Tuesday, November 28, 2006

There is (still) more!

After thinking some more about Sunday’s post—“There is more!”—I want to have another go at the subject. Like the title of that gospel song, “Before I take it back, I’ll add more to it”!

In my first posting of this topic, I encouraged you to not become complacent and comfortable with a Christian experience that may have become cold and dull, but to seek more of God. I affirmed the need to move beyond mere “head-knowledge” of God to a “heart-felt” experience of God. I tried to show, from three brief passages of Scripture (Hebrews 11:6; Philippians 3:7-14 and Luke 11:9-13) that it is biblical to desire more of God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

However, a question arises in my mind: How do we go about seeking God? At first glance, this seems an easy question to answer: We seek God through prayer and through Scripture. In one sense, that pretty much sums it up. But, let’s be real. I think all of us struggle with prayer. At least, I’ve never met anyone (that I know of) who was satisfied with their prayer life. Then, as far as the Scriptures are concerned, it is possible to study Scripture and still be left cold. One has to only think of apostate seminary professors who, in one sense, know their Bibles well but, as is evident from the unbelief they spout in their writings, have never experienced God at all. So, how do we seek God?

I think the first place we need to start is in our concept of God. Do we actually conceive of God as being real? After all, God is invisible to our mortal eyes. We can’t experience God with our five senses. So, how do believers experience God? Again, let’s go back to Hebrews 11:6:

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

According to the text, faith is the key to our experiencing God.

“For whoever would draw near to God…”

This is what we want to do; this is what seeking God is all about!

“For whoever would draw near to God must believe…”

Here is where faith comes in: we must believe God, trust God, have confidence in Him. What are we to believe or trust God for?

“For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists…”

When we pray, are we consciously aware that God exists? Are we consciously aware that we are talking to Some-One? As a fellow seeker, I would suggest that when we pray, we ought to talk to God like He’s actually there. Do you know what I mean? It’s so easy to get into the habit of just mouthing prayer words without actually talking to God. If we want to experience God in a deeper, more intimate way, I’d suggest that the first place to start is with a conscious recognition that God exists—He is present when we pray.

I think the second point we should consider in seeking to know God in a deeper, more intimate way, is found in the rest of Hebrews 11:6.

“For whoever would draw near to God must believe…that he rewards those who seek him.

Do we really believe God will respond to our prayers? The text says, “He rewards those who seek him.” So, God will respond. But, how does God respond? God responds by rewarding the seeker with Himself! Did you see that in the text? The verse speaks of “those who seek him.” The seeker is seeking God (“those who seek him”) and God rewards the seeker with that which he seeks: namely, with Himself.

The question is, do we really believe God will respond to our prayers? I believe that our experience of God can be limited by what we expect. We don’t expect God to do anything in response to our prayers. We don’t expect our lives to change. We look for “practical” solutions to our spiritual lethargy rather than pray. However, consider James 4:2:

“You do not have, because you do not ask.”

In the context, James is telling believers that, instead of envying what others have or fighting others to obtain gifts from the world, they should ask God. But, I think there is a principle here that can be applied more broadly: there are things that we need for the doing of God’s will that we lack only because we’ve never asked God for them.

Do we ever ask God for help…and expect his help? Have we ever asked God for a renewal of our spiritual life…and expected life change, as a result? Do we ever pray this way?

Now, I know prayer is about more than asking God for stuff, but we shouldn’t ignore the fact that most of the teaching of Jesus recorded in Scripture, relative to prayer, concerns our asking in prayer. Jesus encourages us to ask God. And, I’m suggesting, God wants us to ask for more of Himself.

I wonder what could happen if we started to pray to God as if He was real, and actually listening? What if we prayed as if our life depended on it?

Truth is, our spiritual lives do depend on prayer. If we want to move beyond mere “head-knowledge” of God to a “heart-felt” experience of God, we need to seek God—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—in prayer. I suspect we’d have to get rid of our pretty words and calm composure, and become passionate in our seeking of God.

Have you ever really looked at the Psalms and noticed how David and the others spoke to God? The Psalms are full of passion. I have a cassette tape of a sermon by the late Alan Redpath, where he speaks about the lack of “O!” in our prayers. Well, in the Psalms there are plenty of “Os!”

“Have mercy on me, O God…”

“To you, O Lord, I call…”

“Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!”

“Deliver me, O Lord…”

“I cry to you, O Lord…”

Is there an “O!” in our prayers?

I also think I see passion in prayer expressed in Romans 8:26-27:

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

Rather than try to put into words what I think these verses suggest, I want to quote at length from a sermon by John Piper: "The Spirit Helps Us in Our Weakness, Part 2". He expresses his points so well, there’s no need for me to try to say anything. Read what Piper says about it:

“In the last part of verse 26 Paul says, ‘The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.’ What does this mean: ‘With groanings too deep for words’? Literally it simply says, ‘with wordless groanings.’ What does that refer to? Does it refer to groanings that we make? Or groanings that we do not make but the Holy Spirit makes? Or is there a third alternative – the one that I want argue for, namely, these groanings are our groanings which are also the Spirit’s groanings because he inspires and directs them in us?

“Here’s why I think this and why it matters.

“If the Holy Spirit is simply communicating with the Father about what we need, I cannot imagine why he would have to use wordless groans. He knows exactly what he wants to ask for. There is not the slightest confusion in his mind and he is never at a loss for how to communicate with the Father. So I doubt that these groans are groans that the Spirit addresses to the Father which are not our groans.

“A second reason for thinking this is that the one who hears and understands and answers these groans is said in verse 27 to search our hearts. I think that points to the fact that the groans are in our heart. That is where they are experienced as groanings and heard. ‘The Spirit himself intercedes for us with wordless groanings. (27) And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit.’ In other words, the Spirit doesn’t send his groanings to the Father in heaven directly. He registers them in our hearts. That is where they are experienced as groans – in our hearts. I think this suggests they are our groanings, not just the Spirit’s groanings.

“A third argument is that groaning in this context is something that marks the fallen world, and the Spirit is not fallen and does not need to groan like the creation and the saints. In verse 22 Paul says, ‘The whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.’ And in verse 23 he says, ‘And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly.’ So groaning is part of the weakness and futility and pain and decay of this fallen world. That suggests that the groans of verse 26 are also part of this weakness and fallenness. They are our groans, inspired and directed by the Holy Spirit.

“The fourth argument comes from the analogy of the witness of the Spirit in verses 15-16, ‘You have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a Spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!" 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.’ Who is saying, ‘Abba! Father!’ here? Well we are. But not only we. This is the witness of the Spirit. This heartfelt cry that God is our Father is inspired and directed by the Spirit. It is his witness!

“So here we have a helpful analogy and parallel with the groaning of the Spirit in verse 26. The Spirit groans the same way the Spirit witnesses: he inspires the groaning, and he inspires the witness. The groaning is his groaning, and the witnessing is his witness. But we experience the witness of the Spirit as the heartfelt, authentic welling up in us of a cry, ‘Abba, father!’ And we experience the groaning of the Spirit in the welling up within us of groanings for the glory of Christ, but in ways and means that we do not know.

“So my answer to the question: How does the Spirit pray for us, is that he moves powerfully in our hearts to create groanings – his groanings experienced as our groanings – which are based on two things: 1) a deep desire and ache of heart that Christ be magnified in our lives, and 2) a weakness that leaves us baffled and unknowing as to how this is going to happen or should happen. So we are not sure how we are to pray, but we are sure that we want Christ to be magnified in our bodies.

“The Father searches our heart and he hears this groaning. He hears the Christ-exalting yearning in it, and he hears the Spirit’s clear intention that certain decisions and circumstances come about in the exact way that will bring the most glory to Jesus.”

(By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: http://www.desiringgod.org/. Email: mail@desiringGod.org. Toll Free: 1.888.346.4700.)

Do you see the passion involved in this kind of praying? I think if we ever learn to get real with God, and talk to Him like He really exists, we’ll frequently find ourselves confessing, “we do not know what to pray for as we ought”! This is when the Holy Spirit gets involved, interceding for us (and through us). And, I believe, when this happens, we’ll experience God in ways, perhaps, we’ve not known before.
(To be continued...)

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