Promises and Secrets
A website for those not afraid to examine their beliefs, compare them to the real world, and make sure they fit.
We are constantly admonished to welcome Christ into our hearts and get to know Him. In conversations people tell us they know Him and have a personal relationship with Him. What does that mean and how do you do that?
No one can know God completely.
What do you think?
O.K. Time for a confession. I talk to God all the time, but as far as I know, I haven't ever heard back from Him, at least not audibly.
More than that, it seems there is no way to know how to "get personal with Him". So how do we learn about Him?
Not "Christian" enough?
Yeah, yeah, it's all my fault because I'm not listening close enough, don't pray enough, break the wrong rules, eat the wrong thing, hold my mouth wrong, go to the wrong church, or work too hard at it. And you are probably right, as far as it goes. The bottom line is that we know God from what we read in His word about His will, words, and actions, but we cannot say that we have "a personal relationship" with Him. Well, that really isn't true. When He speaks through His word, we listen. That makes the relationship master/slave, or maybe master/servant. You could even look at it as savior/saved, but that is probably not what most people mean when they say "get to know God personally".
We study His word and try to understand it in such a way that one part does not contradict another part because of something we "need" it to say. But how does that make our lives any easier, and more importantly, how does that translate to one of these syrupy "personal relationships" that the pastors speak about?
Knowing about Him isn't enough
Let me try to explain it this way. Because of a lot of media coverage, we know of the man Donald Trump. If we listen to the media, we think he is a jerk. However, listening to him, watching his actions and reactions, and following what he is actually doing, we get a fuller picture of who he really is instead of who we are told he is.
We know that he is trying to correct some pretty horrendous problems we have in this nation. We know that his personality is one that will strike back when he is attacked. He is not one to mince words when he thinks someone is lying or doing something illegal. We know he loves his family and includes them in his life. We know that he is a good businessman and very successful. He speaks about things we must do to save this country, so some of us do our part by following his instructions the best we can. In a way that matters, we know Donald Trump. Would you say that we have a personal relationship with Donald Trump? Of course not.
But wait. Let's say that you felt that, because of all the reporting on Trump, you felt that you did have a relationship with him. With which one of him would you have that relationship - the jerk reported in the news or the hero trying to save America? The point is, there is no way to know exactly who someone is by believing what you are told. You must know that person.
"I know what He meant, but..."
That is the bottom line of this dilemma. How does being obedient to a universal set of instructions constitute a relationship? Now, God has stated in the past that if we follow His commands, we will be His people. I am told (by people, not the Bible) to "let Jesus into my heart" and He will solve all my problems, everyone will love me, I can have anything I want, any time I want it (John 14:13
13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
, Mark 11:24
24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
). There are an awful lot of "me's" and "I's" in there.
Now, not to seem to be disrespecting Jesus, did He really say that we could get anything we asked for so that the Father would be glorified by the Son? What part of Jesus helping me to win the lottery would be glorifying the Father, as in the second half of John 14:13 above? And what was He speaking about in John 14:12
12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
, right before the "magic" statement? Does this sound like He was giving us the keys to The Bank, or was He putting us to work at getting to know what the Father wants?
What about the Father's will?
Have you ever tried this with the "rub the magic lamp" philosophy of the average believer? Well, if you didn't get that for which you prayed right away, did Jesus lie to us? Or are you one of those who say, "You just don't have enough faith!", or more to the point in today's world, "You didn't give a large enough gift to the church!" There is one thing that people forget that goes along with every statement that Jesus made - the most important thing we can do should be done in the will of the Father (Matthew 7:21
21"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."
) and done for the Lord and our neighbors - not for ourselves.
The Father's will - only for the Israelites?
Is your life in line with the will of the Father? No, not what your heart or your pastor tells you, but based on the Bible. As contrary as it is to popular beliefs, most "Christians" today violate the direct commands of God, even admit it when confronted, yet believe that He doesn't care and that they can ask Him or Jesus for personal things and expect to get them. Their pastors encourage them to do so, even going as far as joining them. Yeah, the commands they break are from the Old Testament - the Sabbath, Easter, Christmas, unclean foods - but if you break those, where do you then stop? Adultery, incest, theft, murder? Those are Old Testament as well, but most say that they were only given to the Israelites. Does that mean that God has no will for the Gentiles?
To listen to the pastors of today, I get the feeling that I am supposed to be going into my closet and asking Jesus to pay my bills or fix my hurt feelings or heal my cancer (no, I don't have cancer), and that I am not a real Christian unless that for which I asked actually happens. Baloney. There we go with the "I's" again. So much preaching in churches today is about how our lives will be so much better if we just do what the pastor says. The center of the sermon is "self" instead of the will of God. God chooses those He wants to accomplish things for Him - we don't tell Him. (John 9:2-3
2 His disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3 Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened that the works of God would be displayed in him..."
Obey God, listen to the Spirit, love, and act for others
So how do you really get to know God? We are told in the Bible that it works like this: God spoke to men directly and through the word they have written down for us. Whatever He wanted us to know, He told them and they passed it on to us. Some say that this really wasn't from God, but just what other people want us to do so they can control us. Well, since the Bible was written over a 1500 year period, and everything flows smoothly from one end to the other, it is hard to believe there were sinister intentions by any of the authors, much less all of them. And since it is apparently a message to us from God, we should either do what it says, or ignore it at our own peril. Does that mean that I have a personal relationship with Moses, Joshua, or David - other than fellow servant, that is?
How about some examples of requests that God granted in the Bible. Were the wishes for people's wants or in line with His will?
In Nehemiah 1
1 The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah:
In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, 2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.
3 They said to me, "Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire."
4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. 5 Then I said:
"Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's family, have committed against you. 7 We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
8 "Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, 'If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 9 but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.'
10 "They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man."
, we find the people of Israel in great trouble and disgrace. But, did Nehemiah ask to win the lottery? Nehemiah knew from scripture the nature of God with relation to His people. It looks to me like He prayed by God's rules, and asked Artaxerxes to release him to be put to work for Israel. I wouldn't call that a "personal relationship", but he definitely knew how God would react.
How about Solomon? Everyone remembers that he received Wisdom from God. Was that a result of Solomon asking for whatever he wanted? Look at 2 Chronicles 1:1-10
1 Solomon son of David established himself firmly over his kingdom, for the Lord his God was with him and made him exceedingly great.
2 Then Solomon spoke to all Israel - to the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds, to the judges and to all the leaders in Israel, the heads of families - 3 and Solomon and the whole assembly went to the high place at Gibeon, for God's tent of meeting was there, which Moses the Lord's servant had made in the wilderness. 4 Now David had brought up the ark of God from Kiriath Jearim to the place he had prepared for it, because he had pitched a tent for it in Jerusalem. 5 But the bronze altar that Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, had made was in Gibeon in front of the tabernacle of the Lord; so Solomon and the assembly inquired of him there. 6 Solomon went up to the bronze altar before the Lord in the tent of meeting and offered a thousand burnt offerings on it.
7 That night God appeared to Solomon and said to him, "Ask for whatever you want me to give you."
8 Solomon answered God, "You have shown great kindness to David my father and have made me king in his place. 9 Now, Lord God, let your promise to my father David be confirmed, for you have made me king over a people who are as numerous as the dust of the earth. 10 Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?"
, and you will see that Solomon was being a good king. Then God asked Solomon what he wanted. What did Solomon ask for? The fulfillment of the promise that God had made to David - nothing for himself.
Only once that I can recall did a man in the Old Testament ask for something for himself - Hezekiah in Isaiah 38:2-3
2 Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, 3 "Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes." And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
. But he didn't really ask for it, he just complained as though he didn't deserve to die yet. After the Lord told him to get his affairs in order because he was going to die, he wept and "whined", so the Lord gave him 15 more years (Isaiah 38:4-5
4 Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: 5 "Go and tell Hezekiah, 'This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life.' "
). But then, what did he do with the extra years? He messed up the future of his nation and his children. He was selfish to the point where his son Manasseh was scheduled by God to come in and take over, but Manasseh remained under the curse from God due to his father's sins.
The glory of God
As for the New Testament, there were some faithful men and women who asked the Lord for personal items. Usually, these were for the life of a child or the removal of blindness or some disease that prevented them from having a full, meaningful life. While the benefit to the person was great for them, these healings also advanced the glory of God, the second part of the promise from Christ in John 14:13
13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
and 1 John 3:22
22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.
. This second "qualification" is often overlooked when people quote these verses, leaving open the possibility that they can ask for a new boat or to win the lottery. Not that those things can't happen, but there must be real faith behind the prayer and some demonstration of the glory of God.
Real relationships with others are also with God
I have a very good friend named Dale. We meet often during the week to discuss the Bible and share personal problems, triumphs, things we have learned, things we like to do, things we don't like to do, we play pool, shoot guns, and used to have an occasional beer together (before my heart attack). Now, sometimes we are happy, sometimes angry, confused, lazy, energetic, and a whole list of things - in short, we share the human condition.
That is a relationship. If we try to set too many rules for the other one to follow, we jeopardize that relationship. We let each one act on his own, and if we are uncomfortable with them, we can end the relationship. This is not what the pastors mean when they speak of "personal relationships" with Jesus. In fact, it seems that the more uncomfortable we are with our personal conduct, the better the "relationship" with Jesus becomes for us.
Praise God for their results
Don't get me wrong, the pastors and lay people at the churches say they prayed, felt the Spirit move in their lives, and received an immediate answer to prayer. My wife says that she prays for clear weather here in Washington state during the winter so she can take the dog for a walk, then comes home praising the Lord because it happened. I cannot claim that direct result from my prayers. Maybe it's spending too much time studying and not enough asking for the Lord to save the starving children or some other worthy cause. However, my life is so blessed that it would sound ungrateful asking for something for me.
My prayers are for understanding Him, asking for Him to help people we know in need when to do so is beyond my help, asking for President Trump to be able to convince people that he is out to actually help this country, and things like that. I also pray for Obama (shudder) and his family to get to know God because, from what we saw while he was President, they seemed far from Him.
The trouble is that there's no big flash of light to tell people about when the prayers are answered. These prayers are just added to those of others and the results are left to the Lord. My prayers aren't something that should come between the Lord and what His plans are for others - or even for me. So, I try to listen - not just with my ears, but with all my senses. Ears when someone calls for help, eyes when I see someone struggling, and with my heart when I feel that someone needs a friend, even if they don't say it out loud. Maybe it's wrong, but that's the "relationship" I seek with Him.
Following His way
There is an underlying need for us to connect with Jesus in our desires to be what He wants us to be. He put that into words we can understand - "Love your enemy", "If you love Me, keep My commandments.", forgive those who wrong you, share with others, spread the gospel, and many others. When did He ever say anything other than "Act like Me!"? He called the apostles "Friends", because they went though rough things with Him. Again, we can act like Trump, but does that translate into a "personal relationship" with him? We can go through the same types of trials, except for the billionaire part, but that only makes us understand Him better, not get acquainted with him.
For those of us who pay attention to who Jesus really is, we will have a relationship with Him when this is all over. But until then, listen, pray, and learn all we can about Him and the Father, and obey. Only then can we hope to really know anything of Him in this life.
"He is in my heart"
Now, without being too irreverent here, some tell me that they know Jesus intimately because He "is in their heart". These are often the same people that tell me that the Jesus they know will never send someone to Hell for eternity, when even He says that He will. They say that He will not judge harshly, when even He says that He will. They say that they have Him to guide them and tell them when something they are about to do is a sin, yet they then immediately do something directly against His declared will. They claim to be in the will of the Father, but then disobey His direct commandments.
When someone describes the "Jesus" in their hearts as someone who will not do what the Jesus of the Bible clearly claimed that He will do, who is really in their heart?
How do you tell for sure?
Of course, we cannot say whether or not He is in their heart, but we can tell by their words and actions whether they are "acting as Jesus would" or following the will of God and His Son. Remember Luke 6:46
46 "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?"
? If a person is doing not just one, but many, things that God and Jesus said not to do, is the real Jesus "in their heart", or some softer version of Him that fits their "self"? In the words of Jesus from John 17:3
3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
, we need to make sure that the God we know is the real, true one according to His words, not ours.
The only way to say for sure is to know the word of God, and then follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit based on that foundation of the word. Then we can call Him 'Lord, Lord', because we are doing what He said.
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