Getting to Know the God You Worship|
A man named Dennis Wise was a fan of Elvis Presley - I guess you could say a real big fan. Not long after Presley died in 1977, Wise had a plastic surgeon reshape his face and his hairline so that he looked like Elvis. He went around impersonating the singer, picking up a few dollars here and there on the club circuit. When he was asked what motivated him to shape his life around that of Elvis Presley, he said that Elvis had been his role model - actually, his idol - for many years. Here are Dennis Wise's own words about pursuing being like Elvis, as reported in the Boston Globe:
"Yes, sir, Presley's been an idol of mine ever since I was five years old. I have every record he ever made, twice over. Pictures in the thousands. I have books, magazines, pillows, even a couple of books in Chinese and Japanese about him. I even have tree leaves from the front of his house. I never saw Elvis Presley in person. I saw him on stage in the movies four times. Once I stood up on the wall of the Presley mansion and tried to see him. For twelve hours I stood, trying to get a glimpse of him, but he had so many people around him that you would never get close."
I don't think it would be going too far to say that Dennis Wise worshipped Elvis Presley. However, there was just one thing lacking, he never met the object of his worship! Dennis Wise knows a lot about Elvis, but he didn't know the singer himself. Knowing all the hit songs, all the movie titles, all the concert appearances…Elvis' personal preferences for food clothes, cars…none of that is the same as knowing the singer himself.
And right here is a great lesson that will be valuable to a lot of Christians: knowing about God, the object of our worship, is not the same as knowing God Himself.
Facts and figures are lifeless. So are books and articles and caricatures. Although they might be accurate, and provide an introduction to the person we adoration, they still cannot replace a relationship with the person. Certainly it almost goes without saying that it's better to know about a person than to know nothing at all. But a relationship never becomes the intimate mutual experience it should be until there is some type of sharing and exchange back and forth between two persons - hand to hand, face to face, and heart to heart.
Many of us as Christians know a whole lot of facts about God. We've read books, even read the Bible over and over, and have gone to church regularly for years. All of those are certainly excellent things. For many of us, it was while we were trying to gather accurate information about God when we established our relationship with Him. But if our relationship never moves to the place of spiritual worship…if we remain just a head full of facts and figures, then, sadly, we live out our lives as head knowledge Christians, rather than head and heart knowledge Christians. The heart of the Christian life is supposed to be worship. In John 4 Jesus said "a time is coming…when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks" (John 4:23). That's God's ultimate goal for us and there's only one way to experience it. We can only worship someone we love, and we can only love someone we know.
Let me ask you, what I hope will be, a radical, life-changing, soul searching question: Do you know about God, or do you know Him? This new series, "Getting to Know the God You Worship" has the ultimate goal of encouraging you to worship God with everything you are and everything you have. That's the kind of worship that moves God's heart. That's the kind of worship that's based on the written revelation of God in Scripture. It's in the Scriptures that you will meet God who will reveal Himself to you for who He is: a holy, faithful, eternal, changeless, powerful, good, all-knowing, sovereign, ever-present and loving God.
You may already know a lot about God, and even know Him personally. But I urge you not to be content with where you are right now in your relationship with Him. My hope and prayer for our time together in this series is for you and me - in a fresh new way - meet Him, know Him, love Him, and worship Him for who He is.
This morning I want you to see the consequences of not getting to know God like we should and then the benefits of getting to know the God you worship.
Whether we like it or admit it, we live in a world of superficial relationships and facts trying to pass themselves off as knowledge. And because of that it's easy to treat God like a product. What I mean by that is that we learn certain bits of information about him and call it "knowing God." But we can only worship someone we love, and we can only love someone we truly know. Let me repeat that because this is the reason I'm bringing this series of new messages - we can only worship someone we love, and we can only love someone we truly know.
Let me give you a more immediate example of what I'm getting at. Think about your relationship with your spouse. If all a wife received from her husband was a box of chocolates and a bouquet of flowers each week, but nothing else - no mutual communication, no affection, no exchange of verbal or relational intimacy - what kind of a relationship would you have? Would you be pleased with that? It wouldn't develop and neither would you be pleased with it. I'm afraid that's what many of us are trying to pass off as a personal relationship with God. We show up once a week with candy and flowers in the form of our tithes and offerings or our presence at the weekly meetings or ministry obligations. And then we wonder why our relationship with God doesn't grow, isn't going anywhere, and we never truly come to know the lover of our souls like He wants us to.
As a pastor and a student of God's Word, I've often thought about what it means not just to know about God but to really know Him in a deeper, more intimate way - the way some of the writers of Scripture do. I think many Christians feel a sense of distance from God that they can't really explain, a sense that, if God is really God and they are really His children, knowing Him ought to be something more than it is. And I believe ministers suffer from a different problem. We've made a science and a profession out of knowing God. We've been taught and trained to know Him, mostly with our intellect so we face the constant challenge of breaking through that outer layer of professionalism and entering into a worshipful relationship with God based on knowing Him intimately.
And once again, here's the conclusion I've come to about knowing God: We can only worship someone we love, and we can only love someone we know.
Worship, therefore, begins with a heart that has touched the heart of God, a heart that truly knows the one we worship. If we come to know Him as He wants to be known, we will love Him. And if we love Him, worship will not be something we "do" as much as it will flow naturally from a heart filled with the knowledge of and love for God. Worship is the uncontrolled release of expression from a heart that can't contain its love for God.
If there's no meeting of your heart and soul with God - if your relationship with God isn't growing and developing - you're going to run up against some serious problems.
I. Two Consequences of not Getting to Know God
There are two problems or consequences that immediately come to mind:
First, if we don't really know God in spirit and in truth, we will be tempted create a god in our own image. In other words, we'll fashion a God who is convenient for us one who doesn't infringe on our ideas of what the Christian life should be.
In 19 years of pastoring the local, Bible-believing, evangelical church I've seen this over and over. A person who knows God very little or possibly not at all, but who wants to, will often create a god in their own mind who's like a benevolent, old man who permits, condones, and even encourages the kinds of sinful behaviors that they want to engage in. Go ahead and insert your favorite sin here. And when I would come along as a shepherd of God's people - one who keeps watch over the souls of men and will give an account of that ministry to God (Heb. 13:17) - and give them some Scriptural guidance, they'd throw a fit. They'd say things like, "I can't believe in a God who wouldn't allow me to experience and enjoy - let's say for example - sex outside of marriage, or whatever pet sin they might be partial to. I can't tell you how many times that's happened - more than I can remember.
When you think about it, this is almost laughable - that we would attempt to define who God is on the basis of our own whims and desires. Here's a newsflash - God is God regardless of who we think He is or should be. But if we don't' commit ourselves to knowing Him as He is, we will soon find that the God we worship doesn't resemble to the God of scripture. For too many Christians, theology is determined by practice: We decide what we want to do, then invent a theology that allows it.
Second, if we don't' know the true God for who He really is, we become vulnerable to someone else telling us who God is. I have seen many times in counseling where Christians have a difficult time knowing God because of abuses by their own father when they were young. They can't disconnect their knowledge of their earthly father from their knowledge of their heavenly Father, and so they never come to know Him for who He is. All of us are affected one way or another by our earthly fathers, but we can't allow this to be a lifelong excuse for failing to come to know the true God - our heavenly Father.
While those dangers are real, there are also four powerful things that happen to us when we come to know God in an intimate way. I trust that these four positive benefits will encourage you to pursue Him in a fresh way with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.
So let me quickly give you…
II. Four Benefits of Getting to Know God
Turn in your Bible to Jeremiah 9:23-24 "This is what the Lord says, 'Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,' declares the Lord."
We're proud about all kinds of things in our lives - money, intelligence, popularity, wisdom, and accomplishments just to name a few. Jeremiah says if we're going to boast and be proud of something let's have it be the right thing: that we understand and know God.
Other writers of Scripture said the same thing in different ways. Paul said that the only thing he would boast about was "the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Gal. 6:14). Hosea the prophet wrote that God delights more in people knowing Him than in just going through the motions of worshipping Him (Hosea 6:6). Worship is important, but knowing God is the most important thing of all.
When Paul was in prison in Rome, writing to the church in Philippi, he said that the ultimate purpose of his life could be summarized this way. Look at Philippians 3:10 "I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death." When you read Paul's letters, it is easy to see that this one thing was the focus of his entire life it was his passion and reason for living.
Getting to know God will bring a right sense of pride into your life.
The second benefit is…
Urn to 1st John 2:12-14, "I write to you dear children because your sins have been forgiven on account of His name. I write to you fathers because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I write to you young men because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you dear children because you have known the Father. I write to you fathers because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I write to you young men because you are strong and the word of God lives in you and you have overcome the evil one." The apostle John describes different levels of spiritual development every believer has to go through. There are spiritual "children", "young men", and "fathers." Or we could say babies, adolescents, and adults.
Just like we're born into this world as babies and then grow through various stages of growth toward maturity, there are also spiritual stages of growth and maturity.
Spiritual children are those whose "sins are forgiven." They are people who don't know any more than that they are born again and have eternal life. I've known people who've been Christians for 10 or 20 years but they're still spiritual infants. They don't know very little about Christian truth or doctrine and they don't know much about God. Experience oriented churches are like that. Spiritual infancy, just like physical infancy, is to be expected. But it should transition into the next phase at the appropriate time. Just think about it for a moment, babies are cute when they're babies and you endure - you put up with all the messes that are associated with them - dirty diapers and all. But sooner or later they need to grow and get past all of that.
Becoming a spiritual young man, or adolescent in the faith, should follow infancy and childhood. This is the time when your faith is tested and you must prove what you believe. You begin to learn truth about God and apply that truth in your daily experience as you overcome sinful habits in your life.
Then you become a spiritual adult, or a "father", because "you have known Him who is from the beginning." There's a big gap between each one of these stages of development. Why? Because being a spiritual adult means you move from simply knowing about God to knowing Him. Moving from spiritual infancy to adulthood involves interacting with God and His Word, applying that word to my life, and finally, time.
Where are you on John's scale of spiritual growth and maturity? If all you know is that you're saved, you need to take it to the next level. If you're a spiritual adolescent, you need to focus on knowing God. This is not a matter of pride but a matter of purpose in our lives so that we ultimately come to know God, not just know about Him.
Next, getting to know God will bring a sense of…
When I preached through the book of Daniel I came across a verse that spoke to this issue of power. Look at Daniel 11:32. When the world is in the final stages of the end times and deception and temptation are strong, Daniel declares that "the people who know their God will firmly resist." If you recall, Daniel was in a setting where his faith was opposed by the culture around him. But he found strength in his knowledge of God. We saw that in each of the different tests both Daniel and his friends encountered all the way through the book.
In Daniel 1, because Daniel took the time and effort to get to know God as a person, that knowledge helped Daniel to be strong and have resolve during a time when he might have been tempted to compromise.
In Daniel 3, his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had the power to stand up to the pressure of others trying to get them to worship the image of Nebuchadnezzar. Their answer is found in Daniel 3:18 (read). Whenever I read their statement of faith and resolve, I am encouraged to know God better because I want that kind of power in my own life! And knowing God will give us the power to live like that. Those young Hebrews in Babylon could stand up to the king because they knew God and knew they were in the center of His will. They weren't afraid of anything or anyone, and weren't about to defile their consciences or lower their standards just to please a pagan king. Maybe if we knew God as well as those young Hebrew men did, we would live with that same fearless power.
Getting to know the God you worship will give you power.
And finally, getting to know the God you worship will give you…
It's easy to get carried away in despair when we read the paper or watch the news on TV regarding world events. Sometimes, if we're honest with our feelings, we wonder if God really is in control. We find out in Daniel that Nebuchadnezzar discovered who is really in charge of the affairs of this world. Look at Daniel 4: 34-35 (read). Darius also came to the same conclusion in Daniel 6:27 (read). And finally so did the psalmist in Psalm 115:1-11 (read).
When we know who our God is and we transfer that head knowledge to a level of trust, we can live in peace. We can sleep well at night and not worry about what we read in the paper that day. There is nothing you are experiencing right now of which He is not fully aware. God isn't taken by surprise, and He never goes on vacation. There is no reason for you not to live in perfect peace when you know Your God.
I'm not saying everything will go your way or that you'll always be happy about everything - this isn't heaven. Let's not forget that! I am saying that you can have peace in the midst of all the turmoil when you make the effort to get to know the God you worship and see Him as he really is - sovereign, holy, just, all-powerful, all-knowing, all wise, and present everywhere. But if we don't know Him, the affairs of this world will keep us in a constant state of fear and anxiety.
Let me close this first message by asking you if you know God like God wants you to, or just know about God? That answer can be determined by the sense of pride, purpose, power, and peace that others see in your life. When you know Him, not only are you prepared to live each day, but you're preparing yourselves for eternity. Listen to what John said "Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:3).