Saturday, October 27, 2012
As we face our own fears, there is often a sense of unrest rooted in the fear that God will measure us by our standards rather than by His, and that we will be judged unworthy of His affections. While these feelings may rightfully accompany true conviction and repentance, all too often they are simply the recurrent accusations of the enemy and of our own minds, passing judgment on ourselves based on the faulty assumption that God has done so, too.
What is almost impossible for us to understand (indeed, it requires the ministry of the Holy Spirit!) is that His assessment is based on totally different information from what we see. He is gazing upon a Bride who is fully formed, whose life is hidden in the life of His Son at the Father’s right hand, and who therefore can embrace with total confidence the character we already have been given. We, like any child growing up into the identity made certain by his or her heritage, are becoming who we are.
In the aftermath of the Shulamite’s hesitancy to follow the king, she experiences this kind of restlessness, the fear that she has lost the One her heart desires:
By night on my bed I sought the one I love; I sought him, but I did not find him.
I will seek the one I love." I sought him, but I did not find him.
When my own passion for intimacy with Jesus was being birthed, there came such a crisis moment. My soul was awakening to His wooing, and I had begun to ask the Holy Spirit to increase my sense of longing for the presence of the Lord. I continued in this mode for some days, until early one morning I had a profound and powerful encounter with the Spirit of God. It was as though He decided, in a quite literal way, to take me up on my request for a greater sense of longing.
In that hour-long confrontation (my wife awoke to the sounds of my anguish and knew it was the Lord, but feared I was having a heart attack!), I began to feel an overwhelming sense of desire, an experience that was not wholly positive. I had been asking for a longing to know the Lord, but wrapped in that awakening desire were the memories of all the disappointments and anguish associated with unfulfilled dreams and deferred hope. My heart was sick in a more desperate way than I had been able to express, and in this moment the Spirit of God was inviting me to dance upon the waves of those fears and disappointments. And I said “No.”
It was too frightening to go there. I couldn’t bear the thought of facing all that “stuff,” so I did what the Shulamite did, what Peter did. I looked at the mountains of difficulties instead of at the strength of the King, and said, “You go ahead. I’ll be along some other time.” In the days immediately following that decision, His presence withdrew (or was it I who cowered away?), and I could not find that sweet voice anywhere.
(to be continued in the next post)
Sunday, July 29, 2012
In our previous post, the King has invited the Shulamite to come out of her comfort zone and join Him in the adventure of maturity and spiritual warfare. But she can’t do it. Her fears are too strong, and in the first real crisis of the Song, the Shulamite declines his invitation:
Until the day breaks and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved,
and be like a gazelle or a young stag upon the mountains of Bether. Song 2:17
Turn, my Beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag … . In effect, the Shulamite is saying “Go, my Friend, and do what you do. I am unable to come, but I will delight in your power and majesty.” This is the first crisis of faith, and the first point at which the Shulamite must face her own failure to experience the life she longs to live. Restoration will come later, but for now she experiences a time of defeat.
I believe a powerful story in the Gospel of Matthew corresponds directly to this prophetic scene. In chapter 14, the disciples are trying to cross the Sea of Galilee in a raging storm in the middle of the night. In a stunning fulfillment of the Song of Solomon allegory, Jesus, a real flesh-and-blood Man, comes walking on top of the stormy seas. What’s more, He invites Peter to come and join Him. I wish I could communicate the sense of majesty I am feeling as I write this. We have read this story so often and interpreted it (appropriately) in a spiritual sense, but it really happened! Jesus was really out there, dancing on the waves. It was impossible, but it happened! And then Peter really said, in time and space, during the fourth watch of the night (between 3:00 and 6:00 a.m.), “Call me out there with You, if it’s really You!”
Jesus loves Peter’s request, and answers him without hesitation: Come! Imagine the scream in Peter’s heart. “OH NO! He’s calling my bluff!” We can hardly imagine the moment. But he went for it. He dared, if only for a moment, to dance upon his fears, and the Bridegroom’s heart was thrilled. Even though Peter lost his focus, even though he began to sink, the Lord was there, and that’s the whole point! When the King invites us to come, we can presume upon His power to save. The subsequent statement about “little faith” is not so much a rebuke as it is the affectionate and playful response of a fatherly Bridegroom Whose heart is absolutely exhilarated at the willingness of His child-friend to dare to trust Him. Far from being critical of Peter, I believe Jesus is saying “O Peter! If you only knew what is possible! Trust me, and I will take you through places and events you never even dreamed of, for with me all things are possible!”
O, Sovereign King! O, Majestic Lord of all things! I long to dare to run with You! I long for the courage of the leap of faith, the joy of the victorious dance upon the stormy waves, upon the mountains and hills of my fears. Call me again, Lord! Don’t give up on me! Sooner or later, I will trust You.
Monday, June 25, 2012
In the life of every believer comes a time that is often very disconcerting. It is the time when the Holy Spirit chooses to reveal to us that the Lover of our souls and the King of the universe are one and the same Person. We are gripped by a sense of awe and wonder that is pleasant and exhilarating on one hand yet terrifying on the other, because we begin to see the implications of intimacy with this Man, Christ Jesus. Our Beloved is tender and gentle, but He is also the Challenging Leader, the Lord of Heaven and Earth.
To the surprise of the Shulamite, her Beloved appears one day in a thoroughly unexpected persona. She describes his coming in this way:
The voice of my beloved!
Behold, he comes leaping upon the mountains,
skipping upon the hills.
In these delightful phrases we are informed of the sovereign power of the King over all the obstacles of life, the hills and mountains that seem to us unconquerable hindrances to a life of faithful and single-minded fervency for the Lord. Her response to the king’s activity is filled with wonder and delight, and there is an initial sense of enjoyment at what he is doing:
My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Behold, he stands behind our wall;
He is looking through the windows, Gazing through the lattice.
Suddenly, though, her mood changes, because as the king draws near to the Shulamite in disclosing his sovereign authority over difficult things, he invites her to join him in the exhilarating dance of victory over the seemingly undefeatable realities of her life:
My beloved spoke, and said to me: "Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grapes give a good smell.
Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away!
“O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the cliff, let me see your face,
let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.” Song 2:10-14
In our parallel relationship with Jesus, we must confront a crucial question: Will He be allowed to draw us past the things that have regularly defeated us in our attempts to be faithful in following Him? But the wondrous emphasis here is clearly on the majesty of the king, his beauty and power, and his ability to take the Shulamite with him as he leaps and dances over the mountains of her life. He draws her after him, reminding her that she is hidden in the cleft of the rock—a euphemism for the riven side of Christ on the cross. It is in the context of his sacrifice and redeeming power that she is safe, and his voice draws her to come and follow.
In our next article, we will see how the Shulamite responds to this invitation from her Beloved.
Friday, June 15, 2012
In our last article we faced this powerful question: How can God call me beautiful at the beginning of our relationship, before I become mature or do anything for Him? Read on to discover the answer!
In his wisdom and foresight, the king sees the Shulamite as she will be when his love for her has completed its work, and he relates to her on that basis from the beginning. He knows that the power of her true identity and the dynamic of his love will transform her as certainly as the dawn comes in the morning. In the place of intimate fellowship, he can speak these things in such a way that her heart will hear them and believe. And so he invites her to the place of nearness and intrigue, the banqueting house, and there sustains her with expressions of his deepest love.
This delightful and beautiful picture of the love language exchanged by these two is given expression in the life of Jesus, this time recorded for us in the Gospel of Matthew. But in the New Testament portrayal, the heart of Jesus is filled with pathos and grief. Matthew 23:37-39 is the record of Jesus’ lamentation over Jerusalem because the city, as the representation of the Bride of Christ, has refused His invitation to intimacy and instead has continued the historic practice of killing those who come in His Name to draw her to His side. The emotion of the heart of Jesus is palpable:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!
Jesus is here giving testimony to the passion burning in the heart of God, the same passion that caused Him to speak in such loving terms over the life of His dark but lovely Bride in the Song. He longs to gather His people to the House of Wine, to stir our emotions of being cherished and seen as fervent and single-minded. He deeply desires to speak to our hearts of how He sees us, of the delight that is within Him, of the confidence He has in the power of His love to do the things He has promised.
Those during the course of history who have experienced this “gathering,” this stirring of the Lord’s intimate love, bear witness: Nothing else matters when the touch of Christ’s love fills our hearts. This is why Paul the Apostle could cheerfully consider every other important thing to be so much refuse compared with the pleasure of knowing Jesus. It is why Stephen exulted as he stared death in the face, for he saw the Lord’s glory in the face of his Bridegroom standing at the right hand of the Father to welcome him into eternity. Because of this reality the martyrs of history have gladly given their lives for the sake of a better resurrection—one fully conformed to the life of the Beloved. Jesus fulfills the promise, and He calls you and me to that place.
Jesus, I will receive Your invitation to the place of intimacy in prayer. I long to hear Your voice telling me the truth of who I am, and how You love me. I long to live out of the place of affirmation that comes from Your heart, and that liberates me to love You in return and live in the beauty of Your holiness. Draw me, Lord, and I will follow after You.
Thursday, May 24, 2012
As I consider my own life before the Lord, I am aware that one of my deepest longings is to be desired, to be cherished and seen as the delight of the heart of another. While this can happen to a wonderful degree at the level of human relationships, the reality is that down deep inside, we have a sense that we were made to love Someone and to be loved by Someone in an infinite way. We know there is something inside us that will not be satisfied until we are able to release our love in a fervent single-mindedness that brings focus and passion to everything we do. The awareness of this longing causes an ache in the human soul that simply cannot be assuaged except by the touch of the infinite Lover, and by our response—a fervent commitment to Him. Only He can go that deep, only He can love that way. Only He can elicit that kind of response.
This is the reality that is at play in the staggeringly beautiful encounter between the Shulamite and the king at the end of chapter 1 and the beginning of chapter 2 of the Song of Solomon. In verse 12 of chapter 1, having been invited to the place of intimacy in which she could come to know the heart of the king, she begins to express the romantic inclinations of her heart by declaring that her perfume is drawing his attention, even as he sits at the dinner table. She muses on the passions of her heart, giving poetic expression to that which burns inside:
A bundle of myrrh is my beloved to me, that lies all night between my breasts.
My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blooms in the vineyards of En Gedi.
The king responds, articulating the very thing she longs to hear, his fiery words instilling in her heart a passion deeper than she has ever known:
Behold, you are fair, my love! Behold, you are fair! You have dove's eyes.
To be considered fair by the king! In his words are the power of life and death. And he calls her fair! The power of it grips her soul, entering deep within the secret chambers of her heart, the places of insecurity and fear that have not been completely healed. She is not yet the mature bride who will emerge later in the Song. She is still the immature maiden who knows there is weakness in her, who is painfully aware of her propensity to unfaithfulness and sin.
His words begin to change that. He speaks of her as having “dove’s eyes.” To us, that sounds poetic but sort of meaningless until we understand that a dove has the capacity to focus its eyes on only one thing at a time. It sees only one thing. And when the king is speaking this reality over the Shulamite, he is declaring to her that in his view she has already reached the single-minded fervency of love that her heart desires. He sees her as fair and faithful, and this at the very beginning of their relationship. How can this be?
In our article next week we will explore further the answer to this burning question: How can God call me beautiful before I’ve done anything for Him? Blessings on you all!
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
In the next several articles I will focus on a number of snapshots of the bridegroom king in The Song of Solomon that are fulfilled in the Person of Jesus, as documented in the gospel accounts of the New Testament.
The Inviting Shepherd
The dimension of Jesus’ character that I call “The Inviting Shepherd” is found in the prophetic picture of the invitation of the king (the picture of Jesus) to the Shulamite shepherd girl (the picture of the Bride of Christ) in the first chapter of the allegory. The young maiden opens the text of this Song with a startling expression of desire: “Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth—for Your love is better than wine.”
It is essential right from the beginning to understand that the imagery here is symbolic. Our interpretation is allegorical; the story is a picture of Jesus’ relationship with the Church. Therefore, “the kisses of His mouth” refers to the touch of the Word of God upon the human heart, empowered by the Holy Spirit. When His Word pierces through the emotional and theological barriers of our hearts, and touches us with the truth of His love, it is a kiss that is better than any other, the reality of which a human kiss is merely a dim reflection.
As the Shulamite speaks about the king, she inquires concerning His presence (v. 7): Where is that predictable place in which she might feast upon His beauty? She has decided there is no reason she should remain veiled in His presence. Why should she hold herself back from intimacy when he is present specifically to release such a dynamic? It is in the king’s reply that we see the face of the Inviting Shepherd:
If you do not know, O fairest among women, follow in the footsteps of the flock,
and feed your little goats beside the shepherds' tents.
We contemporary evangelicals must fact the fact that throughout history countless human beings have experienced the reality for which our hearts are longing. In the king’s invitation to the Shulamite, I too am being solicited to join the procession of those who have pursued Him with extravagance and passion, and my answer is a resounding “Yes!”
Jesus extends the same invitation to real men to come and join Him in living out this relationship. John 1:35-39 gives the account of two disciples of John the Baptist. These men see Jesus walking along and they begin to follow Him. He notices, and turning to them, asks what they want. In their response we find the poignant echo of the heart of the Shulamite, spoken by men of the first century: “Teacher, where are You staying?”
Can you hear the reverberating sounds of her heart-cry? “Tell me, O You Whom I love, where do You feed Your flock?” And the incredible reality is that on an actual day in history, at about four o’clock in the afternoon, the Bridegroom-God Who from ages past has desired intimate relationship with human beings—gazed upon these two men, men like me, and gave the Bridegroom’s answer: “Come and see.” And so they followed, and their lives were never the same.
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
One of the clearest representations of the Gospel in the Old Testament is in Genesis 24, the story of Abraham’s search for a suitable wife for his son, Isaac. Through the lens of the bridal paradigm, this story is an astonishing prophetic picture of what God had in mind for His people as He pursued them for the sake of His beloved Son.
Abraham declares that his longing to have a suitable bride for Isaac will not be fulfilled in the land of Canaan, but among his kindred people, his family. The old and trusted servant, Eliezer, is commanded by the father not to settle for one of the local girls, but to go to the home country, among his own people, there to find a wife suitable for his son.
Eliezer fills a dual role in this picture of the Gospel. At first he stands in the role of Jesus, coming to earth as God incarnate, yet not presented in the regal disclosure of His power and majesty, but in the hiddenness of the Servant’s identity. He takes with him gifts from the father’s house to woo the prospective bride, gifts that indicate the wealth of the father’s house without overwhelming her freedom to accept or reject the offer of a husband.
The servant sets out on the long journey to the bride’s country (a picture of the incarnation) and meets her in a place designed to reveal her spirit of servanthood. He arrives at the well near Rebekah’s hometown at about the time the women come to draw water. His test for the prospective bride is that she be not only beautiful, but that she also have the willingness to serve with gladness of heart. This part of the picture is very important, for the Lord also is looking for a Bride with a servant’s spirit. This is not because He is a taskmaster looking for help, but because He Himself is the Servant and is seeking a like-minded partner. Only a Servant-Bride completes the picture adequately.
Of course, Rebekah serves him gladly, going the extra mile of watering his ten camels until they are satisfied. Eliezer meets Rebekah’s family and joins them for a meal, another picture of Jesus’ willingness to have fellowship with human beings. Upon disclosing to them his identity and mission, Eliezer inquires about the possibility of Rebekah going with him to become Isaac’s wife.
Although the girl has never seen Isaac, she realizes that something has happened in her heart through this encounter with the servant: She loves Isaac. She is eager to go with Eliezer to realize her destiny. In the same way, Jesus came to the Bride’s country in the guise of a Servant, sharing the gifts of the Father’s house: healing, deliverance, the truth about the Kingdom of God. The Servant-Bride, having seen the Father’s heart through the life of the Servant, falls in love with the Son. And she loves Him even though she has not yet seen Him in His eternal power and glory. She’s only seen the disguise of his humanity, which by comparison has no form or comeliness that he should be desired at all.
Rebekah takes the long journey with Eliezer back to meet the son face to face. This journey is a picture of the Christian life, a journey through the wilderness, the bride making herself ready in the difficult context of riding through the desert on the back of a camel. Could there be a better picture of the preparatory journey of the believer’s walk of faith on the way to heaven? At this point, in my imagination, Eliezer takes on the role of the Holy Spirit, functioning as Rebekah’s guide and friend, keeping her focus fixed on the beauty of the son so she will have the grace to endure the journey.
Finally, the ordeal is complete, and Rebekah sees Isaac walking in the field near Abraham’s home. She finishes her preparation just in time to be introduced to the son. He is delighted with her, and his heart is captured by this beautiful woman (“Rebekah” means “snared by beauty”!) who has been provided for him by the desire of the father’s heart. Their union is a picture of the culmination of human history, when we will meet our Bridegroom. The veil will be taken away. We shall see Jesus as He is and we shall be like Him, forever joined with Him as His Bride.