awakening a sleeping church

A Picture of the Church Before Revival

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.”
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.
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.
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!
-Song of Solomon 5:2-7

I believe that this passage in Song of Solomon 5 is a depiction of the church today. It’s not a shocking revelation to say that the American church as a whole isn’t very healthy. Certainly, there are churches that are doing well, seeing people saved and experiencing growth. But overall, this is not the case. According to this article, between 6,000 and 10,000 churches close each year. When you break that down, 100-200 churches will close their doors this week. How did a country that birthed a Great Awakening get to this point?

When looking at Song of Solomon 5:2, I believe we find the answer. The church has fallen asleep. Whether it’s from apathy, unwillingness to surrender, becoming too entrenched in the world or something else, the cause probably varies for each church and possibly for each individual. But the truth is, the church in America is asleep. Some might say the church is dead, but I don’t think that’s true. Historically speaking, the church has always been asleep before an “awakening” or revival. If we weren’t asleep, we wouldn’t need to be awakened in the first place. But notice the phrasing in verse 2: “I slept, but my heart was awake.” While the church may be sleeping, they aren’t dead. Their heart is awake, capable of being stirred by the Lord. And that is exactly what happens in this passage.

The Bridegroom comes knocking at the door, imploring her to let Him in. Though she is sleeping, she is still cognizant of His knock. But what is her response? Does she leap up and let Him in? “I have taken off my robe- must I put it on again? I have washed my feet – must I soil them again?” (verse 3) When the Holy Spirit first begins to stir the heart of individuals, often there are excuses being made.

… “I don’t want to go. I’m comfortable here. Can’t You send someone else?”

… “But those people are not the kind of people I want to spend my time with. They’re disgusting. I don’t really want to get my hands dirty.”

… “How could You ask me to give up THAT?”

We don’t want to go through the trouble of putting on our robe to let Him in. We’re so comfortable, you see. We’re irritated with the thought of dirtying the feet we’ve so painstakingly washed. We don’t want to get dirty and messy, chasing after Jesus or pursuing dirty sinners with His love.

But then, our excuses disappear as we catch a glimpse of Jesus. Verse 4 says, “My beloved thrust his hand through the latch-opening; my heart began to pound for him.” Suddenly, we’re wide awake. Suddenly, we remember how beautifully Jesus saved us. Suddenly, we remember the “old days,” when we saw miracles, we saw people saved, we had a passionate desire for Jesus and the lost. And with the awakening of these memories, so also is our longing awakened. Our heart begins to pound. And the church gets up, finally ready to let Jesus in to move in their midst once again.

Unfortunately, we have been so busy making our excuses, being too comfortable, being unwilling to move, that when we finally go to open the door … “my beloved had left; he was gone. My heart sank at his departure.” (5:6) It looks as if the moment has passed. All the questioning, all the delaying has produced this frightening event. We begin crying out, looking for what we’ve missed. But “I looked for him and did not find him. I called for him but he did not answer.” (5:6b)

This inability to find her lover causes this woman to go out into the street, looking for him. In the process, the watchmen find her and beat her (verse 7). I think this is also like the church. When the church’s heart is stirring and awakening, we begin crying out to Jesus. In the midst of these prayers, the enemy comes and tries to beat us up. Satan tries to convince us that our prayers will do no good, we will not find the Lord, revival will not come. And these lies seem to be true, as she still cannot find the Bridegroom. She even enlists the help of her friends, telling them that if they see Him, to tell Him she is faint with love (verse 8).

When we begin to pray and begin to seek after the Lord, why is He so difficult to find? We imagine that He must be right at the door. All we should have to do is open the door, so where is He? Why do we find no trace of Him?

As we search the streets, we forget that He has already told us where to find Him. At the beginning of chapter 5, He says, “I have come into the garden.” (verse 1) In chapter 6, after asking her friends to help, the friends ask the woman “Which way did your beloved turn, that we may look for him with you?” (verse 1) The woman seems to remember at this moment, what her beloved had told her, for she replies, “My beloved has gone down to his garden.” (verse 2)

Perhaps in this instance, the garden represents a place of repentance and full surrender. Sometimes God withdraws when His people argue with Him or won’t submit to what He’s calling them to. They wonder why the church is dying, God isn’t present, isn’t answering their prayers. He has withdrawn to the garden. He has told us where He can be found. He is not an elusive God, playing tricks with our minds and hearts. He came knocking and while we tarried and made excuses, He went to wait for us. When we decide to stop making excuses, truly seek after Him, give up our own agendas, we will find Him. In the garden, in the place of total surrender.

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