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Friday, November 4, 2011

Knowing God Personally vs. Knowing God Academically

Philippians 3:8-11

"Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith- that I may know Him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead."

Paul warns us not to place our confidence in ourselves, our social connections, our status, our privileges, our abilities, our knowledge, and our accomplishments. Outside the church, it is extremely easy to see that people are striving to make the most of their lives by getting somewhere with their lives, affiliating themselves with the right people, and making a name for themselves.

When we look around, we can't help, but notice that the entire world seems to follow a certain pattern. There is nothing wrong with getting a great job, being well connected, or pursuing excellence in any field, however, I do believe that what Paul is getting at in this passage is that they are limited in their ability to satisfy, and in no way, shape, or form, can they be anything more than distractions when the crap hits the fan.

It is then pretty evident as we view what Paul considered rubbish (utter garbage), we see him listing everything from doing the right things, knowing the right people, being a part of the right social class, and having the right skills. He said going to Harvard is good, but it isn't really anything special compared to knowing Christ and understanding what Christ did. Being a world renown doctor or the CEO of a multinational is good, but it isn't anything worthwhile compared to having received an eternity with God through Christ. Having won the Nobel Peace Prize and recognized by the Gates Foundation is good, but again, nothing compared to what Christ provided for him. In other words, a perfect life by the world's standards is meaningless without knowing God and worthless in comparison to having Him.

So what the heart of what Paul is trying to say? For Christians, we all understand that Christ is sufficient in our minds, but in our hearts and our wills, we seem to push against that believe by needing to add things to it or desiring other things. Paul is very clear that he once had everything the world could offer - friends, status, skills, knowledge about the things people thought were important, a great family, and everything else people would consider a blessed life. King Solomon even wrote as a king that all is vanity, and that anything this world tries to produce as a source of ultimate satisfaction will always fall short.

As I was in Bible study a few days ago, a friend of mine approached a few of us in a group and just said that she just felt like she didn't want to have anything to do with God. She had encountered John 8:47 where Jesus says, "Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God." She struggled with the thought because she couldn't "hear" God speaking to her and she had recently experienced people getting unctions and impressions from God through prayer about specific things in peoples' lives. A large part of it made her question how personal God was and how special she was to God. She knew in her head that she shouldn't feel this way, but she just didn't want God emotionally. We all then "Christianized" her with concepts and theological points of the Gospel that were true, stacking them on top of her problems, but it made no difference. She was clearly open to getting out of her current way of thinking, but none of us could get to the heart of what she was experiencing. One guy said that she just needed to rest in her identity in Christ, someone else said that she just has to know that God loves her no matter what, I added that it wasn't the physical act of "hearing," but receiving the Word, but it had no affect.

The reality was, we we're telling the Gospel without sharing it.

Yesterday, I got this from her:

"remember this weird funk i'm in? i don't think i was right to attribute it to the out-of-context verse i had read, because i still feel something is wrong after the words of encouragement from a number people from last night which made me feel better.
it's gotta be something else. i'm frustrated because i'm confused about what it is i'm going through, and i want to blame God for it. and what i'm concerned about is that i have no desire to go to God with it. I'm tired. I just want to be alone."

I asked her a few questions, then she responded with this:

"maybe i have been spending too much time with people...
the constant questions are: what do i do with my life? what does God want me to do? why am i here? am i currently living my life in a way that is pleasing to the Lord? i question my sincerity and love for God.
I am down in the dumps. I don't feel like God speaks to me directly anymore. When I read the Bible, the words don't hit home because I know they're not meant specifically for me. They're meant for everyone. Thus, I don't feel special. It's difficult for me to understand that I have a special place in his heart (no matter how many times I hear that he loves me, he finds joy in me, etc).
i think there's some sort of feeling of want to give up. i feel hopeless, and i don't even know why. it may or may not have to do with my job, i don't know. my mind and heart feels clouded, and instead of wanting to turn to God, i want to"

After this, I called her, asked her a few more questions, then shared what I thought was at the heart of her condition. As I kept hearing her talk, I kept hearing this sense that she was striving for something else beside God in her pursuit of God; a condition commonly experienced by EVERY Christian. You see, everything in us is always trying to fight completely submitting to God because we don't want to lose control and meaning in our lives, when the fact is that God gives us the greatest meaning and Him being in control is the reality of life. What my friend had done was turn her desire for God into an academic pursuit of a knowledge of God. She had overloaded her input channels by doing a devotion on her iPhone, a workbook, listening to sermons online, reading a book, and reading my blogs on top of her study of the Scriptures and prayer. In other words, she had too many voices all calling for her attention that she couldn't hear God's voice.

As Jonathan Edwards would say, "Its one hing to know the honey is sweet, but a totally dufferent thing to taste it and therefore know that it is sweet."

A lot of times, we turn our relationship with God into a religion. We place knowledge of God above intimacy with Him. We look at other people and see where they are at in their abilities to answer questions, participate in debates, and share the Gospel and we wonder why we aren't there, when what God simply wants us to do is to love Him and to love others. From that, we will be able to share who God is because the presence of God in us is the power of God. Knowing the attributes of God cannot be minimized as it provides us with a framework to be able to discern things of God and things not of God. However, knowing God academically and knowing Him personally are two completely different things even if they are related. Knowing God personally unleashes the power of God in our lives to reveal all truths to us simply by trusting in God as our savior, that even though we don't know much about God, God will lead us into greater intimacy and that He loves us as much as Christ loved His disciples.

For those that find themselves frustrated with their relationship with God, its important to ask whether you trust God will all you are or if the thing that will satisfy you is more of something else. For some, the thing that prevents them from trusting God is their love of money, comfort, power, or status. For others, the thing that may be preventing them from experiencing the peace of God may be that they have turned God into a school subject to compete with others in. Whatever it is, God is calling all of us back to the reality that by His stripes, we are healed and through the Cross, we are free from all wants and desires that bind us from experiencing His ever faithful love.

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