“Know” is a funny word. Besides its silent letters and homonymic quality that make the English language so special, what does it mean? There are different types of knowing: knowing of, knowing about, and truly knowing, you know?
There’s a difference between memorising a piece of information to be able to recite it and truly grasping what it means. An isolated piece of data is meaningless until you connect it with significance. The wavelength of the light that I’m currently seeing reflected is 450nm, which means nothing until you connect it with the information that light of a wavelength of 450nm is royal blue, and means more when I tell you that it’s my favourite colour and I’m looking at one of my favourite scarves.
I’m in a season of being challenged about what I know. I’m in the middle of exam season for my Masters course. I’m about to start a research project that explores an area I haven’t learned about before. But also, a number of things have challenged me about what I know about God – or rather, how I know Him. The quality of my knowing Him. I know a whole lot about God. Time as a church intern, going to Christian conferences, and years of Bible study groups mean that I could probably get a good mark on an R.S. test about Christianity. Yet our latest sermon series at church on Job and sermons on John (link at the bottom – have a listen!), and what I’ve read about the challenge to stay connected to Christ and grow because of it (link at the bottom – have a read!) and my own cold-heartedness have made me ask: how well do I know God?
I’ve just started reading Knowing God by J.I. Packer in response to this. I’m only on chapter 3, but already God’s been continuing to challenge my heart. I’m very excited about knowing Him more – as those who know me will agree, I get very excited about things that look at who God is. But I already see, in a way, how little I know Him. How easily I slip from times of being passionate for God, eagerly reading the Bible, lapping up everything I can about Him, to going to having lots of head knowledge but not seeming to relate to God very well. I grow cold and weary of the struggles of life. God feels distant, or smaller things seem closer and so I latch on to them. Do you know the feeling?
Chapter 2 in Knowing God paints a picture of people who know God. Packer says that you can know a lot about God, and even a lot about being godly, without knowing God Himself. Taking the example of Daniel (of lions’ den fame – see Daniel 6), Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (the guys who got thrown into the fiery furnace – see Daniel 3), he makes these points:
Those who know God have great energy for God.
“…the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action” (Daniel 11:32b, RSV). Daniel and his friends knew God, and so reacted against the anti-God culture around them by praying to God (Daniel) and refusing to worship a statue (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) when such things were illegal and carried the penalty of death. They weren’t rebelling for the cause of Jewish freedom in the Babylonian Empire. Instead, they were sensitive to attacks on God’s truth and glory and actively stood against it. Packer says that a measure of how well we know God is how much we pray:
“… the invariable fruit of true knowledge of God is energy to pray for God’s cause – energy, indeed, which can only find an outlet and a relief of inner tension when channelled into such prayer – and the more knowledge, the more energy!… If, however, there is in us little energy for such prayer, and little consequent practice of it, this is a sure sign that as yet we scarcely know our God.”
– Knowing God, p.29 (reference at the end of this post)
Those who know God have great thoughts of God.
Daniel et al had a huge vision of God’s sovereignty. They lived in the middle of the Babylonian Empire, the huge world superpower that had swallowed up their homeland and dragged them and their people into exile miles away from home. Daniel served under kings who controlled this power. Yet in the middle of all this, they knew that God was truly in control of all the power and wealth and military strength they saw:
“…Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons, he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness and light dwells with him.”
– Daniel 2:20-22
“O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands… Lord, you are righteous… the Lord our God is merciful and forgiving… the LORD out God is righteous in everything he does”
– Daniel 9:4, 7, 9, 14
Those who know God show great boldness for God.
Daniel et al weren’t men to shy away from danger. They put their very lives on the line for God. They weren’t stupid or deluded; they knew full well what they were doing and that it could (and probably would) be the last move they made. But they cared more about God’s glory than their own lives. It was more important to them to obey God than to stay comfortable.
Those who know God have great contentment in God.
“There is no peace like the peace of those whose minds are possessed with full assurance that they have known God, and God has known them, and that this relationship guarantees God’s favour to them in life, through death, and on for ever.” (Knowing God p. 32) This is how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego when threatened with being burned alive for not worship a statue of the king could calmly look him in the eye and say, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand. O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18). This is how Daniel could face being thrown to the lions for praying when prayer was legally banned. This is how thousands of Christians over the years have faced martyrdom, suffering, ostracism. This is how we can say that we count all else as rubbish compared to Christ (Philippians 3:8).
I look at these things and see myself falling short. I thank God for His grace and that He will change me, but I don’t want to be content with where I am now. I want to hunger for God, to thirst for Christ, the living water (John 7:37). Don’t you?
But how can we know God? It’s all very well wanting to know God, but what’s the use of passion and hunger if you’re left feeling empty? That can often be what life feels like when we feel far from God. Yet if we believe in Jesus, we aren’t far from Him. As the song goes: “My name is graven on His hands, my name is written on His heart, I know that while in heaven He stands, no tongue can bid me thence depart.” As our great High Priest in heaven, Christ carries us into the presence of God. When we’re on fire for Him. When we’re cold. When we feel buried under the stresses and strains of life, of responsibility, of suffering, of exams or tiredness or confusion and there’s too much to do and we can’t see the way forward. God is there. We just need to turn to Him. We need to recognise how much we need Him, how much more we want to know Him, and then seek Him. Look and search and press on, badgering God to show us more. Asking that His Spirit would open up a whole world of discovering Him when we read His word, and pray, and do what things we do as worship. Asking that over this Easter weekend Christ would excite our hearts for Him again as we remember His death and resurrection that was planned before time to save our souls. And trusting that “it is those who have sought the Lord Jesus till they have found him – for the promise is that when we seek him with all our hearts, we shall surely find him – who can stand before the world to testify that they have known God.” (Knowing God p,34). Trust that “since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” (Hebrews 4:14) Lets keep on seeking God and holding firm to Him even when He seems distant. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)
Link for those sermons: http://www.stmaryswollatonpark.co.uk/podcast/mp3-list.html
Link for that blog post: http://henrycurran.wordpress.com/
Reference for that book: Knowing God by J.I. Packer (2004) Hodder & Stoughton