A Life Poured Out

Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes; your name is like perfume poured out. No wonder the maidens love you! (Song 1:3) 

Jesus, the “anointed one,” the smeared one, is saturated with the fragrant oil of God. He emanates the presence of God in a way that permeates the atmosphere. There is a virtual aura of manifest glory around Him that intoxicates and awakens the spiritual senses.

As believers, we are called to take on this fragrant nature. His full being – the entirety of His tangible glory – should also be released through us, as we are conduits for channeling the substance of Heaven into the earth. The fragrance of God is a provocative notion that first stirs us from afar. We catch His aroma from a distance, and we are compelled to draw near, come closer.

Even as Jesus poured Himself out for us on the cross, and even as God freely pours out His Spirit upon those who believe, so are we called to pour ourselves out before him like a drink offering – spilling our hearts out on the dry ground of the earth – laying our lives down for our fellow man, as if in sacrifice to God Himself. “Freely you have received, freely give” (Mt. 10:8). The world is drawn to God through us, as the fragrance of our own sacrificial lives is an ever-present reminder of Him.

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life… (2 Cor. 2:14-16).

:: progressive aroma ::

Some scholars point out that the passage above suggests a progressive aroma. For the believer, it is the fragrance of moving from life to life. To the redeemed, it is an aroma that ever gets better and better. The fragrance of the Lord will always increase in pleasure and potency. Likewise, for the perishing, it is the always increasing stench of death.

I once had an encounter with the tangible fragrance of Jesus. Not just a smell, but a living presence. Many times I have smelled His aroma with the natural senses during worship. But once, during a dream, a leader was anointing various people with oil, and as the fragrance of the oil wafted near to us, it would cause us to laugh as we “felt” the scent ripple through our bodies. Suddenly, I turned my head to look up, and I was unexpectedly dabbled with this stuff. As the person touched my face, my senses opened up full throttle and the aroma came into my body like the living Ether of Heaven. I was launched into a brilliant ecstasy as I was literally possessed by the smell of Jesus. I woke up at that moment, and just lay there in bed for half an hour, drenched in it, as the strong, sweet aroma literally spilled over into the natural realm and filled my room. It was one of the most supernatural experiences I have ever had.

Christ is also drawn to the fragrance of the Beloved, even as we are drawn to the aroma of Christ. Verse 12 of this chapter in Solomon’s Song shows us that, “While the King was at His table, my perfume spread its fragrance.” Compare this to Mary Magdalene in John 12, pouring out her own expensive perfume, worth a year’s wages, over the feet of Jesus as He sat at the table. She anointed Him for the day of His burial, “and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (Jn. 12:3). This was one of the most dramatic demonstrations of worship in scripture. Yet Judas becomes incensed when that fragrance reaches his nostrils, arguing that the oil should have been sold and the money given to the poor. His thievery is exposed, and shortly afterward, he betrays the Lord altogether.

The pouring out of one’s self to God, in recklessly abandoned faith, provokes those around you either to blessing or cursing. Your outpouring will permeate the room. It is a catalyst. You will smell to them like Heaven’s aloes, or your garments will reek of hell’s sulfur. There is no middle ground. The word of God always elicits a response, and that response always hinges on the heart of the hearer.

The preaching of the gospel, the outward demonstration of true worship, the sharing of the “fragrance of the knowledge of Him” always draws a line in the sand. I do not speak of those who putz along in their undercover, closet Christianity for decades and never make an impact in the world. But when there is an overtly radical outpouring of one’s self for the gospel, to the Bridegroom, the atmosphere intensifies. It brings polarity. It’s supposed to do that. It’s the sword Jesus said He would bring in place of peace. It strikes deep to divide the soul asunder and weigh men’s hearts on the balance of eternity.

When more of Heaven is revealed, so are men’s hearts around us revealed and reflected in the message of the gospel. The great missionary martyr Jim Elliot prayed, “Father, make me a crisis man. Bring those I contact to decision. Let me not be a milepost on a single road. Make me a fork, that men must turn one way or another on facing Christ in me.”

Few of us want to be carriers of this type of fragrance that demands a verdict – that guarantees blessing or cursing. But the Lord is looking for a messenger He can send, whom He will wield like a flame of fire. To the hearer who is being saved, more is added to what he has already. The myrrhs of Heaven draw that one deeper into the bridal chamber. But to the one who is perishing, even what he has is taken further from him. This is because he is brought to the point of decision, and he further rejects the word of grace. To the Christian, sacrificial death speaks of a greater resurrection. Outpouring is blessing. The seed that dies produces an abundant harvest. To the unrepentant, however, their rejection of the knowledge of God further seals their pact with hell. Without faith, outpouring is emptiness, loss, devastation. The cross is a foolish offense – one pouring himself into the void. Two perspectives, two different roads.

:: two perspectives ::

C.S. Lewis writes in The Great Divorce that hell is an unlocked place with open gates, whose residents freely choose to stay there, although they are ever presented with the heavenly alternative. This is only speculation of course, but his point is well taken. The inner choosing of our hearts has much to do with our ultimate perspective. To one, God’s presence is a passionate fire. To another, it is a scorching oppression. To one, the Lord is an aromatic wind; to another, He is a stench and a whirlwind.

There is no room for indecision with this God of ours. We will sacrifice, or we will retract. We will follow, or we will reject. If God were an ideology or a religious world view, we could put Him on the shelf to ponder later. But since He is a living God, He is ever provoking us to deal with Him. Holy Spirit is always described as an active, fleeting Being – symbolized by water, oil, wind, a dove in flight. He is a God of movement, because without movement, there is no life. In the same way, God is ever in the process of flowing and “pouring out” through the pages of scripture. Throughout the books of the prophets, we are ever reminded of two essential things that God continually promises to pour out: His wrath and His Spirit. The fiery old Irish preacher Ian Paisley says there are only two fitting emotions that can rightly be attributed to God – love and wrath. Love and wrath.

These are times of great outpouring, when God’s presence is being spilled over onto all flesh. To us, His Beloved, He is poured out to our favor. But I would wager that, in whatever area our heart is unrefined, he is poured out to our harm. While we constantly beg God to come nearer – to reveal Himself more and more – it is actually His mercy toward us that He doesn’t do so. In our still darkened state, we would perish. It is the “pure in heart” that will see God. In many ways, my own senses have not yet been trained to discern his most pleasurable scent. And while He is ever knocking at my door, always at hand offering blessing, in the strife of my dual nature, I too perceive most of those blessings as wrath.

Like Esther, I must prepare for a deep encounter with the King. I, too, must soak in His fragrances, until I am saturated, and the scent of Heaven becomes a part of me. Esther spent 12 months soaking in oils and perfumes in preparation, and when she faced the King, He extended His favor to her. We must prepare ourselves with the oil of His presence.

:: paradox of the table ::

Consider the table where Jesus sits here in John 12. On one hand is Lazarus reclining, a reminder of resurrection to eternal rest. On the other hand is Judas, a harbinger of the second death. Judas was always hearing, but never perceiving. There is always opportunity to eat to our health or eat to our destruction at the Lord’s table, depending on whether we rightly discern His body. And when the oil of heaven is poured out, I am faced with the conflicting nature of both Judas and Lazarus in my own heart.

Martha is there, too, likely serving. Outside are the poor who follow Jesus for a meal. The poor are always with us, Jesus said. This is important to remember, when discussing the poured out life. A life poured out is not just about duty and service – it’s about a heart captivated by God. Mary, the redeemed, who had learned to “love much,” was not thinking “feed the poor.” She was rightly thinking, “Worship the Lover of my soul.” She was consumed with that.

Jesus fed the poor. His works of practical service to fellow man were many. But His service to man never circumvented His direct devotion to the will of the Father. When we utterly sell out and throw ourselves before God, the manifestation of our holy love will necessarily result in obedience to the second commandment: loving our neighbor as ourselves. But as closely connected as these instructions become (to love God is to love man), the delineation between them could not be more important.

See, the world is fine with our acts of Christian service – our faith-based programs and social relief that brings a productive, calculated benefit to society. The world can stomach such things, and we should never neglect them. We should “do to the least of these” what we would do to Christ, in terms of human service. But at the core of our Christian walk, we are called to the holy place – the pouring out of rich fragrance directly on the feet of Jesus. And that will always be offensive to a man-pleasing spirit. They cannot comprehend why we eat His flesh and drink His blood. Why we forsake all. Why we embrace the offense of the cross. Why we lay down all rights and sensibilities, selling everything to follow after Him. Why we leave mothers and brothers and houses and fields for the gospel … well …that is when they cry madman. Nutcase. Fanatic. Gone too far.

Yet this is the poured out life. Giving God everything, and God alone. A radical, uncompromised emptying of ourselves, coupled with an ever increasing infilling, from glory to glory, life to life, as he woos us deeper into His chambers.

John Crowder, 4/20/2005