In my last couple of posts I have suggested that lockdown is a time for us to see the importance of the inner life. In our sermon series in January we considered Jesus’ invitation to come to Him- and I know a number were struck by the image of drinking deeply of Jesus from John 7. What has helped me most in recent weeks to drink of Jesus such that my heart is satisfied is Julian Hardyman’s book “Jesus lover of my soul.” It is a series of reflections from Song of Songs encouraging us to pursue intimacy with Christ.

Over the centuries Song of Songs has been interpreted in various ways. Julian’s argument is that, whilst clearly it speaks of sexual enjoyment and teaches about the appropriate control of such desires at times, nevertheless it is ultimately about the glorious relationship between Jesus and His people. He points to the way in which the images of the song are used elsewhere of Christ- the Shepherd/Bridegroom/King. Furthermore the title of the book speaks of this as the ultimate song- and for that to be limited to human romantic love would be idolatrous. In line with the apostle Paul, who cannot speak of marriage without thinking of Christ and the church, we need to follow the biblical trajectory of the song to Jesus.

I am really pleased to see this message taught increasingly- our sexualities are pointers to what is ultimate, namely Christ and the church together forever. That impacts how we teach on sexuality- I’ve tried to model that in this little video and Ed Shaw does it way better in his new book “Purposeful Sexuality“. (Or if you prefer animations as a way of learning this is brilliant!). It helps us as we consider marriage- it is the signpost to the most intense joy in the universe but it is only the signpost. That should help those who are married to see both the dignity and limits of their relationship (in a way that should not overburden it with expectations it cannot carry) whilst reassuring those of us who are single that we do not miss out finally. But, above all, it fires our desire for Jesus.

And yet what we discover astonishingly is that the Song is not simply- or perhaps even primarily- about our desire for Jesus. Rather we hear much about the man’s desire for the woman, speaking ultimately of Christ’s longing for us. The opening chapter of Julian’s book picks up the man’s invitation to the woman in Song 2:14 “Show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet and your face is lovely.” Jesus wants to see our face. If we have any sense of our sin and our unworthiness we may well find that a hard phrase to comprehend. Why on earth does Jesus want to see us? And yet that is the Gospel. Jesus comes from distance to a bride who is currently unlovely, desires her nevertheless and dies to transform her. He wants her. He wants us. It is as we receive his desire for us, perhaps singing “Amazing love, how can it be?” as we do so, that our own desires begin to change. As Christ bestows his beauty upon us so our characters are transformed to become beautiful. I mentioned this in my last post- one aspect of inner change is silently receiving from the Lord, allowing His love and desire to come to us and wash through us. I know for myself that I want to live differently after times like that.

If the call from Christ is “Show me your face” then that will lead to us wanting to be with Him. There are a number of helpful reflections in Julian’s book based around Song 5:2. The man knocks on the woman’s door. He wants to be with her. Perhaps it is reminiscent of what Jesus does to the church in Laodecia in Revelation 3. But the woman doesn’t want to get out of bed to let him in. Let’s be honest- that will speak to many of us of our walk with Christ at times. Jesus wants to see our face but we can’t be bothered and prefer other things. The romance in the Song doesn’t always run smooth and that will be true of our relationship with Christ. Julian has a couple of very helpful chapters in the middle of the book speaking of how our misplaced sexual desires can interrupt our enjoyment of Christ- “Spiritual intimacy betrayed and lost through porn” and “Porn-spoiled lives restored by Christ.” But when we resist those false pathways to joy and we respond to Jesus’ invitation then we do know the joy of being with Him. We get to be with Him in a verdant garden and can sing “I am my beloved’s and he is mine.”

Being with Jesus. Probably since reading Julian’s book that has been a picture that I have begun to value more. Time reading the Bible and praying is ultimately about being with Jesus, allowing Him to speak to us and responding to Him. Maybe it helps us to use the imagery of the song- think of yourself as being with Jesus in a beautiful garden or allowing him to lead you to a great banqueting hall under a great banner of love. And when we treasure those pictures our inner lives will end up being well watered and nourished.

There are loads of other reasons to read the book. It is fascinating to read of the impact that a sermon series on the Song had on a church. There are examples from church history of those sustained in tough times by a close walk with Jesus. But, above all else, it enables us to drink deeply of the fountain of love that is Christ.