Knowing God Personally
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Knowing God Personally
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
The verse that I think would be good for us to look at is John 17:3. It’s a well known verse we’ve all heard it before. John 17:3, “And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent.” Most of us know that the word “know” has all kinds of different meanings and deeper meanings. It’s used in 16th Century English for intercourse between a man and a woman, he knew her, so it can mean very intimate physical knowledge in that way.
The Greek word “ginosko” means to know, or to be aware of, or to understand. So God is saying through John, “This is eternal life, that they know thee, they understand thee, they are aware of thee. They know you, they are aware of you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent.” It just came home to me again this morning in the early hours that the whole of life has a very simple purpose. It is not for us to enter into full sanctification, though that is part of it. It certainly is not to bring the heathen to Christ, though that is part of it. And it’s not to fulfill ourselves, though that is part of it. And it’s not for you all to be successful. It’s not so that if Rick doesn’t mind me saying it, so that Rick will be able to say, “Oh $4,000 in one day,” or whatever. That’s not the purpose of life.
The purpose of life is that we would know God, that we would know God himself. And it’s not that you would all know him or I would know him the way the theologians know him. It’s not that. It’s not that you would be able to outline his character and his nature. It’s not that you would be able to answer people who asked whether God made sickness. It’s not so you would be able to explain to people what God is like. It’s that you yourself would know him, that I would know him, that we personally would know him, that we would know him ourselves. That we would understand him and we would know his ways – not his ways with somebody else.
You remember, that first comes from Psalm 103:7, or that word, that phrase comes from Psalm 103:7. Psalm 103:7, “He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.” Of course, we’ve often said before that God did his great works: he rolled back the red sea and defeated the Egyptians; he made known his acts to the people. The people all saw those acts but secretly, privately in the quiet place on the mountain, he made known his ways to Moses. Of course that’s a deeper knowledge. You can see what a person does but to know his ways, to know why he does them and how he does them, and to know the way he’s thinking when he does them, that’s a deeper form of knowledge and that’s what God wants us to know.
Not his ways even that he uses with Moses but he wants us to know the ways he’s using with us. He wants us to know his ways with us because each one of us has a different relationship with God from each other. And he has a different relationship with you strangely enough from what he has with anybody else. That’s why at one time we thought it clever to look a little askance at the hymn, ‘I walk in the garden alone’ and he talks with me and he walks with me, and he whispers to me things that no one else has ever known. We, in our sophisticated, supposedly liberal ways would say, “Now that’s dumb.” As if it’s a kind of egotism that he talks with me and he walks with me and he whispers to me things that nobody else has ever known. Well now, that’s not right. That’s just a poetic exaggeration.
But, that is right. He walks with you in a way that he walks with nobody else. He talks with you in a way that he talks with nobody else. He has a personal relationship with each one of us that is different from the one he has with everyone else. So the purpose of our lives is to know him. You could almost say there’s a side of God that you will know that nobody else will know. You could almost say that. And in so far as that is not known his glory is less than it would be. So in a strange sense every one of us that does not get to know God the way he intended us to know him, in some way, while you can’t diminish God, you do in some way take from his glory. And so the purpose of your life and mine is to know God, to know him himself and to know his ways with you.
That brings us into another side -– a deeper part of the knowledge because God has ways that he is using to deal with you that he’s not using to deal with me and similarly with me. And if I look at Sandra and I notice some of the things – you know how bright we are, at how good we are at being able to tell what God is doing with the other person, we can always see the other person’s situation so much more clearly than we see our own, and there’s no point in me looking at Sandra and seeing the way God is dealing with her and saying, “Oh yes, he’ll deal with me that way.” He won’t. He has personal ways with each of us and each of us have to understand those ways personally from his own explanation.
You can see then that you have to get it from him. You can’t get it from somebody else. You can’t look at somebody else and say, “Oh yes, that’s the way God deals.” Which is a kind of warning to us because you know how supposedly experienced and helpful we are to each other when we keep saying, “Oh yeah, that’s the way God does.” Well, you know, in a way I suppose, one shouldn’t make fun of it because sometimes it helps. More often than that, it isn’t worth saying because there are not many general ways that God has of dealing that are particularly helpful to you yourself because he deals with you in unique and remarkable ways. So there’s a limit to the value of looking at the way he’s dealing with somebody else and saying, “Oh he’ll deal with you that way.”
He will deal with you in a personal way. Now, if you say to me, “But isn’t he always a just God?” Yes, he is always a just God but you know how many discussion we have over what justice is and over whether behaving in a certain way in a certain situation is just or not. So to a certain extent after you’ve said he’s a just God you haven’t said much. The really important thing is how is he showing his justice to you and in what way is his justice dealing with you? So knowing God means knowing his ways with you and that ties up with this deeper level.
If you’d like to look at it it’s Philippians 3:10, “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” “That I may know him,” the same word, that I may know him, understand him, that I may be aware of him, that I may experience of him, “And the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” And what God is saying through Paul is, “I want you to know me through experiencing the power of my resurrection in your life and the only way you’re going to do that is by sharing in my sufferings and by becoming like me in my death.”
In other words, the only way you will ever get to know God’s ways with you is through being driven to the end of yourself in suffering. The only way you will ever know his power and his strength is when you have no more strength or power of your own. So God can only show his ways to you through the very personal difficulties or challenges that you are experiencing. That is why many of us here in this room have felt at different times, “Well, that worked for that person it ought to work for me.” We find it doesn’t work for us. Part of the reason is that God has allowed us to come into
this world so that we will come to the end of our own abilities and our own resources and we’ll have to lean desperately on him so heavily that he’ll be able to breakthrough and reveal himself to us in his own power.
So he allows us to come through things that cannot be answered by techniques, or methods, or principles. We often wonder, aren’t principles useful? Yes, I think it’s very useful but teaching principles can almost build up the confidence of the flesh and in effect it can be another method, another way, another technique, another work system. God has arranged it so that you and I will all walk a personal way and we will come into difficulties and into challenges that cannot be solved by the way someone else has walked. It can only be solved by us knowing the power of Jesus’ resurrection. The only way we will ever know that is by coming to know God himself personally in the midst of our difficulties.
So our difficulties are here for a reason. Our problems, our challenges, are here for a reason. Andrea, you will have to know God in a way that is different from me. Rick will have to know God in a way that is different from Sandra. You have a personal way to walk. You all have personal advantages that I don’t have. I have personal advantages that you don’t have. But we all will therefore have difficulties, fences to leap on our horses that are appropriate to us. Things that will be difficult to you that wouldn’t be difficult to Sandra, things that will be difficult to me that won’t be difficult to Rick, but God has arranged a personal pilgrimage because he wants us to know him.
He doesn’t want us to know ways of getting over this fence, or ways to tackle this water jump. He doesn’t want that. He wants us to know him. He wants us to be in his arms and he will take it over the fence and take us over the water jump. So the purpose of our lives here is to know God himself and to understand him.
Now, if you say, “Well how does that work?” Well, all I can glimpse is that as you’re struggling with sales, or as you’re struggling with money, or as you’re struggling with your own self assertiveness, or as you’re struggling with your own resentfulness, or as you’re struggling with your own pride, as you struggle with that and deal with it, and drag God into your heart in desperation, as you do that, gradually, as you’re getting to know him and as you’re praying, and as you’re talking with him, and as you’re experiencing his voice from time-to-time coming through, you sense a power in his nature that you’ve never seen before. As you become confident that that power is there you become aware that it is available to you and then you begin to live off that power so that God becomes what each of us needs to us. In that way, of course, we know him most intimately because how do you know a person most intimately? When you experience their strength in you, when you experience them inside you.
So knowing God means committing yourself to hungering for his own heart and that brings us of course to the whole – the essential in our lives. I mean, I’m holding back mentioning it because once I mention it every one of us goes into our own little definitions and kind of falls to sleep again. But we are wasting our time here on earth. We’re wasting these years; we’re wasting our whole lives. If we do not spend time, not saying our prayers but if we do not spend our time with God in quietness, we are wasting our time. If we do not spend — I hate even to put a time on it because then we all go into the old prayer technique. It seems to me if we do not spend sizeable parts of our days or our evenings with God, there’s no way in which we get to know him. Because our silly wretched minds are so full of thoughts and our tongues are so full of words, that we’re just babbling away all the time or we’re receiving all kinds of impressions from either television, or
from books, or from the world outside. There’s no way in which we can get to know God unless we do spend time with him alone.
I don’t know what it means for you, whether it means ear plugs, or just eyes closed, or maybe you’ll find yourself doing it at times, just sitting in the chair in your room just staring. But unless we get to know God in conjunction with the ways he’s dealing with us in our practical lives, we’ll never fulfill the purpose of our lives. The purpose of our lives is to know God, to know him. I think that’s where it ties up with the business, sometimes we like to think, “Oh yeah, that’s what I like to do. I just sit in my chair and I just dream, just meditating. I’m just meditating.” And we’re not we’re just lapsing into passivity of mind and passivity of will and we sink into – really we sink into somewhere between transcendental meditation and a Hindu sense of oneness with the great spirit behind the universe. We really just sink into the evil spirit world of deception.
It’s important to see that that’s not what prayer is or knowing God. Knowing God is bringing before God the particular events in your own life that show your lack of him. It is dealing with him on the low sales; it’s dealing with him on the resentfulness, on the pride in your heart. It’s dealing with him over the indiscipline of your life. It’s dealing with him about the practical things in your life. That’s why he gave us practical lives.
Have you ever thought of it? Why didn’t he make us angels? Why didn’t he just make us spirit beings that could meditate forever and do nothing? Well obviously, because he knows the only way he can make knowledge of him real is by giving us this practical world to deal with and these things to take up because he wants us to know him as the only strength and live to face the things we have in this world.
So knowing God is the whole purpose and you can see how easy it is for us to fall into the other technique or the other trap where we say, “Yeah, that’s what we’re here to do. We’re here to deal with the practical things in this world.” And so we deal with them you know, with our own strength, just with our own strength. And so we batter and we blast our way through life. Sure we make it, but we kind of bull our way through, we press this side and that side and people may think we’re successful and we kind of are making the thing work but we know it’s not with God’s strength or God’s life. We’re not getting to know him any better we’re just using the techniques of other human beings to make it work.
But the way he wants is for us to deal with the things that are coming up in our lives and to bring them into his presence and to get to know him himself. And you all know – we’ve all experienced, your dad has died, my brother has died, your loved ones have died, we all know enough now about death to know this is all very temporary, it goes very fast and there will come a moment for all of us here when we will be alone with God or alone with darkness. And we’ve been given these 70 years to know him so that at that moment we know our dear Father. We know him and we know that he knows us.
So the whole purpose of our life here is to know God. I would ask each one of us how we spend today because this of course of all days is his day. I would submit to you that it is possible to spend this day in what most people would regard as a very Christian way. I mean, all of us could get an Andrew Murray book, or a Nee book, or Mueller, or some of the others, or we can spend time even in the Bible, or we could go out walking and can have a very pleasant and quiet walk and all those things are good. All I’m pointing out to you is we all know that you can do all those things without getting to know God. We all know you can do all those things and you’re in an “I/it”
You know Martin Buber, the philosopher said, “An ‘I/it’ relationship is ‘I’ thinking about a thing, or thinking a thought, or thinking about certain concepts, or reading a book. That’s an ‘I/it’ relationship. Or thinking about theology, or thinking about the way God works, that’s an ‘I/it’ relationship. A ‘I/thou’ relationship is me and God, just God and I directly with one another just in that kind of relationship that Thomas was at when he saw Jesus and said, “My Lord and my God.” That’s an I/thou relationship where I’m relating to God himself, the person, God’s person.”
And the fact is that today our Father who made each one of us is waiting for each of us to come to him and to get to know him today in a way that only we can. So you know far from feeling down about sales, or feeling down about this failure of my personality, or feeling down about this part of my life, no, take that to God. There’s a clue there, God has given you a clue there about some part of himself that he has for you to know and he has to manifest in you. That’s a clue that he’s giving to you. He’s saying to you, “Look, it’s somewhere around here that you need to know me. When you fail there, I’m failing and I don’t have to fail. I have the answer for that. You’ve to know that part of me until it’s able to manifest itself through you.” So knowing him is a very practical thing and very much tied to our everyday life and it will be tied to the way we spend today.
Then I would, of course, point out to us that the only purpose of today is to sanctify all the other days of the week. So really I know you all face it in the motels, presumably there are two extremes plant yourself in front of the television set and turn it on and act like a zombie and watch the basketball game or whatever it is, or you can equally well be the other kind of person. You can be, not a zombie, but kind of a neurotic little fanatic sales rep that just has so much to do that you just work the whole night right to bedtime on the paperwork that you have to do for the next day or that you’ve covered that day. So you can get out your suit and everything.
So you’re active the whole of the evening and then you drop into bed deadbeat after maybe about five minutes of prayer. Well obviously, both are extremes and neither provide for the whole purpose of your life that it was just to know God. And I agree with everybody here who says, “But don’t you think there are moments through the day in a store, or in heavy traffic when God reveals himself?” Oh yeah, I agree with everybody here who would say, “Doesn’t God have to reveal himself? We can’t just get to know him, God has to reveal himself.” Yes, that’s right. “And doesn’t God reveal himself in moments during the day?” Yes, he does but what is experienced in moments during the day is bedded down and becomes part of you in the time that you spend with God in the evening.
And so it’s vital to have – I’m sure you all have quiet times before you go out in the morning but there’s no doubt there is a quietness and there can be a leisure, a leisureliness about the half hour before you go to bed and there can be a great opportunity there to just be with God alone just to know him. Not to pray for others, not to pray but just to know him, to know God and him whom he has sent even Jesus Christ. This is eternal life.
Let us pray.