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, June 27, 2015

Knowing God - Part 8

In this final post about knowing God, I want to briefly survey some of the benefits of knowing God. What we know about God and the depth to which we know Him can have tremendous impact on our lives. Because such knowledge is transformational, it is no wonder that God calls us to seek to know Him. When we know God . . .

We find favor in His sight (Exodus 33:13).
We are able to experience His love (John 17:26).
We are set securely on high (Psalm 91:14).
Our sins are forgiven and forgotten (Jeremiah 31:34).
God pleads our cause in need and affliction, and it is well with us (Jeremiah 22:16).
We are able to recognize God's voice when He speaks to us (Isaiah 45:3).

We are brought to fear God forever (Deuteronomy 31:13, Joshua 4:24); this fear forms the basis for wisdom and true knowledge of life (Proverbs 1:7; 2:5; 9:10).
We have everything we need for life and godliness (II Peter 1:3).
We have the basis for receiving even further revelation (I John 2:13,14).
We willingly give offerings to God and encourage others to do the same (I Chronicles 29:17).

We trust Him (Psalm 9:10).
We don't fear the attacks of men (Isaiah 51:7).
We can cease striving (Psalm 46:10).
We can have confidence that God will keep us (II Timothy 1:12).
We have multiplied grace and peace (II Peter 1:2).
We are humbled at what He has done for us (Ezekiel 16:62).
We are not ashamed in suffering for God (II Timothy 1:12).

We are prepared to commit to following God's ways (Nehemiah 10:28-29).
We can walk worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him and bearing fruit (Colossians 1:10).
We are motivated to serve God faithfully (Joshua 24:31; I Chronicles 28:9).
We have strength to take action in times of trouble (Daniel 11:32).
We are fruitful as believers (II Peter 1:5).

We are kept from erring in our hearts (Psalm 95:10).
We keep His commandments (I John 2:3).
We are motivated to turn our backs to the worthless things of the world (Galatians 4:9).
We are able to escape the defilements of the world (II Peter 2:20).
We listen to godly instruction from our leaders (I John 4:6).

We love others (I John 4:7).
Our love for others can abound (Philippians 1:9).
We can mutually give and receive support from other Christians (Psalm 119:79).
We can teach God's truth to those who don't know it (Ezra 7:25).
We witness to the unsaved (II Corinthians 5:11).

"Thus says the LORD, 'Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,' declares the LORD." Jeremiah 9:23-24 (NASB)

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Knowing God - Part 7

The previous posts have focused on getting to know God through the most effective and reliable means, the Word of God (Part 2). The Bible includes multiple facets that each give insight into what God is like. God is revealed through His various names (Part 3). God is made known in the Bible through overtly stated characteristics as well as through characteristics revealed in the stories of His dealings with men (Part 4). God's character is demonstrated through His answers to prayer (Part 5). God is further revealed through worship and the influence of others (Part 6). While the authority of these Biblically-inspired aspects cannot be matched, God does not limit His self-revelation to the pages of Scripture. I want to consider two extra-Biblical vehicles for knowing God - nature and personal experience.

God reveals Himself through nature. "The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge" (Psalm 19:1-2). One cannot objectively and reasonably view creation without being exposed to truth about God. Following are several aspects of God's nature that nature highlights.

First, God is eternal. For God to have created the heavens and the earth, He must have existed before they did. Since all things were made by the direct act of God, He existed before all things. (Genesis 1:1, Psalm 90:2)

Second, God is self-sufficient. The fact that He existed through eternity past without the heavens and earth means that He did not need them. Even now He does not need them. The earth depends on God, rather than the opposite. (Psalm 50:12, Acts 17:25)

Third, God is complex. After millennia of study, man still does not fully understand God's creation. Whether it be the vastness of space or the intricacies of human DNA, man keeps on discovering as long as he keeps on seeking knowledge. Man cannot plumb the depths of the systems that God has developed. (Psalm 139:14)

Fourth, God is powerful. God created everything out of nothing, and He did so by merely speaking it into existence. He holds the planetary system in place and provides for the needs of every creature. (Psalm 33:6, Colossians 1:17, Psalm 104:27)

Fifth, God is wise. He created the galaxies with such precision that they do not crash or fall apart. He created the earth with just the right characteristics to support life. He developed all the systems of the human body. If evolution were true, every bit of life would have died off long before it developed the systems necessary to sustain life. (Jeremiah 51:15, Job 38-41)

Sixth, God is orderly. Creation is predictable. There is tremendous consistency in the planetary orbits, eclipses, tides, seasons, and so forth. The earth is filled with systems - the solar system, the water cycle, the planting cycle, the food chain, the migration of birds, the digestive system, the circulatory system, etc. Scientists continually discover mathematical precision in things like number of bananas in a bunch, kernels on an ear of corn, and flight patterns of bees. (Genesis 1:31, Genesis 8:22, Psalm 104:13-14)

Seventh, God is sovereign. He created some creatures as beautiful as a peacock and others as plain as a crow. He made large elephants and tiny insects. He made powerful lions and vulnerable butterflies. He placed each one in the region of the world that He determined and designed. (Job 39:17, Psalm 104:18, Romans 9:20)

Eighth, God is creative and appreciative of beauty. The earth is filled with incredible variety, and each place has its own beauty. This mind-boggling variety exists in the plant and animal kingdoms as well as in geology. God made a world with the beauty of color and the singing of birds. Distinct animals, such as giraffes, kangaroos, lizards, octopuses, and many, many more, are uniquely designed to meet the challenges intrinsic to their habitat and biological makeup. (Proverbs 30:19, Genesis 1:31, Psalm 19:1)

Creation indeed declares the wonders of an amazing God. In and of itself nature does not declare the entire story, but it provides wonderful reinforcement for the truths revealed in the Bible. In addition to the Word of God and the wonders of nature, God also reveals Himself through His work in the lives of individual people. This revelatory channel of personal experience, while real and valuable, is also most susceptible to error and must be carefully restrained by the truth of the Bible.

I believe the key to safely learning what God is like from personal experience is establishing the correct starting point. Instead of looking at the particular circumstances or situations of one's life and asking, "What does this situation show me about the nature of God?" a believer must look first at the revealed nature of God and ask, "How can I see this quality of God illustrated in my life?"

As a believer matures and accumulates additional life experiences, he begins to perceive God's character in new ways and with fuller understanding than he had previously. The Christian's perspective, however, is always limited by his humanity. He cannot see the whole picture nor can he fully understand God's plan; these deficiencies can contribute to a wrong view of God when the believer does not by faith accept what God declares to be true of Himself.

Interestingly, the troubling circumstances over which believers stumble still reveal what God is like, but often a different characteristic than the believer perceives. For example, a trying situation that causes a believer to evaluate God as being unloving may in fact be revealing God's great wisdom. A focus on the Bible guards the believer from a wrong conclusion by reminding him that God cannot be unloving. God is who He is. Man's evaluations cannot change God's character, while the Bible can accurately reveal what God is like.
"For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse." Romans 1:20 (NASB)

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Knowing God - Part 6

"Also I gave them My sabbaths to be a sign between Me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them." Ezekiel 20:12

Believers can know God better through worship. God originally gave the instruction of the above verse to Moses and Israel in Exodus 29:46. God intended for the special days that He had set aside, whether on a weekly basis or scattered throughout the year, to teach His people more about Himself. How can worship accomplish that objective?

First, we cannot know someone that we do not think about. God often referred to Israel's tendency to forget Him. The Sabbath, when properly observed, brought the mind of the people back to God on a regular basis. While I doubt that the readers of this blog are guilty of forgetting God to an extreme extent, I also believe that we can readily relate to how easy it is to forget God in the course of our daily lives.

We joke about dusting off our Bibles to bring to church with us; we sometimes realize we haven't opened them since the last time we were in church. Regarding church, it seems that Christians in general are less faithful to attend regularly. How many of our churches would be big enough to accommodate the crowd if everyone that sometimes attends were to come on the same week? When weeks pass between visits, the gaps between times in the Word become even longer. Then there is prayer. How long do we go between times of serious prayer? Days? Weeks? Do we ever find ourselves realizing that we haven't really talked to God since the last time we were in prayer meeting?

Again, I hope that these extremes are not true of myself or my readers, but they certainly are true of many Christians. For those who are faithful in church - in observing God's sabbaths, as it were - I believe we can easily recognize the value our worship has on our walk with God. Faithfulness in gathering together enhances and strengthens the way in which we seek God on a daily basis. Regular corporate worship prompts desire and increases the appetite for regular personal worship; it puts the heart and mind in a more conducive state to seek God. It establishes the premise that God is important enough to me that I am willing to set aside time for Him, and that time is enjoyed both publically and privately.

Second, worship aids our knowledge of God not only by regularly bringing our minds to God, but also by the particular aspects that it brings to our minds. Let us consider what happens in worship, whether public or private, that facilitates our learning about God.

We are instructed about God from His Word. Preaching, teaching, and personal study regularly touch upon aspects of God's character and how they are expressed in the lives of people. We are reminded or informed of what God has done. As we hear of answers to prayer, listen to the testimonies of others, and observe God's work in their lives, we see more and more illustrations of God's character. Through testimony times, we are called upon to reflect on how God has been faithful to Himself in our own lives. Singing also builds our knowledge of God; good hymns are filled with truth about the character of God, and the nature of singing makes it easy for us to remember those truths even after the hymn has ended.

In conclusion, worship helps us to learn about God by regularly reminding us to think about Him and by providing avenues that prompt us to do so in particularly meaningful ways. Worship indicates God's importance to us and implies that He is important enough to know well.

Related to the topic of worship, we can also learn to know God better through the influence of others. Psalm 78:4-7 describes how this process can work: "We will not conceal them from their children, but tell to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength and His wondrous works that He has done. For He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers that they should teach them to their children, that the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, that they may arise and tell them to their children, that they should put their confidence in God and not forget the works of God."

Believers should be on both ends of this spectrum. We should be strengthened in our knowledge of God by listening to others, and we should strengthen the knowledge of God in others through our words to them. God provides people in our lives to give this type of instruction (Jeremiah 3:15), and He also wants us to give instruction about Him and His works to others (Ezekiel 24:27). Like Paul, we can pray for other believers to grow in their knowledge of God and what is important to Him (Colossians 1:9).

This truth of the influence we ought to have on others emphasizes the importance not just of joining together at church, but specifically of having conversations (both in church and beyond) that declare the greatness of God. Helping one another to learn more about God should be evident in our interactions. In addition to conversations with people who are around us now, we can also learn much from the biographies and writings of those who have gone before us.

"Oh give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples." Psalm 105:1 (NASB)

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Knowing God - Part 5

Believers can come to know God better through His answers to prayer. In the lengthy prayer at the dedication of the temple, Solomon asked for God to respond by revealing Himself even to foreigners who would seek Him and pray to Him. "Also concerning the foreigner . . . when he comes from a far country for Your name's sake . . . and prays toward this house, hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name to fear You, as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this house which I have built is called by Your name" (I Kings 8:41-43). Following is a survey of truths to be learned about God through His answers to prayer.

God is compassionate. Hannah was greatly burdened because she did not have a son; furthermore, her husband's other wife provoked her bitterly over that fact. When she poured out her prayer to God, He gave her a son (I Samuel 1:2-20). God did the same for Rachel (Genesis 30:22).

God understands human weakness. Elijah was so troubled and discouraged that he prayed for God to kill him. God responded by sending an angel to minister to him and give him extraordinary provision (I Kings 19:4-8).

God is generous and delights to give blessing. God invited Solomon to ask any request. When Solomon humbly prayed for wisdom, God responded by granting his request and then promising abundant blessing beyond the wisdom (I Kings 3:5-13).

God is patient. When Gideon was filled with fear and uncertainty as he considered obeying God, he prayed twice for God to give him a sign of reassurance. God answered both of those prayers and even voluntarily gave other reassurance beyond what Gideon had asked (Judges 6:36-40; 7:9-15).

God is longsuffering. The prayers of the children of Israel took the form of grumbling (Exodus 16:8) as they demanded food and water. In spite of the nature of their communication and the repeated nature of the requests, God provided food and water for them (Exodus 15:24-16:14).

God is forgiving. David earnestly prayed for forgiveness in Psalm 51. God granted His forgiveness and went on to use David in wonderful ways, while expressing His esteem for David and acknowledging His godly heart (I Samuel 13:14).

God gives wisdom. When Joshua was dismayed and confused by the army's defeat at Ai, he called out to God. God responded by revealing the sin that needed to be addressed (Joshua 7:6-15).

God responds favorably to His children's requests to know Him. When Moses prayed to know God in a special way, God answered by revealing Himself in an unprecedented display of glory (Exodus 33:18-23).

God responds to prayerful worship. When Solomon dedicated the temple, he worshiped God in prayer, acknowledging His greatness, remembering His promises, requesting His favor, and imploring His help and mercy (I Kings 8:22-53). God responded by appearing to Solomon, specifically citing his prayer, and giving additional promises to Solomon (9:2-9).

God rewards faith. Elijah prayed something so extraordinary that no one would consider praying such a thing. He asked that it not rain for three and a half years, and it did not. Then he prayed that it would rain, and God sent rain immediately and abundantly (James 5:17-18).

God is faithful. God's people had been in Egypt for 450 years, much of that time under oppressive slavery. God had promised to bring them out, and He told Moses that He had heard their cry and was going to deliver them (Exodus 3:7-8).

God cannot lie. God was ready to completely destroy the nation of Israel after they sinned by making and worshiping the golden calf. Moses entreated God not to destroy the people by reminding God of His promise to Abraham. God answered by withholding His judgment (Exodus 32:9-14).

God is powerful. The people of Israel and Moses cried out to God when they were trapped at the Red Sea. God opened a miraculous pathway of escape and then completely annihilated the Egyptians (Exodus 14:9-29). When Hezekiah prayed for deliverance, God sent His angel to kill the entire Assyrian army overnight (II Kings 19:15-35).

The stories with their revelations of God's character could go on and on. I have not mentioned God's love in responding to heavy burdens, His omniscience in beginning to answer before the prayers were even made, or simply His desire to be magnified in the eyes of men through His answers. At times God worked in the life of one person only because someone else prayed for him (Genesis 19:29). God even answered prayers for people who had not always served him faithfully (Judges 16:28-30).

Because these Bible accounts tell the entire story and reveal God's intended instruction, they are wonderful tools to build our knowledge of God. We may be a bit more challenged to see all of these things in our own lives. Especially when prayers are not answered in dramatic fashion or with the answer we had desired, we may stumble and perhaps interpret those answers as revealing negative aspects of God's character. That is because we do not have the perspective of eternity and God's wisdom; in those cases, we must have faith in what God has revealed about Himself and must believe it to be true anyway. If, however, we will consider how God has answered prayers over the course of our lives, we will see many of these same qualities revealed.

"Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know." Jeremiah 33:3 (NASB)