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Knowing God More Deeply

Klaus Issler

“Come near to God and he will come near to you.” JAMES 4 : 8

Given the opportunity—to live now or to live during the time when Jesus Christ walked this very earth—which would we choose? Some of us would jump at the offer to be with Jesus. To be comforted by his smile and reassured by his embrace. To see his miracles firsthand—the lame walking, the blind with sight. To chat with him as did Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Does your heart yearn for such intimacy and immediacy? Yet why might Christians dream of seeing Jesus, touching him, hearing him? Is it because we detect some distance in our relationship with God? Do we want something more? Were first-century Christians better off because they actually saw Jesus and fellowshiped with him, while we have to limp along with our meager faith? In the final hours before his arrest, Jesus revealed to his disciples—and to all believers—the promise of a close and deepening relationship with God. “He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him” (Jn 14:21, emphasis added).

The Bible claims that a personal relationship with God is possible, yet a certain distance remains. Like Moses of old who asked to see God’s glory (Ex 33:18), do we wish we could enjoy more of God’s presence?

The Adventure of Knowing God

Although I am a seminary graduate who has served in full-time ministry for more than twenty years, I am mapping new terrain in my journey with God. My ideas about God have been stretched beyond comparison with former ways of thinking, and I feel much closer to God. A few years ago I sensed some turbulence in my soul, yet the practices I engaged in and the perspectives I had about knowing God were not helping me go deeper. Looking back I see how God brought people, books, ideas and events into my life to prod me forward into fascinating realms of new-to-me thoughts and experiences in knowing him. The year 1997 stands out in a special way. In January I was temporarily blinded in one eye for three weeks, and I learned to lean more on God. Seven months later I experienced a three-week spiritual retreat of solitude in which I sensed the presence of God as never before.

There is so much more God has in mind for us than I previously thought possible. I now live more in his grace and peace and love—a sense of duty motivates me less. I find myself in conversation with God more. As I rely more on God and pray more earnestly, I can discern specific answers to prayer. In a word, I feel more connected with God. Struggles and frustrations still dog my day, yet I sense less distance than before. With greater intensity, I appreciate how personal God is. I enjoy expending more effort to know God, the God who wants to know me. This book is written to help believers respond to God’s invitation to know him better and sense his presence more deeply. Furthermore, the majestic God of the universe will go to great lengths to enjoy a deep friendship with us. It is the greatest love story ever. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (Jn 17:3). In the future, God will bring to completion his long term dream—to live with us fully:“The home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; . . . they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them” (Rev 21:3 NRSV, emphasis added).

Our great God wishes to lavish on us his limitless love and to invite us into experiencing life to its fullest. The prophet Isaiah casts a vision of this wonder. On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. (Is 25:6-9 NRSV) Such joy awaits all believers, beloved of God, yet there is much to enjoy now as well. What is it like to be friends with God? Bring to mind all of the good times you have had in the company of your friends—sipping coffee at an outdoor cafe, shopping till you drop at the mall, playing pickup basketball, sharing intimate secrets and on and on. Take all these moments, feelings and memories, wrap them up together, multiply them a thousand times, and then we might begin to get an idea of what friendship with God is like.1 It is the best of the best, the cream of the crop. It is worth more than anything we could ever own or accomplish on our own.

The Beginning of Any Personal Relationship

The popular line in Christian circles—“God loves you; he can never love you any more than he does now”—conveys something right and something wrong. Of course, God’s parental love for every believer is constant, but how well we know each other varies over time to the extent that God and believer each pursue an interactive relationship. For example, when a child is born into a family, a blood relation is established, but child and parent do not yet know each other. At the beginning, there is a built-in hiddenness. This is true with any new relationship, whether with parent and child or with a new neighbor, a new coworker on the first day at the job, or a new teacher and fellow students on the first day of class. A person’s physical features are transparent, but the inner person is initially hidden. Time and common experiences together will provide the opportunity, but each party must decide whether or not it is worth the effort to bring down the barriers of self-hiddenness. Some parents and children actually work at this opportunity and begin the process of friendship. Yet others are clueless about the need to be intentional and so settle for a shallow association of civility, missing out on the joys of genuine companionship. A growing relationship is based on continual and mutual self-revelation, and so it is with God. We can pursue a closer relationship with God, or we can settle for a superficial tie—and God’s hiddenness remains. God gives us the freedom either way.

To change the metaphor, imagine a situation in which three consultants working for one client have all been invited for the first face-to-face lunch meeting with the client.2Consultant A corresponded with the client through letters and e-mail. Consultant B connected with the client many times by a cell phone. Consultant C used several video conferences to contact the client. At the lunch meeting, how comfortable will each consultant be at the table with the client? Of course each consultant knows the client; yet there is a different quality of relational knowledge. Consultant A has only read the words of the client. Consultant B is familiar with the client’s voice and tone. Consultant C was technologically present with the client and became accustomed to various nonverbal mannerisms. Likewise in our relationship with God, the relational quality will vary, depending on how each believer regularly chooses to connect with God.

Seeking God is not just a one-time affair; it must become a continuing lifestyle if believers want to deepen a friendship with him. Do we only associate the phrase seeking God with those who have not yet responded to God’s gracious call to join his family? The need to seek God does not end when we are transferred into God’s kingdom and family. Believers must continue to be seekers of God; it is our life purpose and brings to fulfill mentour full potential for living.3The Bible teaches that a continuing relationship with God requires the participation of both parties: “Come near to God and he will come near to you” (Jas 4:8).

Our love relationship with God can always grow deeper and deeper. Furthermore, since God is mysterious, incomprehensible, transcendent,an infinite being of such independence and otherness, the Bible informsus that finite believers can never plumb all of the depths of whoGod is (e.g., Ps 145:3; Rom 11:33). As theologian Wayne Grudem explains,“For all of eternity we will be able to go on increasing in ourknowledge of God and delighting more and more with him.”4

Believers can grow deeper in their relationship with God now and continue the process in eternity, yet never reach an end to knowing God.5

Growing in intimacy with God is possible. Redeemed humanity hasbeen designed expressly by God—originally created in his image (Gen1:26; Jas 3:9) and now being conformed to the image of his Son (Rom8:29)—to be in continual communion with God (Jn 17:3). Furthermore,within the context of a deep and dependent relationship with God, therichness of life and all its potential is open to us. For example, the joy offriendship becomes enriched. Work flows more deeply from innerstrength. Life and ministry in the body of Christ are uplifting. The Onewho created life knows best how to really live it. Without being consistentlyconnected with God, we fall short of what we were designed to be.

Our Expectations of God

How well do we know God? What do we expect him to do? Our realconceptions of God are often revealed at those times when life turnsupside down. For example, as Van walks down the hospital corridortoward his wife’s room, he wrestles with the implications of her diagnosis.She may die in six months. They knew something was up—”Davy”became tired easily. In order to reduce the stress in her life, she quit herpart-time job. They have always been deeply in love with each other.Only within the past two years had Davy and then Van come to a joyfulknowledge of Jesus Christ as Savior. And these two, inseparable throughoutfifteen years together, may be torn apart. As Van approaches herroom, a depressing loneliness and fear claim his soul. God seems a million miles away.6

When jolted by the speed bumps of life, do we wonder why God doesnot clear the road? Do we expect God to be our celestial Superman, flying in at the right moment to save the day? How many no-shows does it take before we begin to doubt that God loves us or wonder whether he is really there at all? Forgiveness of sins and a future life in heaven without suffering are great gifts indeed, but we want a touch from eternity now as disappointment descends on our soul.

The quality of our life experience is linked to our view of God andwhat we expect God to do. For example, if God is viewed as an exacting,legalistic judge, he would keep track of every jot and tittle in our lives, includingeach lie, each angry moment, each lustful thought. Would notthis “god” plague us with guilty reminders of our sins or punish us at eachopportunity? Or maybe we conceive of God as a jovial grandfather typewith a twinge of Alzheimer’s disease and an elastic sense of grace. He would largely ignore whatever we do and excuse any wrong actions. Or maybe God always enjoys a good bargain: “Let’s make a deal.” If we do something good for him, then he will come through for us. But what happens when it appears that he does not hold up his end of the bargain?

Turning Genesis 1:26 upside down, do we tend to create a god in our own image? A. W. Tozer (d. 1963) notes this peculiar penchant: “Alwaysthis God will conform to the image of the one who created it and will bebase or pure, cruel or kind according to the moral state of the mind from which it emerges.”7

Our ideas about God influence how we conduct our lives. Indeed, it may well be that the most important thing about us is what comes tomind when we hear the word God, as Tozer clarifies:

That our idea of God correspond as nearly as possible to the true being ofGod is of immense importance to us. Compared with our actual thoughtsabout Him, our [doctrinal] statements are of little consequence. Our realidea of God may lie buried under the rubbish of conventional religiousnotions and may require an intelligent and vigorous search before it isfinally unearthed and exposed for what it is. Only after an ordeal of painfulself-probing are we likely to discover what we actually believe about God.A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology but topractical Christian living as well. It is to worship what the foundation is tothe temple; where it is inadequate or out of plumb the whole structure mustsooner or later collapse. I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or afailure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfectand ignoble thoughts about God.8

Similarly, Dallas Willard warns that we position ourselves in a spiritual cul-de-sac if we neglect to correct and grow in our knowledge of God.Misunderstandings, mental confusions, and mistaken beliefs . . . about God. . . make a strong walk with him impossible, even if we’ve chosen, in effect,not to think about it. I have seen repeatedly confirmed, in often tragic cases,the dire consequences of refusing to give deep, thoughtful consideration tothe ways in which God chooses to deal with us and of relying on whateverwhimsical ideas and preconceptions about his ways happen to be flyingaround us. This is very dangerous to our health and well-being.9False God-in-the-box ideas damage our spiritual life.In December 1998, NASA launched a $125-million Mars Climate Orbiterto explore the planet of Mars. Yet after a journey of nine-plus monthsthrough outer space, the Orbiter disappeared September 23 upon entryinto the Martian atmosphere. The embarrassed rocket scientists confessedto a profoundly simple mathematical error—failing to convert accelerationdata from English units of force into metric units called newtons.“The bad numbers had been used ever since the launch in December, butthe effect was so small that it went unnoticed. The difference added upover the months.”10After traveling 416 million miles, the Orbiter arrived56 miles too close to Mars and was destroyed. It was a minor error thatresulted in devastating consequences. Might slightly off-course ideasabout God yield analogous disaster for believers?

Confronting False Assumptions

Through his life example and teachings, Jesus consistently confrontedwrong-headed notions about God and his plan. The Gospel writers highlightsuch encounters by recording how the crowds or the disciples were“amazed,” “astonished” or “marveled” at his teaching (e.g., Mt 7:28;12:23, 22:22, 33; Mk 6:2; 11:18; Lk 4:32; Jn 4:27). For example, note thedisciples’ reaction to Jesus’ commentary after his encounter with the richyoung ruler. “ ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’The disciples were amazed at his words” (Mk 10:23-24, emphasis added).Normally within an Old Testament economy, material blessing was anindication of God’s favor. Therefore, the rich were supposed to be automatically close to God due to their wealth. The disciples’ reaction demonstrated how deeply ingrained this belief was. “But Jesus said again,‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’

The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, ‘Who then can be saved?’” (Mk 10:24-26, emphasis added).In other words, if this is true, can anyone be saved?11What deeply held false assumptions about God and his plan might Jesus expose today? It is likely that this side of heaven all believers have some false conceptions about who God is. One reason for this problem is that we often retain our childhood view of God long after we become adults, as proposed by J. B. Phillips in his classic work Your God Is Too Small. The trouble with many people today is that they have not found a God big enough for modern needs. While their experience of life has grown in a score of directions, and their mental horizons have been expanded to the point of bewilderment by world events and by scientific discoveries, their ideas of God have remained largely static. It is obviously impossible for an adult to worship the [same] conception of God that [he had] . . . as a child of Sunday-school age, unless he is prepared to deny his own experience of life.12

The problem is complicated further in that, as Gordon Fee notes, “Most people, after all, prefer to reduce God to a size that their own minds can grasp, and thus control.”13

Do we tend to put God in a box, close it up and set the box in a safe place nearby? Philosopher John Feinberg became angry at God when his wife was diagnosedwith Huntington’s disease—the premature deterioration of a portionof the brain. After working through the source of his anger at God, Feinberg confesses the relief of this realization: “I understood that muchof my anger rested on a misunderstanding of what God should be expected to do.”14

For author Philip Yancey it was a childhood view of God that needed to be debunked. “I grew up with the image of a mathematical God who weighed my good and bad deeds on a set of scales and always found me wanting. Somehow I missed the God of the Gospels, a God of mercy and generosity who keeps finding ways to shatter the relentless laws of ungrace.”15

Reality consistently compels us to adjust perspectives and practices. Progress and change in the twenty-first century is so persistent that no onecan remain unaffected amidst the continual fluidity of technological inventionsand the uncertain business climate of fluctuating market share and mergers. What about our relationship with God? What has specifically changed about our view of God over the same time period? Although God’s nature does not change, has our conception of God grown and become more mature as we have logged more time with God?

How could it be that any believer has plumbed the depths of the almightyGod for all time? We could never wrap our hands or our mindsaround an infinite, majestic, all-powerful God. Knowing such an immenseGod is an ongoing project. God’s unbounded nature requires thatwe continue to refine and reform our ideas about him. Otherwise our false God-in-the-box ideas will choke our spiritual life.Of course God is our great King whom we lovingly obey and worship.“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honorand glory for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Tim 1:17; cf. Ps 47; Ps 103). But perhaps we have only tapped a small portion of the possibilities for relating with God. In this book, we consider an additional prospect: God also desires to be our friend, our companion, our confidant: “The LORD . . .takes the upright into his confidence” (Prov 3:32). We worship the King, but can we also respond to God’s personal invitation to draw near and become his friend (e.g., Jn 14:23; Jas 4:8), as did Abraham (Is 41:8; Jas2:23) and Moses (Ex 33:11)? God’s active participation in our lives can beas rich and rewarding as we want it to be, to the extent that we are willingto make room for all that God desires to be and to do in our lives. God is ready and available to visit us at our most intimate and vulnerable points,eager and willing to meet all of our needs.

The Affective Side of Christian Living

The “peace of God” is both a noted biblical construct as well as something we yearn to experience deeply. Scripture promises that it comeswhen we relinquish our anxieties in prayer to God: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts andminds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7).16

Healthy Christian living involves animportant experiential component, as noted by D. A. Carson in his assessmentof contemporary trends in spirituality: “At the same time we shouldbe rightly suspicious of forms of theology that place all the emphasis oncoherent systems of thought that demand faith, allegiance and obediencebut do not engage the affections, let alone foster an active sense of the presence of God.”17 And as J. I. Packer notes, “We must not lose sight of the fact that knowing God is an emotional relationship, as well as an intellectual and volitional one, and could not indeed be a deep relationbetween persons were it not so.”18Emotions are a wonderful gift of God. Jesus himself experienced awide range of feelings (e.g., weeping, Lk 19:41; compassion, Mk 6:34;righteous anger, Mk 3:5; frustration, Mt 17:17; and being troubled inspirit, Mt 26:37), all without sin (Heb 4:15). Our emotions can often becomewindows to the current state of our soul (e.g., “Why are you downcast,O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God,” Ps42:5, 11; 43:5). In addition, sometimes an experience offers evidence forGod’s supernatural working, (e.g., Paul’s obedience to his vision of Christ,Acts 26:19; the acceptance of Gentiles as believers, Acts 10:47; 11:17;15:8).

Furthermore, by undergoing certain experiences we come to appreciate truths at a deeper level. For example, for theologian Bob Saucy,heaven is more vivid now since the untimely death of an adult child.“

Several years ago my wife Nancy and I lost our youngest daughter. I remember it vividly. With no indication of any health problems, she suddenly collapsed and died of heart failure when she was only 28 years old.. . . It was like being hit with a .45 slug. . . . Heaven became more real tome with a reality that I’m sorry to say was not there before. And that hopehas continued to shape my life ever since.”19

The same could be said about our relationship with God. Nancy Missler explains the difference between being aware of truths about communion with God and actually experiencing these truths at a deeperlevel.A perfect analogy of this might be “the act of love” in a marriage. In a marriage,wives can make love, enjoy it and even bear children without everhaving experienced the fullness, the intimacy and the ecstasy of completeunion with their loved one. Positionally, yes, they are one with their husbands, but experientially they don’t have the slightest clue as to what it means to truly be “one.”20

Our experiential communion with God is an important component ofknowing God personally. In this book I attempt to bring together a serious study of the doctrine of God with the pursuit of a vibrant and soul-satisfying relationship with God. Sound theology must inform our own conceptions of who God is,yet without experiencing such truths in daily life, the ultimate purpose of systematic theology is aborted.21

Thus, although the general tone of writing will be more familiar and personal, I still intend to communicate substantive truths about God. Also, as a part of describing what a relationship with God looks like, at points along the way I share my own story, limited as it may be. If I can offer no experiential evidence for knowing God from my journey, why continue to read the book? For as Noel O’Donoghue notes, “A certain ponderous dullness and flatness of style is an infalliblesign that a writer is not a true guide to the sacred places.”22

Willingness and Readiness to Know God More

A student in my class once blurted out in frustration, “I want to know Godmore, but he doesn’t seem to come any closer.” I now understand thatbelievers must become both willing and ready to make further progress inknowing God. Readiness involves undergoing a process of preparation tomove to the next step. It will cost something to deepen our relationshipwith God, as Henry Blackaby and Claude King note in their book Experiencing God:

Once you have come to believe God, you demonstrate your faith by whatyou do. Some action is required. . . . You cannot continue life as usual orstay where you are, and go with God at the same time. . . . To go from yourways, thoughts, and purposes to God’s will always requires a major adjustment.God may require adjustments in your circumstances, relationships,thinking, commitments, actions, and beliefs. Once you have made the necessaryadjustments you can follow God in obedience. Keep in mind—theGod who calls you is also the One who will enable you to do His will.23

Furthermore, deeply held false notions can make us resistant to consider new truths. For instance, despite Jesus’ many predictions of his up-coming death and resurrection (Mk 8:31; 9:9, 31; 10:33-34, 38-39, 45;12:1-12; 14:3-9), this new idea never settled in the disciples’ minds.When the women came back from the tomb to report to the disciples thatJesus had risen from the dead, they were greeted with skepticism. “But[the disciples] did not believe the women, because their words seemed tothem like nonsense” (Lk 24:11). Peter was at least willing to explore theevidence at the empty tomb, but he went away, “wondering to himselfwhat had happened” (Lk 24:12). But doubting Thomas remained adamant. Despite the eyewitness testimony of his comrades—”we have seen the Lord”—

Thomas could make no sense of the claim that Jesus was aliveagain. “ ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger wherethe nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it’ “ (Jn20:25).

When confronted by Jesus’ appearance, Thomas was forced to reconsiderhis beliefs about life and death. Willingness to face false ideas about God is vital, but it may not always be easy. Due to God’s uniqueness, we must not only want to know God more,but we will also need to adjust our thinking and lifestyle to make room inour lives for God. For example, although there is still much more potentialfor growth, it has taken me over three years of concerted attention tomatters described in this book to move to my present relationship withGod. Desiring to know God is a commendable, necessary first step. Butthere is no instant spirituality; it is a journey of many steps.

Of course, any adjustments are worth the effort, as indicated in thesecomments from past students with whom I have shared materials fromthis book.I became aware of another perspective to how much God loves me. This course is great in learning more about the personal side of God and how you can work on improved closeness with Him. This course is helpful because I began to think more deeply on my relationship with Christ. Questions were brought to mind that helped me evaluate my walk with God. Suggestions were shared which I plan to use to help me focus my writing in my daily journal (i.e., coincidences).

What Is Christian Spirituality?

In the title of this book, I retain usage of the word spirituality, despite evidence in contemporary publications that it has been stretched to cover everything imaginable, even within Christian circles. D. A. Carson offers this caution: “ ‘Spirituality’ has become such an ill-defined, amorphous entity that it covers all kinds of phenomenon an earlier generation of Christians . . . would have dismissed as error, even as ‘paganism’ or ‘heathenism.’“24 The term is used within diverse religious and nonreligious associations: Jewish spirituality, Buddhist spirituality andeven a New Age spirituality.25

Among Christians, Catholics have used this term longer than Protestants. Bernard McGinn, John Meyendorff and Jean Leclercq note that “although . . . the words spiritualis and even spiritualitas were well known in Latin Christianity, ‘spirituality’ does not necessarily have a self-evident meaning for all Christians today.”26

The following working definition was developed by McGinn, Meyendorff and Leclercq for use by authors of chapters in the three-volume work on Christian spirituality:

Christian spirituality is the lived experience of Christian belief in both itsgeneral and more specialized forms. . . . It is possible to distinguish spiritualityfrom doctrine in that it concentrates not on faith itself, but on the reactionthat faith arouses in religious consciousness and practice. It canlikewise be distinguished from Christian ethics in that it treats not all humanactions in their relation to God, but those acts in which the relation to God is immediate and explicit. 27

This sketch suggests certain contrasts and boundaries I want to placearound the term; it especially focuses on the believer’s experiential relationship with God. Christianity uniquely affirms a trinitarian God: Father, Son and HolySpirit. Thus, any discussion regarding a distinctly Christian spirituality must help believers know and love each member of the one God whoeternally exists as three distinct persons: “May the grace of the Lord JesusChrist, and the love of God [the Father], and the fellowship of the HolySpirit be with you all” (2 Cor 13:14).28

Furthermore, any explanation of Christian spirituality grounded in the Scripture will include the Spirit.29

Accordingly, the following working definition is proposed:Christian spirituality involves a deepening trust and friendship with God for those who are in Christ Jesus. More specifically, it is an ever growing, experientially dynamic relationship with our trinitarian God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—through the agency of the indwelling Spirit of God. Furthermore, believers need not be limited by their own relationship todeepen their knowledge of God. God is so grand and majestic, and each relationship is so person specific that there will be much to learn about God from the stories of other believers’ experiences with God. The fullest knowledge of God attainable by human beings will only come about within a growing and God-knowing community of saints. Thus, to know God more fully cannot be accomplished without the larger community of believers.

Discerning the Truth of the Matter

Yet on what basis can we determine whether or not truth is evident in the advice of a friend, in a salesperson’s claim or in publications such as this book? Biblically minded people generally adhere to a standard three-fold test of truth, of which the first test is foremost to the other two: (1) Biblical test: Is the claim in agreement with the data of Scripture (e.g., Acts 17:11)?(2) Intellectual test: Is the claim reasonable, logically consistent; does it make sense (e.g., Lk 24:11)?30 (3) Experiential test: Is the claim realistic, fitting within our life experience as human beings created in God’s image? Does it work in life?31

Philosopher John Feinberg divides the categoryof experience into two questions: (a) “Does it square with the data of reality so that it is likely to be true, in a correspondence sense of ‘true’?”(e.g., 1 Kings 10:6-7; Jn 20:24-25), and (b) “Can one practice such a view on a daily basis?”32

An event in Jesus’ life—healing a blind and mute demon-possessed man—illustrates the use of these three tests of truth. None could deny their experience of witnessing this public event. “All the people were astonished”(Mt 12:22-23). Because of the healing, some in the crowd drew an inference from the Old Testament Scripture. “Could this be the Son of David?” (Mt 12:23). Although the Pharisees were opposed to Jesus, they could not deny their own experience of the miraculous healing. But they proposed another logical possibility, based on their Jewish theological tradition. They accused Jesus of being in league with the devil, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons” (Mt12:24). Jesus responded by demonstrating, in a number of ways, how il-logical their claim was. For example, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?” (Mt 12:25-26).33

The pursuit of truth requires the use of Scripture, reason and experience. When presented with a new idea that is different from our core beliefs, we can either dismiss the proposal outright or puzzle over the idea and consider whether there is any truth to it. For example, although acupuncture—a technique using small pins placed in the skin to relieve pain—is a remedy with a long history in Asia, our own Western medicine had never welcomed it. Scripture offers no comment on the subject. I tend to give more credibility to our Western medical model, which asserts that procedures should have empirical research substantiating them. Yet recently my father received an acupuncture treatment for his shoulder and was surprised at the positive effect it had for him.

Now I am more open to considering further evidence regarding the pros and cons of this form of treatment. In this book, there may be various new ideas to consider about God that will need to be assessed in light of Scripture, reasoning and experience. To know God more, we need to search out all the evidence that canbe gleaned about our grand and majestic God.

A Compelling Vision of the Christian Life

What grand ideas grab our attention? Does our conception of the Christian life impact our daily experience? Although Richard Osmer of Princeton Seminary addresses his comments primarily to mainline churches, his diagnosis applies to all Christian churches. To a great extent, the many problems that are besetting the mainline churches today stem from the fact that churches do not seem to be able tooffer their members a compelling vision of the Christian life.

The Bible andtheology seem remote from the realities of everyday life and do not functionas sources of guidance in the pursuit of Christian vocation. . . . Their diminishment[i.e., denominational loyalty and congregational commitment] has made it clear that denominations and congregations are increasingly dependent on their ability to project a vision that supports and transforms personsin their attempt to live to God in their own time and place.34 This book is my small contribution to address this problem.35

God loves us and yearns for a closer relationship with us. According to D. A. Carson, the love of God involves at least five differing expressions:36 God’s intra-trinitarian love, particularly between the Father and the Son(e.g., Jn 3:35; 14:31), God’s providential love for all his creatures as Creator(e.g., Gen 1:31), God’s yearning love to save the world through the cross of Jesus (e.g., Jn 3:16), God’s wooing love to draw and secure the salvation ofhis people, and finally, God’s relational love experienced with believers, subsequent to becoming a member of the family of God (e.g., Jude 21). The first kind of love is the basis and impetus for the other four loves—for God is love (1 Jn 4:8)—and sets an ideal pattern for all of our relationships (to be treated in the next chapter).

Furthermore, believers are the immediate beneficiaries of God’s kindness in all of the other four kinds of love. Yet, the particular focus of this book is to explore Carson’s final category of God’s relational love further, for Christians who are already saved by God’s grace.

Scripture highlights the intimacy God desires with us. The LORD . . . takes the upright into his confidence. (Prov 3:32) If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (Jn 14:23)Come near to God and he will come near to you. (Jas 4:8) Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. (Rev 3:20 NRSV)37

The majestic Creator of the universe desires our friendship. In fact, he ismore interested in this endeavor than we are; he has been contemplatingit and planning it for a long time. God is personal and has created us toenjoy deep friendship with him. We have been specifically designed so that only an infinite God can truly meet all of our needs: emotional, relational, moral, intellectual. Inthe words of Scripture, “He [God] has also set eternity in [their] hearts”(Eccles 3:11). Augustine’s pronouncement captures the sentiment well:“You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests inyou.”38

It is my prayer that your investment in working through this book will launch your pursuit of a deeper friendship with God as we explore some of the mystery of God’s immanence, his desire to be near.

What Is up Ahead

How does a believer deepen his or her relationship with God? In this book I share the fruit of my quest to know God in order to stimulate fellow believers toward a more intimate level of friendship with God. I have puzzled over such matters as prayer, suffering, guidance and knowing a God who is three persons. Along the way I received much insight fromthe technical tomes of scholarship not readily available nor very readablefor most Christians. Thus, in this book I draw on various sources of scholarship and try to make them accessible to the reader, especially for thosedesiring a biblically grounded, intellectually stimulating and experientiallyenriching relationship with God.

The book identifies certain essential components that must be considered and embraced by believers desiring to know God more.39 The first part (chapters two through four) addresses the matter of intensifying a readiness for welcoming God into our daily experience. Since God is majestic andunique, there are certain foundational requirements to make room in ourlives for God.

These three chapters cover topics that actually are characteristic of any good relationship: preferential friendship love for the sake of theother (chapter two), humility (chapter three) and getting beyond outward (i.e., physical) appearances to connect with the inner person (chapter four). But these matters are also uniquely applicable in befriending God. With readiness issues covered in part one, the matter of increasing our intimacyand conversation with God comes to the fore in the second half of the book. Chapter five proposes that believers must seek God with commitment,for God awaits our response to his initiatives. Sadly, our busyness and preoccupation prevent our movement forward. If we do not carry out our plans to “waste time with God,” our relationship with God will languish.

Furthermore, although seeking God is a daunting task, we are not left to our own resources, for God himself offers divine aid (2 Pet 1:3-4). God the Spirit, the third person of the Trinity who indwells each believer forever, guides and enables us to experience God’s presence more fully (chapter six).

In the final two chapters, two practical arenas of life intersecting with God’s plan are examined: suffering (chapter seven) and petitionary prayer(chapter eight)—matters related especially to the responsibility of God the Father (e.g., Acts 1:7). In chapter seven we will consider several potential benefits accruing to believers who suffer. Although we still experience the grief that can be honestly shared with God, we may come to appreciate the “madness in God’s method” in order more readily to welcome the good that can come to us through suffering. Finally, in chapter eight we consider the implications of Jesus’ promise that prayer changes things(e.g., Jn 15:7).

I have alluded above to how references to God the Father and God the Spirit are included in the book. Furthermore, in each chapter I offer a relevant example from Jesus’ life to highlight how he embodied the particular principle and practice under discussion.40 Based on his earthly sojourn, Jesus became the Christians’ sympathetic high priest (Heb 2:17-18; 4:15).

Not only does Jesus show us God (Jn 1:18), but he also demonstrates for us what a dynamic relationship with God can be like. We can imitate him (1 Cor 11:1). If Jesus our Lord is also fully human, then he is the preeminent person to teach us about our subject. Consider that Jesus is the only person ever to live a fully human life and the only one ever to practice consistently what he preached. Truly we must “fix our eyes on Jesus,” the pioneer of faith in God (Heb 12:2).

Throughout the book, sound theology directs the way to a deeper walk with God. The overall tenor of the book is not to bring guilt for what believers are not doing, but rather to offer liberating insights that can refresh and open up new ways to deepen a relationship with God.41

Furthermore, to encourage an experiential response to the main ideas of the book, near the end of each chapter I include a pair of suggested practices—like a practical appendix—that may aid the reader in knowing God more.

Wasting Time with God

To deepen our relationship with God, we must become comfortable In new ways of connecting with God, in “wasting time” with God. Although wasting time is generally considered a Western sin, for the Christian, wasting time with God is always good and right. Furthermore, to follow Jesus, we must become like him. Yet, do we wish to emulate Jesus’ public life of ministry without attending to his private life that provided the foundation for his public ministry? Luke 5:15-16 brings these aspects together:“Yet the news about [Jesus] spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Jesus exemplifies the importance of attending to our private life.

The underlying belief of these “Wasting Time with God” sections is that we must make some lifestyle changes to know God more deeply. As Marjorie Thompson notes, “It would be nice if we could simply ‘practice the presence of God’ in all of life, without expending energy on particular exercises. But the capacity to remember and abide in God’s presence comes only through steady training.”42

Furthermore, we must ask ourselves, is our life running on autopilot, controlled by our routines and habits of busyness and addictions? Or are we alert in the cockpit, being intentional about the direction of our life? Engaging in spiritual disciplines is one means to become aware of what is driving our life. At various points in the New Testament an emphasis on training and discipline is affirmed (e.g., 1 Cor 9:24-27; 1 Tim 4:7-8; Heb 5:14).

As Henri Nouwen notes, “Through a spiritual discipline we prevent theworld from filling our lives to such an extent that there is no place left tolisten. A spiritual discipline sets us free” [Rom 8:26].43 For the most part,I draw on the classic spiritual disciplines that have served saints through-* Usually involves some kind of interaction with others

Table 1.1. Overview of selected spiritual disciplines for each chapterChapter Topic Spiritual Disciplines

Chapter 1 Quest Meditation Asking Questions

Chapter 2 Friendship Hospitality Spiritual Friendships

Chapter 3 Humility Confession Service

Chapter 4 Faith Watchfulness Fasting

Chapter 5 Commitment Personal Retreat Journaling/Reflection

Chapter 6 Communication Orienting Prayer Working with a Spiritual Mentor

Chapter 7 Apprenticeship Lament Advocacy

Chapter 8 Partnership Faith-Stretching Practicing the Presence Prayer of God out church history (see table 1.1) and include two in each chapter.44

Wasting Time with God: Meditation

Among all the habits that foster a relationship with God, meditation onthe Word of God has been a premier spiritual discipline for both pastors and lay persons. If we wish to learn more about God, the source of informationto which we must look is the divinely inspired Scripture.

Although we can gain some important information from God’s creation—generalrevelation (cf. Rom 1:18-20)—the “authorized” source of informationabout God and his plan is his written Word—special revelation.Happy are those [whose] / . . . delight is in the law of the LORD, / and on his law they meditate day and night. / They are like trees / planted by streams ofwater, / which yield their fruit in its season, / and their leaves do not wither. /In all that they do, they prosper. (Ps 1:1-3 NRSV)

Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it dayand night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (Josh 1:8)

Regularly repeating God’s thoughts is a way to focus our attention on thethings of God. Meditation involves both internal and spoken “mutterings”(Heb. hagut, “a muttering”).

Note the parallelism in Psalm 19:14: “May thewords of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight.”Two key terms, meaning and significance, parallel the two parts of Biblestudy, the more technical informational aspect and the more devotional and meditative formational aspect. The meaning of the text refers to understanding the information the biblical and divine authors originally intended to communicate to readers. The significance of the text involves applying various implications of the passage to a particular situation of the contemporary reader.45

As William Klein, Craig Blomberg and Robert Hubbard explain,“The meaning of any given passage of Scripture remains consistent no matter who is reading the text, while its significance may vary from reader to reader.”46

Without regularly engaging in meditation, the technical aspect of Bible study becomes purely an academic exercise. The art of meditation—discerning the significance of the Word for the contemporary believer—is the art of formative reading. Peter Toon explains that it is an adaptation of “a modern form of Hebrew meditation. It is to learn to read the sacred text slowly, prayerfully, and formatively—and preferably to read aloud.”47

Toon makes a distinction between informative reading and formative reading. The purpose of the first kind, whether one reads a letter, newspaper or book, is solely to gain information. On the other hand, “Formative reading is done in such a way as to allow the text to form us, to let God the Holy Spirit be in charge, and thus allow the Inspirer of Scripture to become for us its Illuminator so that its content (a little at a time) enters our souls.”48

Along these same lines, J. P. Moreland explains: In devotional reading one reads quietly, slowly, and with a sense of spiritual attentiveness and openness to God. The goal of devotional reading is not so much gathering new information or mastering content, though that may indeed happen. The goal is to deepen and nourish the soul by entering into the passage and allowing it to be assimilated into one’s whole personality.49

In meditation we allow the Spirit to use his Word to penetrate our hearts.“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb 4:12).50 Consider reading a favorite passage (e.g., Ps 23) slowly with a receptive heart.

Wasting Time with God: Asking Questions

Since growing to know God is a continuing project, one way to maintain a lifelong learning perspective is to nurture the practice of questioning. Asking our own questions is what genuinely prompts our own learning. Do we forget how Jesus pursued his questions as a child of twelve? “After three days [Joseph and Mary] found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Every one who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers”(Lk 2:46-47).

In his public ministry, Jesus prompted others to consider new ideas with his questions.51What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he? . . . How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him “Lord”? . . . If then David calls him “Lord,” how can he be his son? (Mt 22:42-46)Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill? (Mk 3:4; cf. Lk 14:3) The disciples had their own questions for Jesus, prompted by the situation at hand: Why do you speak to the people in parables? (Mt 13:10) Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first? (Mt17:10) Probably the best example of a group of people who manifested a spirit of teachability and a practice of questioning were the Bereans.

During Paul’s second missionary journey, after being jailed in Philippi and experiencing a near riot in Thessalonica, Paul and his companions came to the hospitable Bereans. “Now the Bereans were of more noble characterthan the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).

Unfortunately, sometimes in school and in church we are discouraged from asking our own questions. Much of schooling involves memorizing answers in books that resulted from the questions asked by others—an important educational foundation. Yet one potential danger is that our natural, God-given curiosity about life—in prominent use as preschoolers(e.g., Ex 12:26; 13:14; Josh 4:6, 21)—may have been put aside as we got used to the habits of schooling. Perhaps a teacher awakened this learning desire, or some life crisis resparked this natural inclination. But the light for learning will be blown out unless we sustain it by developing an inquiring mind. By putting into words what puzzles or perplexes us, we are then in a position to seek answers.52

When in a teaching-learning situation, a good habit is to write down at least one question about something we would like to learn more about. Once a question gets a hold of us, we will become captivated to a life of learning and will engage in a process to demolish false God-in-the-box ideas. In the next chapter, we explore what friendship looks like, whether with God or with anyone else, and how our human friendships can actually affect our relationship with God. Yet, a potential barrier confronts us: should Christians even have friends in light of Jesus’ critique, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” (Mt 5:46).

Taken from Wasting Time With God: A Christian Spirituality of Friendship With God by Klaus Issler. Copyright ©2001 by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA. Permission kindly granted to Faith & Reason Forum by InterVarsity Press.