Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Christianese 101: "Seeking God's face."

It should be no surprise that we, as Christians, have our own special language. I've often heard it referred to as "Christianese." Just think about it for a moment, we talk about things like "being washed in the blood," or being "saved." What about this one, "How is your walk with the Lord? Have you been in the Word?" From the outside looking in this could be strange, at the very least, and downright revolting at the most extreme. There is one phrase in Christianese that I want to take a closer look at today because we use it very often and it can not only be cryptic from the outside but I think it can be difficult to understand from the inside as well. The phrase is "seeking God's face." Raise your hand if you have ever used that phrase or heard it used by your Christian brethren. Very good. I believe that we Christians tend to have a sort of innate sense of what that means but the real question is not whether or not we know what it means, but rather, do we know how to do it?

We all have heard that David was a man after God's own heart. We know that Moses is said to have talked with God face to face. We know that Jesus told us to seek first His Kingdom. So how do we, as New Covenant believers, seek God's holy and perfect face? First let me address the obvious tools that we can use for this seeking of the divine.

1. God's Word, the Bible. In His perfect plan and will God has given us a written document that explains what we need to know about Him and His work in the world for salvation. Does the Bible tell us all there is to know about God? Heavens no! God is the infinite One who is beyond description and truly beyond our comprehension and no amount of books or megabytes could even come close to fully containing Him. In 1917 Fredrick Lehmen put together a beautiful song that explains this point so well. The lyrics are as follows:

  1. The love of God is greater far
    Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
    It goes beyond the highest star,
    And reaches to the lowest hell;
    The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
    God gave His Son to win;
    His erring child He reconciled,
    And pardoned from his sin.
    • Refrain:
      Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
      How measureless and strong!
      It shall forevermore endure—
      The saints’ and angels’ song.
  2. When hoary time shall pass away,
    And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
    When men who here refuse to pray,
    On rocks and hills and mountains call,
    God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
    All measureless and strong;
    Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
    The saints’ and angels’ song.
  3. Could we with ink the ocean fill,
    And were the skies of parchment made,
    Were every stalk on earth a quill,
    And every man a scribe by trade;
    To write the love of God above
    Would drain the ocean dry;

    Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
    Though stretched from sky to sky.
Though God cannot be contained in a book, what we do not know about God will not be contrary to what His Word tells us. This is the grave mistake of people who condemn Christians with words like "God is bigger than one book or one religion." Fair enough, but the truth that we do not know will not contradict the truth we do know. The point is, the place to start in our search for the face of God is in what He has given us in His Word, the Bible. There we can find His actions in the history of the world as well as principles for how we are to live as His children. If we want to get to know our pen pal from a distant land then we must read the letters that they have written to us. It would be fruitless for us to simply imagine what they may be like and concoct our own version of a person without consulting their own words on the matter. The same goes for God. The beginning of our knowledge of Him must come from what He has told us about Himself.
 
2. Prayer. I don't know whether or not prayer or the Bible is the most obvious tool we can use to seek God's face. If the Bible is God's letter to us then prayer is our cell phone with which we can communicate directly with Him. The beauty of prayer is that the minutes are unlimited and the plan is free for us, He picked up the tab through Christ on the cross. The same thing can be said about prayer as reading the Word, trying to know God without it is going to be pointless. If we attempt to know God without either of these tools we are creating an imaginary friend for ourselves. The biblical term for that would "idol." 
 
With those two tools in place the most important thing to understand about seeking God's face is that it is about a relationship. In John 15:15 Jesus tells us this, No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. A little further along Romans 8:15-17 says, For 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!' The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. We also know that Abraham was counted as a "friend of God." This tells me that God cares more about me than anyone on this earth. He wants to know me and He wants me to get to know Him. The issue is not obeying His commandments to the letter, that is a byproduct of my relationship with Him. Think of it this way, I can obey the laws of my country and city to perfection but never have a relationship with the people who put those laws into force. The unique opportunity that we have as children of God is to be in a real relationship with the legislator, the judge, the president, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. If our earthly father were a judge there is no doubt the he would want us to obey the law and because of our love for our father we would want to obey out of respect for him. This is where there is a chasm of separation between Christianity and false religions and bad Christian teaching. The relationship is not built through adherence to the law. The relationship comes first and the obedience flows from it. The cold, hard fact of the matter is that we cannot adhere to the Law that God has put in place. Therefore we will never be able to please Him outside of our relationship with Christ. It is through that relationship that we are made to be perfect and holy. 
 
Let me illustrate this point with a verse, 1 John 5:3, For this is the love of God, that we keep Him commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. At the outset this may look like evidence against what I have already said but look at that verse in light of Matthew 22:37-38, "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" And He said to them, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and will all your mind.' This is the great and foremost commandment." Do you see it now? The greatest commandment, the one by which we show evidence of our love for God, is that we be in a love relationship with Him. The beauty of all of this is that because God is omnipresent we can build a relationship with Him the same way we build one with people. That is, we spend time with Him, we read the things He has written to us, we talk to Him, we praise Him, we do things for Him and do the things He asks of us.
 
I will close with this point. When Jesus, God incarnate, was on this earth He did not operate alone or in a vacuum. Instead He chose people to accompany Him on His journey. He made friends and invested in the lives of His disciples and the people He came in contact with. He wept over the death of His friend Lazarus. He build relationships with and cared for the people around Him. Colossians 1:15 tells us that this Christ was the image of the invisible God. Every characteristic that we can see in Christ is shared by the Father. Therefore, we can say with absolute certainty that God wants to be in a relationship with us and returning that desire is how we seek God's face.

Godspeed,
Christian

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