Can we, in the following quotes, recognize ourselves and the déjà vus manifest within nigh every Christian ministry in existence today?
There is a real point to saying that in religious matters, nothing fails like success.2Isn't the repetitious story of “Nothing fails like success” the continual lament in scripture6 where individuals, kings, leaders, and peoples cycle and recycle through the pattern of becoming distracted to other loves from an initial or renewed deep love of God and His vision? And what is the love of God?
What, then, is the general pattern? Intense devotion to God by the individual or group brings substantial outward success. Outward success brings a sense of accomplishment and a sense of responsibility for what has been achieved— and for further achievement. For onlookers the outward success is the whole thing. The sense of accomplishment and responsibility reorients vision away from God to what we are doing and are to do— usually to the applause and support of sympathetic people. The mission increasingly becomes the vision. It becomes what we are focused upon. The mission and ministry is what we spend our thoughts, feelings, and strength upon. Goals occupy the place of the vision of God in the inward life, and we find ourselves caught up in a visionless pursuit of various goals. Grinding it out. This is the point at which service to Christ replaces love for Christ. The inward reality of love for God, and absorption in what He is doing, is no longer the center of the life, and may even become despised, or at least is disregarded. “No time for that” becomes the governing attitude, no matter what we may say. The fire of God in the human soul will always look foolish to those who like its effects but do not understand where those effects come from.3
So we can summarize the process by which the mission and its goals replace the original vision as the ultimate point of reference for the people involved. Vision of God and of oneself in God inspires a combination of humility and great aspiration for God. This combination leads to remarkable efforts in dependence upon God. Great effects are achieved because God acts with efforts made in dependence upon him and for his sake. The effects take on a life of their own. Surrounding people see nothing but the effects, which indeed are very remarkable and worthy of support. Sometimes the human support may also be of God. But the effects of all this have to be carefully watched, to prevent them from corrupting the heart away from an appropriate vision of God and the humble valor flowing therefrom.4
King Solomon began well. ... He became very great (2 Chronicles 9). But to strengthen his position he formed alliances ... (1 Kings 11: 1– 6). By the time he died, he had evolved a government that was bitterly oppressive, ... It is not unreasonable to think that what really happened to Solomon was a building program.5
The love of God, and only the love of God, secures the vision of God, keeps God constantly before our mind [“that they do always remember Him”7]. Thomas Watson tells us that “the first fruit of love is the musing of the mind upon God. He who is in love, his thoughts are ever upon the object. He who loves God is ravished and transported with the contemplation of God…. God is the treasure, and where the treasure is, there is the heart.”8Wasn't displaced love the severe criticism levied against the first of the seven churches profiled in Revelation chapter two.9
UNTO the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, ... ;God acknowledged their works, their labour, their patience, their hatred of evil, their discernments, their endurance, and yet, there was a great omission with potential severe consequence: they had left their first love.
I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:
And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. (New Testament | Revelation 2:1-5)
Perhaps there is something vital for us all to learn about first works and first love from The Great Omission.
1. Willard, Dallas. The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
2. Ibid., p. 93 (bold emphasis added)
3. Ibid., p. 95-96 (bold emphasis added)
4. Ibid., p. 97
5. Ibid., p. 97-98
7. How oft do we hear these words (at least two times every Sunday?), saying amen to them, and then not really pondering thereafter about what “always” means? See Book of Mormon | Moroni, chapters 4 & 5; Doctrine and Covenants 20:75-79
8. Willard, p. 100