The Return to Our First Love
by Dana Candler
Largely adapted from First Love: Keeping Passion for Jesus in a World Growing Cold
When the Lord awakened my heart to see His beauty and affection in a new way, I experienced a simultaneous awakening of hunger for Him—stronger than I’d ever known before. The wide-open invitation to press into the Word of God and discover the inexhaustible pleasures of knowing Him compelled me like nothing ever had in my life. I remember biblical prayers so new to me pouring out from my heart with the warmth of fresh faith and newborn desires for their fulfillment. One of these prayers was the cry of Paul “to comprehend . . . the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge, that [I] may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18–19). What did that mean? What did that look like? What would He give to the human heart if He had His full way with it? How far would He let me go in knowing Him if He found in me no reservation or doubt but only a welcoming, faith-filled hunger and agreement? How deeply would He satisfy that cultivated desire?
Fast-forwarding a few decades, I reached a point where my heart quit working as it once did.
Somewhere in the middle of all the setbacks, the confusion, the accusations, and the discouragement that accumulated over decades, I had gradually drawn back from those early desires I possessed at first. Not knowing what had caused the subtle waning of my love and affection, I found my heart wrenched in conviction over Jesus’ insistence to keep my first love for Him. I wrestled continually over these resolute words from Revelation 2 that revealed Jesus’ adamancy that I would not only love Him in the general sense but love Him perpetually with the same quality of love I possessed at first. As I set my heart to respond, repent, and return to Him in this, the first thing the Lord did was to fan the flame of those first desires by stirring the early achings and thirsts in me once again.
First Love Is First Desire
First love for Jesus begins when the God-given tasting of His beauty and worth awakens a holy desire in us that refuses to be comforted except with God Himself. New, holy longings born of the Spirit of God lay hold of us, and we begin to groan and ache for more of Him until our aching is met with His fullness. These yearnings are not neutral. They alter the course of our lives and change our trajectories because they get to the bottom of our affections.
When Jesus calls us, as He did the church in Ephesus, to return to our first love for Him, He is
calling us to return to our first longing and desire for Him—to induce that thirst again. He
reminds us that the deep aching we had for Him in the beginning was not of our own making but His hand upon us. He has not forgotten or altered His purpose to answer and fulfill the longing He has marked us with. When He wants to draw us after Himself, this is the ache that He pulls upon. He calls our name and beckons us back to those tender affections. He goes back to that first thirst and stirs it, causing us to pant after Him again.
Fervent, holy desires are inextricable to our love for Jesus. They are part of our first love for Him and are never meant to be abandoned or drawn back from. They are inextricable aspects of the ultimate love the Lord is establishing in us to be kept and cultivated into full maturity and intensity. Love and longing are so closely tied that the minute you divide them, you’ve lost the essence of both. Love is not true love without desire arising from it, and desire is not true desire except that it proceeds from love. Thus, to love Jesus is to long for Him.
Longing and desire are the painful parts of love. They are the sides of love that hurt in delay,
that ache and refuse to forget the more that Jesus has for us, unsatisfied with anything less. Our longing for Jesus always proclaims, “He is so beautiful that everything I have tasted of Him is not enough.” Our longing gives testimony to both how we have found Him to be the source of all satisfaction and how we have not been fully answered until the glorious future day when our faith in Jesus is finally made sight and our hope is fully realized. To love Him in this way is not always comfortable, but to love Him in a way devoid of aching is not love.
Longing for Jesus is sweet and welcomed by us in the beginning yet often much more difficult as the years go by and we experience setbacks in our lives. When delays come and confusion knocks on the door, we are prone to wall up our hearts from the vulnerability of the achings for God we had at first. The fires and obstacles we face in our lives can strike us as His denial when we don’t yet fully comprehend the holy origins of our hunger and when we don’t yet see how jealous He is to answer them. Awakened by His hand, these desires are central to our glorious future, serving as the beginnings of where the entire journey is aimed.
What we easily forget and need reminding of—what my own heart needed a shift of perspective on—is that the delays we experience along the way are not God’s denial of our prayers. Rather, they serve as preparatory agents to ready us for the answer to our cries to know Him and to walk in friendship with Him. Though there be a sting in the aching, He wants us to return to this vulnerable yearning as part of our love for Him. He wants us to press through the delays we experience, still believing, still desiring, and still longing for His fullness with an open heart.
Mature Love for Jesus Means Desire at Full Capacity
Before Jesus’ return, the Body of Christ will know Him as their Bridegroom and identify themselves corporately as His Bride, fully embodying the qualities of first love with desire and longing for the Son of God in full maturity. A betrothed bride is the quintessential picture of first love, and the biblical testimony attests to the aim of God’s leadership in our lives to bring forth and establish such love in us. The finale of this age is a great wedding as the pure and spotless Bride, the Church, is prepared and made ready for the wedding supper of the Lamb.
With joy and exultation that have been pent up in long, anticipation-filled waiting and groaning for all the ages, finally, with one voice, we will cry out in glorious proclamation:
Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. . . .
Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb! (Revelation 19:6–9)
The first commandment expressed in maturity—to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength—is also to desire at full capacity. Full love must be undergirded by full desire. We want Jesus with all our being and with all of our affections. This is what we see at the end of the story as Jesus brings His Church into fully mature love—knowing and comprehending the height, width, depth, and length of His love—and made ready to be presented to Him, glorious and without blemish (Ephesians 3:16, 18–19; 5:27).
Out of the substance of true relational knowledge of Jesus will arise a lovesick, all-consuming, unified, desirous cry. This isn’t an uninformed desire. This isn’t a cry for only some aspects of Jesus. The corporate song of the Bride of Christ will be: “He is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend” (Song of Solomon 5:16). And out of every tribe and nation will come forth this comprehensive calling out for Jesus to return, an eruption of holy longing and agreement with the Lord (Revelation 22:17). This is Jesus’ inheritance: a lovesick Bride—a yearning Church. He has set His heart upon it, prophesied it, and jealously works within our hearts by His Spirit to bring it forth (Matthew 9:15).
It is with the full weight of this future that Jesus’ appeal to return to first love comes—a call increasingly poignant as this present age comes to a close. If we have never known such holy awakenings, He calls us to come to Him, to drink and be satisfied that our souls would live—to find His love better than every other pleasure (Song of Solomon 1:2; Isaiah 55:1–3). Jesus beckons His Church, individually and corporately. He calls as the Bridegroom with the heart and message He has always faithfully conveyed: He wants love and desire at the center of our relationship with Him, and He refuses that love to grow cold (Matthew 22:37; 24:12).
Does your love for Jesus need a refreshing? What steps can you take?
If you need fresh inspiration to love Jesus first, we invite you to RETURN, a conference dedicated to returning to our first love and seeking the Lord’s wisdom for the days ahead. This event is available in person and online, and content is already being released. Join us now through September in Kansas City and around the world. Register now >>