One of the pleasures of short, interim/transition pastoral work with churches through Second Wind Ministries, is the opportunity to see and experience many different parts of the world where we live. Right now, I am working with an Alliance Church in Trail, BC. Trail is an older city in the heart of what is known as the west Kootenays of British Columbia, Canada. It is an old mining area in the southern part of the province quite close to the US border about two hours north of Spokane, Washington.
About 12 kilometres just to the west of Trail, and a couple thousand feet higher, is a little tourist resort village called, Rossland. It is just next to Red Mountain which offers one of the best skiing experiences in the world. People come from everywhere to live and ski at the Red Mountain Ski Resort. A week ago, I had the great delight of spending some time exploring the slopes of this mountain and experiencing the thrill of some down-hill skiing. The snow condition was ideal, the temperature was relatively mild, and the vistas were incredible. Though I don’t consider myself a really avid skier I still do very much love the thrill of this kind of adventure not only for the physical challenge, but also for the worship experience.
This morning, being Valentine’s and Sunday, I preached on the subject of Young Love. It is one of my favourite messages to preach while doing transition work in a church. Based on Song of Solomon 2:1-7 and Revelation 2:1-7 (plus a few other passages), it addresses the tremendous importance of romance, not only in our marriages, but also in our relationship to God. If one looks closely, it doesn’t take long to see that the Bible points powerfully to the importance of romance in our lives. The ecstasy of marital love is hi-lighted in such books as the Song of Solomon, but also in Genesis 2, and many other places. It is blatantly obvious to me that God ordained marriage, not only as a vehicle of one of life’s largest blessings, but also as a hint of the kind of relationship God himself longs to have with his church and individual believers.
Romance, of course, is not only something for life-long relationship between two people of opposite sex, but also for our lives in so many other ways. Romance brings out the artist in all of us. It is about appreciating beauty as we see it in various virtuous expressions of human culture. It includes music, art and literature in their varied forms, as well as ordinary friendships and work. Romance calls forth an emotional response in our hearts that goes beyond cognitive apprehension. In marriage, romance includes not only the beauty of its most intimate physical expression, but also consists of being in one another’s presence, of conversation, of touch, of sounds, and of fragrance, etc.
But true human romance is but a shadow of what God longs for in his own relationship with each of us. To be sure, God’s intention for our experience of romance on so many levels in our daily human lives is to point us to the romance that excels all others — the deep emotion of experiencing God’s life and presence. It’s been well-established by centuries of commentary that the Song of Solomon is not only a beautiful poetic expression of what it means to love a woman or a man in marriage, but also a characterization of God’s intention between Jesus Christ and his bride, the church (as it is called in Revelation 19:7). It really gets to the heart of what life and existence is all about, which is worship.
One of the major applications of this idea is that God isn’t looking merely for our dutiful service and obedience. It is true that he longs for us to experience the blessings that come from faith and obedience. But he really desires that our humble submission should flow out of what it means to live in intimate fellowship with him. And, as John Piper would point out in his good work called, Desiring God, we are most alive in our own lives when we find our exclusive satisfaction in our relationship with God. This calls for deeper study of what it means to truly worship him. Because worship is really, first and foremost, about the romance of our relationship with God.
One of the things that I really like about skiing in a place like Rossland, is the true wonder and beauty that such an experience illicits in relation to God. It’s difficult not to worship in prayer and praise when you’re at what seems to be the top of the world, on skis. Especially if I’m alone, it calls for a sense of contemplation at being in the very presence of the Great Creator.
But of course, there are many other ways to cultivate this sense of wonder in God’s presence. These have lately been referred to as spiritual disciplines. It’s a bit of a misnomer because it sounds like work, but spiritual disciplines are all about exercises that enable us to truly experience God’s presence. When I was younger, I didn’t appreciate the importance of daily Bible reading, prayer, and Scripture memorization in this way. But as I grow older, I see the value of mediation and contemplation in God’s presence through the Word and prayer in a whole different way. Now, it’s not unusual for me to get lost in a passage of the Bible, or even in prayer because of the sense of God’s presence and voice.
But there are many other ways to experience romance with God. Some of those ways have to do with physically beholding the wonder of the world He has made, of spending time with a friend, of providing some much needed service to a neighbour. It is this kind of romance for which we were created and brings joy and even longevity into our lives — ultimately resulting in the life beyond, forever!