I guess I’ve gotten a bit comfortable… ok, maybe LAZY is a more accurate term for it. As games and consoles have advanced in complexity and capability, I have gotten accustomed to the function of the auto-save. You know… that little indicator in the corner of the screen that gently reminds me that the system is saving my current progress. In all of my modern games this is typically done for me… I can simply sit back, enjoy the game, and at various points along the way the game insures that if I get up and walk away, it will start the action in the closest possible proximity to where I decided to take a little break. It was a perfect relationship… I got to enjoy immersing myself fully in the game, and the game did its’ part to insure my experience remained focused on the fun instead of digging around in the menus. Everything was working out GREAT… until the other day, when it didn’t.
I saw a game pop up on Microsoft’s Game Pass service that I remembered being a lot of fun… an older game that I couldn’t recall if I had ever finished. Specifically, Katamari Damacy. I downloaded it, played a few levels, and then turned my console off and went about my “adulting” priorities for the day. The next day I had a little down time and decided to play another level or two, so I booted it up and rolled my Katamari around for a few more minutes… and the whole time I was thinking this felt VERY familiar. Granted, it is a fairly repetitive game, but this was RIDICULOUSLY repetitive. It felt like I was doing the EXACT same thing. I shrugged it off, knocked out several levels, and went back to my normal life activities. A few days later I picked it back up again, and as I booted up the game I saw that my previous progress wasn’t there AGAIN. The horrifying realization of what I had done began to slowly wash over me… this game did NOT feature an auto-save.
There wasn’t anything wrong with the game…as an older video game, this feature simply wasn’t present when it was originally designed. As the player, I was expected to manually save my game prior to exiting if I wanted to continue where I had left off. I was personally responsible for maintaining the status of my game save, and because of my foolish assumption that all of my hard work and achievements in the game were translating to “saved” progress, I found myself back at the beginning of the game each and every time I booted it up. The funny thing is when I first started playing video games I had a VERY different view of my game saves. When the concept of “saving my game” was originally introduced I would save my game, double-check to make sure it was actually there, and then maybe save it one more time JUST to be on the safe side. The last thing I wanted was for all of my hard work infiltrating Shadow Moses in Metal Gear Solid to simply disappear, or to find that the auto-save in Elder Scrolls Oblivion landed me in the wrong place. But over time I stopped manually saving because none of my games needed me to do that anymore. I stopped checking to make sure my game had saved properly. I just relaxed, played games however and whenever they suited me, walked away from them when I felt like it… I just started taking the whole process of my “game save” for granted.
The bigger problem is that this behavior can exist in our spiritual lives as well… enjoying our “saved” state to the point that we take the reality of being in a relationship with God for granted. I know… that is a tough sentence to read. It was tough for me to write. But if I am being honest with myself, there can be entire days where I go through the motions of serving the Lord, but lack any actual CONNECTION to Him within the process. Sure, I may say a few prayers during the course of the day, read a few verses from the Bible and reflect on them, and maybe even do some work on His behalf… but the whole time that I think I am making “progress”, I am just stacking up empty achievements without growing closer to Him through these actions. I walk away feeling like I have accomplished something, but in reality each time I return to Him our relationship is in the exact same place… the original game save is still there, but I haven’t actually PROGRESSED in my relationship with Him.
In the book of Revelation we find an entire church experiencing a similar issue… the church at Ephesus. Let’s take a look at what Christ has to say about them, and most importantly what He wanted them to DO about it…
Revelation 2:1-5 “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: “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. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.
You know, the first few verses there sound pretty fantastic. This is a church that seems to be doing all the right things… they were doing the work of the Lord, living above the sinful temptations that were afflicting the other churches around them, and they were even rejecting the false teachings that were circulating throughout the body of Christ at that time. But all of their hard work, obedience, and faithfulness was about to run into a a brick wall…look at this one more time.
Revelation 2:4 Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.
The Greek word used for “first” in this sentence is prótos, a prefix we still use in the English language in words such as “prototype” or “protoword”… it is referring to the original, or what existed at the beginning. When babies babble we call those “protowords”… they are the infant’s first attempts at vocalizing. And while they typically start off as non-sensical gibberish, they are often the nearest and dearest sounds to our hearts. A “prototype” is the very first existence of an object… the first working model or an original mold that will be used for all future versions of an item before it hits mass production.
When we first turned to Christ in desperation to save us and remove the burden of sin we were carrying, that love we felt was pure, joyful, and undeniable. The Lord permeated our thoughts as we thanked Him repeatedly for His favor in our lives, we eagerly pursued Him as a trusting child takes their first steps towards their parent, and we were all probably guilty on incoherently babbling about how He saved us to whoever we came into contact with. But if we aren’t careful, we can slowly start to build a false sense of self-sufficiency… and if this goes unchecked, we can become guilty of taking this precious gift of access to our Creator completely for granted. We may not be complacent in our actions… we may be doing all the right things, rejecting what is unhealthy, and performing the work of the Lord. But we can easily become complacent in our RELATIONSHIP with Him, mistaking our faithful service or consistent output for spiritual growth. And as a result, just like in my Katamari Damacy game, we may FEEL like we are making a large amount of progress only to find that the most important part has been neglected because we took it for granted.
Performance does not equal progress… in a believer’s life the real growth often happens beneath the surface, just as Christ demonstrated in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-8). Rapid growth, a focus on measurable results, or simply hitting a comfortable “plateau” can easily blind us to the lack of roots being consistently grown under the ground… roots that are critical to the symbiotic relationship between the plant that exists both above AND below the ground with the soil that sustains it and gives it life. Like my auto-save assumption within my game, our connection to the Lord is not going to grow on its’ own… and all the hard work we do for Him and His kingdom, all the good choices we make, and all the bad decisions we avoid are NOT a replacement for intentionally seeking Him out and spending time with Him.
Our original “game save” with Him was not the end of the journey… it was the BEGINNING. The excitement we originally felt when He saved us was not because of all the achievements we thought were going to unlock… it was because we felt the eyes of our Creator fixated fully and completely on us as His all-encompassing love washed away every one of our sins. He is still looking at each of us the SAME WAY He did on day one of our relationship with Him… and He wants us to return to that “first love”. That “proto” love that exists when a small toddler takes those first steps in faith towards their parent’s outstretched arms. All relationships grow and mature… and our relationship with the Father is no different. Just as my Katamari Damacy experience required me to stop playing the game and intentionally take the time to save it, the Lord is seeking us to stop what we are doing FOR Him and spend time WITH Him. It is easy to take our relationship with Him for granted and lose ourselves in the busy-ness of this “game of life”… let’s press pause today and get back to that “first love” feeling with the One who loved us first (1 John 4:19), loved us deepest (Ephesians 3:18-19), and will continue to love us with that same everlasting love through eternity and beyond (Jeremiah 31:3).
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