In the song of all songs (Song of Solomon 1:1), we meet a young Shulamite woman as she falls in love with a king. As their relationship develops, her own youth and immaturity are confronted by his invitations to a fuller, deeper life with him in his work (Song of Solomon 1:10; 5:2). At first, she refuses (Song of Solomon 2:17; 5:3), resulting in some severance between them, as well as her isolation (Song of Solomon 3:1–4; 5:5–6).
The king did, indeed, do what he invited her to do — but he was left to do it without her. Her position in his life did not change; his affection for her did not wane. She simply missed out on a deeper, richer experience in her relationship with him.
The Scriptures are rife with insight into the process of maturity: from the new birth (John 3:3) and the necessity of milk to nourish us while we are young (1 Peter 2:2), to our eventual and necessary progress into solid food and meat as we grow in grace and the gospel (Hebrews 5:11–14). The “beloved apostle” spoke into this development with particular clarity, making the significant distinction that we are not meant to simply age as we mature. He specifically identified three stages of life development: first as “children,” then as “young men,” and finally as “fathers” (1 John 2:12–14). Not just “old men,” but fathers.
Work We Must Do
What has this to do with the story of Solomon’s Shulamite? Perhaps everything. Since man’s eyes first saw dawn, we have been charged, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). This was both echoed and mirrored in Jesus’s assignment for us:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19–20).
We’re to make disciples. This is how we engage in the work our King is doing in the world today.
Many of us (certainly myself included) meet Jesus like the Shulamite met her Solomon. Swept up in all he is, we want nothing more than to sit under the shade of the apple tree and be refreshed (Song of Solomon 2:3). This season is both precious and critical, and we revisit it often over years of obedience simply to be sustained and reminded of his beauty.
Yet it is in this place of intimate fellowship and communion with him that invitations are given to go further, to see and savor and experience more of him, but in ways that are only available in the fields beyond the shady trees. And sometimes, like the Shulamite, we say no to his invitation.
If We Ignore Our King
These declinations cost us, not in place or privilege before the throne — we are, incredibly, forever adopted, forever his, and he forever cares about and loves us. But they do keep us from experiencing the “breadth and length and height and depth” of Christ’s love — the depths of him that cannot be measured (Ephesians 3:17–19).
Because he is the good shepherd (John 10:11), because his leadership in our lives is perfect, because he is committed to our good and our growth in him, and because he is jealous for us and wants us with him where he is (John 17:24), he responds to our immaturity in ways and means catered to our growth and development. Sometimes this means we will simply feel far from him, and long for him (Song of Solomon 3:1–4). Sometimes this means we experience hardships that push us to follow him to foreign pastures (Song of Solomon 5:5–6).
For my own life, some of this has been very literal. When I said, “Draw me away” (Song of Solomon 1:4 NKJV), God gave me a life abroad among unreached peoples. But whatever and wherever our calling, we are all entrusted with the same assignment: go everywhere, tell everyone about Jesus, and teach them to obey everything he commands.
We all are to mature and develop such that we all lead, raise, and multiply new disciples. If we shirk, ignore, or reject this charge, we end up building a house in the shade, where we were meant to find strength and refreshment to go. If we never leave from under the apple tree, we spend our only life in this age neither “in” nor “of” the world (John 17:13–19). Fidelity to Jesus requires we be not of the world, yet certainly demands we fully engage in the world.
We Only Have a Few Days
One day, “all tribes and peoples and languages” will hear “this gospel of the kingdom” (Revelation 7:9; Matthew 24:14). Every one of them will have representatives before the throne, worshiping with resurrected tongues in a cosmos restored from the wreckage of the fall (Revelation 4:9–11). The knowledge of God will cover the earth like water fills our ocean beds (Habakkuk 2:14).
Then, no one will need to lead anyone to the Lord; the plague of darkened understanding will be a memory of the days and age of exile, before every tormentor opposed to the purposes of God was cast into the lake of fire (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 19:20; 20:10). The coming of Jesus, to rule and reign and restore, is “our blessed hope” (Titus 2:13). This confidence is our true north, with two abiding implications: these days are numbered, and we only have this life to do what Jesus has called us to do.
We only have these few days to follow the Lord of the harvest into the fields and rescue those he bought with holy blood. We have one chance to shatter our alabaster (Mark 14:3–9).
As We Follow Him
We are saved by grace through faith for good works God prepared for us before we were born (Ephesians 2:8–10). Therefore, when we engage in God’s global purposes, we come alive. We’re invariably wired for the things to which we are assigned.
Of course, this will include painful pruning as we grow (John 15:2). Like the Shulamite, we will be found limping out of the wilderness, “leaning on her beloved” (Song of Solomon 8:5). This adventure with Christ will be hard, but it will be even more glorious and satisfying. His sovereign love, purchased with his precious sacrifice, grounds and guards us as we go. As the Moravians declared, “Our Lamb has conquered — let us follow him.”
And when we do, we will experience and confess a love that is stronger than sin, stronger than fear, and stronger than our last great enemy — even unto death (Song of Solomon 8:6; Revelation 12:11).