This blog focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Knowing God - Part 4

In examining the quest to know God better, we have realized first of all that such an endeavor is dependent upon God's choosing to reveal Himself. Second, we saw that God has chosen to reveal Himself primarily through the Bible. Third, we saw that the names of God as found in the Bible reveal much about what God is like.

I believe that each of the studies mentioned above, as well as each of the ones to follow, are purposefully revealed through specific Scriptures that instruct us about how to know God. There is one tool for which I did not find specific Scriptural instruction; it is, however, a very logical method to use. It seems not only to be a very practical way to fulfill God's instruction to know Him, but it is also obvious that God deliberately included this aspect in His Word to facilitate our knowing Him.

This very helpful method is to study the characteristics of God as declared in the Bible. God openly declares things about His nature. For example, He is loving, kind, merciful, faithful, powerful, wise, and forgiving. In practical terms, utilizing this method would follow a procedure very similar to studying the names of God. To get started, we could write down a list of characteristics that readily come to mind. We could very easily find a list in a book or other resource. We could also simply start to read the Bible (Psalms is a good place to start) and jot down the characteristics that we see.

Once a list is compiled (or at least started), a concordance is very helpful in identifying verses to consult for a particular characteristic. Not every verse that contains the word love will be about the love of God, but usually the concordance gives enough context to indicate who is being described. With a list of verses to study, we can then begin to read and ask the question "What does this verse tell me about the love of God?" It is possible to find study books that will do this work for us, but there is much more profit when we do the study for ourselves.

Often God clearly states His characteristics; at other times He uses Bible stories to illustrate His characteristics. He gives real life examples to demonstrate that what He has declared about Himself is true. He shows that He exercises these characteristics in the lives of actual people. I have identified four categories of actions that reveal what God is like.

First, we can know God through His mighty acts. God is known by the precise, mighty, and amazing acts that He does in which He clearly shows His power. God repeatedly reveals that the plagues in Egypt were designed so that people would know about Him. Exodus 9:14, for example, states, "For this time I will send all My plagues on you and your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth." God's purpose was achieved. The Egyptian people learned (Exodus 12:33). Moses' father-in-law learned (Exodus 18:11). Even far-off Rahab learned (Joshua 2:9-11). Israel was supposed to learn (Deuteronomy 4:35). In fact, God intended for the entire earth to learn of God because of His mighty acts (Joshua 4:24).

Second, we can know God by His great deliverance. God is able to give deliverance when no one else can or even thinks it possible. When He does so, the deliverance that unquestionably comes from God reveals the character of that great God. David depended on this fact when, as a young shepherd, he faced the giant whom all the soldiers feared (I Samuel 17:46). When Ahab faced a coalition of thirty-three kings who were poised to destroy Israel, God's prophet declared, "Thus says the Lord, 'Have you seen all this great multitude? Behold I will deliver them into your hand today, and you shall know that I am the Lord'" (I Kings 20:13). When Hezekiah faced a similar threat from the Assyrians, he called out to God to reveal Himself through deliverance (Isaiah 37:20). If God's amazing deliverances are intended to teach even unbelievers about Him, surely they are designed so that His own people will also know Him.

Third, we can know God by His abundant blessing. God promised His blessing on Israel for this very purpose. "I will multiply on you man and beast; and they will increase and be fruitful; and I will cause you to be inhabited as you were formerly and will treat you better than at the first. Thus you will know that I am the Lord" (Ezekiel 36:11). God can give blessings that no one else can give; these reveal not only His power, but also the richness of His love (Isaiah 41:20). God's amazing covenant with David revealed the unique excellence of God (I Chronicles 17:19). God's blessing on the undeserving reveals His transcendence above external influences (Ezekiel 20:44). Truly, God's abundant blessing reveals His greatness not only because no one else could do it, but also because no one else would do it.

Fourth, we can know God by His great and severe judgment. Ezekiel declared God's message to His people, "For My eye will have no pity on you, nor will I spare you, but I will bring your ways upon you, and your abominations will be among you; then you will know that I am the Lord!" (Ezekiel 7:4). This is just one of more than forty similar statements found in Ezekiel. God reveals Himself by dealing with His children's own sin and also with the sin of those who would damage them (Ezekiel 20:38). God is further revealed as following His judgment with complete restoration (Ezekiel 39:28). Through such judgment God displays His holiness (Ezekiel 36:23) and magnifies Himself (Ezekiel 38:23).

I close with two final thoughts. First, looking only at these four factors provides a balanced view of God that many people lack. Many see God either as all love and no judgment or as an impersonal tyrant who is ready to jump on the slightest offense. An accurate view of God discredits both of these erroneous theories.

Second, it is important to realize that the primary venue in which we are to see these four revelations is the Bible. When we look at our personal lives, we do not have the whole picture. When we are in the midst of the process of what God is doing, we easily err in our conclusions. We determine what God is like by focusing on what He has done or not done in our lives; unfortunately, we are analyzing based on incomplete information. When we read stories in the Bible, we get the whole picture as God intended it. Examining God's actions in the narratives of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, David, Esther, and many others reveals valuable truth about the nature of God.

"All Your works shall . . . make known to the sons of men Your mighty acts and the glory of the majesty of Your kingdom." (Psalm 145:10-12 NASB)

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Knowing God - Part 3

When a believer desires to know God better, the Bible serves as the primary source of that knowledge. Random and sporadic reading of the Bible will provide some benefit, but knowledge of God will really grow when the Christian reads with a purpose and when he is actively looking for the revelation of what God is like. One wonderful aspect of God that can reveal His character is the names of God.

"God spoke further to Moses and said to Him, 'I am the LORD; and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name, LORD, I did not make Myself known to them.'" (Exodus 6:2-3 NASB)

The verses above reveal two names of God that He used to reveal Himself to His people. Previous to this conversation with Moses, God had shown Himself as God Almighty. In this conversation, He revealed Himself to Moses with a new name, LORD (or Jehovah). There was something new that Moses could learn through this name that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not know.

God is complex beyond human comprehension, leaving the human mind incapable of understanding all of His aspects. God reveals Himself through His names, but no single name can adequately describe Him. Since God is so multifaceted and intricate, believers who wish to know Him well must construct a composite image; this image is based on the great variety of attributes revealed through the combination of God's names. God has wisely chosen to employ hundreds of names, each one creating a picture or illustrating an attribute. This revelation makes the names of God a wonderful basis for coming to know who God is and what He is like.

I once did a study of God's names found in the book of Psalms. I located 144 different names for God throughout the book. As might be expected, a few common names for God occur frequently. LORD (Jehovah) is used 646 times, God (El or Elohim) 363 times, and Lord (Adonai) 57 times. Because these names are such "standard" names for God, it could be easy to overlook them, but even these names are instructive. LORD refers to God as the self-existent or eternal one who is not now, nor ever has been, dependent on anyone or anything else. God identifies a deity and refers to strength, highlighting God's position above man. Lord refers to a ruler, sovereign, or controller who has mastery and ownership over his subjects.

In addition to these three common names, there are 141 other names for God (by my evaluation) in the book of Psalms. Some of these are the three common names combined with modifiers, but there is a variety of other descriptive names that help to reveal God's character. A sampling of these instructive names includes the following: Almighty, confidence of all the ends of the earth, deliverer, dwelling place, father of the fatherless, God most high, living God, God alone, God my exceeding joy, God of my salvation, God that forgavest them, goodness, habitation, very present help in trouble, hiding place, Holy One, hope, judge, keeper, king, light, maker, portion, rock that is higher than I, shade, shepherd, shield, song, strength, He in whom I trust, He that took me out of the womb, Him which divided the Red Sea into parts, and Thou that savest by Thy right hand them which put their trust in Thee.

This was such a great study that I started (but to date have not finished) a similar study in the gospel of John. I discovered that the most used names are not surprising: Jesus, Father, God, Lord, Son, and Christ. I also located fifty-six other names within the gospel, including the following: bread of life, Comforter, door, gift of God, only true God, husbandman, Lamb of God, Light, resurrection, good shepherd, vine, way, and Him whom they pierced.

If I ever become ambitious enough, I would like to also study Old Testament names that are not found in the Psalms and New Testament names that are not found in John. Learning about God through these studies could easily last for years. It could also yield great treasure regarding the character of God.

Such a study consists of more than simply making a list of God's names. It also requires consideration and meditation. I used a concordance to look up the meaning of the words used in each name. This step provides valuable insight into the significance of each name and the truth it intends to convey.

Meditation takes that knowledge to a personal and meaningful level. In meditation, the believer chooses a name of God and begins to think about it. He asks questions. What truth does that name reveal about God? What aspect of God’s character is highlighted? What picture does it create? How does God demonstrate that aspect to man? How does that name present God as bigger than man and his problems? How does it show God to be capable of handling anything? What does that name mean to people in trouble?

Such meditation anchors the soul of man, as God is lifted up and His greatness is considered. Through the study, the Christian learns something about God that helps to guard against doubts, fears, and discouragement. The truth can then be carried throughout the day, incorporated into prayer, meditated upon, and worked into the life.  As new names are considered over time, the believer's knowledge of God reaches new and meaningful heights.

Just as a brief example, God is described as our Keeper in Psalm 121:5. To keep is to hedge about (like with thorns); it refers to guarding or protecting. This is like a defensive tool or weapon of war; it reminds me of barbed or concertina wire or spiked defenses, like in the waters at Normandy. They are designed to be an impregnable defense that keeps all enemies out and that they cannot penetrate. When God is the one looking out for us, we don’t have to worry about His doing so poorly or ineffectively.

"The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe.” Proverbs 18:10 (NASB)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Knowing God - Part 2

When a believer decides he wants to know God better, that is an important first step. The previous post examined the futility that would arise if the increasing knowledge of God could be achieved only by man's desire and efforts. Such knowledge is available only as God chooses to reveal Himself to man. God is gracious to grant that knowledge, however, to those who seek to know Him. For the next several posts, I want to look at man's side of the equation. What can a believer to do put himself in a seeking position so that God can reveal Himself?

The answer to that question comes down to one central truth. God reveals Himself through His Word. (Romans 1 reveals that God puts some level of God-knowledge intrinsically within the heart of man and that nature also reveals God, but even the knowledge through those means depends on the Bible for full understanding.)

"So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). What is faith? Faith is what we believe to be true, in particular when it is something that we must choose to believe even when we cannot see it. We cannot see God with our physical eyes. We cannot literally observe His hand at work, nor can we see a visible display of His attributes in the same sense that we do with people. Our faith, or belief, in what God is like comes as we hear His Word and see Him revealed through its pages.

I believe that many Christians are seeking to know what God is like (or are basing their opinion of what He is like) on their own personal life experience. While God's interaction in the lives of Christians does reveal His character, personal experience is not the primary method God has chosen for revealing Himself. In the first place, this basis is flawed, because man cannot see the whole picture. Man does not know how each incident in his life fits into his whole life experience, nor does he see how his life intersects with the greater plan of God. Because of this incomplete and limited knowledge, a view of God established through this method is often faulty. This focus on personal experience leads to some dangerous and errant statements, such as the following:

          "I don't think God would . . ."
          "I think God is like a fountain/rainbow/cloud/nature/etc."
          "God did X to me, so that means He is . . ."
          "I see God as . . ."
          "Your God might do X, but my God doesn't."

Christians can come up with such varying portrayals of God, in fact, that children or unbelievers could be left in confusion. One person believes that God is all love; another believes that He is all justice. Some believe God is actively involved in the world today, while others see Him as withdrawn and disinterested. How can all of these statements describe the same God? They can't. Those humanly-construed pictures of God fall short and contain error because they are not based on what God says is true about Himself. There may be little or no truth in these statements that are in essence nothing more than man's opinion formed through faulty or limited observation.

God is who He is. He is not a different God for one person than He is for another. He does not change based on what man's mind imagines. He does not change at all. The ancient pagan gods were unpredictable. They could decide to prosper mankind or they could fly into a rage at the slightest provocation (or no provocation, for that matter). God is not changeable or unpredictable. He remains the same through time and eternity. Therefore, what He reveals about Himself through the Bible is valid information for every believer in all times.

The Bible is the reliable source for knowledge about God. The Bible is His book in the sense that He wrote it, and it is also His book in the sense that it is all about Him. From cover to cover it reveals His actions and His character. The most authoritative source for knowing anyone is his own words. In considering a historical figure, an autobiography (provided the author is honest) is the best source for knowing the truth about him. The author knows himself better than anyone else does. God always tells the truth, so the book He has written about Himself is the best source of knowledge about Him.

Any commitment to know God better must be closely linked with a commitment to study God's Word - not just read, but study. For real profit and progress in the knowledge of God, the believer cannot read blindly. He must read with purpose and with a goal in mind. Too often Christians have a habit of skimming over a passage and doing nothing else with it. They don't stop to ponder, re-read, or take notes. People don't do this with the pursuit of any other knowledge. Anytime someone really wants to learn about a topic, he gives diligence as he reads and studies. The same must be true in the pursuit of God. Without purpose, many hours spent shallowly in the Word will produce only a shallow knowledge of God.

"You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me." John 5:39 (NASB)

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Knowing God - Part 1

If we as believers decide we want to know God better, how do we go about that? How can we know what God is really like? Is it just that some people have a special insight to understand God, that the life experience of certain people reveals God to them, or that it just gradually happens as people get older? In other words, is there anything we Christians can do to purposefully increase our knowledge of God, or is such a thing completely out of our hands?

It would be discouraging and frustrating to want to know God better and realize there is nothing we can do to facilitate that goal. Previous posts (Afraid to Know God series) have revealed that God wants us to know Him and even instructs us to do so. It would then stand to reason that God has provided a way for us to obtain that knowledge.

At first glance, it would seem that the initiative and responsibility rest with the believer - that a Christian must purpose to seek to know God and must work to achieve that knowledge. It is clearly evident, however, based on a multitude of Scripture, that it is God who takes the initiative. God chooses to reveal Himself to man.

"For God, who said, 'Light shall shine out of darkness,' is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (II Corinthians 4:6). Of His own volition and for His own purposes, God reveals and discloses knowledge of Himself. The verse above is just one of many declaring that God reveals Himself and various aspects of His nature to people. Repeatedly God states that He makes Himself known. (See also Exodus 6:3 and 29:46; Numbers 12:6; I Chronicles 17:19; Nehemiah 9:14; Psalm 9:16; 48:3; 98:2; 103:7; 106:8; Isaiah 19:21 and 64:2; Jeremiah 16:21; Ezekiel 20:5,9; 35:11; 38:23; 39:7; Romans 9:22; Hebrews 8:11).

In addition to God the Father, the person of Christ also reveals the knowledge of God. "And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true" (I John 5:20a). Part of Jesus' ministry was to reveal God to us. "Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him" (Matthew 11:27b). Through His life and through His words, Jesus helped to show what God is like. (Also Luke 10:22 and John 17:26).

The Holy Spirit also assists in revealing God to believers. Jesus disclosed that the Holy Spirit would come to reinforce His ministry as the Spirit would "teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you" (John 14:26b). The Spirit continues and enhances the revelation of God that Christ Himself began. "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God" (I Corinthians 2:12).

God in all of His persons reveals Himself to believers. This is encouraging truth, as it gives assurance once again that knowledge of God is possible. God is willingly disposed to reveal Himself. There is also a sobering aspect to this truth; we can know God only if He chooses to reveal Himself to us. If God were to withhold knowledge of Himself, there would be no way for anyone to know Him. God's deliberate and voluntary disclosure is the only way that we can know God.

Moses prayed, "Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You" (Exodus 33:13).

Paul's prayer recognized the necessary interaction by God: "That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him" (Ephesians 1:17).

Jeremiah's prophecy records God's own words revealing His necessary role: "I will give them a heart to know Me" (Jeremiah 24:7).

Romans reveals how man can know anything about God. "Because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them" (Romans 1:19).

Man cannot know God unless or until God reveals Himself and gives man a heart to seek Him. God can choose to open man's understanding and show things that were not previously known. God can arrange a man's life to facilitate that knowledge. (Isaiah 48:6 and 45:3; Job 37:7).

These explanations could lead to hopelessness in the pursuit of God. Maybe there really is nothing a believer can do in order to grow in his knowledge of God. Such knowledge seems completely dependent on God's decision of whether or not to reveal Himself to man. Again, we are reminded of the wonderful reality that God wants to reveal Himself and is looking for opportunities to do so.

God is able to reveal Himself most effectively to those who are seeking to know Him. More than once God reveals that "If you seek Him, He will let you find Him" (I Chronicles 28:9). He will even provide leaders to help those who are seeking to know Him. "Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding" (Jeremiah 3:15).

The Bible makes it clear that we are to seek to know God. There is responsibility on us. It is also clear that our own seeking is ultimately not the enabling factor. All of our seeking would be worthless if God did not choose to reveal Himself to us. God has proactively established ways of revealing Himself and has committed to utilize those methods when we seek. Let us then seek diligently while relying dependently on the kind volition of God to reward our seeking and to keep our hearts in a seeking state.

"Give me understanding, that I may know Your testimonies." Psalm 119:125 (NASB)

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Afraid to Know God - Part 4

In recent posts I have looked at various reasons for fear or reluctance a Christian might have concerning getting to know God. Those posts addressed the following questions. What if I seek to know God and He ends up being a disappointment like everyone else? What if getting to know God requires so much time that I have to give up other pursuits? What if I get to know God and discover that He wants to make all kinds of changes in my life that I don't want to make?

In this final post about being afraid to know God, I want to look at the fear that such a pursuit will inevitably end in failure. I see three aspects to this fear, and I also see that God's Word gives us hope in each scenario.

First, what if God doesn't even want to have a relationship with me?

God tells us to seek Him. "When You said, 'Seek my face,' my heart said to You, 'Your face, O LORD, I shall seek'" (Psalm 27:8).

God invites us to come to Him and learn of Him. "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me" (Matthew 11:28-29a).

God is actually looking for people who will seek to know Him. "The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God" (Psalm 14:2).

God waits with open arms to share the closeness of a father/child relationship with those who seek Him. "'Therefore come out from their midst and be separate,' says the Lord. 'And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,' says the Lord Almighty" (II Corinthians 6:17-18).

Second, what if I try to get to know God better and He rejects me because I'm not good enough for Him?

Even though God is so much higher than we are, He stoops to care for and interact with us. "Who is like the LORD our God, who is enthroned on high, who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap" (Psalm 113:5-7).

When we seek God, He will not turn away from us or neglect us. "And those who know Your name will put their trust in You, for You, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You" (Psalm 9:10).

Regardless of who we are or what we have been, God will still receive us. "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out" (John 6:37).

In fact, God promises that when we seek to come near to Him, He will reciprocate by moving actively toward us as well. "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (James 4:8a).

David was just one of many throughout history who could testify to having found favor with God when he sought Him. "I sought the LORD, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears" (Psalm 34:4).

Third, what if it isn't even possible to draw close to God?

God has revealed that such a thing is indeed possible. Moses spoke of it to the children of Israel. "But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul" (Deuteronomy 4:29).

David shared the same truth with Solomon. "As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever" (I Chronicles 28:9).

The prophet Azariah reassured King Asa of the same reality. "And he went out to meet Asa and said to him, 'Listen to me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: the LORD is with you when you are with Him. And if you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you'" (II Chronicles 15:2).

God is not as hard to find as we think. Stephen preached that God made "every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth . . . that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us" (Acts 17:27).

The reality is that God wants us to know Him and to know Him well. This desire of God is evident in the fact that He tells us so much about Himself. He does not try to hide Himself, because He welcomes a relationship with us. Furthermore, God instructs us to know Him. He reveals His desire that we do so, and He holds before us the value of doing so. "Let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me" (Jeremiah 9:24a). This relationship is such a strong desire of God that He will gladly honor our desire for the same.

"So let us know, let us press on to know the LORD. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; and He will come to us like the rain, like the spring rain watering the earth." Hosea 6:3 (NASB)