Monday, February 24, 2014

Knowing God

"Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me..." (Jer 9:23-24).

We exist to know God and make him known. So how do we know God?

Oddly enough, the Bible doesn’t offer a lot on that topic. It says that knowing God is the greatest thing we can do, but it’s short on the how. However, certain useful techniques have been passed down through the generations, and they are generally derived from Scripture. But the Bible doesn’t have a big flashing “how to know God more” by them.

There’s probably little that’s going to be a big surprise. How do you get to know anyone? How did you get to know your mate enough to know that you wanted to get married? You spent time with him or her. To some degree you can get to know someone in a group setting, but after a while you have to spend some time alone to get really close. You talk. You listen.

How do we listen to God? Through the Bible. We cannot know God without being thoroughly familiar with what He has said to us. There are degrees to being in the Word. Most basic is Bible reading – simply reading what’s on the page. It's important to remember that you're not just reading a book. Read it with the expectation that this is a letter from God, infused with the Spirit, written for the purpose of revealing him to you. That kind of reading makes a difference.

Next is study – sometimes what’s on the page doesn’t mean what it appears to mean with casual reading; going deeper into the meaning of the text is essential to understanding the Word which is essential to knowing the Author. Next comes memorization; nothing gets the Scriptures in you like intentionally committing parts of it to memory. Verses you memorize will resurface when you need them – they can keep you from sin, comfort you during trying times, or help you counsel others. Next comes meditation. Christian meditation is not like Eastern meditation; they empty their minds where we fill our minds with Scripture. Meditation is working a Scripture over and over in your mind, testing yourself against it and looking for every implication for your life. You can meditate without memorizing – if you have your Bible in front of you – but the advice in the Bible is to meditate on the Word day and night, and you cannot do that without memorizing. But when you can take the Word with you, you can focus on the Scriptures in traffic, waiting in line, between meetings, or while waiting for your child to finish smearing her dinner through her hair.

So the hierarchy of the Word is casual reading, study, memorization, and meditation. But if you stop there, you’ve left out the most important part. Obedience is an essential element in interacting with the Bible, and it is essential in knowing Christ. Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him” (John 14:21). If you want to have a deeper relationship with Christ, you must obey what you’ve gleaned from the Bible.

Think of it like a hand. Bible reading, study, memorization, and meditation are the fingers, but without obedience – the thumb – you cannot hold onto things. Without obedience you cannot hold tightly to God. As Croft M. Pentz said, “Let Christ first work in you; then he will work through you.”

The advice of J.I. Packer in his classic Knowing God is “listening to God’s Word and receiving it as the Holy Spirit interprets it, in application to oneself; second, noting God’s nature and character, as his Word and works reveal it; [turning each truth that we learn about God into matter for meditation before God, leading to prayer and praise to God;] … accepting his invitations and doing what he commands; [finally] recognizing and rejoicing in the love that he has shown in thus approaching you and drawing you into this divine fellowship.”

As Mr. Packer mentioned, after the Word we have prayer. Any king may send a memo to his subjects, but our Heavenly Father, the King of everything invites, no requires, us – his subjects and also his dearly loved children – to climb up in his lap and talk to him. And that is the attitude we have to approach God with. When we pray we are not presenting a genie with a wish list; we are approaching the throne of Almighty God both humbly and boldly. Humbly because, if we have any sense at all, we will tremble just a bit at the thought of approaching a holy God. Boldly because we have been adopted into the family of God and approach him as a dearly loved child.

We can approach him boldly, but we must never forget that we do not pray primarily to get what we want. We can and should ask our Father for what we need and even want, but the primary purpose of prayer is intimacy with the Almighty.

There are some other spiritual disciplines that can help foster this intimacy with Christ. Solitude and silence tend to go together quite well. Get alone with God – for prayer, for meditation, for time in the scriptures. And sometimes make it silent time – we don’t have to have the radio or tv on all the time. Having your devotional time in a corner of Starbucks or on the bus is ok on occasion, but not all the time. Solitude and silence create an atmosphere in which we can more easily hear God.

The final spiritual disciple I want to talk about here is a rather unpopular one in our country – fasting. I’m not a big fan myself – I don’t miss many meals. But fasting has been used throughout the generations to grow closer to our Maker. In Drawing Close to God author Stephen Eyre says, “Fasting is a spiritual discipline that is broader than our quiet times. We may set aside half an hour for a quiet time, but a fast goes through a day or more. It is a helpful tool, however, because as a spiritual discipline, fasting enhances our spiritual sensitivity. …Like no other discipline, fasting involves all of me, body and soul, in the pursuit of God. When my body is hungry, my appetite working overtime and my will wavering, I am reminded that I have chosen God above all other desires. Hunger actually becomes my friend. Every hunger pang I feel reminds me to lift my requests to God. Each food commercial is an opportunity to say no to food and yes to God.”

Fasting does not have to be an entire day without food. Some people simply skip a meal or two. Others skip kinds of foods – a favorite that they are likely to crave if they abstain for very long. Whatever you decide to do just be sure that you are, as Jesus warned, doing everything for the right reason. And consult with your doctor before trying anything too extreme.

I’m not going to ask anyone to fast – you’re going to have to decide for yourself if that’s for you or not – but I am going to ask you to do something with all of this. Do you spend time in the word pretty much every day? If not, that’s where you need to start. If you do, move up the chain of involvement with the Bible at least one step. If you don’t already, start spending time in prayer – not just frantic prayers for help throughout the day but disciplined, intentional prayer. Try to get away from the noise of life at least a couple of times a week and spend time in silence and solitude with the Lord.

In committing to change, don’t get too ambitious or you’re likely to give up. As Kent Hughes points out in his Disciplines of a Godly Man, it is far better to start out with 15 minutes a day – read for 5 minutes, reflect on what you read for 5 minutes, and then pray about what you read for 5 minutes. As you get into the habit, your time commitment will probably grow, but start small. And if you can’t do it seven days a week, do what you can and grow from there. If you’re committing to study the word, you may find that you can only do that a couple of days a week – that’s fine! Just commit to moving into greater familiarity with God’s word and therefore with God.

I know some of you are wondering where you could possibly find another 15 minutes in your day. It may be time to prioritize. What is more important – knowing your God and Savior more or SportsCenter? Maybe you have to spend less time with the newspaper. Maybe you need to pick a tv show to give up. Guys, if your wife happens to be the mother of a small child, you might need to ask her if you can help her make some time in her day. Maybe there is one particular chore you can take over; maybe it’ll be something different everyday. Men we are responsible for our wives’ spiritual growth, so we need to make sure we make room in their lives for that growth.

Finally, don't expect to "feel different" — especially not overnight. The day will come when you actually want to sit down with your Bible instead of the newspaper. But that may not happen for two months. And when it does happen, the next day it may be harder than usual to get yourself to open your Bible. These things are called spiritual disciplines for a reason. But if you invest in this, the reward will be far greater than what you put in.