Being in a relationship with God is a paradox. In the beginning, I believe that God is always the One Who initially calls us; any effort toward Him on our part is only because He has awakened our consciousness toward Him, and caused us to be sensitive to spiritual matters. In our natural state, we are enemies of God (read the first couple of chapters of Romans!). Our hearts are not spiritually aware until the Holy Spirit works in us to hear Him. Jesus said, “No man can come to me except the Father which hath sent Me draw him.” However, after we are aware of Him and have received His grace, we find (or should find) that our desire is toward Him, and we seek Him and follow after Him like the love of our life. Unless we find this desire for Him in our hearts, we may discover that our growth as Christians remains fixed and undeveloped.
So many popular preachers are now telling us that we can be saved simply by believing, but neglecting to add that effectual belief also brings with it a desire to know God. Being truly born again implies a new beginning; a metamorphosis. If we have become indwelt by the Holy Spirit, it is this Presence which compels us to study the Word, and to pray and to meditate and try to draw closer to Him. To “believe in” Christ without any accompanying increased desire to know Him is a lifeless kind of faith, and needs to be re-examined. Satan “believes in” God. He knows that Jesus is the Christ, but he will not be in heaven. There are millions sitting in church pews each week who “believe in” God, but could never be said to have a strong, growing personal relationship with Him. The thing that makes the difference between a static, passive, intellectual acknowledgment of the existence of God and a vibrant, living, and growing faith is the degree to which we earnestly desire to seek Him.
We should want to respond to His love and love Him as He loves us (as much as we are able as humans). That implies more than simply showing up in church on Sunday morning and being aware of Him for an hour or two, then going about in our own strength and wisdom the rest of the week. It requires a heart that longs for God, and actively seeks to follow Him. It is in the recognition that not only do we need God, but that He is worth seeking just for His own sake.
Why are so many of us content to have a more or less passive relationship? I think it is because we have not yet learned to love Him; not just for what He has done for us, but for the truth and beauty and excellence of His innate nature and character. Too often what we call “love” is merely gratitude and self-satisfaction that our sins are forgiven, and a belief that we can now relax in the security of God’s faithfulness. Because our salvation is a free gift from God, we may assume that as His children our only needed response is to keep all the rules, as an equivalent of love.
However, after many years of learning Christ, I think this is wrong. Philip Yancey, in his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace expresses it best. He says, “What God wants is not a good performance, but my heart.” I believe that if we have truly given God our hearts, the performance will follow naturally after. How many of us are really in love with God because we know Him, and are intensely drawn to the purity and truth and beauty of His character?
A.W. Tozer explores this in his book, In Pursuit of God. He says, “David’s life was a torrent of spiritual desire and his psalms ring out with the cry of the seeker and the glad shout of the finder. Paul confessed the mainspring of his life to be his burning desire after Christ. ‘That I might know Him,’ was the goal of his heart, and to this he sacrificed everything. ‘What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in Him’…..” (Philippians 3:8,9)
There is intensity, an urgency in this kind of love. I want to know Christ: not just acknowledge His existence, or even to want to live a good life in His name – but to understand His character, understand how to translate His love for me into a life which will glorify Him and reflect His values. The more I understand of the depth of His love for us, His essential character which is all goodness, all love, all compassion and yet always completely and fundamentally holy, the more I am compelled to come near with careful footsteps and a mind filled with awe and wonder. How can it be that this One Who is above and beyond all goodness, can look at me (and I know what I am) with love? I want to be ever closer, ever more deeply drawn to the Source of all purity, compassion and grace.
When I was a teenager, I sometimes would go to the Art Museum in our city and fill my longing for beauty by letting my eyes feast on the magnificent creations of various artists and sculptors. There was one picture which especially fascinated me. It was of a single bleached bone, sitting in isolation on the floor of the desert. I could not understand how, with just a few brush strokes and purity of line, the artist could make the paint reveal the essence of bone and dryness so perfectly. In the painting of that one bone, in an elegance of understatement, the artist had captured the mystery of the arid beauty of the desert and raised questions about mortality. The painting evoked many emotions, and I would sit on a nearby bench and just gaze at it for long periods of time. I often hear music which has the same effect. I hear a particular passage which is so beautiful and which finds such resonance in my heart that I am transfixed. In a faulty analogy, sometimes when I am praying or reading God’s Word, or just thinking of Him, I have a flash of insight which reveals the absolute purity and beauty of His nature, and the uncompromising brilliance of His holiness, and I am dumbstruck. I want to fall down on my face before Him, and weep at His perfection. What I am experiencing is worship.
I am afraid that in many of our churches today, we have forgotten what it is to worship. We sing upbeat praise songs and have a good time, but it is often less about Him than it is about us. We go through the motions for an hour: we have the call to worship and the prayers and the hymns and the Old and New Testament readings, and then the message – and all the rest, according to our style of liturgy – but so often it is just by rote in our hearts. We listen to the sermon as if it were a lecture which we critique rather than internalize, and eventually leave thinking we have worshiped. Most often, we haven’t even approached genuine worship… not the kind of worship which leaves us believing we have felt the Presence of God among us, and have reverentially thanked Him for being Who He is.
There is a kind of synergy which happens in a meaningful relationship with God. He calls us, and lavishes His grace and mercy on us, and we respond with a love which seeks Him out and desires to be just like Him. In today’s Church there is so much confusion and dissonance as to theology and liturgies and the nature of worship. If the Church is to remain at all effective, I believe that we must reduce things back to their simplest components: the strong internalization of the mercy and grace of God, and the deep response to Him of worship, and the desire to become like His Son. From the internal worship of our God will come the natural outworking of service and good works. If we could find our way back to a mutually loving One-on-one relationship with Him, and minimize all the man-centered things like legalism and marketing strategies and judgment toward other believers, I believe the Church could once again sweep the world with the Gospel of the grace of God. May it be so.