Every relationship is different, some last a lifetime and keep getting stronger and stronger and others go through some very sticky patches and many sadly fail.

When we  study how relationships often work we can recognise some similarities and differences with our own relationships and friendships with others and in particular our relationship with God. Learning from observation of others can help us make our relationships better.

As you are reading this I encourage you to think about relationships and friendships that you have, also think about  ones that you have observed. Every relationship is unique and of course they are often very complex.  There is usually more going on in a relationship than we see, and the reasons for relationship challenges are often hard to unpick.  However, I hope that as we do some reflecting and observing there are some general principles that we can all recognise.

The early stages

When a young couple meet and fall in love they are often full of confidence that their love will last forever. They usually want to be together all the time and when they are apart their heart pines for the other one. When you engaged in conversation with them you’ll find that they are usually wanting to talk about the one that they love. Somehow every conversation comes back to the same topic!

The Middle stages

As time goes on and life gets busy and perhaps children come along or job demands gets more intense. In this stage the relationship can often become more functional. Each person is hopefully still a great helpers to the other one and hopefully they deeply appreciate one another.  But in the busyness of this stage many struggle to have enough time to work and nurture  their relationship.

The Mature stages

When children leave home or when retirement comes  relationships often go one of two ways. Sometimes one,or both partners, discover that there is no longer much in common as distance has grown over the years and they choose to go the separate ways.

Or they make the decision to work at their relationship and often they rediscover their first love. Once more they love to be close to each other, they enjoy doing the ordinary things of life with their friend or partner, they talk about each other all the time when they are with others.  Now in this mature stage they also have a lifetime of experience of faithfulness and love. So the love they have is actually much deeper and richer.

How do these patterns impact our faith?

What is true of romantic relationships can also be true friendships and in particular it can be true of our friendship with God.

If you have been a Christian for a little while there is a real danger that in the busyness of life, prayer becomes a rather functional experience. Prayers like “God please help me with…..” make up a majority of our prayer. Such prayers are fine but they should never be the only type of prayers we make. In our times with God we also always need to be praying for the needs of others and  developing a relationship of trust adoration and love. In our times with God we should be  learning to know him more, trust him more and enjoy him more.

It can be that we are  so busy just living life or so busy “serving the Lord” that we don’t take the time to just be with him. It is possible to be going through the motions without having a regular daily heart to heart connection with God. This can mean that we can find that our enthusiasm for God wanes and faith and life just becomes  hard work. All our energy is taken up in simply trying to keep going.

How can we return to our first love?

In Revelation chapter 2 there is a short letter from the resurrected ascended Jesus to the church in Ephesus. This church has worked hard and done well. They have kept the faith and avoided distractions. Yet they have lost their first love.

It seems that they have been so busy doing stuff for God that they they have not focused on being with God. This is something that I know I slip into to and and many in the church also struggle with.

Good people working hard doing good things can seem like an ideal scenario. But when we have lost that first love it means that motivation is more of a challenge. Keeping going is an active determination and strong will power. And if we take time to unpick what really is keeping us going we may discover that our motivations are not as as good as we first thought.

A first step would be to come back to God and say sorry for being too busy or too distracted with other things and sorry for not making this relationship out most important relationship. Because of the cross we can know that every time we genuinely come to God like this we can receive forgiveness and a fresh start.

And when we come back to our first love then we find that we  long to just be with God. We enjoy doing ordinary things with him. We may go for a walk in the countryside chatting to him and really appreciating the things that he has made. Or our prayer time may well include much more time of adoration and enjoyment reflecting on God’s character and grace. And when we are with others and even serving volunteering in some capacity we are very much aware of God being with us and we are still keeping up communication with him. When we have rediscovered our first love we find that we want to talk about God so much more! we have a vitality and enthusiasm in our faith that isn’t worked up but it’s a natural overflow of spending time with the one who is always enthusiastic and who fills us with such love, joy, peace and power. Serving him and representing him in the world becomes an absolute privilege and delight.

In a human relationship the rediscovery of of first love requires a significant input of time. At retirement this is easy the rediscovery of first love in the middle of a busy life is much more of a challenge and requires some things to put on hold in order to create the time. In a similar way however busy your life is at the moment if you want to re-discover your first love with God there is time but it would require making some changes.

What can you stop doing in order to to give more time to be with God? How can you rearrange things in your schedule to enable extended times of being with God?

This is obviously easier for some than others but I am aware of incredibly busy people who, because they value their relationship with God so much, ensure that they still have significant personal devotional time with God.

If it has been a while since you have been up close and personal with God it may take it a little while before for the relationship feels natural and not awkward. But God is a god of love who is always keen for us to be close to him and the more consistently we spend heart-to-heart time with him the more we will want to. My experience has always been that the more time I spend with God in real connection the more I love him and the more I want to be with him. And the more often I connect with him in this way the more love flows into my life and flow through my life to others. So even when it feels like a sacrifice of time I’m happy to make it because I know that others benefit.