Approaching Belonging

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” (Heb. 10:19-22)

Often, as I prepare myself to make this bold approach, the voice of “god” seems to say “Take up your cross. Do not ask for more from me. How dare you seek abundance when I’ve sentenced you to the desert? Do you lack discipline? Doesn’t this highlight your need to stay where you are?” I shy away like a kicked puppy, determined to do better before I return.

This voice contains a fragment of honesty, pieces of Scripture… but the words are distorted. A kind teacher and a condemning legalist may say the same thing, but isn’t the first the only one we’d listen to as speaking truth?

Still, I’m often incorrect, so I look again to the Bible as my standard for truth. Is this “god” speaking actually… God?

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out ‘Abba, Father.’” (Gal. 4:6)

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery.” (Gal. 5:1)

And finally, just in case it wasn’t already clear where this voice of shame originated: “That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.” (Gal. 5:8)

So now, reassured that I can boldly draw near to the Father… what do I ask for? After all, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24).

When we think about fleshly passions and desires, it seems like Song of Solomon might be the best place to start in Scripture. How fitting that I shied away from even opening the book. It’s not a place I often go to find answers… and I’d be too embarrassed to share the answers if I found them! It definitely takes some boldness to approach this text. (Sometimes I need to let my understanding of Scripture’s overall tone be changed by the knowledge that a message like Song of Solomon is the inspired word of God.)

My beloved spoke and said to me, ‘Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me. See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land. The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.” (Song 2:10-13)

This doesn’t sound like a harsh instruction to languish in the desert. Even on good days, I don’t think I’ve ever considered being “darling” to God.

If only you were to me like a brother…. His left arm is under my head, and his right arm embraces me.” (Song 8:1, 3)

Upon reading this, my mind jumped to a parallel with John 13 – perhaps a more poetic parallel than a literal one. In a randomly specific note that seems surprisingly intimate, John reclines and leans against Jesus to ask him a question. What more could I ask for? What else do I desire other than such proximity to Jesus?

I belong to my beloved, and his desire is for me.” (Song 7:10)

God desires us, pursues intimacy with us on such a level that it creates “shock bordering on disbelief, wonder akin to incredulity, and affectionate awe tinged by doubt” (Brennan Manning, The Furious Longing of God). Even when I allow myself to approach boldly and recognize that, as Henri Nouwen wrote, “I am the Beloved,” the voice of doubt finds ways to resist God’s reckless pursuit of my heart. The voice has already tried to delay me from entering God’s presence; now it tries to shame me into leaving as quickly as possible. “Are you so selfish as to remain here when countless lost souls still haven’t heard the gospel?” it says. “If you were a good Christian, a good minister, a good evangelist, you’d already be on your way to get Kingdom Work™️ done!”

Again, distorted words of truth. We should, in fact, use our freedom to “serve one another humbly in love” (Gal. 5:13), but out of a motivation of love rather than shame. I’d rather follow Mary of Bethany’s example than listen to this false voice. She sat attentively next to Jesus despite her sister’s reproachful reminders to serve instead. She anointed Jesus’ feet with oil when others balked at the reckless expense. Perhaps I need to hear Jesus’ words to her over my own inner reproach: “You will always have work to do, but I’ve given you this time to be with me. You’re worried about many things, but you only need one! Choose what is best, and I will not be taken away from you.”

(I wonder if ministry is simply a matter of being filled with Jesus’ love and then positioning yourself in the best place for it to overflow to people around you. Growing deeper in faith, and letting it express itself in love (Gal. 5:6).)

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. I may die to my own desire, but this doesn’t mean I am will-less. I belong to my beloved, and his desire is for me. As I approach him, I find he is the answer to anything I could have asked for.

 

The overarching theme of this post was inspired by Brennan Manning’s The Furious Longing of God. Several key texts he uses are ones I’ve quoted here. I’d highly encourage you to read it, whether you’re unfamiliar with Jesus’ love as described here or you’ve been following him in it all your life!

One thought on “Approaching Belonging

  1. Great stuff, Nathan. Please never stop writing. If we could only grasp the truth in the next to last paragraph, we’d have a very different world…and Church.

    Liked by 1 person

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