Revive editor Del Fehsenfeld interviewed Ryan Loveing, lead revivalist on one of Life Action’s church event teams, regarding why so many believers don’t obey Jesus even though they’ve claimed Him as their Savior and Lord.
Del: The New Testament records Jesus asking His disciples an obvious question: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46 ESV). So, here we are, nearly twenty centuries later, and still many who call Jesus their Lord don’t really walk with Him, or follow Him. Ryan, in your experience preaching and counseling in hundreds of churches as a Life Action revivalist, why don’t people obey the One they call Lord?
Ryan: I believe the greatest hindrance to obedience for most believers is that we’ve failed to grow in intimacy with God. We don’t make time to grow close to Him, and we give our best efforts to other things.
If you think about it, to be human is to have limited energy and availability. We each get to decide how to use those resources, to spend ourselves on the things we believe to be most necessary or worthwhile. And let’s be honest, the majority of what most people spend their limited attention focusing on is not their connection to God.
This is why our lusts ultimately have so much power over us. We are deprived of actual intimacy with Jesus. We are not walking with Him, in His strength, totally depending on Him. Often we don’t even notice, until a major failure like looking at pornography, having an affair, losing our marriage, or having one of our children rebel reveals that something isn’t working.
Del: So our failure to obey Jesus is related to failure to grow in love for Jesus? That’s interesting, especially since Jesus gives a very similar diagnosis: “All who love me will do what I say” (John 14:23 NLT). Then why don’t we love Jesus more?
Ryan: One of the main culprits is forgetfulness. I’ve been struck by how often Jesus asked His disciples why they didn’t remember. For example, in Mark 8, Jesus asked them why the miracles of His feeding thousands of people on two separate occasions with a few loaves of bread hadn’t sunk in to their belief system.
We are exactly like that! God does miracles in our lives, but we have amnesia. Just a few days later, not only are we not grateful, we are fearful and anxious. Our eyes are on our circumstances, not on Jesus. We aren’t going to grow in love for Jesus if we don’t rehearse the incredible record of grace in our own lives.
Another reason is drift. It’s like a marriage relationship. You start out supercharged with connection to each other. Out of that intimacy comes all kinds of creative action, including children and all the work that goes with supporting a family. So if marital closeness is not intentionally renewed, all the activity that was originally birthed out of love becomes the focus, instead of the relationship itself.
I think ultimately, apart from intentionality, all relationships can drift toward isolation. Before long, we have lost our connection. It’s the same in our relationship with God. Most of us don’t crash out, we drift away.
Del: Do you struggle with any of this personally?
Ryan: Sure. My intentions are often very noble. But I’d confess that the “tyranny of the urgent” has often gotten the best of my time. And I can’t let myself believe that wanting to be close to God is the same as actually being with Him.
This process for me is very simple, but also surprisingly subtle. It’s simple because I naturally pursue those things I believe will provide worth and gratification. Many things provide immediate gratification. They have quick payoff. Food and sex and entertainment are like that. But the one that seems to get me most is the approval trap.
For example, someone comes to me for counsel, and I have the immediate gratification of being needed. That feels so good! It fills me up. Then, if I give counsel that helps them, I feel even better. Even though my desire at one level is just to be helpful, I find myself using service for self-gratification. Instead of loving God by loving people, I’m using people to prop up my sense of worth.
This is a common trap for pastors and ministry-minded laypeople. We end up serving for the wrong reasons, then get home after a long day of helping people to find ourselves totally spent. For me, I can say that at the very times my wife and children need my attention, I often find myself withdrawing. I want to be with them, as an ideal, but I haven’t allocated the energy it would take to be with them in reality.
The same thing happens with God. I have given my best energy to others and found satisfaction in other places, and I don’t have anything left. Not only have I used people and situations, I am progressively growing more disconnected from God when I operate this way.
Del: What would be the alternative?
Ryan: Love is not simply avoiding the things we shouldn’t do; it is doing the things we should do. It’s like going to my wife and saying, “You ought to love me because I haven’t cheated on you. I haven’t emotionally or physically abused you.” But none of us would say that is enough!
What about the positive aspects of love: praying with her and for her, communicating with her, sharing in the things she loves? Not doing things that betray intimacy does not mean I have pursued intimacy.
We can do the same thing with God: “God, I haven’t robbed a bank, I haven’t broken the Ten Commandments (lately), I go to church, I give You money, and I try to help people a lot. So, God, that means I deserve the benefits of intimacy!” But just like your spouse, God wants more. He wants a relationship with you.
Del: So it’s possible to expend lots of energy in doing right things, but not be interested in God?
Ryan: Of course! That’s why it’s such an easy mistake to make. Let’s compare the dynamic to marriage again. I don’t mean to be coarse, but it’s common for a man to be very focused on the “high” of having sex with his wife. But if his goal becomes more about that than an actual relationship with his wife, the whole activity becomes self-focused. In fact, it’s possible to have sex and not really be interested in your spouse. This is a short-cut to intimacy that is interested in the benefits, not the relationship.
Or consider the wife who finds her joy in her children or the security that marriage provides, and substitutes that for relational closeness with her husband. It’s the same thing—the importance of marital closeness has become secondary to the benefits that come out of the marriage. The marriage has become primarily a means to an end.
It can work the same way in our relationship with God. We feel we are working pretty hard to be good. We’re not out there doing whatever we want and abandoning self-restraint like many of our friends or neighbors. We’re going to church and even serving in different programs. Surely God understands and will give us the benefits.
But are we truly interested in God? Do we genuinely love Him, or do we simply expect to use what He provides? Are we using God for our own ends?
Revival in our relationship with God is an interaction of love. It doesn’t just mean we stop doing sinful things. It is renewed pursuit of friendship with God. It is delighting in God, meditating on His words, confessing and aligning our lives with what He loves. It is endeavoring to walk with Him in His righteousness.
Del: What can we do if we realize we love other things more than God?
Ryan: If we strip everything down to the essence of the issue, God doesn’t want our sacrifices; He wants us. The “sacrifices” make us feel good and can be used to differentiate us from others who aren’t doing as much. But God couldn’t care less, if He doesn’t have our love.
I remind myself constantly that although I live in a trailer and raise my children on the road in order to minister in churches across America, I can easily do what I do in order to be filled by the gratification of people’s praise or my own sense of doing something worthwhile, but care little about an interactive, close relationship with God.
For me, fasting has been a great aid to cut through all the illusions and help me repent. Food is what most of us run to for comfort, but fasting could also include anything else we turn to for satisfaction. When we fast, we put food—or whatever allures us—aside for a period of time.
This is an effective way to help us experience that these things aren’t necessary for satisfaction. It makes room to find out that the Lord Himself will meet our needs. I am grateful for this practice that opens me to God’s power to change my core beliefs about what can satisfy.
Del: It seems clear from statistical data that there are growing numbers of people who don’t want to associate with religion at all; at least, this is a trend in North America. Further, “cultural Christians” seem to be abandoning ship. Are you worried about this trend?
Ryan: I actually think this is a good thing. Christianity has been widely reduced to gathering to receive information about God once a week. We are throwing Bible verses at deep-rooted issues that have absolutely capsized lives and our culture. If we have to have a winnowing or paring down of the church to re-evaluate and return to a more rigorous core of Christians—believers who are totally abandoned to God and who will do anything it takes to develop intimacy with Him—then let it be.
I am not discouraged. I am meeting more and more people who are looking desperately for more than their current Christian experience provides. This encourages me, because hunger and thirst prepare people for radical and real relationship with God.
That’s what Jesus told us it would take. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6). Desperation is an essential part of change and revival.
Del Fehsenfeld III and Ryan Loveing have both traveled across North America sharing the call to spiritual renewal and revival, and today they serve on Life Action’s leadership team. To learn more about them and the wider ministry team, and to learn how Ryan or other Life Action revivalists could visit and challenge your church, visit LifeAction.org.
Taken from “Follow,” Revive magazine, Volume 47, Issue 2, p. 10.