As I read today’s passage which is Jesus’ final prayer, I believe I am looking at the deepest of God’s desires. In this petition Jesus makes it clear he is praying for you and I. It caused me to pause and pray that my heart might respond to something so beautiful and holy. He asks God to reveal the love between himself, the Father and the Spirit. With urgency he continues; He prays that each of of us who have been given to Him would not only witness this love but experience it and its attendant unity …
that they would all be one (from John 17:21)
He elaborates on unity…
Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee“; I in them and Thou in Me. (from John 17:21 & 23)
What comes to your mind when you think of unity? Doctrinal harmony? Ecumenical joint-ventures? While these things may be present I don’t see them as the nexus of Jesus’ aspirations. I anticipate the answer to Jesus’ prayer being much more.
My confidence is based on the word “in”. There must be a coming day when the reality of being in-Christ and him dwelling in us, works itself out in such a way that it will eclipse anything we have seen or perhaps imagined. I envision a day when Jesus’ prayer – that the world may know and believe, is answered. It is OK that I have yet to see anything so dramatic. That Jesus has made the request assures me of the outcome. The only question is when ?
If I am dreaming in the right direction – the direction of Jesus own prayers, I can see the Bride of Christ awakening, shaking off the sleepy notion that decay and indifference are normal. One day she will hear the kind words God has spoken to her in her wilderness and she will respond. She will accept his invitation to “Come away“. She will find and maintain that place where she can be alone with him, where intimacy is the new normal.
Christ in us is the basis of this hope. His Spirit indwells us but we have not yet seen the fullest implication of this. What value, you may ask, is there to entertaining such a grandiose dream? What does some future-possible dispensation have to do with me? Maybe nothing – yet perhaps everything. Awakenings begin in human hearts. What if individual Christians were to invite Jesus to launch the next great awakening in them? What if we took responsibility for our hearts by getting alone with God?
Father, thank you for helping us understand the indestructible nature of our union. Grant that our heart’s desires would be shaped by Your heart and that our chief ambition would to be to simply recognize that You are with us wherever we are, and that we might behold Your glory. Grant that our vision and our destiny be constructed from what You have prayed as opposed to what we have thought. Lord, perfect us in unity that the world may know that You sent Jesus to restore all things to Your wondrous original intention. Amen.
That God is powerful goes without question. We look up at the stars, realizing the light we see was emitted lifetimes ago and has only now reached us. Nature’s proclamations faithfully give perspective to God’s power. We rightly conclude this God deserves honor and we respond, “Oh Lord, we worship You in Your power and might!” However, Hosea reveals something at least as astonishing as God’s power—His heart.
God requires the prophet Hosea to wed Gomer, a prostitute, to graphically depict how his mysterious heart works. This woman is habitually unfaithful and deluded, believing her material needs are being provided by her many lovers. No doubt Hosea wept as he watched his wife sell her body to men who cared nothing about her. Hosea deserved fidelity but received only betrayal. All he could do was dream of the day when she would return to him. While she deserved to be stoned, he dreamed of her redemption. Welcome to God’s heart.
As God dreams and projects His will, He anticipates a day when His beloved Israel will be brought into a wilderness where He will woo her with gracious words and gifts, even restoring the vitality of her youth. Most importantly, her heart will somehow be changed and she will speak the names of her lovers no more. It seems the event of her restoration will be so glorious that God will initiate a new covenant, which occasions blessing spilled over into nature and society.
We see married couples commonly restating their vows after years of marriage. It seems something similar is going to occur between God and Israel. In this long awaited ceremony God will betroth His Bride to Himself in righteousness, justice, compassion, lovingkindness, and perhaps most importantly to the spurned Lover—faithfulness. Finally—faithfulness! Verse 20 says then Israel will know the Lord.
As God enjoys renewed intimacy with his beloved, it appears creation will enjoy the gift of its own restoration. The scriptures say God will respond differently to the heavens, and in turn the heavens will respond differently to the earth, resulting in unprecedented fertility. My mind is drawn to the New Testament where Paul, in three places, expresses it:
God has… a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of times, that is the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth. (Ephesian 1:10)
Through Jesus God will reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross…whether things on earth or things in heaven. (Colossians 1:20)
Creation itself will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:21)
Father, I’m sorry You have to use a prostitute to describe Your beloved. I’m sorry that my heart has been untrue and even today has been unfaithful. And at the same time, I am profoundly grateful I have been grafted into Your great heart. My own heart is both bowed low and lifted up, knowing even in the depths of my sin your love is constant. How stunning that even in my betrayal, You woo me! In my wildernesses, many which I have created, you have spoken kindly to me and rescued me. May the faithfulness and consummation you desire transpire in my heart. Permit me to journey further into your heart where Your power and Your love merge—transforming all they touch. Amen.
Song of Solomon is about two persons, one royal, the other of common Shulammite descent. These two are obsessed with each other. There is room for nothing in their hearts but each other: an all–consuming love affair. In this passage it is royalty confessing his passion and desire. The spirit of his words is not a command; it is an invitation: Come away with me. The King knows being alone with his beloved is where his desire will be satisfied. It is her choice to reciprocate.
The Song of Solomon may be instructive to courting and married partners but I believe the Spirit chose this imagery primarily because it paints the clearest picture of God’s passion for us. It is scandalous that this is the kind of relationship God desires with man. A scandal, you might say. Think about how Jesus (God’s explanation and invitation) was received? His chosen responded to the invitation with unbelief, scorn, and ultimately murder. She literally spit in his face, saying, “Leave me alone, permanently!” The scandal is in God’s response in Christ: “Father, forgive them for they don’t understand what they are doing.”
Truly, what manner of love is this? I wonder what the Scribes and Pharisees were teaching about Solomon’s Song when Jesus was on earth? How did they instruct Israel to fulfill the primary command to love their God with all their heart and soul and mind and strength? As I understand it, they taught that fidelity was kept through obedience. Where fidelity failed there was sacrifice. They taught that God demanded compliance to the rules He had previously given plus a few hundred more thrown in as a hedge. I wonder if Jesus ever heard a single scribe say, “I love you, Lord!”
It was not long ago that an “I love you, Lord” would have stuck in my throat too. How could I make such an audacious, emotionally dishonest claim with a heart as desperately sick as mine, inclined as it was, to stray always? No, with my selfish motives and secret sins, all I could muster was, “God, I pray that someday I will love You in a way that is worthy of You.” During this season, when I sinned, I would recommit to holiness, doubling-down on obedience with brokenness and contrition as my backup plan. Unless I was working with a pretty good run of goodness, I would not have the hutzpah to say, “I love you, Lord.”
I have often thought, if Jeff Foxworthy had a Christian act, he would say, “You might be a Pharisee—if you struggle saying, ‘I love You Father’.” Or, “You might be a Pharisee if—you are more concerned with other’s performance than your own.” I see these two conditions operating in tandem in the religious spirit. Religious persons make a mockery of God’s grace. They scorn his invitation “to come” when they think their performance has qualified them for his approval. I speak from personal experience.
I did all my bad religious math at a deeper level than conscious thought. I didn’t awaken each day to go out and earn God’s approval; it was instinctive. Religion is systemic to our flesh. It is just as deadly, but far subtler than debauchery, because it usually looks great, making its case for righteousness, one good work upon another. However, the heart steeped in religion produces only the temporal fruit of works, never the eternal fruit of rest. This is called deception.
Today, I am so grateful that the sentence, “I love You,” rolls more easily from my lips. There is not enough space here to describe how I got into a religious performance-based relationship to God or how I was freed from it, but it is enough to say that being freed from religion has been like a drowned man being revived, taking in deep gulps of clean, life-giving air. (Note: If this awakens something in you, the story of how the Lord un-entangled (and is untangling) my heart from religion is an ongoing theme at midlewithmystery.com (MwM).)
MwM is inspired by the daily scripture passages presented in the Blue Book (BB) by Jim Branch. FYI: The BB is as unpretentious as the One to whom it points. It is a gift to the body of Christ by Jim. In simplicity, it introduces us to a community of God-intoxicated Shulamites who will not live without their Beloved. Their condensed wisdom is shared in bite-sized portions, each echoing God’s invitation to “Come away.” Its gift is its instruction, both direct and indirect, of how to respond to this invitation.
Father, expose and breakdown the religious strongholds lurking in our hearts. We know you desire intimacy, not just obedience. Where we have grown hardened to your invitation to come-away, please heal us. Persist until there is not room in our hearts for anything but You. Become our all-consuming passion. Persevere until our hearts can declare, “Oh how I love you.”
Something magical exploded in my heart when I became a Christian in 1976. Fairy tails do come true! I initially felt as though I was the frog who had become a prince; that turned out to be a pale illusion. I thought reality had me condemned to execution, only to find someone had paid my debt, enabling me to walk out of my chains as a free man. To my amazement, it was the Judge himself who had ransomed me. Neither was I released to just wander the streets. This same Judge had also adopted me; I was an orphan who had become a son of God! The Judge had become my Father! In view of my radically altered life, it is understandable that I would start my Christian experience with a huge “Yes!” in my heart. “Whatever You say God, whatever you ask, my answer will be ‘yes!’” This was my heart’s true intention. Was I ever tempted to back crab on this commitment? Oh yes.
A place where I first started noticing this “yes” was when I read the scriptures. Prior to 1976, the Bible had been an indecipherable tome. Even though I did not grasp everything intellectually as I began reading, there must have been a spirit-to-spirit connection because I found myself agreeing, “Yes this is true; yes this is life; yes this is the way!”
Psalm 139 is a perfect example. It was the first passage of scripture that really grabbed me. I memorized it because of the mysterious and powerful “yes” it elicited when I first read it. This psalm breaks down the overarching theme of intimacy into specifics. I will never regret that these realities were imprinted on my heart 40 years ago. Time and experience have only reinforced them. They have been indispensable reference points during those seasons when I could not see, which I have discovered are not uncommon for citizens of an invisible kingdom.
My heart dropped anchor into the following realities from Psalm 139:
1) I am no accident. I exist because he intentionally created me. 2) I will exist on earth for the time he allotted me. 3) The job he did in creating me was awe-inspiringly wonderful. 4) Everything I do or say is known in perfect detail (even in advance). 5) He is always searching and working in my heart. (My permission does not hurt.) 6) The thoughts I have about him will be numerous and precious in value. 7) Yet, bracketed as they are by mortality, my thoughts, however valuable, are too frail to grasp the fullness of God in his immortality. 8) Even if I tried, I could not escape his notice and his care. 9) Even if things go dark on me, things are always well lit with God.
Lightened by the weight of these words, my “yes” found its expression in King David’s own words which I adopted as my own:
Search me O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful ways in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.
In other words, “Please Father, don’t let anything interfere with the ‘yes’ in my heart!”
It is helpful to know that God’s memory is not faulty but it is selective. Once we repent of our sin, He forgets them, by choice. My point is this: our Journey into intimacy begins afresh each day. While they may be troubling, our pasts are of no account. In fact, our deepest wounds and failures are to be our springboards into intimacy. No greater opportunity exists than in our personal darkness. Creation, though subjected to futility, intuitively longs to see the children’s transformation. It is Father’s heart that our sorrow be transformed into joy in the face of our enemy. Our light shines the brightest where we are liberated from personal darkness. It is Father’s heart that where evil has abounded, grace shall abound all the more.
When “intimacy” is alien to us, a heart-to-heart conversation with God is needed. No one who has ever come to Christ with honest questions has been turned away. I am amazed that, in his patience, he even listens to our bitterness and unbelief when we dress them up as questions! When the human heart turns toward God, even in disorienting pain, Christ receives some reward for His suffering: “If I be lifted up, men shall be drawn unto Me.”
To enjoy intimacy with God, we must ultimately turn toward him with whatever is in us. We must say yes to this transparency. He sees it all anyway. It is here where we will taste and see that He is good. It is in this engagement where we will discover intimacy. Both the yesses and the no’s of our heart will be refined in the awaiting encounter.
Father, that you freely offer yourself to us who were once condemned is something we pray will never be lost on us. Search out the things that would dull our appreciation of you. Create and sustain our yesses. Put our no’s to death. And with David, we pray that You would be exceedingly rough on our enemies—anyone or anything that would hinder our intimacy with you. Receive the reward for Your suffering—our intimate encounter with you. Amen.
I am my beloved’s and his desire is for me. (Song of Songs 7:10-13)
The Song of Solomon is about the intimacy between a king and a common girl who has become the singular object of his affection. He showers her with thoughtful gifts and tender words. While these initiatives are worth emulating, this book is not just a manual for marital intimacy.
There are many different types of love, each of them legitimate, having originated with God who is love. There is familial love, fraternal love, and there is the intimate love between a man and his mate. The Spirit has chosen marital intimacy to say something about God’s love, but I don’t believe it is sensuality. Intimacy is the point. Even though it’s imperfect, marital intimacy is the closest representation of God’s love for us.
God doesn’t just tolerate and endure us. He is taken with us. It does not go unnoticed that the Shunammite women is far beneath the King’s social status. Likewise, our fallen status is no deterrent to God’s affection: in Christ he has buried it and raised us up with new natures. Those who are in Christ are no longer bond slaves to sin, and we are no longer rejected and condemned by God. When God looks upon us, he no longer sees sinners; he sees Christ. We still sin, but that does not validate depravity’s reign. It is simply proof that we are working out our new natures with our choices, which are essential to a love relationship.
So many believe the most important response to God’s love is obedience with holiness as its byproduct. Obedience and holiness are essential parts of the normal Christian life, but in no way does obedience produce holiness. In fact obedience as the mere setting of the will is counterproductive. Obedience does not lead to intimacy. Obedience, in the sense of flexing our volitional muscles, may produce the appearance of holiness, but it will be a man-centered, performance oriented affair that will fail to realize intimacy. Intimacy can only be received as a gift. Holiness in its truest sense must come as a gift.
How do we partake of this gift? How do we shake this sense of being nothing more than tolerated stepchildren, never quite measuring up? What is our part in this relationship that contributes to shared intimacy with God? We simply live by faith, daily practicing our response to the unseen reality of God’s intimate love for us. We cultivate gratitude regarding His celebration over us. We stay at it, day-in and day-out, always deferring to ourselves in our thinking as “His beloved.” Life will become abundant for us when we grasp that the deepest and truest thing about us is that we are His. Gratitude is natural for the common one who has been chosen and embraced by royalty. By faith, we simply live presumptuously in regard to God’s affections and favor. This is the root of all true abundance and the cause of authentic obedience.
Father, may You bring into full view of all creation, the redemption of the sons of God—those whose identities as children have been and are being restored in the context of their intimate union with You. May You awaken us to Your invitation to come away with You and personally hear Your kind words, receive Your special gifts and enjoy Your undivided attention. Amen.
In this passage, God reveals himself through the foretelling of His servant Isaiah. The prophet declares a reversal of fortunes for Zion. The language is strong and certain. He vows, by His might and power, that Zion will one day enjoy a windfall. Where she views herself as forsaken and desolate, Isaiah indicates she will one day see herself in a whole different light. What will this look like?
These are the words Isaiah chooses; gloriously beautiful, royal, holy, desirable, an object of praise, worthy of God’s own rejoicing. How will this seemingly impossible thing come about? Isaiah chose the imagery of marriage to convey the answer. God’s might will culminate in intimacy, of the strength lovers enjoy. Consequently, that Bride, secure in her identity as his beloved, shall become a marvel in the earth and a crown of glory to God Himself. How could this come about? Recall yesterday’s post based on Isaiah 30:15.
In repentance and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.
The heart that becomes conditioned in grace has discovered that a feast has been prepared. Learning to be with God is our feast. Intimacy with God is a gift but we must learn to recognize it and partake.
Many devout souls have been conditioned to believe it’s a professional’s job to prepare the meal and serve it up once or twice a week in a sermon or homily. Sadly, this idea has lead many into complacency. The door into the Holy of Holies is wide open. Complacency is out of place in this space. A stronghold needs to be taken down. Intimacy is not just the bread of the well educated or select mystics. It is the inheritance of the redeemed. Intimacy is simply what Father wants with his children and has provided in Christ.
Father, cause our hearts to see Your nearness and your goodness, for Your name’s sake. Amen