Back in February, I preached a sermon on Song of Songs chapter 5 at my school’s student chapel (International House of Prayer Chinese). Afterwards, I had a couple students come ask me for my outline notes, which I gave them. Later I thought, why not just write a blog post about it and expound on the story in an extended way? This is the Director’s Cut, if you will.

First to mention is that there are many different interpretations of the Song of Songs. In the interpretation I’ll be using, the Shulamite, a.k.a. the Bride, represents us as believers, and the Beloved, a.k.a. King Solomon, represents Jesus, who is our friend and Bridegroom. Most of the imagery will be taken symbolically to represent our spiritual journey towards maturity and greater intimacy with Christ.

In Song of Songs chapter 5, the Shulamite encounters what many Bible scholars call “The Dark Night of the Soul.” What is the dark night of the soul? How did she get there? Why is it happening? We’ll answer these questions as we go along.

But first, some backstory.

Before we jump straight into it, let’s look at the backstory and lay down some context, which means reviewing chapters 1-4. The very beginning of the book starts off with the Shulamite singing, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth” (Song 1:2). She is overwhelmed by the Beloved’s love as He affirms her beauty. “Dark am I, yet lovely” (Song 1:5) she sings—the ultimate statement of her identity. She is confident in who she is because of the way He loves her.

This “Honeymoon” phase lasts into chapter two. “I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste. Let him lead me to the banquet hall, and let his banner over me be love. Strengthen me with raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am faint with love” (Song 2:3-5). The Shulamite is having the time of her life. Life is good. She’s at rest. She’s found the love of her life. She’s filling up her belly with apples and raisins, and she’s satisfied.

But satisfied is not the best there is.

While the Shulamite is lounging and sitting under the shade (a.k.a. her “comfort zone”), the Beloved comes along “leaping across the mountains, bounding over the hills” (Song 2:8). He calls out to His bride, the Shulamite, saying, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me!” (Song 2:10) He wants her to leap across mountains and bound over hills with Him. He wants her, in other words, to step out of her comfort zone and face her fears. He exhorts her to “catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards” (Song 2:15), which represent the little compromises we let run rampant in the garden of our hearts which slowly but surely cause incalculable damage.

But this is all too much for the young bride. She knows she cannot do as He asks, so she says, “Until the day breaks and the shadows flee, turn, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or like a young stag on the rugged hills” (Song 2:17). She basically says, “Sorry, not now, Jesus. Why don’t you go to your hills and run along. I’ll just stay here.”

Of course, the Beloved is a gentleman, so He honors her request. Yet immediately in the next chapter, the Shulamite regrets her decision not to go with him. “All night long on my bed I looked for the one my heart loves; I looked for him but did not find him” (Song 3:1). She ends up getting out of bed and goes into the city to search for the one her heart loves. Not long after, she finds Him and holds onto Him. This time she won’t let go (Song 3:4).

The Beloved then shows His bride the full display of His strength and sovereignty in the form of a securely armed carriage, “escorted by sixty warriors… each with his sword at his side, prepared for the terrors of the night… Its posts he made of silver, its base of gold…its interior inlaid with love” (Song 3:6-10). By showing her His carriage, which he had intended to carry her up the mountain with, He is communicating to her the fact that with Him is the safest place she can be. Her initial hesitancy to go with Him was because of fear. The mountains and hills were too intimidating. But she needn’t be afraid, because He would be with her all the way. And He is a good fellow to have along—just look at Him! And look at the soldiers with Him! It’s like travelling with the Navy SEAL as your private bodyguards and their commander is your fiancé. Wowie!

Now we get to chapter 4. The Beloved sings His love songs over His Bride (Song 4:1-15), calling forth her “budding virtues.” At this point, she has not yet expressed complete obedience, which we saw in chapter 2 when she refused to go with her Beloved. But she is willing to change. She knows her own weakness, and she’s reaching out to the Beloved to help her overcome her fear. This moves the Beloved’s heart. He’s not looking for perfection. He sees the reach in her heart, the willingness to go with Him and to be made fully mature.

This is reflected in her prayer in verse 16, “Awake, north wind, and come, south wind! Blow on my garden, that its fragrance may spread everywhere. Let my beloved come into his garden and taste its choice fruits” (Song 4:16). The north winds, which are cold, freezing winds from the north, represent the harsh seasons of trial and testing. The south winds, which are warm winds from the south, represent the seasons of blessing, ease, and comfort. The Shulamite welcomes both. She understands that it requires both, i.e. the balance of chaos and order, beauty and pain, to bring out the fragrance of her heart. So she prays for maturity; she prays that her “choice fruits” (i.e. virtues) would ripen, or mature, and that her Beloved may enjoy them in the garden of her heart.


This leads us finally to chapter 5, which is where I really want to go deeper into the text and focus on interpretation and application.

As we remember, up to this point, the Beloved has already invited the Shulamite once to “Come away with me” (Song 2:10), but she refused the first time. After changing her mind, she found Him immediately in the city square, in chapter 3. This time, in chapter 5, the Beloved is knocking again. But it’s a different season, and she’s about to find out.

Verse 2: Knocking

[Shulamite] I slept but my heart was awake. Listen! My beloved is knocking: “Open to me, my sister, my darling, my dove, my flawless one. My head is drenched with dew, my hair with the dampness of the night.”

Scene summary: The Beloved knocks on the door.

Just when she was getting comfortable again, the Beloved comes knocking on the Shulamite’s door, challenging her to another level of faith. How many times do we experience the same thing in our spiritual journey? God is always challenging us to go deeper and higher, and just when we think we’ve “made it” He knocks again. It’s a never-ending journey.

Jesus is our Bridegroom, and He’s not satisfied with just a part of our hearts. He wants it all. As any lover would be, He’s jealous for all of us, i.e. our love, affection, time, focus, and energy. You may say, “Jesus, I’ve given up so many things already. What more do you want from me?” And He says, “I want your heart.”

He’s always calling us to higher levels of consecration and surrender, not out of a need for control but out of the infinitude of His love and affection towards us. He knows that our happiness is tied directly to Him and how much we surrender ourselves to His love.

He also knows us better than we know ourselves. Just when we think we’ve “healed” enough or have dealt enough with our hurt and pain from the past, He zooms in with a magnifying glass and reveals even deeper layers of misalignment in our subconscious. “You still have some fear in that area,” He says, “and that is why you are reacting this way.” He turns up the heat, and like silver refined in the fire we are refined by trials.

Why do I like chapter 5 so much? Because this is the moment in the Shulamite’s journey when Jesus turns up the heat. She’s past the Honeymoon phase now. She’s entering into a season that Bible scholars call the “Dark Night of the Soul.” This is something I can relate to, and I think we all can relate to, because these are real seasons we experience. The “Dark Night of the Soul” doesn’t just refer to the “daily trials” we face like traffic jams, annoying bosses, car breakdowns, or fevers. They are spiritual crises: We don’t feel God anymore. Our faith doesn’t seem to be working. Darkness, helplessness, weariness, a sense of failure or defeat, barrenness, emptiness, and dryness descend upon us.

But how does the Shulamite respond to such a crisis? And how does this “Dark night of the Soul” shape and transform her?

Let’s remember that this chapter starts with a knock at the door. It’s not the devil. It’s actually Jesus who is knocking. He is the one who ushers her into this next season of testing, which may feel a little bit like dying.

 Verse 3-5: Dying to Self

I have taken off my robe—must I put it on again? I have washed my feet—must I soil them again? My beloved thrust his hand through the latch-opening; my heart began to pound for him. I arose to open for my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with flowing myrrh, on the handles of the bolt.

Scene summary: The Bride gets up for her Beloved.

There is discomfort in responding to Jesus’ invitation. The Shulamite was already lying warm and cozy in her comfy bed. She had taken off her robe. She had washed her feet. Must she get up and get dressed again? But that is exactly what her Beloved is asking for. When God knocks on our door, it often requires an uncomfortable response. We have to get up and get out of our comfort zones. We have to be okay with disrupting our own “agendas” and breaking free of our complacency.

Fact is: God’s not in the business of making us feel good. His ultimate goal is not to give us an “easy life,” contrary to what many Christians may believe. In fact, His goal is actually to kill our old selves in order that our true selves may be set free. This is what “carrying our cross” is all about. There’s a part of us that needs to be crucified and that needs to die. God’s invitation for us to go higher usually implies a greater level of sanctification. He works to purge us of our need for comfort and other worldly pleasures that placate our spiritual hunger.

In verse 5, when the Shulamite arises to open the door for her Beloved, her hands are dripping with myrrh. In the Bible, Myrrh represents Death and Mourning. Jesus was given myrrh to drink on the cross (Mark 15:23), and at death He was embalmed with myrrh and aloes (John 19:39). This signifies that the Shulamite is entering into a season of Death, which can also be described as Brokenness. This is the path of the cross, the road to Calvary, which Jesus walked before us and that He invites us to walk also. The apostle Paul speaks of being “united with [Jesus] in his death… and resurrection” (Romans 6:5) and “sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10).

Therefore the Bride gets up to look for her Beloved. She responds to the invitation, but what does she find?

Verse 6: Silence

I opened for my beloved, but my beloved had left; he was gone. My heart sank at his departure. I looked for him but did not find him. I called him but he did not answer.

Scene summary: Beloved withdraws His presence.

This time when the Bride goes to look for her Beloved, instead of finding Him immediately, like she did the first time (Song 3:4), she is met with silence. She looks but cannot find Him. He has gone, completely absent. She calls, but He does not answer. It’s the beginning of the Dark Night.

In this season “Seek and you will find” is not her experience. “But, Jesus, you said ‘Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.’ Yet here I am, and I can’t seem to feel Your presence at all. Why aren’t You answering me?” The Bride’s faith doesn’t seem to be working. What worked for her in the last season isn’t working now. God’s Word doesn’t seem true, and questions flood her mind.

“My heart sank.Not only is she confused she’s disappointed. Emotionally, the Bride is struggling. In these times, we ask, “God, where are you? Why is this happening?”

The Shulamite is experiencing an internal crisis, which is soon followed by an external crisis of equal magnitude.

Verse 7: Crisis

The watchmen found me as they made their rounds in the city. They beat me, they bruised me; they took away my cloak, those watchmen of the walls!

Scene summary: The Watchmen beat the Bride.

To add oil to the fire, the Bride experiences an awful crisis—the watchmen of the city beat and bruise her! Such an event could easily cause anyone else to become bitter and offended. “Look, God! You left me in the dark, and now this happens!? You’ve completely abandoned me, haven’t You?” We see this happen all the time, especially in the specific scenario described here.

This scene describes the Shulamite being beaten by the “watchmen of the walls.” Who are the watchmen? They represent the leaders of the church. (Ezekiel 3:17-19, “Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me.” Isaiah 62:6, “I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, [which] shall never hold their peace day nor night: ye that make mention of the LORD, keep not silence.”) Often the most painful experience we can endure as believers is being mistreated and hurt by church leaders. In fact, this is one of the most common reasons why people leave the church. Some of them never get over their bitterness, offense, and disillusionment. It’s a tragedy, but it happens all too often.

This is the true test of the Dark Night of the Soul: the Test of Offense, which is made up of a couple elements. Firstly, God seems silent; you can’t feel His presence anymore. Secondly, your world has been turned upside down by crisis and pain.

Thirdly, which is less evident in the text, is how long it lasts. In real life, the “Dark Night of the Soul” could last months, even years. Consider King David. His Dark Night lasted thirteen years. After a stunning victory over Goliath, David, innocent, was forced to flee the mighty army of King Saul for over a decade, losing his dreams, family, reputation, and earthly security. Hannah, mother of the prophet Samuel, endured years of infertility, unanswered prayers, and mocking from the second wife of her husband. She was in such despair that her prayers looked like that of an insane person. And how about our father of faith, Abraham? From the time God promised him a son to when Isaac was born, he waited exactly twenty-five years! That’s a quarter of a century of waiting and not seeing God’s promise fulfilled.

How do we respond when it seems like nothing is working and everything is dying or dead? Our hopes and dreams, our prayers and prophetic words, seem to go unanswered for years, decades even.

What do David, Hannah, and Abraham teach us about responding to the Lord in these seasons of Silence and Brokenness? How does the Bride respond in this Dark Night of the Soul?

Verse 8: Lovesick

Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you—if you find my beloved, what will you tell him? Tell him I am faint with love.

Scene summary: The Bride’s response—She’s still lovesick for her Beloved!

This is absolutely incredible! Instead of growing bitter at His absence and silence, the Bride is lovesick for her Beloved! This is amazing. How was she able to do it? How was she able to protect her heart from offense during this Dark Night of the Soul?

I believe there are at least three reasons why the Bride was able to stay unoffended through it all. Number one: She’s confident in Love. Despite her Beloved’s absence and silence, she’s remained confident in His love for her. It never crossed her mind that He might be angry with her or that He was passive-aggressively holding out on her to punish her in some way. She doesn’t take it personally.

Number two: She’s learned to wait. Remember Abraham? He also learned to wait, albeit not very well at first. At seventy-five years old, he was told he would be a father of nations. After eleven years of waiting, he took matters into his own hands and birthed Ishmael through his maidservant Hagar (Genesis 16:1-4). God forced him to wait another fourteen years before the promised child was born. The public and private humiliation he suffered transformed him into a father of faith for all history.

As Peter Scazzero says in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, “Much sin and error goes back to a failure to wait on the Lord. God wants to purge us of this deep, stubborn willfulness to run ahead of him. We want to take things into our own hands and refuse to wait on God.”

Psalm 27:14 “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

Psalm 130:5-6 “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord.”

And finally, number three: She’s let go of control. Although she cannot find her Beloved, she isn’t distraught by her lack of control over the situation. This is not an easy lesson to learn. As Scazzero writes, “I like control. I like to know where God is going, exactly what He is doing, the exact route of how we are getting there, and exactly when we will arrive. I also like the remind God of his need to behave in ways that fit in with my clear ideas of him.” The problem is God is utterly incomprehensible. “God is not an object that we can determine, master, or command” (Scazzero). As Augustine once said, “If you understand, it is not God you understand.”

Most of the time, we have no idea what God is doing. What may seem like a curse now may turn out to be a blessing later, and vice versa. For example, in the wilderness, David was transformed into a “man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 16). Hannah’s years of pain and grief transformed her into a godly mother of Samuel who would transform a nation (1 Samuel 1-2). And we already saw how God used the dark night to transform Abraham into the father of faith for all history.

It doesn’t only transform us; it also transforms those around us who witness our transformation. This is what happens in the next verse.

Verse 9: Witness

[Friends] How is your beloved better than others, most beautiful of women? How is your beloved better than others, that you so charge us?

Scene summary: The Bride’s friends are amazed at her response.

The Bride’s inward transformation becomes evident to those around her. It is the fragrance of her love that “fills the house” in the Gospel of John chapter 12, verse 3, “Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” True sacrificial love cannot be hidden under a lamp; it is like a city on a hill. Our love for Jesus becomes a testimony to those around us, even without using so many words. Out of intrigue and curiosity, they ask, “How is your Beloved better than others? Why are you so lovesick?”

The Bride’s friends can see that she is not offended at all, and this amazes them. They know that she has every reason to be offended and yet she remains confident in love. As a result, they grow curious about who her Beloved is. What an effective form of evangelism!

What is it that the Shulamite’s friends are attracted to? What intrigues them about her? I believe it is what Jesus spoke of in His Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). When you are truly poor, you don’t quarrel over superficial things. A beggar doesn’t care about his face or reputation; these become petty and meaningless in comparison to survival.

In one word it’s Brokenness. To be truly poor in spirit means to be truly broken. But the opposite of brokenness is Pride and Arrogance, which are the root and origin of all sin. We judge others, exercise our right to determine good and evil, and get offended when others criticize, judge or insult us.

The Bride doesn’t exercise that right. She has no room in her heart for offense. She is lovesick. She is “unoffendable.”

How “unoffendable” are you? This is a good way to measure our level of brokenness.

In the final portion of chapter 5, the Bride responds to her friends’ questions with a rapturous love poem about her Beloved.

Verse 10-16: Mature Love

[Shulamite] My beloved is radiant and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand… His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, this is my friend, daughters of Jerusalem.

Scene summary: The Bride sings her Beloved’s praises.

The Dark Night of the Soul draws to an end, and the Bride sings a rapturous love song dedicated to all the marvelous qualities of her Beloved. She specifically describes ten of His features in beautifully poetic language.

Through this love song, we witness the Bride’s incredible transformation since the first chapter. We remember how at the beginning of the book, her love songs were born out of comfort and ease. She sat in the shade, eating apples and raisins (Song 2:3-6). In this environment, it is not difficult to be “in love.” Yet when the stakes were raised and her Beloved challenged her to go the mountains with Him, she wasn’t willing to leave her comfort zone (Song 2:10-17).

Now, we see a different Bride. She’s experienced life without her Beloved and decided it’s not worth the illusion of safety. She’s pushed past her complacency to go with Him, and when she found Him she would not let him go (Song 3:1-4). After this second awakening, the Beloved reaffirms His love for her, calling forth her “budding virtues,” which is another way of saying He saw who she could be before she was those things and spoke it forth (Song 4:1-15). To this, the Bride responds with a daring prayer at the end of chapter 4, calling forth trials and blessings (represented by north and south winds) to blow through her life and to cause her love to mature.

By this time she’s ready for chapter 5—The Dark Night of the Soul. She’s again challenged to leave her comfort zone but this time when she does, she cannot find her Beloved. She can’t see Him or feel Him. He’s nowhere to be found. And yet she holds on to faith. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). She is confident in His love and remains in love with Him. In her quest to find her Beloved, she reaches out to her friends who have been silent companions (and witnesses) throughout her journey. They ask, “How is your beloved better than others?” to which she responds with this incredible love song, born out of separation and trial. Her love has been tested and remains true.

She begins to list out all of the qualities of her Beloved. He is “radiant and rudy, outstanding among ten thousand. His head is purest gold…” Head represents leadership. She’s saying that His leadership is perfect. There is no flaw in Him. And His eyes, which are the ‘windows to the soul,’ are “like doves…washed in milk.” Doves are known for their monogamy and loyalty. Her Beloved is pure in love and fiercely loyal and devoted to her. “His lips are like lilies dripping with myrrh… His mouth is sweetness itself.” This speaks of His speech and words; they are delicate and refined, marked with brokenness and humility. “He is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, this is my friend, daughters of Jerusalem.” She’s absolutely enamored! There is no flaw in her Beloved. In her eyes, He is perfect. In the midst of the Dark Night, even without having received the answer to her prayers yet, she is singing His praises, singing through the night.

How does this move the Beloved’s heart?

It overwhelms Him! In the next chapter, the Beloved appears and responds to the Bride’s love song with another one of his own, in which He calls her “lovely as Jerusalem, as majestic as troops with banners” (Song 6:4). He is utterly moved by her tenacity of faith and unwavering love for Him. In fact, He is so ravished by her love He asks her to “Turn your eyes from me; they overwhelm me” (Song 6:5).

This is true faith. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This is the faith that sustained David through the wilderness for thirteen years, the faith that Hannah held onto when she cried out before the temple, the faith that was credited to Abraham as righteousness when he believed God’s promise that he would be “father of nations” even at a hundred years old.

Conclusion

There have been seasons in my life when I felt hopeless and disillusioned. I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. How long would this Dark Night of the Soul go on for? Sometimes it felt like it might never end. God seemed far away, like there was a thick wall of fog between us. His words were muffled by the dense darkness, and I could barely make out His silhouette.

Other times, these episodes of silent despair would be contrasted with frightful fits of anger and frustration or simply lying in fetus position crying buckets of tears.

We’ve all been there in some way, shape, or form. God, where are You? Why is this happening? Why have You abandoned me? We might remember that even Jesus, the Son of God, prayed something similar as he hung on the cross. Matthew 27:46, “About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’).” In fact, one might say that Jesus’ cross was the ultimate Dark Night of the Soul. He bore the wrath of the Father for the sin of all mankind throughout history, dying our death, taking the punishment we deserved. He went through the Dark Night of the Soul for our sake, so that in our dark nights He might be there with us, showing us the way to life on the other side. Never did He lose sight of the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2), for which he endured the cross. Never did He curse the Father or doubt His love. He stayed faithful in love and righteousness—the ultimate Job, who lost everything yet trusted God. “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15).

Jesus bore my punishment so that I could have His reward. Jesus died my death so that I could receive His life. He went through the darkest of nights so that I might enjoy His eternal light. He went down to the depths of Hell itself so that I may never have a reason to remain hopeless again! This is my Jesus! He is my Bridegroom and Friend! He is the One I sing to, even on my darkest day and in the deepest pit of despair. Even when I can’t feel Him, I know He is not so far away. He is my Beloved who comes “leaping over mountains, bounding over hills” (Song 2:8). Yes, this is my Beloved, this is my Friend, O daughters of Jerusalem! (Song 5:16)

In these seasons of trial and hardship, my breakthrough often came when I finally sat myself down in front of a piano and prayed through the music I played there. I often call my piano bench “my prayer room.” I love this quote from a German opera house: “Bach gave us God’s Word. Mozart gave us God’s laughter. Beethoven gave us God’s fire. God gave us Music that we might pray without words.” What does prayer look like to you? When I play the piano, I feel my soul cry rendering its prayer into musical notes that ascend to the throne of God. So many hopes and desires, shattered dreams and losses that cannot be described with mere words. Therefore, music becomes my prayer language.

And yet I cannot deny the power of speech. Romans 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” When we declare the truth of who God is and the promises He’s given us—even when our circumstances scream the opposite—we disrupt the darkness violently. The devil shakes and quakes, because he can’t stand it when the children of God know who they are and how much their Daddy loves them. When the revelation of Jesus our Bridegroom really takes root in our hearts, it terrifies the devil. We become lovesick warriors, and “Lovers always outwork workers,” as Pastor Mike Bickle says.

To be able to stand in the midst of the storm and say, “Jesus, I love You!” this is what the psalmist does in Psalm 42 when he sings, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” It is spiritual warfare. When everything within us wants to give up and lose hope, we choose to say, “No. My hope is in the Lord, and I will yet praise Him!”

And that is the story of Song of Songs chapter 5. The Bride stands at the end of chapter 5, victorious in love, a witness to her friends, lovesick for her Bridegroom, confident and unoffended. What a testimony! This is our journey too, and this can be our testimony. When we cannot see God’s goodness around us, do we still believe that God is good? When we cannot see God’s faithfulness, do we still believe that He is faithful?

The end of the story is a “bright and pure” Bride (Revelation 19:8) at the epitome of love and maturity. In the final chapter of Song of Songs, she sings, “Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away. If one were to give all the wealth of one’s house for love, it would be utterly scorned” (Song 8:6-7). Love marks her and becomes the whole meaning of her life. She is sealed by love.

All the things she experiences up to that point, including the Dark Night of the Soul, help purify her love and intensify its expression. I believe that on that day when we stand before His throne at the end of our lives, we will look back and say, “You had never left me. Not once. I see now how You worked all things out for the ultimate purpose of love.” For Jesus is Love, the ultimate Lover and our Beloved.


Question to Consider: What may be one way the Lord is “breaking” you in this season and tenderizing your heart through “removing His presence” or causing a longing in your heart to go unfulfilled? 

Prayer: Lord, thank you for what you are doing in my heart, even though it is painful at times. Give me faith to believe even when I cannot see. Deliver me from my need for control and from taking matters into my own hands. Teach me to wait on You and to trust in Your love. Oh that others may see the transformation in my life and want to know You! Jesus, thank You for the opportunity to lavish my love on You in the good times and in the bad times. I love You, Jesus.

The last time I posted a blog was more than two years ago! Since then so much has happened, and I’ve learned a lot about who I am as a person and about the character of God. He is good, and He is faithful through it all—the good and the bad. I want to share a bit with you what I’ve experienced and discovered over the last two years.

But before that…

First of all, I no longer live in Fremont, California. If you know me or have been following me on social media, you know that in August of last year I moved to Kansas City, Missouri, to join the International House of Prayer. I am technically a student this year (I graduate in May) and will be officially joining the faculty this summer as a music teacher for Forerunner Music Academy Chinese, which is part of the International House of Prayer University (IHOPU).

How did I end up in Kansas City?

This all started with a conversation I had back in December 2017 with Nicole Tsai, director of FSMC and FMAC. Over dinner, she invited me to join their teaching faculty. After time in prayer and deliberation, I agreed to come. But in order to join staff at IHOP, you have to go through an internship or the university. Since I’ll be a teacher in the Chinese school, it made sense to go through the Chinese school as a student first.

Honestly I never thought I would actually move to Kansas City and join IHOP. The last time I might have entertained a seedling of the idea was when I graduated high school, about ten years ago. At that time I had actually applied and auditioned for FMA and got accepted, but I decided not to come. For one, I already had a life, a career and a platform at Forerunner Christian Church in Fremont, California. I wasn’t just comfortable; I suppose I considered myself “successful” in some ways. I had found my “niche” as a Chinese worship leader, singer-songwriter and producer. I had setup my own home studio and I was already making music. I was doing what I loved, and the people around me loved me. Genuinely. From the outside there seemed no reason to leave.

Of course the plot twist

That was until 2015 when my spiritual immaturity and perfectionist/performance mentality finally caught up with me. I had been giving more than I had to give, and my soul was crying out for a hiatus. That’s when I decided to apply for Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry. I spent three years there. For the most part I did little ministry, except for the times in between when I’d come back to Fremont or travel across Asia to serve in conferences and the like. I grew up a lot. I learned more about God—His creativity and His Kingdom’s culture of honor and empowerment.

I thought, “This is good. This is just what I needed to balance out what Christianity has looked like to me for the most part of my life. Now, my vision of the Father is more complete.” I thought I could go back to Fremont and continue my ministry the way it was before, albeit with healthier and more mature spiritual foundation and expectations.

Not all is as it seems

Of course, it wasn’t “all good.” This journey is never ending. The moment we think we’ve “made it,” God pulls in the magnifying glass and reveals things underneath the surface that we never imagined could exist, and then He turns up the heat until it feels like we’re practically sizzling under His intense gaze.

In my last post “My 2016 Summer—Journey from Powerlessness to Free & Responsible,” I shared a bit about what God was teaching me regarding owning and taking responsibility for my attitude and response in the context of ministry, rather than adopting a victim mentality and feeling powerless. And, without a doubt, God has done a lot in my heart related to this subject.

But He wasn’t done yet. The summer of 2016 was in between my second and third year at Bethel. On May 2017 I officially graduated from Bethel after finishing three years of their ministry school. Now the real test was to begin.

And, boy, did it.

The Beginning

Literally a month after I graduated, God began to turn my world upside down. I won’t go into details now (or maybe ever) but some things happened that launched me into a whirlwind of an emotional rollercoaster like nothing I had ever experienced before. Firstly, my brother Vincent got radically transformed at a gathering in Montreal, Canada. My whole family had been praying and fasting for him to encounter the Lord for years. Seeing him get touched by the Lord and used in such a powerful way (to dance prophetically on stage before tens of thousands, leading the next generation into a new level of freedom and reconciliation with the older generation) was like a dream come true. I still rejoice about it to this day. My family is the greatest joy of my heart.

That summer in 2017 I also went to Taiwan to serve in youth camps and other conferences. We were prepared for an intense itinerary—weeks on end, non-stop service and ministry. This is what I was used to. It was nothing new, and yet something was different because my heart wasn’t in the right place. Like I said, I had been launched head-on into an emotional rollercoaster (I will call it my “dark night of the soul”), that I wasn’t prepared for and neither were the people around me. Weeks into our intense serving schedule, I—and those around me—began to sense that perhaps what I really needed was a time-out. So out of the graciousness of their heart, my pastors on the trip allowed me to take a break. I needed to sort some things out.

The Sorting

As a result, and pretty much out of the blue, I ended up having two weeks alone to myself in Taipei, Taiwan. I lived by myself in a gorgeous loft in the middle of the city and could take the metro anywhere I wanted. Yet everyday I found myself going to cafes and walking around with no agenda. I didn’t want to “go places” or “do things.” I just needed to process what was going on in my heart. I’m not sure I did a very good job at it, but, all in all, those two weeks were a gift from heaven. I needed the time to breathe, to write, to compose and basically decompress.

After I came back from Asia, I ended up spending the next year decompressing in Fremont. God didn’t lead me anywhere else immediately. It was a good, solid year of being back in the local church and putting my hands to work, producing music for the church and for some friends. I’m actually very proud of myself; I helped to produce two EP‘s for FRCC Music from start to finish, including arranging and composing all the orchestration for these epic, bigger-than-life songs.

The Peeling

So what happened with that “Dark night of the soul” I had mentioned earlier? (“Dark night of the soul” is a reference to how many Bible scholars describe this part of the Bride’s journey in Song of Solomon chapter 5, when she can no longer feel the Beloved’s presence and gets beaten by the watchmen. I plan to write a post studying this passage more in depth later on.) Throughout those twelves months of being back in Fremont, God continued to drive His blade deeper and deeper into my heart. I felt like Eustace in the Chronicles of Narnia when Aslan dug his claws into his flesh and began peeling off layer and layer of dragon skin until finally Eustace turned into a boy again. Here’s an excerpt from the book that adequately describes how I felt during this time:

“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. . . .”The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis

The imagery seems quite appropriate to how I felt—the utter brokenness and even humiliation I felt during this “dark night of the soul,” like God was tearing off layer after layer of my pride and false expectations. I felt like a dragon, a beast, something horridly ugly and offensive, being torn apart, down the middle, from the left and the right. Nothing excruciatingly traumatic had happened to me (let’s just be clear), and yet the pain was like a suffocating fog looming all around me everyday for months.

“Man’s Search For Meaning”

Finally the apex of this “Dark night” occurred around the end of 2017, near the time I went to Kansas City and met up with Nicole Tsai who invited me to join their staff. Somehow I ended up reading Viktor E. Frankl’s book Man’s Search For Meaning, and it practically saved my life—emotionally and spiritually.

Frankl was a psychiatrist working on a book about logotherapy (a form of psychiatry that focuses on helping clients discover their meaning of life) when World War II happened and he was sent to a concentration camp. In the camps (he survived TheresienstadtAuschwitz, Kaufering and Türkheim), he was able to witness the extreme perimeters of man’s psyche, both the most depraved as well as the noblest of characters. He still ended up writing his book, at the end of WWII, as a Holocaust survivor, and his book continues to teach and inspire people all over the world about the meaning of life—because even in the midst of the most evil of regimes, love and nobility and the meaning of life are still as relevant as ever, if not even more so.

I cannot recommend this book more. I think every person ought to read it. It changed the way I look at life and at pain and suffering. The latter were no longer things I should try to ignore or get rid of, but rather pain and suffering became the arena to which I was called upon to prove my nobility and develop my character.

(I include some of my favorite quotes from the book at the very bottom of this post. Go read them if you’d like a proper dose of revelation and encouragement. But of course, I recommend you read the entire book for yourself.)

Choosing

I wouldn’t say it got easier after reading Frankl’s book but it definitely put everything into perspective. The pain that I was feeling didn’t feel “pointless,” if that makes any sense. I could see that there was a purpose to my suffering, that life itself (or God) was expecting something out of me in this season, and it was up to me to make the right decision. Would I choose to respond according to my faith and values or react out of fear and self-preservation? I still had the ability to choose, and that could never be taken away from me.

It’s still a daily choice. How easy it is to forget that we hold the key to our own happiness and the fulfillment of a meaningful life. Happiness isn’t found by pursuing happiness; it is found by taking responsibility for our calling and living each day with purpose.

There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.” –Fyodor Dostoevsky

Refocusing

Now that I live here in Kansas City, I must say it’s been a little easier to refocus and re-center on what’s important. It’s probably because KC is in the middle of nowhere (the heartland of America), and life is a little less busy and hectic here. It’s probably because, as IHOPU students, we are mandated to spend a certain number of hours in the prayer room, and even science has proven that meditation and prayer boosts emotional health. It’s probably because since moving here I’ve surrounded myself with amazing girlfriends and a strong community. (This is also something I’ve learned and grown in a lot over the past few years, i.e. the importance of building quality relationships and prioritizing quality time.) It’s probably because I know that God is the one who called me here (since this was never my idea in the first place), and this sense of purpose trumps any offenses or discomfort I may experience while I’m here.

For such a time as this

And in fact, I can see clearly that God brought me here for such a time as this. Why didn’t He bring me to IHOP ten years earlier when I had just graduated high school? Why now? Besides the obvious that now I’m here by invitation and with the guarantee of a job after graduation, God has clearly been doing something significant here at IHOP since the Convergence gathering last September. Then it was the Onething conference in December, which Mike announced would be the last Onething conference in the foreseeable future.

All of these things happened after I moved to Kansas City, and I get to be a part of it! Who could have picked a better time? I certainly had no idea all of this would happen when I made my decision to move my entire life over here, to the middle of nowhere, away from my friends and family, church and ministry. But God knew. He had a great purpose for me here, and it’s still unfolding.

And this is what I have learned the most over the last two years. God is good. He is faithful. All of the time. Even in the bad. His purpose prevails, and there is a calling waiting for us in the midst of our suffering and pain. There is a calling waiting for our response. And the moment we do respond, everything falls into perspective and all we can do is worship and stand in awe of His infinite wisdom and graciousness towards us.


So, I hope that this encourages you in some way. I’m sharing my story not just to update you all on how I’ve been over the last two years (since I’ve been quite silent here on this blog!) but also to celebrate the fact that God is faithful. He has been for me, and He will be for you!

I’ll keep sharing some personal stories and testimonies in this space, as well as other updates on my life and music (You can subscribe on my homepage), and hopefully the next post won’t be in two years.


Excerpts from Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

Is that theory true which would have us believe that man is no more than a product of many conditional and environment factors—be they of a biological, psychological or sociological nature? Is man but an accidental product of these? Most important, do the prisoners’ reactions to the singular world of the concentration camp prove that man cannot escape the influences of his surroundings? Does man have no choice of action in the face of such circumstances?

We can answer these questions from experience as well as on principle. The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action. There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate.

…in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him—mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp. Dostoevski said once, “There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.”… It can be said that they were worthy of their sufferings; the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is the spiritual freedom—which cannot be taken away—that makes life meaningful and purposeful.

–Man’s Search for Meaning (p.65-67), Emphasis added


What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment… One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment with demand fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it

As each situation in life represents a challenge to man and presents a problem for him to solve, the question of the meaning of life may actually be reversed. Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible. Thus, logotherapy sees in responsibleness the very essence of human existence.

… This emphasis on responsibleness is reflected in the categorical imperative of logotherapy, which is: “Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!” It seems to me that there is nothing which would stimulate a man’s sense of responsibleness more than this maxim, which invites him to imagine first that the present is past and, second, that the past may yet be changed and amended. Such a precept confronts him with life’s finiteness as well as the finality of what he makes out of both his life and himself.

Logotherapy tries to make the patient fully aware of his own responsibleness.

— Man’s Search for Meaning (p.108-109), Emphasis added

2016-summer-collage

I know it’s already 2017, but last summer God led me through a process that I’ve been meaning to write down for the last six months. I think it’s important to record the stories and lessons we experience, even if it’s just to remind ourselves over and over again of God’s goodness and faithfulness.

The story I want to tell is that of my journey from powerlessness to being Free & Responsible (one of Bethel’s core values). It was not easy learning this lesson (and I’m definitely still in the middle of it), but I hope that my account of this journey will bless you as it has blessed me.

“A Grand Vision”

On June 12th, 2016, I went to a coworkers meeting for our church’s young adult intensive school. Near the end of the meeting, one of our pastors began sharing her vision for the school. “In the future, I envision expanding to even more countries and starting new schools with specific focuses, such as creative arts! We’re going to do so much more; this is just the beginning.”

We were already doing six schools a year, 60 days a year. (And this wasn’t part of my job–I was just a very dedicated volunteer.) I couldn’t imagine what “more” would look like. I was exhausted just thinking about it.

I looked around at the faces of everyone, trying to decipher what they were feeling as they were hearing this—mainly because I was super confused by the emotions that were being wrought up inside of me. I thought, “Anyone else hearing this must be super excited about our pastor’s vision. It’s expanding the Kingdom and encountering the lives of young people all over the world… But why is it that all I want to do is cry?”

And not a ‘touched by God’ sort of cry. I wanted to crawl up into a ball and ugly cry.
(more…)

Hey Everyone! It’s been awhile since I last posted something, but so much has happened. I’ve needed to write for a long time, and finally now, 36,000 feet in the air, on a plane, I’ve found the time to do it.

on-plane
Chris and I aboard the plane

(We’re currently heading to Taiwan to minister at 青年學校 [young adult intensive school] in Tainan for a week, and I’ll be leading worship.)

Where I’m At

It’s been an eventful last few months. I’ll start with where I’m at—not meaning my current physical location, which is as I mentioned, somewhere above the Pacific Ocean, four hours from our destination of Taoyuan International Airport. I’m currently in the middle of my Third Year at Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry. Third year is different from First and Second Year in that it’s an internship, and for nine months you have the privilege of interning for a Bethel leader (there is an interviewing and selection process), and they become your mentor. (more…)

Artist Interview

Thandi Gamedze | Spoken Word Artist

March 4, 2016

This morning, I recorded Thandi’s spoken word titled “Your Pen” in my bedroom studio. Thandi hails from South Africa and is a third-year student at BSSM. She also has a huge heart for social justice. I interviewed her after our recording session and got to learn a lot about her creative journey with God and the revelation she has about God’s great value for creativity.

What is your dream as a spoken word artist? (more…)