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.

…on Serving

Jesus is the Lamb of God on the throne, for eternity. The “Lamb” is the servant, the suffering one. If Jesus chose to be the “Lamb” to get his dream—which is you—then how can we think we will fulfill our dreams any other way, other than serving? Servanthood is the best way, the greatest step forward, towards our dreams.

When you know who you are, you look for chances to serve. When you look for chances to rule, that means you don’t yet know who you are and what you carry. (more…)

…on Submission

Be quick to submit. Learn servanthood.

It’s important for you to learn how to serve someone else’s vision that doesn’t match Bethel’s (or wherever you’re used to) — signs and wonders are not the only expression that God is moving. We often come out of Bethel having a narrow view of what it looks like when God is moving. I want a broader view and idea of what it looks like when God’s moving. The big picture is, all streams merge into a river; the problem is when the stream thinks it’s a river.

Get rid of your agenda the moment you leave school. You might “die”—but Joseph had to die, and Daniel had to die… You must learn to serve someone else’s vision. Both Joseph and Daniel served kings who were, by many standards, evil. They had committed mass murder or genocide and/or declared themselves “god,” forcing people to bow down to their image. Yet, God placed these two men in the perfect positions to influence their leaders, and they both carried a heart attitude to serve their kings well and see them prosper.

Sometimes we just need to say, “I don’t agree with that, but I will serve it and I will submit.” We don’t need to agree to submit. Agreement is not a prerequisite of Submission. God commanded us to submit to our leaders (even imperfect ones… for there are no other types of leaders), so that means choosing to pursue honor and relationship over being “right” and doing things “my way.”


…on Leadership & Feedback

In an environment where there’s a lot of trust, there are more diverse leaders (not just “yes” people). You need to value diversity if you want to be the leader God has called you to be. Trust allows people to speak up. And there’s an understanding that disagreement is not an attack on their character. (Trust is established when there is commitment to one another.)

All the members in Abraham Lincoln’s administration were his opponents in the election.

I meet with a leadership coach 1-2 a year. It’s about developing a Culture of Feedback, from top (your leaders), side (your peers), and below (those you lead). It’s not easy, but there’s value in it. Welcome others to speak into your life.

The hardest areas for feedback are the areas I am the most confident in. I need to learn to “re-translate” their feedback into “they are trying to make me better” instead of “they are wrong,” and try not to get very defensive.

“I have friends and people in my life that I’ll call when I need feedback.” Try to surround yourself with the right people. They may not be a ton, just a couple. Their ages should be varied—not all peers. Don’t just call them when you’re in trouble but also when you’re doing well.

If feedback comes without a context and without understanding the dynamics of the circumstances, then it won’t carry as much weight. But if someone knows what they’re talking about, then the smart thing is to just listen and don’t defend yourself.

Even when you feel misunderstood and insecure, just say “Thank you for your feedback. I’m going to go away and think about it.” I won’t act out of my insecurity.

How to Transition to New Leadership Well:

  1. Clarity.
  2. Communication.

Don’t let time and space get in the way of communication, meaning don’t allow lots of time and space go by without communicating. It’s always better to facilitate clarity with good communication, as soon as possible. This helps the transition process.

Also, if you are transitioning into a new leadership position, don’t try to fill anyone else’s shoes. You have to have your own shoes. Sure, there are similarities but you are unique in your own right. (Just as Eric Johnson’s preaching style may be similar to his dad’s, he is also different and doesn’t feel the pressure to fill his dad’s shoes.)

“Stop trying to be the most talented. Just try to be the most available.” Stop trying to be so serious. Just stop trying so much. Enjoy life. Just be available. Take risk. We are more trained than the disciples were—we have more information than they did, and they changed the world. There’s nothing worse than a cranky, upset Christian. Love life to the fullest. Take major risk. The most powerful thing a leader can do is to display a love for living.


From Eric Johnson’s Q&A session at BSSM second year last week

At BSSM, there are two types of classes: General classes that everyone takes together (e.g. Bible, Core Values) and Elective classes (called AMT’s) that are for a smaller class size. For my first semester, I chose to take an AMT called “Preparation for Leadership” taught by Olivia Shupe, who is an author and teacher. She also wrote the book “Renaissance Kids” about raising kids who are equipped and prepared to thrive and not just survive in today’s culture.

I looked forward to each session and probably took seven pages of notes on average during each class. The gold nuggets Shupe shared with us were so precious and relevant that I couldn’t help but try to write down every single word she spoke in class. Today I’d like to share some of these gold nuggets with you! Of course, these are not Shupe’s exact words, but rather a paraphrase of the main ideas, along with some really great quotes, that were shared in this class.

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Friendship.

Few people realize how much Jesus actually valued friendship. Before he went to the cross, Jesus said to his disciples in John 15:13, There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” This is an intimate glimpse into the heart of Jesus. As the nails were piercing through his hands and his feet, no doubt, Jesus thought about you and me, he thought about the world he was saving, he thought about those who would believe in him after… but as he hung on the cross, I bet you that Jesus thought about Peter, James and John–his closest disciples, his best friends.

Jesus values friendship. He went to the cross for it.

Can you imagine how heart-wrenching it was for Jesus to learn that Peter would deny him three times? Three and a half years of ‘doing life’ with his disciples, and now one of the ones closest to him, the disciple who confessed that Jesus was the Christ the Son of the Living God–now, Peter, would go on to deny he ever even knew Jesus. Not just once, but three times. That’s a burned bridge if you ever saw one. Most people would consider that a definite end to a relationship.

But for Jesus, there is no end.

After Jesus had risen from the dead, the angels said to the women who came to the tomb, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” The very first thing Jesus was determined to do after his resurrection was show Peter how willing He was to rebuild the bridge with him, i.e. to restore their relationship. That’s how much Jesus values relationship.

Are there any burned bridges in your life?

When it comes to marriage, we’ll often say, “Take counseling. Take classes. Do everything you can. Just don’t get a divorce.” And the same thing when it comes to our relationship with God, “Repent. Pray. Turn around. Just don’t forsake the Lord.” We know it is our responsibility to keep those bridges intact.

Yet, for some reason, when it comes to friendships… it’s okay to burn bridges. “This person offended me. Burn that bridge. This person spoke behind my back. Burn that bridge. This person betrayed me! Really burn that bridge.”

We will spend a whole season of our lives building connection with someone, sharing our deepest secrets, and doing life together. Yet, when something happens that creates a riff between the two of us, we decide to burn the bridge and think we can just press “Reset” with someone new.

Friendships were not meant to last for only a season.

“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Friendships go way beyond convenience. It’s the decision to say “Yes!” a thousand times over a period of decades that builds wealth in a relationship. It creates depth. (more…)