I’ve been invited to a number of weddings recently. Do you know what a truly single person calls a wedding? A good Saturday ruined. No matter what your plans are, you know they’re going to be canceled because you have to go to the wedding. So on behalf of single people everywhere, let me say to anyone about to get married: “We’re proud of you, we’re happy for you, but don’t expect us to come and sit through it. We get it; you’re getting married.”
I’ve noticed that tucked inside all the invitations I receive there’s usually a small piece of tissue paper. I now know it’s there for all the bitter single people to wipe their tears, because they aren’t the ones getting hitched.
And why am I expected to buy a gift when I attend a wedding? After all, it’s my Saturday that’s been ruined. I have to ask where the couple is registered and then figure out which pattern is the right one. Heaven forbid that the gravy boat I buy doesn’t match their teapot! (Why is it called a gravy boat, anyway—and why do they need one?)
I’m told that appliances make good wedding gifts. Maybe that’s why the toaster oven has been a mainstay in every American kitchen for the last twenty-five years. Why would anyone prefer the convenience of a microwave oven when that little toaster oven will do in forty-two minutes what a microwave can do in thirty seconds?
Then there’s the crockpot. What’s so special about slowcooking your food? When I want a bowl of stew, why should I have to plan four days ahead? But my personal favorite wedding gift is the blender—because of what it says. With every blender there’s always a mishap, though. It never completely crushes the ice; the lid flies off; and there’s always a mess. It’s my way of saying, “Welcome to married life! Expect a life full of disappointments, unexpected problems, and other people’s messes left for you to clean up.” Also, the blender is good for mixing drinks. This is my way of saying, “If you’re not drinking yet, you soon will be.”
In all these weddings I’ve been attending lately, I’ve noticed incredible opulence. The bride and her family go to such extremes to make certain every beautiful detail is handled perfectly. Until recently I never really knew how weddings came together; I thought two people decided to get married, they told the pastor, and it all just happened.
Not so! I discovered a whole industry centered on the planning and conducting of weddings. There are bridal magazines and bridal shops. There are even schools where people can learn how to make a lot of money just putting on weddings. As a single guy, I’ve never really read a bridal magazine. But while researching this book I thumbed through a couple of magazines and, frankly, I felt like I was spying on the enemy. These magazines are bursting with pictures of women wearing bridal dresses along with complete directions for where to order the one you like for the right price. I really didn’t care about ordering a dress; I kept looking for the place to order the bride.
Men’s experiences with weddings are really quite different from those of women. For the woman, it’s the big show of her life. She gets to be front and center, forcing everyone to look at her. In a lot of ways, it’s like a big, fantasy church pageant. For the man, it’s more like one of those bureaucratic hoops to jump through, the red tape before hotel check-in.
When it comes to the vows, men and women hear them completely differently. A woman hears: “Do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?” The guy hears: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can, and will, be used against you.”
I read an article recently about a woman who prepared an entire notebook on how she wanted her wedding to look. She had chosen the flowers, the colors, the fabrics, the lighting, and had them all laid out. The only problem was, the woman was not engaged. Now, my name isn’t Dr. Date, but I’m pretty sure that to have a wedding you need somebody to marry; call me old-fashioned if you want.
Are we off topic? No. We’re talking about weddings because we need to focus on the bride. The one in the Bible, that is.
One of the most important biblical images describing the church is “the bride of Christ.” The more we understand this biblical portrait, the more we’ll appreciate our connection to the church. You see, believers aren’t isolated individuals sentenced to finding their own personal significance in God’s plan for the world. Our purpose as believers is most fully actualized as we learn to identify with the bride of Christ.
Some churches still expect worshipers to dress up, while others allow a more casual atmosphere. Some still use the pipe organ, while others have hired full-time band members for Sunday morning music. The end product is the same, regardless of the venue; people attend each type of worship experience. From my observation, most churches are like middle-school students before breakfast: they stand in front of the mirror for hours, changing everything from clothes to makeup, in a never-ending search for their identity. The picture of the bride is more than a symbol of how God wants the church to dress up. The bride identifies who God has created the church to be. Ready to look at that?
Every city has its own version of the Single-Mingle Publication filled with cryptic want ads from lonely people looking for other lonely people. These caught my eye:
Single male, thirty-something. Enjoys weightlifting and long walks on the beach. Extensive G. I. Joe collection. Call between 2 and 4 PM, when my mom is out of the house.
Single female. Tired of Internet psychos? Do you believe fitness and dieting are overrated? Call me, 555-3663. I enjoy eating out, taking care of my cats, and eating out. A free spirit; be ready for spontaneous trips to Pigeon Forge.
STP—Single, Tough, and Proud. Seeks woman with high teeth-to-tattoo ratio. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
But if Jesus were to write an ad for his bride, it might read something like this:
Son of God seeks eternal bride. Pledges full inheritance to the lover of his soul. Must be willing to take on royal presence and available to carry out God’s work on earth. Purpose, meaning, and power will be provided in an inexhaustible supply. Reservations already made for heavenly wedding feast.
The Bible doesn’t use abbreviations or double-speak when it describes the bride; it uses plain language. In Revelation 19:4–10, the Scripture identifies the bride in five ways, based upon the sacrifices she makes for Jesus.
The bride absolutely receives Jesus. “[They] fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne saying, ‘Amen. Hallelujah!’” (v. 4). The bride completely gives herself to Jesus because she is entirely acceptable to him. Jesus sees his bride exactly as she is and intensely embraces her. The bride knows that she has been chosen and possesses nothing worthy of his attention, yet she recognizes her position and role in God’s plan for the world. Worship is the bride’s natural response to Jesus.
The bride glorifies the Lord, not herself. “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” (v. 7). The bride didn’t choose Jesus; she was chosen for him. He is the redeemer of the world, and the church is his eternal companion. The recovery of the world is Jesus’ ongoing mission, and the church is his partner. Jesus died for the church; the church willingly lays down her life for his kingdom.
The glory is not in the conflict but in the one for whom we struggle. It is for his purpose, his kingdom, his glory that we carry out the plans and ministry of God throughout the world. He is our commander in chief, the object of our glory. This is the natural attitude of the bride, because she knows that without the bridegroom (Jesus) there is no bride.
The bride lives to serve the Lord. “It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, … the righteous acts of the saints” (v. 8). The life of the bride is in Jesus, and apart from him there is no life, no calling, no purpose, no identity. Everything the bride is, everything she has been called and empowered to do, is inextricably linked to Jesus. The focus of her worship is Jesus. The focus of her ministry is Jesus. The focus of her activity is Jesus. She preaches Jesus, baptizes in the name of Jesus, feeds the hungry in the name of Jesus, collects and distributes money in the name of Jesus. This is the natural response of the bride, for she realizes that serving Jesus is her essential DNA.
The bride needs to disciple the nations. “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are true words of God” (v. 9). The world desperately needs Jesus. All of creation cries out for his kingdom to be as it is in heaven. The chaos and confusion of our world can only be controlled by the kingdom ethic. Thankfully, the bride has within her the burning need to spread the kingdom ethic. She accomplishes this as she disciples the nations of the world. The kingdom ethic is more than an imposed system of conditions and rules; it is the natural response of the world once it’s changed by the power of God.
The bride is the dwelling place of the Spirit. “I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus” (v. 10). The Spirit of God is the living testimony of Jesus in the heart of every believer. He is no free agent, roaming about creation doing as he pleases. He inhabits the bride and carries out his work through the church. The work of the kingdom is the complete redemption of the world and is empowered by the fully functioning Spirit of God. The church is his conduit to distribute God’s power throughout the world.
Can you see how the ministry of the church is much more than a well-planned worship experience on Sunday morning? The ministry of the church is flourishing when lives change, addictions break, and justice rolls like a river. A changing world proves the bride’s presence, because she is the vessel of the indwelling, eternal power of God in the person of the Holy Spirit.
The role of the bride of Christ has been misunderstood for too long. We have come to believe that our identity as the bride refers to who we will be in heaven when Jesus returns for the church. We have heard preachers tell us, “Jesus is coming for a spotless bride; when he comes we must be ready.” Our bridal identity is God’s intentional process of leading us to assert the position he won for us on the earth. Yes, the church will be the bride of Christ in heaven, but until then, we are his bride now on the earth.
In the first century after Christ’s death on the cross, the apostle John landed on the island of Patmos as an exile. He had been leading the church in Jerusalem but faced trial as an insurrectionist and was exiled. But God spoke to him in visions that he recorded in what we now have as the Book of Revelation. His words were smuggled back to the church in Jerusalem, written in language that the religious leaders would not understand but believers would.
Between the years A.D. 30 and 70, the gospel of Christ was preached throughout Israel. During those years the church experienced growing persecution from the hands of the religious elite of Jerusalem. Many believers became the targets of religious “hit men” like Saul, yet the church persevered. John’s exile writings were welcomed by the church for the encouragement they brought to the church in their desperate situation.
God’s plan has always included a bride for his Son; God’s plan always included a church. Throughout history God has preserved a people for himself. The Old Testament is the record of God’s activity in the life of Israel. Because of Abraham’s faith, God chose to bless him, and the nation that arose from his descendants was Israel. I believe Israel was to be the bride of the Messiah. Because of God’s continued favor, Israel became quite large and powerful, being prepared to welcome the Messiah as Jesus’ bride. Israel was to be the church, but she turned her back on God and chose instead to advance her own religious kingdom rather than submit to God’s plan. Therefore, Israel disqualified herself as the faithful bride of Christ.
John wrote in Revelation 19:2 that “his judgments are true and righteous; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and He has avenged the blood of his bond-servants on her.” I believe John was telling the church that God had rejected Israel in favor of his bondservants who were coming to know Christ through the ministry of other Christians. This growing number of Christians is now called the church, the bride of Christ. The sanctioned bride of Christ sees her role as fulfilling the will of God in the earth. The bride is “impregnated” with the purposes of God and births them into the world. The purpose of the bride is service to the initiatives of God.
When we join a church, we are doing much more than simply adding our name to a list of people who identify with that community of faith. We take on the distinctive qualities of the bride of Christ. Don’t take this lightly! These distinctions affect our attitudes, our actions, and our chosen values. We are the life partner of Jesus in the world.
The bride functions as an army, but not an unopposed army. God does not expect us to advance the kingdom without opposition. He knows there will be opposition, and he prepares the bride with three powerful weapons for us to understand and utilize.
Praise. The act of praise focuses our attention squarely on God and his activity on earth. But it’s more than singing songs. It is the unity of the bride’s adoration toward the One who loves her and toward his redemptive activity in the world.
I don’t know why some people insist on bringing their own percussion instruments to church. I periodically attend one church that has a fantastic worship band—trust me; they don’t need anyone to help. When their brass section blows, Dizzy Gillespie lifts a humble hand. But one lady in the congregation insists on bringing her own four-inch bargain Bible store tambourine with her into the pew. It’s got praying hands screen-printed on the fake stretched-hide cover, and she brings it to each service, just so she can add her own special syncopated emphasis to the music. Please, all worship tambourine wannabes, you’re not Thelonious Monk, so give it up and just join the bride in worship.
All forms of praise—whether in word, prayer, song, or silence—release the power of God into our lives and into the unseen reality where that power makes an eternal difference in what happens in the world. Even when we sing quiet, slow songs, God’s power goes forth to accomplish his purposes.
Praise defeats our anxieties and inhibitions regarding our role in God’s eternal plan. Without it, our focus naturally migrates toward our own finite abilities. We see the overwhelming task ahead of us, and our knowledge of our limitations can quickly lead us to a sense of futility. Satan knows this and does everything possible to keep us feeling despair. Praise is the weapon we use to defeat these debilitating emotions. Without praise, we could become our own worst enemy.
Prayer. Simply put, prayer is conversation with God. For many, prayer has become a one-way request line. Lost are the communication skills that make prayer a dialogue. We have come to see prayer as our daily supply “order form.” We properly complete the form (pray the right words) in triplicate (repeat the prayer over and over), and after a time (it usually seems too long) the Supply Sergeant (God) sends the munitions (the things we are praying for) through the proper channels (the Holy Spirit), and we receive them in the nick of time.
What a distorted and self-centered view of prayer! Our mission is God’s mission, and its design is more intricate than we could ever imagine. What makes us think we even know what to “order”? Has God made us fully aware of his plans? Do we know how the actions of today will best complement tomorrow’s need? “You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on you pleasures” (James 4:2–3).
I was in one church recently where a woman at prayer said, “Jesus, would you please bless God?” When I thought about what she had prayed, all I could see in my mind was Jesus listening to her prayer … when a puzzled look sets in on his face. He gets up from his intercessor’s chair and scampers across the throne room, knocks on God’s door, and asks, “Dad, are you alright today? Some woman just told me to come bless you. You’re not holding out on me, are you?” Think about it; this is the one prayer that could bring all of heaven to a screeching halt.
Clearly, our understanding of prayer corresponds to our understanding of God. God desires to give: “Ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given” (James 1:5). And he is completely free to respond as he chooses—
Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! —Matthew 7:9–11
When we begin to understand these things about God, we will know that we can absolutely trust him and approach prayer as a dialogue. For we are not alone in our struggle for the world. We are the channel through which God has chosen to release himself and his power into the world. We are the partner of his Son, the bride of Christ, and prayer is our line of communication. When the bride prays, awesome things happen.
Proclamation. The true message of Christ is the light of the world. When we share it in clarity, and when it is empowered by the Holy Spirit, the world cannot help but understand and receive it. As the bride, we need to hear the proclamation for ourselves, of course. All persons need a pastor who will proclaim to them the thoughts and intentions God has toward them.
The other aspect of proclamation is the way the bride speaks of her beloved in her everyday life. Do we speak respectfully of Jesus, or do we undercut his presence in our lives by drawing more attention to ourselves? With our words we are to proclaim that Jesus is alive.
Wherever I go to speak, it seems that something happens to distract me from being clear with the message of Christ. There seems to always be a problem with the lights or the microphone. Or the directions faxed to my office are wrong, or my flight is late. My personal favorite is the person who “admonishes” me just before I get up to speak. I identify these things for what they are: diversions of the Enemy attempting to make my message unclear. You see, Satan fears the clear preaching of the message of salvation because, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).
A friend of mine is a loan officer for a large, nationwide company. Some of the guys he works with were at lunch talking about some of stupid things their customers did to make their job harder. Several guys traded stories, and so did my friend. One of the last to speak shared a particularly painful story, a situation in which he ended up losing quite a bit of money because of a customer’s mistake. As the group groaned over the loss of money, my friend said this guy glanced at him and said, “But you know, as bad as that situation was, God reminded me that it could always be worse. I could be working at a job I hated doing.” My friend told me he felt as if God’s truth had been proclaimed just for him in that moment.
Whenever we proclaim the message of Christ, we unleash the living and powerful Word of God. Nothing in this world, no power or might, no person or force, can stand before the proclamation of that Word. Our message is that Christ is alive. He is the Son of God and we are his bride, bent on reclaiming the world.
God has chosen a spotless bride for his Son. The bride was chosen and made clean by Jesus’ death on the cross.
Just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. —Ephesians 5:25–27
Everyone who receives Jesus as Christ and Lord is changed, born again, not of this world but of heaven. Our eternal life has already begun, and our purpose for living becomes the advancement of the kingdom of God. Our actions here on earth become the bride’s heavenly gown: “It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev. 19:8).
As the kingdom advances here on earth, heaven’s bridal gown grows more beautiful and brilliant, waiting for the day when she will be presented to Christ complete in heaven. This will not take place until the end of time. But until then, the bride will continue to express her passion for Jesus, persevere in her shared mission of bringing redemption to the world—and do it all in the power of praise, prayer, and the proclamation of the gospel of peace.
In Scripture, a wedding feast illustrates “home.” Imagine entering a crowded room lit with excitement, laughter, music, and the clinking of glasses. This is a homecoming like no other. As you move through the room, everyone seems to know you. As you get closer to the center of the crowd, people part and … there he is in his beauty.
It is Jesus looking right at you.
He stretches out his hand and softly speaks. “Dance with me.” You move into his arms—one hand is around your waist, the other entwined in yours—and you glide across the floor. He whispers in your ear, “You are my delight.” The feast is a picture of the intimacy you have with the Lord himself. He is the bridegroom, and you are the bride. As you worship, drop your formality and look at him—the sweet and mysterious man. Receive his affirmation. Allow the words, written by a dear friend of mine, to remind you: You are treasured.
My heart fails
My mind falters
Sometimes my passion fades
Sometimes my desires change
Sometimes I turn my head and look the other way.
When I’m restless, you are rest
When I’m helpless, you are help
When I’m nervous, you settle me.
When I’m empty, you fill me
When I’ve gone too far, you gently bring me back home
‘cause you are home.
Home is where the history begins
Home is where you delight in me
Home is where your voice is in my ear
Home is where you dance with me.