God, our Very Special Friend…

The further I went to university, I found myself “specializing” in particular aspects of speech communication.  That is just what happens when one begins advanced study of a subject; it is the common pattern.  What got me to graduate school is the feeling that I did not know much about the process of making a speech to a group of people and my college asked me to speech communication.  I felt unqualified.  The further I went in graduate study, I began to move away from that type of communication to one-to-one communication [called interpersonal communication].   I did not get dismayed.  I could see that interpersonal communication is extremely useful, whereas speech communication knowledge is important when you know you are going to make a speech.  Interpersonal communication is used many times in a day, sometimes all day [depending on your life circumstances]. 

One aspect of this special type of interaction is the making of friends.  Yes, believe it or not, communication scholars have studied this process.   They have made it a “thing” to study, a process that can be broken down into phases.

When Packer writes in Chapter Three about knowing God, he compares knowing God to knowing a house or knowing a book [more of a contrast then a comparison].   Knowledge of inanimate objects is real but those kinds of objects don’t change quickly and of course they don’t think.  If you know a house, it is probably not going to change much and you can go back to it and you can navigate in it again.   Unless a book goes into a new, revised edition or is physically destroyed, your knowledge of it is still relevant.   You have gained something from it and you can share with others what the book has taught you.  If the book is not physically destroyed, you can go back to it and consult it or reread it.

When he shifts his attention to “higher life forms” such as a horse, things get much more complex.   Certainly horses can change their behavior and they often do under certain circumstances.   It is said that to “know” a horse is to spend so much time with it that you begin to develop a history with the animal; you can predict what it will do based on your time spent with it, your knowledge of its behavior.   This probably could hold true for all animals–cats, snakes, turkeys etc. etc.

But let’s turn our attention to people, the most complex of creatures and the most studied when it comes to communication and making friends.  There is a common communication theory to explain friendship that breaks down friendship into two factors—breadth and depth.  Breadth refers to the amount of time that you know a person, the longer you have known them, the more “history” you have with them and the more you can determine their patterns of behavior.  Depth refers to the degree that they have shared private information with you.  “Close” friends are those who have shared.   You can have breadth with the clerk at your local grocery if you have been going there for a number of years and they check your groceries.  You don’t have depth with them because they are not sharing their private information with you and you are not sharing back.  They are merely providing a service.  Depth is special.  It is a decision to share private information with someone else, information that not everyone knows.  When you share this information, you calculate how much you can share and you hope that the other person is open to sharing with you.  Sharing too much private information too quickly can ruin a relationship [i.e. the TMI phrase, too much information].  Not sharing enough can stall a relationship.  When you share and it is appropriate, you trust another person to not share that information with others.  In short, a trust bond is created and the chance for a friendship is real if that bond is honored.

Packer writes about a friendship with a person with an elevated status [he calls it rank, intellectual distinction, professional skill or personal sanctity].  For example maybe the “friend” is the Prince of Wales.  You would like to get to know him but since you feel inferior, the offer of friendship is for him to decide.   If the Prince does not want to be friends, you may feel disappointment but due to the status difference, you will not likely complain.

This type of friendship is not ordinary since the status of the participants is not equal.  Imagine the Prince needing to share confidence with you, to spend time with you in mutual activities, the Prince wants to help you and he expresses his need for your expertise.  Packer writes this: “you would feel enormously privileged.”

He says this may be the closest we can illustrate knowing God using human examples.  Packer uses a verse from Jeremiah, “Let him that glories, glory in this, that he understands and knows me,” for knowing me is a relationship calculated to thrill a person’s heart.

Using God as our example now, what happens if God comes to you through His Word and talks to you through the words in His Holy Scripture?  You have read the Bible before but now you have a serious need and that need has created a deep understanding.  You begin to understand your sins, your guilt, your weakness, your blindness and your follies.  You understand yourself to be hopeless and you cry out to God for forgiveness.  He is your superior and you need Him for living a better life.

You come to realize that you can listen to God, as you begin to understand that He is opening His heart to you, making friends with you as you begin to love Him more than you like your sin nature.  Packer likens your benefit here as the benefit Joseph received from Pharaoh when he took Joseph from the jail cell to become his prime minister.  Everyone on earth is Satan’s prisoner until you realize that God is offering the keys to your cell.  Trust in him and serve Him.  Your life will be transformed. 

You become a servant but think whose servant you are.  You belong to God.  Knowing the Prince of Wales is one thing but knowing God is so much better.  Packer writes “How much more should it be a matter of pride and glorying to know and serve the Lord of heaven and earth!” [37].

Let’s say the offer of friendship is not from the Prince of Wales.  Let’s say the offer is from God.  What does the activity of knowing God entail?  First, reading God’s Word and listening to the words through our Holy Spirit.  Not only reading but receiving His Word.   Second, taking time to pay attention to God’s nature and character.  His Word reveals that.  Third, accepting His invitation to act on His behalf and doing what he requests.  Fourth, recognizing and rejoicing in the love that He has shown in thus approaching you and drawing you into this divine fellowship.

Certainly knowledge of things is good, knowledge of animals is good, developing friendships is important and if one is so privileged, having a friend who is a “royal” is special.  But nothing, I repeat nothing is more special that knowing God.  That is the point that Packer is trying to make.

This is so special and yet it is in reach of all us humans, to give our heart to The Lord and dedicate our lives in His Service.

I am reminded of the classic hymn penned in 1855 by the Irishman Joseph Scriven.  I close with the lyrics here.

What a friend we have in Jesus,

All our sins and griefs to bear!

What a privilege to carry

Everything to God in prayer!

Oh, what peace we often forfeit,

Oh, what needless pain we bear,

All because we do not carry

Everything to God in prayer!

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Don’t All Christians Need A Purpose for Life?

I have spent a lifetime in the classroom*.  I have assigned literally thousands of reading assignments.  I have asked countless questions of students about classroom subject matter.  Over the years I grew accustomed to students who weren’t quite prepared for attending class. Experienced teachers will tell you that when you ask a class a question and students have no clue what the answer is, you will see the tops of their heads.  Eye contact is minimal.  Some may start a frantic search in their books as if the answer will magically jump out at them.  Others will just find something to look at on the desktop.  They can’t come up with the correct answer; they are not prepared.   They are not familiar with the subject matter.

What happens when you ask tough questions of Christians, you know maybe questions they should be able to answer.

Here’s an important question.  As a Christian, what is the purpose of your life here on earth?

Let’s say you have a truly “prepared” class of Christians and they come up with some answers.  “To bring glory to the Lord!” says one. [Good sounding answer but most teachers would want a definition of glory].  “My purpose is to live a righteous life.”  [That’s pretty good if you know what living a righteous life entails].  “My purpose is to run the race, all the way to the finish line.” [Sounds like Paul, so I guess it must be pretty acceptable].  “Share my faith with others.”  “My purpose is to live by faith.” [Vague answers seem to be very popular in this Christian class].  “My goal is to die to self and learn to love others.”  “Grow in my knowledge of The Word, learn to pray and attend worship with other Christians.”  “Learn to love God more than sin.”

Wow this class has lots of answers but none really agree with the purpose of life that J.I. Packer says we should have.

To know God…

Big shocker…

That is the title of his book.

How does he defend his answer?

Scripture…

John 17:3 says: “This is eternal life: that we may know You [referring to God], the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.”  We all want eternal life and the way this scripture is worded, it sounds like achieving eternal life is a commendable goal.  Knowledge of God is the way to attain that.

Jeremiah 9: 23-24 gets even more particular:  “This is what the Lord says: let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows Me [God].”

Packer says this about Hosea 6:6.  “What, of all states God ever sees man in, gives God most pleasure?”  These simple words: “I desired . . . the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”

Packer feels that knowing God provides a foundation for the Christian’s life.  Knowing God can shape a Christian’s life and give one a goal.  He goes even further.  Knowing God can give one a sense of priorities and a “scale of values” [Packer, 34].

We all know of individuals who are at a loss for how to live their life; they have no meaningful reason for living.  Packer invokes the absurdist, existential philosopher Albert Camus who wrote that life is merely a bad joke [maybe this truly is the attitude of the one who is “at a loss”].  Of course there are many people who live like that, hoping to find some meaning but meaning and goals for living elude them.  Interestingly, he also cites Marie Antoinette who was so bored with life that she declared that “nothing tastes”.

That’s sad…

Packer writes that Christians who know God don’t have these problems.  “Once you become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know God, most of life’s problems fall into place of their own accord.”

Maybe Packer is right; living life needs a big objective, something which captures our imagination, something that “lays hold of our allegiance.”  Knowing God does this.  “What higher, more exalted, and more compelling goal can there be than to know God?”

Here is when he does what I would do if I was his teacher.  He asks the follow-up question, but what does knowing God mean?  I like his metaphor of “having a check is not much good if you don’t have a way to cash it.” Knowing God is meaningless if it does not actually “mean” something.  It seems that he recognizes that “knowing God” is just another vague answer that Christians can give to the purpose of life question.

It is…

Is knowing God an emotion, a shiver down the back, a floating feeling, exhilaration?  Do you hear a voice?  Do you see a vision?  What happens when one knows God?

Look at the aforementioned answers to the question, what is the purpose of the Christian’s life?  Every answer sounds good but are people being fooled when they say “bring glory,” “live a righteous life,” “share faith,” or “die to self.”

What about people who say that their goal is to know God?  Are they being fooled too?   Packer says yes; many declare that they know God but they really don’t.

Knowing God needs discussion; in the next post, he will begin to discuss what knowing God involves.

Maybe if I was his teacher, I would be satisfied. Particulars!

We will see…

He is adamant that this is our purpose.  Let me quote the opening words of Chapter Three and you make a judgement about his seriousness.

“What were we made for?  To know God.”

“What aim should we set for ourselves in life?   To know God.”

“What is the ‘eternal life’ that Jesus gives?  Knowledge of God.”

Sounds serious to me…

If Packer was in my class, he would be looking right at me when I ask my question about the purpose of a Christian’s life here on earth. I would not see the top of his head and he would be saying “to know God.”

*Thirty-seven years as a full-time teacher; five years as a part-time teacher;  ten years as Sunday school teacher.

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Great Faith Begins…with Knowing That We Don’t Know…

As J.I. Packer closes chapter two of Knowing God, he is ready to share his first steps toward knowing God.  He has already delineated four pieces of evidence that someone knows God.

  1. People who know God have great energy for God.
  2. People who know God have great thoughts of God.
  3. People who know God have great boldness for God.
  4. People who know God have great contentment for God.

Now what must we do to begin to know God?  What must we do to begin to show some of this evidence?

I have always felt that I know some things, but I certainly don’t claim to know a lot.  That has kept me hungry to learn new ideas and I have always liked that.  Packer’s first step to knowing God is humbling because so many Christians feel like they know enough about God already—thank you very much.   He says the first thing we must do is “recognize how much we lack knowledge of God.”  He has some very demanding words in this regard.   Christians just think they know about God because they have declared they are Christians.  Christians think they know a lot about God because they have a lot of gifts [from The Lord].  Christians think they know about God because they have a lot of responsibilities in the church.  To Packer these things matter very little.

To Packer, it is how we pray that counts; it is what is going on in our hearts.  Here is what he writes to describe our knowledge: “Many of us, I suspect have no idea how impoverished we are at this level” [Packer, 32].

Ok, that seems harsh…

To know God, I think I have to admit I really don’t know Him at all, or at least I have to admit that my knowledge is very limited.  Socrates supposedly wrote “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”   That seems to be what Packer is proposing; if you want to learn more about the Savior, admit that you know little about The Savior.  Maybe my prayer life is lacking; maybe my heart is not totally dedicated to God…

Maybe…

Ok…

Before God became the incarnate Jesus Christ, He certainly manifested Himself on earth.  God shows up in the Old Testament book  of Daniel in the form of an Angel walking with Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego in the fiery furnace.  The fourth man in the furnace was their Savior; it was God.  When Daniel was in the lion’s den, who shut the lion’s mouths?  It was God again as an Angel.   Of course there are many more signs of God in the Old Testament but these two examples serve to illustrate God’s pre-incarnate manifestations.

Of course when Jesus was on earth He invited ordinary people to be with Him.  What was the purpose?  So they might know Him.  My reading of the Gospels is that Jesus was a very all-inclusive person.

Now that we don’t have The Savior on earth, what are we left with?   Some people today acknowledge Jesus Christ was a good man, a great teacher, or even a prophet of God. These things are definitely true of Jesus, but they do not fully define who He truly is.  Calling Him good man, great teacher or prophet will not be enough for us to prove that we truly know God.  We must believe that Jesus is God in the flesh, God in human form.  We must believe that God came to earth to teach us, heal us, correct us, forgive us—and die for us.  Jesus Christ is God, the Creator, the sovereign Lord.

That’s a lot to believe about a Man who came and now no longer walks the earth.

Some don’t have the faith to do this; thus they use the titles good man, great teacher or prophet of God.  The just can’t make that “leap of faith.”   Maybe they don’t see the need for a Savior.  They are doing just fine on their own.

Surely Christians should recognize the need for a Savior to battle the sin nature that lives within us all.  Otherwise how are we going to live life with that?  We need to admit that we need help.  We need belief in Jesus Christ.  It is not about just going to church, performing rituals in worship and being careful not to commit certain sins.  It is about giving ourselves to Jesus; we know we have to have forgiveness for sins we have committed, sins we are committing and sins we will commit in the future.  That forgiveness is what Jesus offers to us.  Christianity is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Accepting Jesus as your personal Savior means placing your own personal faith and trust in Him. No one is saved by the faith of others. No one is forgiven by doing certain deeds. The only way to be saved is to personally accept Jesus as your Savior, trusting in His death as the payment for your sins and His resurrection as your guarantee of eternal life.

Traditionally this is what is expected of Christians.

What is Packer talking about in his book?  “The Lord Jesus Christ is now absent from us in body, but spiritually it makes no difference; still we may find and know God through seeking and finding Jesus’ company…for the promise is that when we seek Him with all our heart, we shall surely find Him.”

“The promise is that when we seek Him with all our heart, we shall surely find Him—who can stand before the world and testify that they have known God.”

Maybe it all starts with admitting how much we don’t know…

Maybe it all starts with seeking Him with…

“all our heart?”

We will find out in upcoming discussions…

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Contentment…With God?

Contentment…

Today it is hard to find anyone who claims that they are truly content.  The definition of contentment is the state of being mentally or emotionally satisfied with things as they are.

Most of the time, many people report that they don’t seem to be content; they want more…

More things, more money, more influence… 

The list of wants can go on forever.

It seems that the culture of America fuels this constant desire for more as we see people who have more than we have and we imagine that they are happier than we are.  You know…  If I had their new Range Rover, I would be happy.   If I could win the lottery like they did, I would be content.  I need to not just work for the company, I need to own the company so I can tell everyone else what to do…then I will be so happy.

But when one considers this type of contentment, it is based on what we have or what we don’t have.  The problem is if we live life thinking about what we lack all the time, we will never have enough, but J.I. Packer* is discussing the idea of contentment on a much higher plane.  Are you content with your God?  Packer writes about this as a sign that you really know God: “Those who know God have great contentment in God.”

What does he mean “contentment in God.”

Here is what he says: “There is no peace like the peace of those whose minds are possessed with full assurance that they have known God, and God has known them, and that this relationship guarantees God’s favor to them in life, through death and on forever” [Packer, 31].

Since Packer has referenced the book of Daniel and the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego so much, where does this special type of contentment appear in that Biblical episode?  Daniel and his three friends decide they can’t worship the image of Nebuchadnezzar after they are told they must.  They know they will be thrown in the fiery furnace.  Packer says their reply is a classic case of men of God showing their contentment with God. 

“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.  But if He does not, we want you to know, O king that we will not serve your gods” [from the book of Daniel].

Instead of striving to be content about the possessions they have or don’t have, these three men are concerned about much more.  They are content that God will be there to save them from death.   They are content to put their lives in God’s hands.

They have the greatest of faith.

Some would consider this situation and think, what is the likelihood that I will find myself having to declare my faith and that declaration will cost me my life?  Being threatened with a fiery furnace is pretty dramatic, pretty extreme…

But Packer says we all are faced with a serious truth when we declare that we love God and we want Him in our lives, when we are “justified” through our faith.  That justification is not something that we need to take for granted.  When we make our declaration of love for God,  we are “made right” with our Savior; our declaration is based on our faith that God will wipe away our sins and we are worthy.  There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because we know we will not be able to move forward in life with sinless behavior.   We have to have faith that He will be there for us when hard times come, when temptations arise, when we do anything that separates us from the love of Christ.  We are no longer just living life for ourselves; we are living life with God as His child.   We are heirs of His kingdom; He will cover us with His love as we live out our lives.  That is the faith that we show.

Well, you and I are not facing a fiery furnace.

What we are facing is life with all its ups and downs.  Here is the big question.

Are we content that God is going to be there for us?

Packer writes:  “There is no peace like the peace of those whose minds are possessed with full assurance that they have known God, and God has known them, and that this relationship guarantees God’s favor to them in life, through death and on forever.” 

Packer quotes a hymn by Richard Baxter to summarize his thoughts on this matter.   When you think about Baxter’s lyrics, he just may have it right:

“Lord, it belongs not to my care

Whether I die or live;

To love and serve Thee is my share,

And this Thy grace must give.

If life be long, I will be glad,

That I may long obey;

If short, yet why should I be sad

To soar to endless day?”

Not dramatic….

Just life…

The life of the Christian…

A life of faith…

A life of knowing God…

*J.I. Packer, Knowing God

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Be Bold and Show You Know God

The concert was coming very soon and rehearsals were not going smoothly.   I am in the choir and I was supposed to perform with about thirty-nine other singers.  My prayers about the upcoming performance were simple; “Lord, help me to sing my part well; help me to make a solid contribution.”   A few days before the concert, I bumped into the choir director and I wanted to pay her a compliment because I admire the work she does.   It came out this way; “You are not afraid to stick your neck out.”

What will happen if the choir performance flops?  I along with thirty-nine other singers will be ashamed.  What will happen to the choir director if the choir performance flops?  Well, that is a whole other level of shame, much beyond my “pay grade.”

I guess that is why my compliment came out the way it did.  She is the director of a community choir; she is not paid to do her job.  I am guessing here, but maybe she directs the choir because she feels our community needs a good choir.   Maybe she just has a pure love of choir music.  Maybe she has a gift of knowing how to direct singers, yes maybe she has a God-given talent for directing choirs.

Now her story seems to relate well to J.I. Packer’s third sign about knowing God: those who know God show great boldness for God.   Packer refers to the story of Daniel and his friends and he says “they were men who stuck their necks out.”   Even though my choir director would probably not place herself in the category of the Old Testament character Daniel, she is not afraid to take on difficult tasks.  The music she picks for the choir is not easy and the risk of performing it poorly is very real.  She takes good singers and makes them better singers, she instructs all of us how to sing the music, she demands that we perform the music up to a high standard.

Packer says of Daniel and his friends that they were not foolhardy.  They knew what the risks were; they counted the cost.  Then Packer says this; they acted anyhow, knowing that unless God miraculously intervened, the outcome would be very negative.  However, they did not doubt.   They knew God would intervene and He did.

King Nebuchadnezzar set up a golden image in the plain of Dura and commanded that all his officials bow down before it. All who failed to do so would be thrown into a blazing furnace. Certain officials informed the king that the three Jewish youths Hanania, Mishael, and Azaria, who bore the Babylonian names Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and whom the king had appointed to high office in Babylon, were refusing to worship the golden statue. The three were brought before Nebuchadnezzar, where they informed the king that their God would be with them. Nebuchadnezzar commanded that they be thrown into the fiery furnace, heated seven times hotter than normal, but when the king looked he saw four figures walking unharmed in the flames, the fourth “like a son of God.” Seeing this, Nebuchadnezzar brought the youths out of the flames and promoted them to high office, decreeing that anyone who spoke against their God should be torn limb from limb.

This story illustrates what Packer says about people who truly know God.  People who know God are not afraid to make a stand; they know their position is correct and they are loyal to God.  I was blessed this past year to be in the presence of a woman who literally seems to call God into the room when she prays.  When she intercedes for others, I feel the power of God as she puts problems before the Lord and petitions God to help those in need.   She has such strength.   One day she got very emotional about a life situation that was very much unsettled.  Here is what she said [I will never forget it].  She said “God says ‘I can’; God says ‘I will”; God says ‘I have’”.  

He has already done it.  She has that much faith. She knows God will act.  God will bring the person she is praying for out of the fiery furnace.  

Man can have doubts, but she chose to obey God.   Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego knew other people would see their actions differently, in fact Daniel’s three friends were alone in a sea of people who were willing to bow down to the golden statue, but they did not care to go with the crowd.  They accepted the challenge of their faith.  They acted, knowing they would be put in the furnace.

God will act through you if you let Him.  In fact, God is in constant pursuit of men and women who have hearts for Him, people who are not afraid of a challenge.  Packer writes, “nothing in their recorded words suggest that Daniel and his three friends knew what was going to happen or, in the final analysis cared.  It was clear to them as to what they personally had to do, and that was enough for them.  By this test also we may measure our own knowledge of God.”

Showing great boldness…

A willingness to stick our necks out…

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The Second Sign…

In the previous post, I commented on J.I. Packer’s idea that if we know God we will have the energy to pray to Him.  It is more than that: we have a need to pray for God’s cause, whether in a public way like the Old Testament figure Daniel or in a less public way.  He says “if there is in us little energy for such prayer, then this is a sure sign that as yet, we scarcely know our God.”

Are there other signs that we know God [or maybe don’t know Him]?

Packer says “those who know God have great thoughts of God.”

Today, we all get so distracted by the everyday petty things of life.   I may offend some readers but let me use some contemporary examples.   We live in volatile economic times, with some people doing very well but with many others struggling to make ends meet.  For people who are struggling to pay the bills, the need for money is not a petty matter, but for people who are not struggling, spending money and elevating lifestyle can be all-consuming, as one’s standing in one’s peer group is all that matters.   Another example is social media.  Social media consumes so much time.   I am amazed at the number of times that some people put their private concerns on social platforms; do they really have that much time?  People who study this phenomenon say it is all about sharing your life with others, but it can also be the idea that others are truly interested in your life when maybe they are not.  It doesn’t matter, we share anyway.  The last idea is politics.  We live in a divided country; it is reflected in our government leaders not being able to compromise and accomplish anything on a national level.  Television is full of breaking news of this politician said this and this politician said that, most often the comments are disparaging.  Instead of coming together to find common ground, it seems the popular thing to do is to insult the other person and create distance between one group of human beings and another group.

Let’s go back to Packer’s sign that we know God and really think about it:  “those who know God have great thoughts of God.”  

As a people, are we exhibiting “great thoughts of God”?  I get so frustrated that the things that keep us from doing His work are some of these everyday petty things of life.  Economics may create class differences but does that matter to God?   Social media may preoccupy us but should our time be used for better things?  Politics may cause us to fear “the other side” but in the mind of God, does He see other sides?

Consider this scripture from Daniel, Chapter 2: “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to Him. It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding.  It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with Him.”

God is wise, all wisdom resides in Him.  God is mighty, all power resides with Him.  God is all truthful, all truth resides with Him.  Yet we act as if what we do does not matter.  We seem to forget that how our life unfolds is part of His plan.  Yet we thwart His efforts to give us our best life.  He wants us to think the big thoughts about who He really is and He wants us to live according to those big thoughts.

Packer writes “He knows and foreknows all things, and His foreknowledge is foreordination; He therefore will have the last word, both in world history and in the destiny of every man; his kingdom and righteousness will triumph in the end, for neither men nor angels shall be able to thwart Him” [Packer, 30].

The great thoughts we have about God matter.  How we think about God directs our prayers.  How we think about God directs our lives.  How we think about God helps us to see that we are all His people, moving forward to be the best we can be. 

“Does this tremendous sense of His holy majesty, His moral perfection and His gracious faithfulness keep us humble and dependent, awed and obedient as it did Daniel?  By this test, too, we may measure how much or how little we know God” [30].

Energy for prayer?   Now having great thoughts of God?

Are we lacking?

Do we really know God?

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“A sure sign that … we scarcely know our God.”

J.I. Packer has already stated that when people truly know God, they are not worried about their losses in life.  They also do not bear their burdens like crosses, feeling their plight is unpleasant and trudging on, like loyal soldiers wearing their maladies like badges of honor.  No,  people who truly know God are focused on gains so much that “losses and crosses” are banished from their minds.

But are there more signs that a person knows God?

Packer says yes and one sign has to do with “energy.”

An energy that is centered around God.

That energy is concentrated around the need to pray.

Let’s look for an example of this kind of person in Scripture.  The most obvious example of a devout man of God is found in Daniel.  Daniel was strong and he made a public stand for his God, a public stand centered on his need for prayer.  Daniel and three of his friends were carried off to Babylon following the capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.  They were chosen for their attractiveness and intellect, the idea being that they would be incorporated into Babylonian culture, providing an obvious sign to Israel that the intermingling of cultures was a good thing.

Packer points to Daniel 11: 32, the Scripture that states that “people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.”   Certainly Daniel and his friends knew the strength of God in the midst of an ungodly environment.  Time and time again, they stood for their God, despite Nebuchadnezzar’s effort to change them.  The king wanted them to eat “palace” food but Daniel insisted on a vegetarian diet.  This was a simple protest, but it made a clear statement about their devout lifestyle.

Eventually the king realized that Daniel received wisdom from God, wisdom that surpassed the court magicians and enchanters.   Instead of turning to his usual people for interpretation of his dreams, the King turned to Daniel for interpretation. 

Daniel began to find favor in this new environment, being appointed to a position of high authority by a succeeding king Darius.  The more Daniel was asked to turn away from God, the more he made it very clear that he was not going to do that.  When all the people in the kingdom were asked to suspend prayer for one month, Daniel went to an open window to pray so all could see that he was defying the king’s edict.    Darius has no choice but to condemn Daniel to death and we see that God stands by Daniel in the lion’s den and the fiery furnace.   He was true to his God, so God is true to him.

Many of us know of Daniel’s exploits and we admire Daniel’s courage in the face of adversity.  He knew that God’s truth and honor were being challenged and he did not let this pass.  He made a public stand despite his own great personal risk.

How many of us would make such a stand?

Packer is realistic.  He states that few Christians are ever in such a public position as Daniel, a position where others would look at our actions and be inspired by the choices we would make, but he does not let the rest of us “off the hook.”  He states that there is fruit from a true knowledge of God and that fruit is the “energy to pray for God’s cause…energy that can only find an outlet and relief of inner tension when channeled into such prayer—the more knowledge, the more energy.”

 Our culture might be as ungodly as the Babylonian culture.   Let’s be honest; it is more ungodly.  It is obvious that instead of following God’s commandments, many in our culture have gone their own way, revealing that God is not very high on their list of priorities if on their list at all.   Christians live in the midst of this culture and what do they do to change it?  Do I daresay that many of us do nothing.

My Sunday school class has embarked on an extensive study of prayer and we have an extensive list of excuses not to pray.   “I don’t know the words.”  “I am too busy.”  “The preacher does all my praying for me.”  “I have a few sin burdens that keep me from feeling close enough to God to pray.”  The list can go on and on.  There are many many reasons why we don’t pray.

There is one reason that we must…

We know God and we have to. 

Packer says “perhaps we are old, or ill or otherwise limited by our physical situation.  But we can all pray about the ungodliness and apostasy which we see in everyday life around us.”

Even though most of us won’t want to read the next statement, Packer indicts all of us “Christians” who just can’t find the time to pray.  Maybe the truth hurts.

Maybe it should.

He says “If however, there is in us little energy for such prayer, and little consequent practice of it, this is a sure sign that as yet we scarcely know our God.”

“A sure sign that … we scarcely know our God.”

Ouch…

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