Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:9)
This is a verse with which we can so easily identify – if we allow ourselves to be honest. It all too often seems that the longer we know Jesus, the less we know. Discovering one truth seems to open up a path to a dozen others, and the longer we spend in the Word, the more time we ought to spend in the Word. One of the first things that the Word of God stirs up inside us is the unwhitewashed reality of our ignorance. This is the point of choice for each of us – to remain in ignorance or simply live a superficial surface relationship with God or to do whatever it takes to build with eternal things. The Word of God is central to knowing God. It is through the Word – through Jesus – that we see the Father.
The Word – both written and living – is the only path to knowing God.
Human nature is such that we would far rather take the shortest, quickest, and easest route to any destination. We don’t want relationships that involve hard work, discomfort, or self-sacrifice. We avoid relationships that are ‘high maintenance,’ and gravitate to friendships that don’t require us to give of ourselves – and which, all too often, disappear into the quicksands of superficiality when things get tough. We apply the same ‘surface’ and ‘get it quick’ mentality to knowing God. We want the glorious promises without the inglorious work and commitment.
Knowing God intimately is part of our eternal purpose – to know Him, love Him, worship Him, praise Him, serve Him, and glorify Him in every single thing that we do, think, or say. The immediate and natural response of fellowship with the holy God is absolute humility and worship. The ‘what about me’ mentality that governs our lives becomes an ‘all about You’ mentality, a shift in persepective that launches the resurrection power of transformation in our lives. But the desire to know God must be sustained and fed through hard work and commitment. Faith without works is dead, and works without faith are empty. God is immensely practical and wise.
There are any number of tendencies which distract us from knowing God as fully as He intends. The first is possibly the most common and least recognised – we stop at knowing Jesus. We substitute a relationship with the Father with a relationship with the Son and stop there. We never move deeper or beyond to the real things of God. It’s rather like an orphan visiting a friend and shutting out the parents who really would like to love and adopt Him. Jesus never came to replace God in our lives. He came to do the will of God in our lives. He came to reveal the Father to us. Everything He did and said was from the Father. He is God made flesh so that we can learn from Him in knowing God. Knowing Jesus is not sufficient – ‘comes to the Father’ is a critical truth. We come to Jesus so that through Him we come to the Father.
Another distraction is knowledge. For some, assimilating the written word is relatively easy. They read the Bible and absorb the scripture without difficulty, but all those words are simply dust and ashes. They constitute an entirely theoretical knowledge. They may be able spout doctrine and regurgitate verses when it seems appropriate, and often even seem to pray ‘by the Word’ which we interpret as being powerful or spiritual. But at grass roots level, they lack the essence of knowing God – personal intimacy. Anyone can read the biography of a great leader, know the facts and details of their live, and create an impression for themselves and others that they ‘know’ them. But head knowledge has no relevance. It’s simply the accumulation of knowledge for it’s own sake. Only knowledge that is practically applied through commitment and intimacy has any real impact or relevance.
The final distraction is works. All too often, we substitute serving God for knowing God and can fool ourselves and others, even for a long time, that we have real, intimate fellowship with God. We do this because it’s so much easy to be busy with things we decide and control than to put ourselves ‘out there’ for God to challenge, change, and command. Busyness is a wonderful subterfuge, a safe place where we can justify ourselves and validate ourselves before self and man. But Jesus Himself said that there would do many who would do miracles in His name – and He would not know them. Knowing God is never a matter of being busy. It’s a matter of being obedient.
In order to be obedient, we must know God – His nature, character, principles, standards, will, purpose, and holiness. Knowing God comes through knowing Jesus – both the written and the living Word of God. So many of us make the mistake that knowing God is some kind of spiritual-emotional experience – it’s that warm and fuzzy something, that breath-stealing moment. Knowing God is is kneeling at His feet, even when our knees protest. It’s making the decision to stay, be still, read and learn from Him and ignore the temptations that abound around us. It’s rolling up our spiritual sleeves is determined prayer and supplication, enacting our desire to know Him with in practical ways that seem to have nothing to do with spiritual matters.
The reality is that I will never make a friend without spending time with them. We may even live in the same house, but unless I make the effort to reciprocate their invitation to spend time together, intimacy is not possible. We won’t know their heart until we listen to their words, share their joy and pain, offer support or encouragement or make ourselves vulnerable in order to receive. Knowing God, remember, is the spiritual pattern for every relationship on earth. Commitment is first choice, then action. We can talk until the cows come home, but until we do the words, they have no practical value at all. They are just talk and meaningless. Knowing God is a matter of attaining knowledge and applying knowledge, and both come through obedience.
It is desire that sets us on the path of knowing God, just as it initiates every single relationship we may have. Unless we desire to know someone, we will have no desire to spend time with them, no desire to listen, share, give, or receive. If we’re all entirely honest, desire for God was the driving force of our relationship with Him when we were first saved. We couldn’t get enough of God. He was our focus, our goal, our all-in-all. Our desire was first and only for Him. Then life and self got in the way and, when knowing God was revealed as hard work and discomfort and obedience, our desire faded. But God hasn’t moved. He occupies the same place He did back then. He has been there all this time. It’s our attitude and desire that have shifted.
It may be, as happens with many things in life, we are so accustomed to the truth of His eternal presence that we take it for granted. We lose the impetus to maintain it because we know God isn’t going anywhere. Today’s voice is a poignant challenge to re-evaluate our relationship. We all too easily lose focus and desire to know God. We all too easily get distracted with superficial substitutes, or get too busy in an effort to replace real obedience. We settle for a half-relationship because it’s easier, quicker, and requires no effort or commitment our part. Knowing God is a consuming thing, a way of life rather than something we do. Self does not want the competition so deceives us with safe, comfortable alternatives.
In today’s world ‘obey’ is definitely a four letter word. It has connotations of abuse and subjugation. It implies weakness and victimisation. It suggests that something is taken away from us – freedom and choice – and that we’re somehow inferior or incomplete if we live in obedience. We’re taught to question and challenge everything, and to only do what’s ‘right for me.’ The underlying assumption behind all these responses is the presumption that we know what’s ‘right for me’ better than God who created us. The real truth is that knowing God comes by knowing Jesus, and Jesus had a single eternal purpose – know serve and obey. Everything else – substitution, identification, salvation, justification, transformation, resurrection – was possible only because Jesus lived His live knowing the Father and being completely obedient.
To understand this, we must take hold of the reality of disobedience. Satal fell through disobedience – rebellion against God. His desire was not knowing God but being God. Man fell through disobedience. Their desire was not knowing God but being like God. This is sin in a nutshell – by asserting the rights of self to be and do as we please, we are essentially ‘being like God.’ We are, in essence, saying that our will is greater than His will. This doesn’t preclude the God-given right to free will. We have the choice in everything to obey or not obey. God does not compel us to respond to His Word, but we do have to choose to obey or disobey in every situation. But knowing God means knowing Jesus, and Jesus – His life and example and His salvation – are the only way to God. We can live our lives in that superficial, surface place of simply being saved. Or we can ask for the desire we need to empower us to seek knowing God in obedience with everything in us.
To obey is the ultimate expression of knowing God, and it doesn’t have to be hard work. If it is, there’s a limit to our knowing. Jesus had no trouble being obedient because His knowing God was complete – so complete that He was able to say that to see and know Him was to see and know the Father. This is the power of truly knowing God – it creates a spiritual unity that lifts us to the place of joyful obedience. Knowing and obeying becomes who we are, not what we only aspire to.
Sweet Jesus, teach us to come to the Father as You did, totally surrendered and with a desire for Him that is absolute and complete. Stir our hearts to love as You did, to serve as You did, to obey as You did, so that others may see the Father in us just as they can in You.