"My beloved spoke, and said to me: ?Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.?" Song of Solomon 2:10 (NKJV)

With all the talk of love in churches today, sometimes it can make a Christian feel sick. It gets so gooey we sometimes feel as if we have bitten into a dessert that has too much sugar and our teeth are set on edge. We know that too much sugar is not good for us, and neither is an over-emphasis on God?s love, without an understanding of His judgment. The Apostle Paul rejected this one-sided type of message about God, and instead preached a balanced one, as we read in Romans:

"Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off." Romans 11:22 (NKJV)

Nevertheless, it is a fact that the power of the Gospel is actually driven by love and not judgment. In Corinthians we read that although we may have mighty spiritual gifts from God, without love we are nothing. (1st Corinthians 13:2). Why is that? Why will we be considered at the lowest spiritual ebb if we lack love? If we pray and study the Bible will that not have a great spiritual affect on our lives? Moreover, if we are kind to others, and minister to them, is this not of great importance to God? What about preaching, teaching, or fasting, are these not wonderful things that we do that make us a great asset to the kingdom of God? Are these things not profitable, even if we are a little short on love?

Perhaps our understanding will be increased in this area if we look at a case study we find in the Bible. Jesus spoke to the church in Ephesus in the Book of Revelation, and began by complimenting them regarding their works. We read:

"I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary." Revelation 2:2-3 (NKJV)

These are glowing words, and today these people would be considered outstanding Christians. They had certainly worked very hard for the kingdom, for to receive a commendation like this from Christ was no small thing. They were patient, and they were discerning in the Word of God. They also discovered that some who called themselves apostles were not. Today we still have questionable people proclaiming themselves to be apostles (look at the gaudy advertisements for their meetings in some Christian magazines). Some promise a prophetic word if we attend their meetings, and others want us to send them money, not because they need it they say, but only because they want to multiply it to make us rich. The Ephesians used discernment and tested such as these to see if they were really anointed as apostles. This took prayer, discernment and boldness, which are outstanding Christian characteristics.

Not only did they work for the kingdom, they did not grow weary of performing the work. Remember, Christ is talking to the whole church here, not just pastors. We have all been called to ministry whether or not we are formally ordained. And whatever call we have on our lives means we will get involved with trying to help other people in some way or another. What wearisome business this can be! One fallen human being trying to minister to another in a sin-cursed world. How often we find that many are ingrates, many will use us, and many will try to manipulate us.

We not only have the problem of the sin nature of the people we minister to, but we also have the problem of our own sin nature which expects a "return on our investment." We expect that those whom we have served will appreciate our service, and even reciprocate if there is an opportunity. However, it rarely happens that way. And as we endeavor to fulfill His call, most of us have quickly found out that it is easy to get discouraged, feel unappreciated, and eventually decline to serve with the fervor we had in the beginning. However, the Ephesians were exceptional in this area ? they continued pressing onward. And yet, in spite of all the wonderful qualities that they exemplified, the next thing Jesus does is threaten to take away their church! (The lampstand symbolizes the church.)

"Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place–unless you repent." Revelation 2:4-5 (NKJV)

The World Seeks Love

Some people mock the idea of love in the world. Many atheists and agnostics see no reason to help others, because they see no divine purpose in life ? no grand design. They do not believe in or understand the curse that has come upon the world due to the Fall, and without that understanding, much in life seems futile and inscrutable. Nevertheless, the world is wistful about love. It is the theme of most worldly movies, novels, and particularly music. Many popular songs express the sorrow of someone?s heart being broken ? and often the cause is that they have been let down in love. In one particularly poignant old song we hear a woman expressing her delight with what love should be, only to be let down as she continues in her quest for it.

"Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels

The dizzy dancing way that you feel

As every fairy tale comes real

I’ve looked at love that way"

Ah, what an idealistic view of love. A young girl?s dream ? everything she ever wished for in the world. Seeking that perfect mate, her prince charming; the one who would make her happy forever. But in a culture of sexual permissiveness, we read between the lines that the young lady "gives her love away," and finds only pain in the end, as she concludes:

"But now it’s just another show

And you leave ’em laughing when you go

And if you care, don’t let them know

Don’t give yourself away

I’ve looked at love from both sides now

From give and take, and still somehow

It’s love’s illusions I recall

I really don’t know love

Really don’t know love at all"

She was deceived by the culture into thinking that she could find satisfaction from another fallen human being, and she becomes hardened and disenchanted as the search has gone on. Her worldly understanding of love eclipses any spiritual understanding because she is seeking love from men and not God. Nevertheless, there is sublime truth in this little song ? for she rightly realizes that she does not know love at all but only an illusion of it.

The Illusion and the Reality

Let us then consider that perhaps as Christians we do not really know love at all, either. Oh yes, we know Christ, and we know that He loves us. But what about the other side of that? What is expected of us as His bride? What deep things are there for us in that marriage that we have not yet experienced? If our love matters so much to Jesus that He threatens to remove a church because it is lacking, what will happen if love is lacking in our own lives?

We cannot comprehend His love for us ? that is a certainty. We take it as a fact, for it is written in Scripture and even in our dull physical state we perceive it to some extent. However, perhaps the illusion many of us share about our relationship with Christ is that reciprocity is not important. Like the Ephesians, we may even be busy trying to serve Him, but the service may not grow out of our love for Him, but out of a sense of duty. He clearly shows us that love is part of the covenant we entered into with Him when we asked Him into our hearts. And this is not a minor aspect or small portion of our relationship with Him ? it is rather the foundation, for we read in Mark:

"?And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.? This is the first commandment." Mark 12:30 (NKJV)

Perhaps we have read this many times, but this time let it be with new spiritual eyes. It does not say "serve" it says "love" and not just a little, not just a few minutes of praise now and then, but with all the heart, soul, mind and strength. What then does this mean, and if this is so important, and it is, how do we do it? Surely if churches are shut down because people have served God but stopped loving Him, we ought to pay serious attention to this matter.

Seek and You Shall Find

The woman in the song became cynical and ruined her life with men who used her and went on to others. She was bitterly disappointed. The world offers no promise that we will find anyone to love us. Divorces are rampant, and many are left lonely. The quest for love can end sadly with human beings, and even if we find one that is halfway faithful and loving, we may be left alone one day when they pass from this world. But there is a promise of success for love on the spiritual plane of existence. In fact, loving God will never disappoint us ? unless we fail to fulfill our part of the relationship. For when we come to Him and are born again, He then expects certain things of us, even as He told Israel:

"Therefore you shall love the Lord your God, and keep His charge, His statutes, His judgments, and His commandments always." Deuteronomy 11:1 (NKJV)

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength." Deuteronomy 6:5 (NKJV)

Imagine this ? they had the same command as we do in Mark, and yet without the loving example of Jesus Christ. Notice also that we see the order again in Deuteronomy 11:1 ? service is not first ? love is first. So then, from the beginning, we have been ordered to make loving God the priority of our lives.

Give It Up, Martha

"But Martha was distracted with much serving and Jesus said to her, ?Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things.?" Luke 10:40-41 (NKJV) (edited).

Nevertheless, how easy it is to fall into the mentality of Martha ? for there is so much to do in the service of God ? is there not? We must witness when we sit next to someone on a bus or a jet. People are hurting and when they ask for help, we must be patient to listen to them, speak an encouraging word to them and pray for them. We must discipline our lives and study the Bible and preach and teach if we have that type of ministry. The work must go one ? must it not? Martha certainly thought so ? and many of us fall into her trap. And when we do, we find that the over-emphasis on service does the same thing to us that it did to her ? it not only distracts us, but it also causes us to be "worried and troubled about many things."

In Ecclesiastes we read, essentially, that there is a time for everything.

"To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven." Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NKJV)

The problem is that many of us have our priorities skewed by worldly or even religious agendas that can steal time from the most important aspect of our relationship with God ? that is, loving Him. And not only can they ruin that precious relationship, they can also make us ineffective in the areas of our life in which we believe we are blessing others with service. For the fact is, unless we are loving God in the manner we should, we will never express the quintessence of His love to others ? no matter how much we do for them.

This is a strong statement, but it is based on spiritual truth, not natural logic. Even as the "letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life (2Corinthians 3:6 (KJV), the work we do for God without engendering the love that only He can impart ? love that comes from a passionate love for Him, will have only a natural affect on others and not a spiritual affect. This is the same principle we find in other religions ? they may speak of helping others, and preach good works, but the effect of this is only ephemeral and transient, for only Jesus Christ can save a soul. Likewise many people may attempt to do good works in the name of Jesus Christ, but what they do is only efficacious to the extent that their relationship with Him is sound. Jesus tells us: "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me." John 15:4 (NKJV)

The Dizzy, Dancing Way You Feel

Can it truly be that we can feel about God the way the mixed up woman in the song felt about a man ? and one she only imagined? Does God offer a relationship that extreme, and does He expect this type of love from not just women, but also from men? The answer might be found in the remembrance of the day we invited Christ into our heart ? was that not a day when every fairy tale became real? For it was then we discovered the truth about Jesus Christ and His love for us. What a day that was! We finally found out the truth of life ? the solution to the grand riddle, something perhaps we had never thought could be discovered. And not only did we find the truth, we found that it was better than we ever thought ? God was not less than we imagined, but more than we could ever imagine. He was not flawed in any way and yet He loved us as completely flawed as we are.

We were on the path to indescribable punishment, and through His love He put us on the path to indescribable eternal bliss. And not only was He more powerful than anything in the universe, He also was more loving than anything that exists. He is selfless and giving, and kind even to those who do not regard His goodness. He strives with man to bring him to salvation, even though most harden their hearts and do not yield. What a perfect love ? there is nothing like it on earth. Just thinking about it, meditating on it, is glorious. Yes, let us go back to that day, for surely He has revealed the solution if we have coldness. It is the same one He prescribed for the Ephesians, for He told them, in Revelation 2:5a "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works". Going back to that day, and the dizzy dancing way we felt, is where we will renew the joy that only God can give, and which is so vital for our relationship with Him. But even if that day is no longer in memory ? even if we were five years old when it happened, we have before us the excitement of discovering the depths of His love.

Come Away, My Love

One man says that prayer is hard work, and indeed it can be. However, like most spiritual things, it cannot be labeled singularly. And if this is our only view of prayer, we are destined for a miserable walk in this world.

Prayer and praise have to become something much more than work. Not only are they the life-blood of Christian living, they must become our refuge and refreshment. And so God bids us to escape with Him, as the beloved in the Song of Songs: "My beloved spoke, and said to me: ?Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.?" Song of Songs 2:10 (NKJV).

Why rise up? Because generally He calls us from some other activity ? such as entertainment or, more frequently, sleep. Do we pull the covers up and pretend it is not His voice? If we do, we miss the excursion He has planned specifically for us. Since He portrays the church as His bride, will we refuse Him the intimacy He seeks with us? Will the husband turn away the request of the wife, or the wife turn away the request of the husband? We are speaking here only about human relationships, but the Bible teaches us that this is not to be the case, for we read:

"The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control." Corinthians 7:4-5(NKJV)

If this was obeyed in the Church, there would be far fewer divorces. In the original Greek, the words actually mean that the husband or wife are not to "defraud" the other. For when the marriage was entered into, each party (and the man is not excepted here, even though he is the head of the marriage) promised not to refuse the other. Do we not then see a parallel in the requirement of our covenant with Jesus Christ ? for we read the following in Romans 12:1:

"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service." Romans 12:1 (NKJV)

And so He whispers in our ear tonight, "Come away, My love." Do we then arise and recount our repetitive list before Him, dutifully asking Him for this and that? Surely there is a time for petition, but is it the essence of our relationship? Children ask their parents for things constantly, but when they grow up do they not give something back? As they mature do they not then speak to their parents as adults, and consider their parents? needs, also?

In another way of looking at the spiritual shadow of the husband and wife relationship, let us consider the couple who escape for their anniversary to a pleasant restaurant somewhere. As they sit under the candlelight, the crystal sparkling and the fire crackling, does she gently take his hand, gaze into his eyes, and then ask him to fix the fence, and take the car to the mechanic? Does he then look back at her, eyes brimming with emotion, and remind her to iron his shirt and clean out the refrigerator? God says forget the fence and the shirt, I?m taking you to a place where such things shall not enter your mind!

Perhaps we sit before God, frustrated with how we?ve failed. "Oh, God, I should have kept my mouth shut when she said this or that, and I wish had not forgotten to do such and such at work, it was a big mistake." Or, "God my child is retarded, how can I live with this problem, we had plans for a normal life and now this ? how can You do this to me?" Or, "God, many in the church are against me now ? no matter what I preach it seems there is so much criticism, and the families I really poured myself out to help, just left. Also the district is bothering me with its politics, always finding something else to meddle in." Or, "My husband has just abandoned us ? what can I do now? How will I make it, how will I support the family. How could this happen to me?"

He gently seems to say, hush, "For lo, the winter is past, The rain is over and gone." Song 2:11. Leave those things now, for this is a special time with Me. Look at what is happening, He seems to say: "The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land." Song 2:12. What land is this that God is speaking of ? is it here on earth? No, it is a spiritual place, for He promises no easy ride on earth, but rather: "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." John 16:33 (NKJV)

The rain (troubles and trials of life) are gone for this moment, and only the adornments of life are present. The flowers rise in colorful beauty from below, and birds chirp merrily above us ? from the earth to the sky emblems of His joy and peace are found in the enchanting presence of our Lord. He goes on to tell us in this secret and spiritual place, "The fig tree puts forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grapes give a good smell. Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away!" Song 2:13. The fig tree is a winter fruit that remains on the branches until spring. It speaks to us of fruit that has survived a winter of death and is still alive. We are that fruit as we come through difficult trials with our faith intact ? drawing closer to Him as a result. Also the vines blossom and give off a lovely fragrance ? signifying that all we are going through is worth much in the kingdom. For other trees may blossom without fruit, but when a grapevine blossoms, fruit is certain, since it is already formed on the branches. We read that treasures stored up in heaven are eternal, but worldly treasures will disintegrate, and in the special place, they are already disintegrating. We have a clearer sense now of how the trials we have endured will work for the good as He so wonderfully promises: "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28 (NKJV) Do we believe this ? we must believe it! We must escape with Him and experience this glorious truth ? for everything in the world denies it ? but He confirms it, and He has overcome the world!

The Secret Place of the Most High

We find now that we cannot live without that wonderful invitation ? "Come away, My love." Where has He brought us? Where can this be but the special place where He dwells ? a place where eternity supersedes time, love overrules evil, and peace reigns over troubled hearts? Is this not the place He speaks of in Psalm 91, the "secret place of the Most High?" Does He not promise us, in Isaiah 26:3: "You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You because he trusts in You."? Is this not the reward we get for simply thinking about Him ? for being with Him? Yes, this is the magnificent promise that breaks the bondage of the world upon our necks. We also read David?s words in Psalms 16:11: "You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore." This is the pleasure the world cannot give! It could never give it, nor will it ever be able to give it ? for it is a spiritual gift ? a spiritual treasure as it were. This is why David also writes in a love letter to God in Psalm 84:10: "For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand." Let us finish his sentence, "anywhere else." One day with God ? in that special courtyard where eternal joy is present, is better than a thousand anywhere else.

How Can it Be?

Someone reading this does not believe it. I am unhappy and I am a Christian, and I do not know what to do. Believer, there is nothing else you can do, but to cling to Him. God promises to draw close to us if we draw close to Him ? but you are giving up because you are drowning in thoughts only about yourself ? you are not thinking of Him. The enemy is trying to get you to turn against God and you are on the verge of doing so, because you expect all the wonderful promises He has made to become manifest in this material plane of existence. Indeed some are made manifest ? but not all. Moreover, understand that the test of faith is to believe without the physical evidence, for His ultimate promise of blessing is spiritual, as we read:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" Ephesians 1:3 (NKJV)

Loving God only when things are going the way we want them to in our lives is a form of idolatry. If we marry, we know that eventually the woman or man we marry will become older and unattractive. Will we then stop loving them because the physical attraction is waning? If we do, we have no marriage at all ? because there is no spiritual aspect to it. Something deeper has to be in the relationship ? if it is only based on the physical it is destined to fail. In the same way, if our relationship with God is only based on material blessings, we are destined to failure in that relationship, also. This is why God commands us to love Him ? not because He is forcing us, for such an idea is ludicrous. Rather, He is instructing us that we need to be in love with Him for our Christian lives to function properly.

Your Face is Lovely

"O my dove, in the clefts of the rock,

In the secret places of the cliff,

Let me see your face,

Let me hear your voice;

For your voice is sweet,

And your face is lovely." Song 2:14

God speaks here that He wants His lovely one to be in the clefts of the rock, but why? We know that the rock speaks of Christ and the refuge He is to us, but there is also a deeper meaning. For the cleft of the rock speaks of His death, since He was buried in a tomb which was hewn out of rock (Matthew 27:60). By residing there, the one He loves will have put the flesh to death ? and the flesh will count for nothing against God. In other words, the travails of the flesh will not interfere with the love the believer should have for God, when the believer rests in that special place. It is there that He becomes so very close and intimate with me. He wishes to see my face ? it is special to Him, and my voice is sweet to Him. My face may be wrinkled, but to Him it is always lovely. The fountain of eternal youth is found only in Him and the eternity He promises, and the hint of that, yes even the shadow of it, is found in His dear words to us here. This is the One who loves us as if we were transformed already ? and indeed our spirits are transformed, for He has made them alive to Him. We have been born anew and with spiritual sensitivity will find His love the great power of our lives ? and how that power increases when we give it back. It rebounds with a supernatural increase ? something indescribable, but something that the whole world is looking for.

The truth is that as Christians we become dysfunctional without a nurturing of our love for God. We need to seek it if we lack it, and if we have it we need to seek more of it. That does not mean that we forget duty ? but it does mean that we perform duty as a labor of love, not a labor of the law. God does not command the impossible ? we can love Him ? indeed we must love Him. Our human nature is filled with self-love, but by God-given power we can overrule it with God?s love. However, the first step begins with the excursion, for only when we "come away" with Him will we see our lives changed ? the very thing we have been praying for. We will not be let down as the world is in love. In another old popular song, a woman laments, "I?ve done everything I can to try to make you mine, and I think it?s going to hurt me for a long, long time." If we do everything we can to make Jesus ours, it will only bless us for a long, long, time ? even eternity.