June 7, 2017:  Lost and Found

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My entire education in the U.K. was extraordinarily, and somewhat obsessively, examination-based. I could literally have slept through every class and received miserable grades on my assignments because all chips were placed on the end-of-year examinations. For what felt like a never-ending late spring ritual, we were herded into some large hall (without air conditioning) where my life was held in the balance over what I could or could not recall of, say, the rise and fall of the Prussian Empire or some obscure Shakespeare play. My professional exams in Law were taken in the Royal Horticultural Halls in Victoria, London, where under the glass ceiling we were slowly cooked for nine hours a day as we wrestled with such things as the rules of evidence, jurisprudence and probate. Even now, when I smell the first cut grass of the spring, my first thought is “what I should be cramming for?”!

So, bearing these emotional scars, I am unsettled by the idea that God deliberately tests us. And yet we read, “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.” (Proverbs 17:3). There is a long history of Biblical testing — from Abraham to Moses. Even Jesus tested the disciples. But the purpose of God’s testing is not “pass the test, get the blessing.” God’s testing is all about our transformation. His testing is about Him doing something new in our hearts with the intention of increasing our capacity to receive more of His love. And Solomon’s Song of Songs contains a model of God’s testing — in three parts.

Can I confess that I have never actually got to the end of the movie “Gone with the Wind”? To me it seems to be all about a very self-concerned woman who finally, in the closing moments of this 234-minute epic, condescends to return the love of Rhett Butler, at which point we hear him utter the line, “Frankly, my dear…it’s too late!” (or words to that effect). Is this what is going on in Solomon’s Song of Songs? The bridegroom shows up at an unexpected time. Eventually his love gets out of bed to let him in but it’s too late. Did she fail the test? Is “The End” going to abruptly appear on the screen and then the credits start to roll?

I believe what Solomon is reminding us of is that God will come knocking at the door of our lives at unexpected times. That is what love does! Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20) We can choose to ignore Him! We can leave Him waiting outside. He won’t push His way into our lives. He will persevere in knocking, but He won’t push His way in. There are actual moments of very real encounter with the Lord in real time and we can miss these. Lest we think that we have opened the door once to Jesus in our lives and that’s sufficient, He comes knocking daily, offering “Would you let me into this situation? Would you let me carry that burden?”. His knocking can actually become an irritation — especially when we are convinced that we can do everything on our own schedule and in our own time.

So, has our bride failed the first test — “Gone with the Wind” style — and it's now all over? No. If we fail a test, the Lord does not love us any less. We just have to take the test again. He will find another way to refine us in His love. So we come to the second part of the testing.  

There have been many times in my faith when it is very evident that He has come searching for me and there have been other times when it is as if He has stepped back and caused me to search more deeply for Him. The latter can feel a like a desert time but it is critical to note that it is not a time of desertion.

In Solomon’s poem, the bride now sets out on a very intentional quest. Having been pre-occupied with her own world, she does the least convenient thing imaginable: she get out of bed in the middle of the night and searches the city streets for her love. This is dangerous. This is a risk to her well-being and even her reputation. Why would she do this? Because “she” is not her focus. He has become her focus (“I am not my own. I am my beloved’s.”).  

The Scriptures speak of this searching. In Psalm 42 we read, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.” So is this test all up to us? We are the ones who need to get out of bed and search the streets? The question we should really ask is: who prompted the “search” in our hearts? In the poem we see that it is his love for her that draws the same search from within her heart (“Draw me after you; let us run. The king has brought me into his chambers.” - Song of Solomon 1:4). It is God who places this passion and longing in our hearts.

The third and final part of the test is about holding on. The Psalmist wrote, “My soul clings to you…” (Psalm 63.8). In the Song of Solomon, the bride says, “I held him and would not let him go.” (Song of Solomon 3:4b). That’s a great prayer and it pleases God. But when we forget to hold on — and we will forget — the truth is that He is holding onto us. Our lives often feel like they are hanging by a thread. But hear this, beloved: the one who has us is Jesus and He is enough and He is not going to let us go.

How would I know that God is knocking at my door? How would I know that God has come searching for me? How would I know that He’s holding on to me? As a Christian, I look to the Cross. Through the Cross, God proved His love us. “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:7-8). Through the Cross we discover that in all our lost-ness, in all our searching, He was the one who came searching for us. Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 3:32). How would I know He was holding me? “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

It is interesting to look back on our lives and observe Him steadfastly holding on to us, even when are totally unaware. I now see His presence and love in my wife’s love for me through those wicked Law finals — stocking the fridge, dragging me away from my desk to take me out into the sunshine. I would have left me — but she never did!

And as we are drawn into that song and find ourselves joining with it, we are transformed. Carried in His love, we become members of His search party to a hurting world that has yet to recognize that He is knocking on the door and waiting to be invited in.

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