. . . you have abandoned the love you had at first (Revelation 2:4)
“If there’s no joy in it, it’s just no good.”
With those words Stephen King concluded a story about his son Owen, told in King’s book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. When Owen was about seven years old he discovered Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and became particularly captivated by the saxophone skills of Clarence Clemons. Owen decided he wanted to play the sax – just like Clarence. Eager to encourage his interest in music and hopeful that their son harbored a talent for the saxophone, King and his wife secured an instrument and signed Owen up for lessons.
Less than a year later King and his wife agreed that it was time to discontinue the lessons. Owen agreed too. In fact, he seemed relieved to be done with that brief musical experiment.
King explains that he knew the gig was up “not because Owen stopped practicing, but because he only practiced during the periods that his teacher had for him.” As soon as the thirty-minute practice assignment ended, the sax went back in the case and stayed there until the next assigned period. King says he never saw his son simply get caught up in the saxophone, trying something new, lingering with the instrument for the sheer joy of it.
“There was never any real play-time. It was all rehearsal.” King adds, “That’s no good – if there’s no joy in it, it’s no good.” (pp. 149-150).
A Heart Problem
There’s something about life that tends gradually and imperceptibly toward becoming “all rehearsal.” Which is to say, there are endeavors that we begin with zeal and enthusiasm only to one day discover we’re continuing with just enough energy to get by. We do what’s expected – and then the sax goes back in the case, if you will.
This kind of thing happens professionally, launching a career with dreams and vision only to later settle in to the demands of earning a paycheck. The tendency toward ‘rehearsal’ happens in marriages – and good marriages at that. Two people spend their best hours shoulder to shoulder, taking on the world, rarely pausing to linger face to face. They’re doing what needs to be done.
And the same thing happens often and easily to the life of faith. Exhibit ‘A’ in the New Testament is the church in Ephesus as described in Revelation 2:1-5.
There was much to admire in the Ephesian church. They were hard working and courageous, persevering in a difficult context, doing good things in the city. They took doctrine seriously and didn’t have much patience for posers – teachers who claimed to be apostles but were fakes. Their minds were keen to detecting false teaching.
Their actions were good and worthy, their doctrine was sound. But something was missing. They had a heart problem – abandoning the love they had at first while working hard and guarding truth.
Stephen King is right. That’s no good. If there’s no joy (or love) in it, it’s just no good.
If this sounds like your faith life – doing what needs to be done, meeting expectations, giving your best efforts to good things and believing the right things, but all without love or joy at the center of it – if this is you, there are a couple of things you need to know.
First, you are in good company. What you are experiencing is as old the New Testament church. The slow and inexorable loss of joy in God has plagued God’s people for a very long time.
Second, you don’t have to resign yourself to living that way as if ‘all rehearsal’ is the norm and joy is a fleeting, short-lived anomaly.
So how do you reclaim the love you had at first? What does it take to wake up every day and walk with God joyfully? These are important questions because in the Bible love and joy are not merely encouraged, they are commanded.
You can reclaim that love you had at first. This week we’ll be thinking about how.
Gracious God, we want our lives to be more than getting by, more than ‘all rehearsal.’ We want to live this day and every day with the love and joy we had at first. Show us how to reclaim it – and then live it in this city, we ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.