, Lord; You know that I am fond of You.”

“He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.” John 21:17 (NKJV)

When Jesus asked Peter the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”the Lord used the Greek word ‘phileo’.

So this time Jesus asked Peter—“Peter, are you fond of Me?”

Here Jesus comes down to Peter’s level because Peter would not rise to the Lord’s level.  It’s always a sad day when we bring the Lord down to our level, rather than rising to His level—the level of total commitment.

This is true in our human relationships. If you fall in love with someone and you desire with all of your heart to enter into a deep lifelong commitment with them (marriage) but they respond to you, “I just want to be friends” doesn’t that just crush you?

This is what many Christians say to the Lord when He wants their relationship to go all the way into the deepest of all possible commitments and they respond, “Lord, I’m fond of You–I just want us to be friends.”

It’s always sad to see Christians who, because of carnality and compromise, are satisfied to settle for a lower level of relationship with Jesus than a total full on committed relationship with Him. This also reminds me of what Jesus said to the Church of Ephesus in Revelation chapter 2.

Revelation 2:2-4 (NKJV) 
I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.

This was a church that had many good works of service and yet they had left their first love— they were going through the motions but had lost the emotion in their relationship with Jesus.  He said to them:

“I have this against you—that you no longer love Me as you did at first.”(Weymoth N.T.)

What is “first love”? It is the passionate love for Jesus that often characterizes the new believer. It is an excited, fervent, unashamed kind of love. It is the “honeymoon love” of the husband and wife. While it is true that mature married love deepens and grows richer, it is also true that it should never lose the excitement and wonder of those “honeymoon days.” The word “Ephesus” means ‘darling’ or “desired one.”

The worst thing that can happen to any relationship—whether it’s your relationship with God or your spouse is when you begin to take the other for granted and you lose that desire for each other. When that happens, even if your service to them continues it becomes meaningless. The church at Ephesus fell into the trap of thinking that loveless service was enough to please the Lord.

That would be like a wife coming to her husband and saying, “I don’t love you anymore. I have no feelings for you at all, but I’ll stay married to you. I’ll go on cleaning your clothes, cooking your meals and taking care of the house but don’t expect any closeness or emotion from me.” What husband would be happy with a relationship like that? 

I didn’t marry my wife to have someone to cook my meals and clean my house—I can hire a maid to do those things. I married her because I fell in love with her and she with me. And that makes all the acts of service she does for me special and beautiful because I know they are an expression of her love for me. 

But without the love they would be meaningless. It’s obvious that Jesus wants more than service—He wants closeness and emotion in our relationship with Him. In other words He wants some romance! When was the last time you told the Lord, “I love you” and it wasn’t tied to something you wanted from Him? It wasn’t embedded in some prayer request?

Some marriages have so degenerated that the words “I love you” are only used to get things from each other.  So, what is the solution for a relationship with Jesus that has cooled into affection rather than passion?

Jesus gives us the remedy Himself in Revelation 2:5—

Revelation 2:5 (NKJV) 
Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works…

“First love” can be restored if we follow the three instructions Jesus gave.

First, we must remember (literally “keep on remembering”) what we have lost and cultivate a desire to regain that close communion once again. Then we must repent—change our minds—and confess our sins to the Lord (1 John 1:9).  Third, we must repeat the first works.

“Yes, but what does that really mean?”  What were you doing when you were on fire for the Lord?

“I was going to church.” Go again!

“I was getting up early for morning devotions.” Do it again!

“I sang praise to the Lord as I drove down the street.” Sing again!

Remember—Repent—Repeat is the key to restoring your relationship with Jesus. You will never be passionate about God if you don’t make the effort to spend time with Him.

Someone has coined the phrase, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” and I suppose there is some truth to that on a human level. But let me say when it comes to your relationship with God absence from God only makes your heart less passionate for God. Again, you have to purpose to spend time with God—everyday in prayer and Bible study.

Remember James said, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8a)

If you will start putting in the time to draw close to Jesus He will draw close to you and you will begin to see the passion return in your relationship with Him. So purpose to start loving God with all of your soul this year. If you make small changes each day they will add up to big changes in your relationship with Him by the end of the year.

May the Lord richly bless you as you walk with Him day by day.

Pastor Phil