In his book “Implosion,” Joel Rosenberg writes about a speaking engagement he had on the 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He asked the audience this question: “Are you morally and spiritually better off than you were 10 years ago?”
This got me thinking. Am I spiritually better off in 2020 than I was in 2010? In 2000?
Although I was young and immature in my faith 20 years ago, I had abundant enthusiasm for spiritual things. I was like an evangelistic “Energizer Bunny,” ready to share my testimony with anyone. I absorbed the Scriptures like a sponge and made sure my concordance was always close by.
But if I’m honest, some of that abundant enthusiasm has waned over time. My spiritual fervor has stalled a bit, and my relationship with God has felt distant at times. It reminds me of the churches in the book of Revelation who are scolded for being either lukewarm (Revelation 3:16) or for forsaking their first love (Revelation 2:4).
I wonder, have I forsaken my first love? Or, have I still grown spiritually, despite the lack of intensity? And if I really am a more mature Christian, shouldn’t fervency have grown along with it?
I believe the answer is two-fold.
First, we must understand the difference between maturity and fervency. While fervency may fade, spiritual maturity can still grow. For example, even though my intensity for the things of Christ has decelerated, I believe that I am a stronger Christian today than I was in 2000.
Let’s use the example of marriage. In the beginning of every marriage, there is an intense desire to spend time with a spouse. However, that intensity fades over time, even while love for a spouse may have grown. While it may seem paradoxical, especially in this postmodern age where feelings are the measure of a good marital relationship, Christians must recognize that spiritual intimacy—over spiritual fervency—is the goal.
Second, intensity and passion should not necessarily be equated with growth.
Let’s use a tree as an example. When a tree begins to sprout it may appear as if its greatest growth occurs early, when it first sprouts from the ground. But under the ground, where the tree is less visible, and over time, growth occurs more slowly. As the tree reaches its maximum height, we don’t seem to notice the fruit that is produced or the extra branches that were added or the roots that have grown deeper to give the tree more stability.
Likewise, Christians experience a growth spurt at the very beginning of their faith journey that is so transformational and of such high intensity that it’s visible to all. Everyone sees the change. The intensity level is off the charts. Yet, like a tree, we are nowhere close to full maturity. The growth that occurs over time is less noticeable. Yet, maturity and stability are actively taking place all along.
I hope that in the last 20 years I have become more spiritually mature, even if it doesn’t feel like it, or if my faith seems less intense.
Yes, I want to love Christ as much as I did when I first came to Him. We all should want and desire that. But emotions and spiritual highs are hard to sustain. That is when we must learn to love God with our mind—not just with our heart and with our emotions.
This is such an important lesson for us all. There are so many Christians out there who feel lonely, isolated and out of sync in their walk with Christ. Their faith has grown stale, the emotional high has faded and they wonder, “What happened?”
And in order to remedy this, they may change churches to rekindle their “first” love, or they become critical of change and have a difficult time adapting to the new seasons that come their way. They may even begin to question their faith and wonder if God’s Spirit has left them.
But these feelings are a normal part of our Christian walk. We should expect them, and we should trust God in the midst of them. These challenges and crises in our faith help us build roots and grow to spiritual maturity—even when we are emotionally and mentally spent.
If your spiritual intensity has faded, it’s not wrong to try and rekindle it. We should do this. After all, going back to your first love simply means making Jesus your highest priority.
But please don’t lose faith or give up on God when the emotions fade. You may be exactly where God wants you.
Remember, most of life is lived in the valley, not on the mountaintop. And it is in the valley where God will bring us to spiritual maturity.
Eric Veal has been a member of Southeast Christian Church for 20 years.