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Knowing God

by Dr Alex Tang

 

There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body,  parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory, most loving, gracious, merciful, longsuffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal most just and terrible in his judgements; hating all sins, and who will by no means clear the guilty.

 

                                                                                                           The Westminster Confession of Faith

 

Key Concepts of Knowing God.

1.1       God has spoken to man, and the Bible is his Word, given to us to make

 us wise unto salvation.

1.2              God is Lord and King over His world; He rules all things for His own glory, displaying His perfections in all that He does, in order that men and angels may worship and adore Him.

1.3              God is Saviour, active in sovereign love through the Lord Jesus Christ to rescue believers from the guilt and power of sin, to adopt them as His sons and daughters and as His people, and to dwell among them.  (1 Jn.4:8-10; Jn.1 :12ff)

1.4              God is Triune; there are within the Godhead three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; and the work of salvation is one in which all three act together, the Father purposing redemption, the Son securing it, and the Spirit applying it.

1.5              God wants His people to know Him so He reveals Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ, His Word and His creations. Knowing God is a matter of grace.

1.6              Spiritual formation means responding to God’s revelation in trust and obedience, faith and worship, prayer and praise, submission and service. Life must be seen and lived in the light of God’s Word.

 

People whom Know God.

2.1              Those who know God have great energy for God.

Those who know God know of a tremendous store of energy that God has given to those who love Him. Prayer releases this energy. This greater our knowledge of God, the greater is the amount of energy available to us. Through prayer, we channel this energy for the furtherance of His Kingdom, in our service and for our physical bodies. Isaiah wrote, “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isa.40:31,31)

 

2.2              Those who know God have great thoughts of God.

The climax of the Bible is when God reveals Himself as our father. In the Old Testament, God reveals Himself to His covenant people as the ‘great I AM’ – the One who is the Reality behind all realities. The One who is consistently Himself. The emphasis is on the holiness of God. In the New Testament, we find that God reveals Himself to His covenant people as their Father. The emphasis in the relationship is one of love.

J.I.Packer wrote,  "You sum up the whole of New Testament teaching in a single phrase, if you speak of it as a revelation of the Fatherhood of the holy Creator. In the same way, you sum up the whole of New Testament religion if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s Holy Father… ‘Father is the Christian name for God’.

Accepting God as our Father throws new light on our relationship with Him.

 

2.3              Those who know God show great boldness for God.

Daniel and his friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego defied the might of the Babylonian Empire by refusing to worship an image of gold. It was not foolhardiness. They knew what they were doing. They have counted the cost. It’s their knowledge of God that gave them the boldness to choose their course of action. The apostles said, “We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). Similarly, Paul said, “Neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I may finish my course in joy”(Acts 20:24).

 

2.4              Those who know God have great contentment in God.

There are no greater peace than those who possess the full assurance that they have known God, and God has known them. This is what

Paul meant in Romans 5:1 – ‘being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’.

I was free, I had received my liberty. I belong to God, not to myself; and to belong to Him is to be free, free of all the anxieties and worries and sorrows that belong to this world, and the love of the things that are in it.

                                                                                                                                 Thomas Merton

                                                                                                                        The Seven Storey Mountain

Means of Knowing God.

3.1                Prayer

3.2                Word

3.3                Knowing God through His Creation

3.4                Worship and Adoration

3.5                Spiritual Disciplines

 

What are Spiritual Disciplines?

Richard Foster has categories the various spiritual disciplines into the inward, outward

and the corporate disciplines. These are the disciplines we can do for our spiritual

formation.

4.1       Inward Disciplines

(a)                Meditation

(b)               Prayer

(c)                Fasting

(d)               Study

4.2              Outward Disciplines

(a)                Simplicity

(b)               Solitude

(c)                Submission

(d)               Service

4.3              Corporate Disciplines

(a)                Confession

(b)               Worship

(c)                Guidance

(d)               Celebration

 

Value of Practicing Spiritual Disciplines

The spiritual disciplines recommended by Richard Foster are within our control in the sense that we can decide whether we want to practice them or not. However, there is another group of spiritual discipline, which is not under our control but is given or even forced upon us by God for our spiritual formation. I have modified the list given by Thomas Gary.

 

5.1       The Spiritual Discipline of Waiting

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,

and in His word I put my hope.

My soul waits for the Lord

more than the watchmen wait for the morning,

more than the watchmen wait for the morning.

 

                                                                           Ps. 130: 5,6 (NIV)

We serve a God whose calendar moves by millennia, not minutes, and who thinks in terms of generations, not seasons.

 

3.2        The Spiritual Discipline of Suffering

Rom. 5:3-5a

Suffering

Perseverance

Perseverance

Character

Character

Hope

Hope

Never Disappointed

 

Spiritual formation occurs when we learn to persevere through suffering, responding with biblical hope.

There is no person on this earth without some trouble or affliction. Who is it then who is most at ease in the midst of suffering? He who is willing to suffer some affliction for God’s sake.

                                                                        Thomas à  Kempis

                                                                                                The Imitation of Christ

Suffering is God’s tool to expose our false belief, and the mess is intended to drive us back to the only sure hope we can have.

 

3.3        The Spiritual Discipline of Persecution

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, (2 Tim. 3:12)

 

The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church

                                                 Tertullian

                                                                                   Third Century Theologian

 

3.4        The Spiritual Discipline of Social Mercy

“He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the LORD (Jer. 22:16) NIV

If thou clothe the naked, thou clothest thyself with righteousness, if thou bring the stranger under thy roof, if thou support the needy, he procures for thee the friendship of saints and eternal habitations. There is no small recompense. Thou sowest earthly things and receive heavenly

                                                                                    Ambrose of Milan

3.5        The Spiritual Discipline of Forgiveness

“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your sins.” (Mk.11:24,25)

 

3.6        The Spiritual Discipline of Mourning

The Bible is written in tears, and to tears it yield its best treasures.

                                                                                      A.W. Tozer

Religious sorrow, mourning, and brokenness of heart are often mentioned in reference to true religion. These are frequently described as those qualities which distinguished true saints and are a significant part of their character: “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). “The Lord is near to them that are of a broken heart and saves such as be of  a contrite spirit”(Psalm 34:18). Thus godly sorrow and brokenness of heart is often referred to as one of the great distinguishing traits of saints that is peculiarly pleasing and acceptable to God. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise”(Psalm 51:17; Isaiah 57:15; 66:2)

Jonathan Edwards

Religious Affections

 

3.7        The Spiritual Discipline of Contentment

Two things I ask of you, O LORD;

do not refuse me before I die;

Keep falsehood and lies far from me;

        give me neither poverty nor riches,

     but give me only my daily bread.

Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you

 and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’

Or I may become poor and steal,

             and so dishonor the name of my God.

                                                 Prov. 30: 7-9 (NIV)

 

Gary Thomas wrote, “Contentment is nothing more than soul rest. It is satisfaction, peace, assurance, and a sense of well-being cultivated by pursuing the right things.”

Contentment

Discontentment

Soul rest

Agitated spirit

Satisfaction

Continual disappointment

Peace

Frustration

Assurance

Anxiety

Sense of well-being

Bitterness

3.8        The Spiritual Discipline of Sacrifice

Christianity was birthed in sacrifice – Jesus died on the cross, crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46). And He is the model for how life is to be lived. Paul tells us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices (Rom.12:1).

On a personal level, sacrifice means this: All of us will eventually come across something we want that is contrary to the will of God. Here is the crossroad of sacrifice: Will we follow our heart, or will we, in childlike faith, surrender and choose to walk in obedience?

4        Role of Holy Spirit and Prayer     

                                                  

5        True and False Self

Once we realize that we have bought into the construct of a false self and have come to identify ourselves, foolishly, with what we do, what we have, and what others think of us, we have made the first step towards freedom.

The false self is certainly an enslaving master. Our whole life’s energies have to be dedicated to the protection and fostering of this mirage of being. Not only that. It is the source of our unhappiness.

Every time you are unhappy, just ask yourself: Why am I unhappy? Is it not because I cannot do something I want to do; I do not have something I want to have; or am I concerned about what others will think? …

The only way we really see ourselves [our true selves] is when we see ourselves reflected back to us from the eyes of one who truly loves us. But the only one who can reflect back to us the fullness of our beauty is God, for we are made in the very image of God.

                                                                                                    Basil Penningon

                                                    True Self/False Self: Unmasking the Spirit Within

 

6        Recommended Reading.

8.1       J. I. Packer,  Knowing God. Great Britain: Hodder and Stoughton, 1973

This is a Christian classic. A classic is a book that everybody knows about, wished that they have read but nobody has read. J.I.Packer, Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology in Regent College, Vancouver, wrote this in 1973 and since then has been widely quoted. He approached the subject of knowing God in a simple, straightforward manner without theological jargons. This makes it easy for most lay people to understand. Packer approaches the subject from a Puritan perspective. I especially like the chapter on ‘These Inward Trials’ which deals with two pitfalls of spiritual formation commonly found in our churches.

8.2              Richard Foster. Celebration of Discipline. New York: HarperCollins,1978

This is still the best book I have read on the spiritual disciplines. There have been a few other evangelical authors who wrote on the spiritual disciplines, notably Donald Whitney and Tan Siang Yang but Richard Foster’s books is still the best and well worth reading. I like the way he has identified the important spiritual disciplines and the suggestions he gave to incorporate these spiritual disciplines in our daily lives.            

7        Personal Reflection Questions.

7.1 Figure 1 shows in a graphic form, the attributes of God. Meditate and pray about each attribute of God, worshipping and giving adoration. Spend time in prayerful silence. Then write a psalm of worship to the Lord.

 

Figure 1

7.2 Take a 30 minutes walk in a park or in your neighbourhood. The intention is to become aware of  our surrounding by using our 5 senses. Pray that the Holy Spirit will make you sensitive to God’s Presence. Then take the walk. Be aware of your surrounding. Feel the warmth of the sun, the soft breeze. Smell the surroundings. See the blue sky. Walk slowly. When your awareness is heightened, praise and give thanks to God for His creation while you continue with your walk. End your walk with a short period of silence and solitude. You can do it alone or walk with another person.

 

 

                                                                                                                                                   Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

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