Narrow is the the gate
Heavy is my load
Dark is the valley
Sharp is the goad
Myself I must deny
And set my will aside
The flesh I mortify
In Him I must abide
For great is the Lord
And great are His ways
And great is His kindness
For all of my days
I read this term yesterday in an interview with an author. How can faith be fickle? Faith is strong. When you think of faith, you sense resolve, stalwartness…a mighty oak. Not fickle, uncertain, uncommitted or short lived.
Our faith swells when we stand in church with arms held high singing beautiful songs that pull emotions from our heart breaking through a week’s work of hardness and distractions of a manic life where we have forgotten our God. But as we stand with hands in the air, our Faith is rock solid. Our determination is strong. We will not be swayed. We will give to our God his due in our lives, our time, our words. What more is there? Whom have we but thee Lord?
Then we go home to the ease and comfort of our homes. Eat our fill. Watch our television. Engage in our hobbies. Strive diligently at work to get more so that we can have more. All the while, we pile these idols on the wagon of our faith struggling to pull them along throughout the week. Calling ourselves Christians, but forgetting the Christ.
We feel momentary flashes of faith as we drive in the car with the radio on, blaring more of that same music that calls to our emotions. We feel the weight of guilt as we realize we have forgotten our first love for a few days.
Then fickle faith once again rises to bring us to new heights of productivity, acts of kindness and that ever elusive characteristic called Christlikeness. The next person we encounter will experience the Love of Christ through us like never before. Only to lose this decisiveness upon entering the home and talking to a spouse, child or family member who does not, at this moment, share your burst of faith. And through their words or actions, suck the wind from your sails leaving you sitting crumpled in a desert of spiritual confusion.
Our Faith is fickle.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Make your heart clean as can be and with wide open eyes your God you shall see.
Knowing is a very broad term. You can know facts. You can know things. You can know people.
School is primarily based on knowing facts. This is demonstrated through the typical testing system. Tests were created to help you demonstrate your knowledge of a set of facts. We sit through lectures and then study the material in order to do well on the tests. The higher the grade we receive, the more we can say we know about a subject. Unfortunately, much of this knowledge is lost. I took two years of Spanish in High School. I did well enough with B’s. But my grasp of the Spanish language is minimal at best. We lose this knowledge of facts through lack of use. And it can be said that the more you use a piece of knowledge, the greater the ingrained retention of this item. Take for instance learning to tie your shoes. This was something that parents and older siblings spent hours teaching you. After all these years of tying your shoes everyday and sometimes more than once, you are able to complete this task without even thinking about it. You can say that you “know” how to tie your shoes. I cannot say that I “know” how to speak Spanish.
J. I. Packer gives the example of knowing a horse. You can spend a couple of days with a horse and largely say that you know that horse. By this, you mean that you know his likes and dislikes. You know his habits and tendencies. You know how to motivate him to do your bidding. You know if he likes carrots or apples. Animals are transparent. They do not seek to deceive or hide anything regarding their personality from their riders. Their reactions are ingrained in them and they are conditioned both naturally and manually to react in certain situations. Once you begin to experience this animal underneath you for a period of time, you can feel these tendencies and manage him in a way that forces him to serve your needs. Because of this transparency of spirit, you can “know” everything there is to know about this animal in a very short period of time.
Knowing people becomes a bit more complicated. First, there are degrees of knowing someone. People may ask you if you know a popular figure in history or today. They are actually asking if you “know of” this person. There is an assumption that you do not personally know the President of the United States, but certainly you “know of” him. This knowledge is based on awareness. There is no personal contact with this person. Your knowing him is relegated to the knowledge of his existence and any facts about that person that may be freely distributed through outlets by other people.
The second level of knowing someone involves personal contact. A formal or informal introduction. This begins with learning a person’s name. Once you know a person’s name and have experienced some sort of personal interaction with them, you have graduated to the second level of knowing. This personal interaction typically begins with an introduction. This can happen through a handshake, a phone call or an email dialogue. The basic elements of this level of knowledge are knowing the name of the person and, at the least, an exchange of greetings between each other. It is imperative that both parties acknowledge and speak to each other for this level of knowing to be achieved. This relationship can continue for years and years at this level. Interaction is relegated to benign, superficial greetings, inquiries about health, comments on the weather, working toward a common goal in the workplace, club or group.
The third level of knowing is based on commonality. As you engage with another individual, you may begin to find commons sets of interest with them. This commonality may be found in activities, beliefs or experiences. We tend to engage with people with whom we share something in common. We spend time seeking out people who actually do share any of these items. If we enjoy bowling, we join a bowling league. If we love football, we gravitate to other football fans. If we hold to evangelical truths, we attend a church that stands on these truths. If we have lost a spouse or child, we find support groups of people who are in various stages of a similar experience. Commonality is key in this level of knowing. It involves empathy. Empathy is a strong emotion. One that is freely given and voraciously received. No person wants to be alone. So we cling to people with whom we can share what is meaningful to us.
The fourth level of knowing is trust. While in the third level we share common interests with each other, in the fourth level we share intimate parts of our inner lives. We begin testing the waters with the other person. We may share something small to determine what level of trust we can assign to them. We ache to share secrets from our lives. When we were pre-teens, we couldn’t help but share with a friend our moon eyed love for another person. The test of friendship was whether this person would betray our trust by telling another person or worse yet, by telling the object of our affection our personal secret. We can gauge the level of trust that we have for someone by their reaction to our revelation. If they are shocked or taken aback, we tend to draw a line at how much we will tell this person. We begin to understand their level of tolerance for what is inside of me and boundaries are drawn. Interactions between the two are intimate but still have limits. These limits, once discovered, likely will never move.
This is the ultimate state of knowing someone. All limits are removed. Nothing is withheld. Secrets no matter how deep and dark, are shared openly. The reaction is always acceptance. There is an overwhelming desire to unload everything in your heart and there is no reticence to do so. To confess your desires, wants, and needs to someone is freeing. To be able to admit to your dark thoughts and match your abhorrence for these thoughts, while empathizing with your struggle is strengthening to oneself. The other person then becomes a help to you in your time of need. They know the right thing to say. They know when to call. They know when to listen. They strongly desire to see you victorious in your living and will do anything to assist you in that path. And when you fall, they are there to pick you up. They brush you off, give you water and let you lean on them until your strength returns. This is the ultimate knowing. Nothing is secret. Nothing is withheld. All is known. This is a relationship that most never experience. And those of us who are lucky, may have one person in our lives with whom we can experience this level of knowing.
To Know God
When I speak of knowing God, I speak of the Fifth Level of Knowing. God is transparent. He wants to reveal to us everything there is to know of Him. He uses scripture and the Holy Spirit to teach us about Him. It is a revelatory knowledge. It is one of experience. We may read a verse of scripture and it mean nothing to us. Then years later, when the time is right and our lives are in place of particular need, we read or remember the same passage and it speaks volumes to us. Our knowledge of God comes through obedience. We must constantly seek to know what God would have for us each second of the day. We can only do this through obedience. Studying God’s Word and praying without ceasing are two principles that require our obedience. And in these two areas, we begin to know God more and more.
And He knows us. He knows us intimately. He searches are deepest thoughts. He can see into the depths of our souls. He knows our longings. He hears our groanings. And he comes alongside with the Comforter, ready to give us just the right amount of strength and grace to take the next step. He wants us to lean on Him. He wants to be our sole source of support. He desires nothing more than an intimate relationship with His created. This is demonstrated through His great sacrifice to insure that our sin would not block us from this relationship.
Father – Help me to know you. Help me to trust you. Help me to lean on you. Help me to share all that is in my heart. Purify me, Lord. Make me wise in my doings. Remind me to acknowledge you with every breath. Amen.
1 John 2:3 “We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands.”
Knowledge of God comes through Obedience?
How does this work? I would have thought that John would have been more inclined to say that knowledge comes through studying the Word or Prayer or Praise. But then I realized that all 3 of these avenues actually fall under obedience.
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 1 Timothy 2:15
“Pray without ceasing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17
“By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually” Hebrews 13:15
These are all commands given to us by God. The expectation is that we will be obedient. In the doing of these things we become obedient.
We can constantly see pictures of God’s blessings on those who were obedient.
- Because Abraham obeyed God’s voice, he made his seed “to multiply as the stars of the heavens.” (Gen 26:4-5).
- God promised Israel that He would be with them because of their obedience (Hag 1:12-13)
- We are promised that the Holy Spirit will be given to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32)
- We are made free from sin and servants of righteousness because of our obedience (Rom 6:16-18)
- Children will find pleasure in God’s eyes through obedience of their parents (Col 3:20)
- Jesus is the author of our Salvation to those of us who obey (Heb 5:9)
- Our souls have been purified in “obeying the truth through the Spirit” (1Pet 1:22)
- Pharaoh did not obey the voice of God and would not let the people of Israel leave with Moses (Ex 5:2). He suffered many plagues and his army was swallowed up by the Red Sea.
- The Lord took the kingdom of Israel away from Saul and gave it to David because of his disobedience (1 Sam 28:17-18).
- Israel was taken into captivity by the King of Assyria due to their disobedience (2 Kings 18:11-12).
- Jeremiah prophesied that Israel would drink “water of gall” and “scatter them among the heathen” and “send a sword after them” because of their disobedience. (Jeremiah 9:13-16)
- God will give indignation and wrath to those who “who obey unrighteousness”. (Rom 2:8)
- Those that obey not “the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” will be “punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thes 1:7-9).
But I don’t feel like it….
I know how you feel brother/sister. I have sat many days and nights wrestling with feelings of laziness, apathy, anger, covetousness or lust. It is so much easier to turn on the television. So much easier to roll over and sleep an extra half an hour. It is so much easier to nurse that bitterness inside of you. I learned a principle recently that stated that you must determine the value and worth of an action by the end result of that action, not by the feeling you receive while engaging in that action. For instance, if you determine to get up a half an hour early so that you might spend some time in the Word and you wind up hitting the snooze button instead and sleeping through your quiet time, how do you determine if the action you took (or didn’t take) was productive or good for you. How do you feel for exchanging 30 minutes of sleep for time in the Word? Do you feel some remorse or even guilt? And how would you have felt if you had risen at the sound of the alarm, taken your Bible to a quiet place and read and prayed your way through the first 30 minutes of your day?
Sometimes, our feelings deceive us. They distort what we know in our hearts to be good and right. They convince us that they low road is not only easier, but more enjoyable. They cry out to be fed by the tasty morsels of the world. But they continue to become emaciated through a slow starvation wanting more and more of the worldly foods, but never becoming nourished in the consuming.
The Progression of Obedience
Obedience starts in the mind. It begins with repentance. It is a turning of 180 degrees away from the old life and toward a new life full of joy, contentment and reward. We must make a decision to be obedient. We can only do this with the help of the Holy Spirit. God knows that it takes work. God knows it is a hard thing. That is why we have the Comforter to come alongside and buoy us up right when we need it.
Obedience then moves to the Heart. The Heart is where commitment is born. Our Heart begins to place flesh on the bones of our decision. Our Heart strengthens our resolve to walk in the light. It begins to understand that obedience is not just an act in and of itself, but it is an outpouring of the Love we are developing for our God. Our hearts begin to soften as we continue to be obedient. And we become clay in the hands of the Potter.
Finally, our emotions come under submission. We begin to feel joy when we obey. We see the fruits of our obedience. We experience peace in knowing that we are honoring God in our actions, words and thoughts.
The Hole in my Soul
True Joy (and maybe even happiness) comes when the hole in our souls become filled. As we begin to experience the fullness of life, we begin to know the benefits of walking with God. God blesses us in our obedience. He gives us the things that make our souls healthy. We become full in Him.
Nothing else can fill this hole. No matter what we put into it. We can spend all of our days tossing everything we possibly can into this bottomless sinkhole. Money, pleasure, power, popularity, success, anger, bitterness. We just stand at the edge of the hole throwing anything we can get our hands on, and it never fills up.
We begin to fill that hole through obedience. Obey God’s words. Give them heed. Seek them out. Memorize them. Hold them dear to your heart. Treasure each and every word. Dig through his Word looking for jewels. Let God speak to you. He wants you to know Him. Obey Him and He will fill that hole.
I am developing a strong desire. I am slowly becoming consumed by this desire. It is but a sapling of a desire, but its growth is alarming. I desire to know God.
Ironically, though I might be able to articulate my goal, I am not sure what it really means to know God. How do you know the Creator of all that exists? How do you know someone who is all around you but cannot be touched, tasted, seen, heard or smelled?
And what does it mean to know someone. How do I baseling my current relationship with God so that I might measure my progress in my knowledge of Him? And is it just a matter of knowing facts? As though I might know a famous person such as Abraham Lincoln by becoming intimately familiar with his history, exploits, decisions and quotes? Does knowing God include knowledge of facts? Is it a knowledge through experience? And if it does become experiential, how do I then translate this experience into words?
There are many issues with this particular desire. How do I nourish it so that it doesn’t fade, for undoubtedly, everyone would commend me for having such a noble desire. And the nourishment it requires, from whence shall I gather this sustenance? And how do I quickly ascertain the difference between a healthy diet of knowing God and the quick sugar rush of a candied knowledge? What might I expect from a steady diet of knowing God? Which spiritual muscles will be developed and strengthened by this knowledge? Muscles of Faith? Maturity? Love? Contentment?
From what sources does the knowledge of God abound? Is it the Bible alone? Can I depend on both contemporary and historical writers to help me in my quest to know God intimately? Should I ignore their musings and trust that the Holy Spirit alone will guide me to a more intimate knowledge of Him? Can Tozer, Spurgeon and St. Augustine as well as Packer, MacArthur and Sproul give me consolidated and concise explanations of God and thereby expedite my growing knowledge of God? Which of these men should I trust and which should I avoid?
Obviously, this is a journey of discovery. A journey of mistakes, wrong paths, three steps forward and one back. A journey of revelation and growth. A journey that includes locked doors and open doors. A journey that will bring intimacy to my relationship with God. A relationship like no other can be expected. It will be full of wonder and fear. It will be hard to understand at times. But there is no doubt that the benefits will be immeasurable.
2012 is the year of Knowing God for me. And here is the theme verse for this year.
1 John 2:3 “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.”
May God bless my journey.