It is essential to periodically re-evaluate our life so as to re-identify who we are.
A businessman seeking professional counsel was asked by his counselor to describe his life. He said, “I have come to the end of my life; I have climbed the ladder of success to the top only to realize that my ladder has been leaning against the wrong wall.”
It is essential to periodically re-evaluate our life so as to re-identify who we are, where we are and where we are going. Now is a good time to re-evaluate our lives to make sure our central purpose and focus of life is what we want it to be, so that we might pursue it with passion. We don’t want to get to the end of our life to face the reality that our ladder was leaning against the wrong wall.
What is our real purpose and passion in life? What is the central priority of our life? What if we were to ask that question to the Apostle Paul? Would he say, “I am driven to get the Gospel to the world, to plant churches in every nation, to impact the Gentile world for Christ?” Are these not what we assume Paul was about, for he accomplished an astounding amount in two decades of ministry? But would Paul say instead that these are the result of a “higher passion?” Paul uncovers his central focus for living and his supreme passion in the book of Philippians.
Paul’s dominant theme in Philippians is Jesus Christ. Paul is passionate about this Person. Notice his statements:
1:21 – “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” – his life revolved around Jesus. Paul realized that Christ was the Supreme Author of matter, time and space. He created the Universe. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. No one preceded Him, and no one will come after Him. Paul realized that if ultimate reality is a timeless, unchanging Person, then relationship with that person should be the supreme passion of our lives.
2:5 – “Let this mind be in you, which is in Christ Jesus” – Christ was his model of character…the One he wanted to be like.
3:21 – “Christ will transform our bodies” – conforming them into the likeness of His glorious body. Our citizenship – our real home – is Heaven where Jesus is. Paul, knowing this, was eagerly awaiting Christ’s soon return from Heaven.
4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Christ was his source of joy and the power over his circumstances of prison.
3: 4-14- explodes with Paul’s passion for his calling. As you read this portion of Scripture, please notice the phrases and words Paul uses to describe his passion for Jesus Christ, and underline words and phrases that describe it.
“Supreme greatness of knowing Christ” – vs.8
3:10 – “I want to (continually) know Christ and the power of His resurrection – becoming like Him…” “Want to” in the Williams Translation says, “long for.” “Want” describes passion – intensive desire, burning heart, hunger and thirst. It means to not just have a small desire, but a burning desire that involves the disciplined choice of the will.
The Amplified Translation uses “For My determined purpose is”- “that I may know Him that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving, and recognizing, and understanding Him…..being continually transformed.. into His likeness…”
Paul is saying that his life’s consuming passion and greatest joy is to continually pursue knowing Him intimately, exclusively, personally, and intensively by a decisive choice of the will. Tozer says, “We are as close to God right now as we have chosen to be.”
Where did Paul catch this vision and become totally enthralled with this passion of knowing Jesus? Paul’s major focus in life dramatically reversed itself on the Damascus Road. It was a pivotal, life-changing event. He often referred to how it brought perspective and priority to his life. Remember what Ananias said to Paul – “The Lord has chosen you that you might know His will (know His mind and heart) and see the righteous One… THEN you will be His witness of all that you have seen and heard” (Acts 22:14, 15).
No longer would his achievements, credentials, titles, and position be his identity, worth, and supreme value. His infinite worth and supreme passion was now to be found in knowing Jesus. After seeing the Lord Almighty, all these past indexes of success were considered garbage. Paul was happy to throw away all he had attained in order to pursue the passion of “knowing Christ.” Nothing would ever have a greater value in Paul’s life.
The Great Commission
Paul’s marching orders were clear. The Great Commission was not to become his passion; rather, his passion was a growing, intimate relationship with a living, risen Person – Jesus Christ. He had been captured and enthralled by a Person – Jesus Christ – and THEN to a mission to touch the Gentile world with the Gospel. He believed that to be in harmony with the great Commission was to be in harmony with Jesus first.
He said, “My supreme passion will now be to know Him and then make Him known.”
Do you remember Paul’s response to Christ after a light and a voice that caused him to fall to the ground blinded? A broken Paul could only ask first, “Who are you, LORD?” And THEN he asked, “What do you want me to do? That order never changed in Paul’s life.
3:12 – “I press on to take hold of that which Christ has taken hold of me” – to know Him was his central purpose and therefore his passion
3:13 – “But one thing I do”- not these 40 things I dabble at. His central, intense focus of life was to know Him.
3:14 – “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me.” His call was first and dominantly to a Person, and then to a mission. He had a Heavenward calling to a Person who had given him an earthly mission.
Paul never allowed his primary passion of knowing Christ to be overridden by his global vision for the world. His burden and desire to bring the Gospel to the Gentile world flowed out of his passion to know Christ. Ministry to people was the result of an overflow of abiding in and knowing Christ.
Was Paul an exception, or is this the pattern of other godly leaders in Scripture? It is obviously a pattern.
The Pattern – Knowing God
Consider with me other key portions of Scripture that emphasize knowing God:
- Jeremiah 9:23, 24 – “Let him who boasts, boast about this, that he understands and knows me…”
- Isaiah 43:7-10 – “You are my servant whom I have chosen, so that you might know and believe me and understand that I am He…I have created you for My glory.”
- Psalm 103: 7 – “He made known His ways (His very nature and character) to Moses, His deeds to the people of Israel.” What do we want God to reveal to us?…just His works, or His nature and self through an intimate relationship?
- Exodus 33:11- Moses cried out to God – “Show me your ways that I might know You.”
- Ephesians 1:17 – “May He give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you might know Him better.”
- John 17:3 – “Now this is eternal life: that they might know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
In the last few months I have gone through the Old Testament looking for what was important to God in spiritual leaders, kings, and priests, and how God measured success in their lives. The findings were revealing, the perspective life-changing. What was important and valued by God in these leaders was evidenced by what God called them – what they were known for by God. That was their ultimate testimony. It revealed their passion in life. Interestingly, it was not their accomplishments, titles, or positions in life.
G.H. Morrison said, “The acid test of a successful life is this: does it win the praise of God?”
Consider these spiritual leaders from Abraham to Paul. What was their ultimate testimony from God’s point of view? Is there a pattern of what was important to God?
Legitimate Testimonies – Remembered by God
Abraham – “God’s friend,” “My friend” – 2 Chronicles 20:7, James 2:23
Job – “My servant Job…he is blameless and upright – a man who fears God and shuns evil” – Job 1:8
Moses – “My servant and friend.” God spoke to Moses “face to face.” God made His works known to Israel, but He made known His very nature and character to Moses (Ps. 103:7) What do we want God to reveal to us?
Enoch – “Enoch walked with God”.
Caleb – “He wholeheartedly followed the Lord” (4 times in Joshua 14:8, 9, 14).
Ezra – “God’s hand was on him, for he devoted and disciplined himself to study, practice and teach the law (Scripture) (Ezra 7:9-10).
David – “For He is a man after my own heart…he relies on and depends on me continually…he walks before me in integrity of heart” (1 Kings 9:4).
Solomon – “Loved by his God” but his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God (1 Kings 11:4).
Jehoshaphat- “He sought God; his heart was devoted to the ways of God, rather than to follow the practices of Israel” (2 Chron.17: 4, 6).
Asa – “Asa’s heart was fully committed to the Lord all his life” (2 Chron.15: 17).
Uzziah – “As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success” (2 Chron. 26:5).
Hezekiah – “He sought his God and worked wholeheartedly, and so he prospered” (2 Chron. 31:21).
Josiah – “As long as he lived he did not fail to follow the Lord” (2 Chron.34: 33).
Daniel – “Esteemed by his God”- The Spirit of the Living God is in him (Daniel 6:20; 5:14).
John – “Disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23; John 21:20).
Was Paul an exception? No. The godly men were God-centered, Word-centered leaders rather than task or ministry-centered leaders.
J. I. Packer, in Knowing God, says, “What were we made for? To know God. What aim should we set ourselves in life? To know God. What is the ‘eternal life,’ that Jesus gives? Knowledge of God. (John 17:3) What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy, delight, and contentment than anything else? Knowledge of God. (Jeremiah 9:23). What, of all the states God ever sees man in, gives Him the most pleasure? The knowledge of Himself. (Hosea 6:6)”
“The one aim of the call of God is the satisfaction of God, and not a call to do something for Him…We are not primarily called to do something or to go somewhere: we are called to someone.” – Taken from The Call, by Os Guinness
How would God describe you and me as to what our central purpose and passion is?
A couple years ago, I took some valuable time to work on graduate studies in leader development, to keep a fresh perspective in life and ministry. In one class we were asked to list major paradigm shifts in our thinking in the last five years. What a great exercise! I came up with ten. One of these has been on how I view ministry. This came after I had done a major study through the Scriptures (mainly in the New Testament) as to the concept of ministry. Ministry is mentioned over and over again using different words to describe it…serving, ministering, service, and servant.
Here are some of my conclusions from that study:
Ministry always has an object in Scripture. To whom do we minister? Ministry is directed in three thrusts in the New Testament…to God, to people and to ourselves. For our purposes in this reflection we will only deal with the first two.
We are to minister to God – the vertical thrust of ministry – and horizontally to people. The vertical focuses on our walk and relationship with God…”being,” our character; the horizontal focuses on “doing.” Vertically…abiding; horizontally…. fruitfulness.
We minister to God through worship, praise, dependence, and constant fellowship with the Father, intimacy, intercession, etc. The Great Commandment is directed first to God then to people. When I ask others what words come to their mind when they think of ministry, they seldom think of intimacy and worship of God. The word “minister” is used in the Old and New Testament as a High Priest ministered first to God for the people, and then ministers from God to the people. Both of these are primary responsibilities of a minister. We have been called to be ministers of the New Covenant (2 Corinthians 8:1-4), ministering to God and then from God to people.
We minister from God to people in love and respect by evangelism, teaching, counseling, affirmation, helps, etc. The Great Commission is directed primarily toward people…reaching and discipling the nations. But its ultimate goal is everyone under the Lordship of Christ.
Ministry – God or People?
In which direction do you think the Scripture places the greatest emphasis? Is it ministry to God or to people? What is most striking in Scripture is that the major thrust, our first priority, our passion is to be our ministry to God, rather than people.
Both are vitally important, but our major focus of ministry is to be first God-ward and then man-ward. Paul asked the right question of Christ on the road to Damascus – “Who art you, Lord”, and then “What do you want me to do?”
The horizontal aspect of ministry to people should always be the result or overflow of our ministry to God. This order is trumpeted all through Scripture. In John 15 we are to “abide in Christ” and then He will bear fruit through us. In the Great Commandment we are to love the Lord first with all our heart and mind, and then love our neighbor as ourselves. 1 Timothy 4:16 says to take heed to yourself first and then to your teaching or ministry. Acts 20:28 indicates the same Greek order of words: take care of yourselves and then to the flock of God. 1 John 1:1-9 says, “Walk in the light – in unbroken fellowship with Christ – and then you will walk in fellowship with one another. In John 20:15-18, Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me”? Out of that love, Peter was to be a servant shepherd to care and feed God’s sheep. Worship always precedes service in Scripture. We are to serve God and only then people.
Something else notable in Scripture is that the words describing “passion” (“he sought the Lord” or “wholeheartedly followed the Lord” in the Old Testament or “love Him with all your heart, soul, and mind” in the New Testament) are reserved only for our God -ward relationship. The word “passion” is never related to our ministry to people. Paul uses “passion” only to describe his desire to know Christ (Philippians 3:10).
The words “compassion,” “burden,” “concern” always describes our ministry to people. Compassion means “with passion” or love with fire that is the result of our passion for God. Compassion is pictured in Scripture as thread wound around the shuttle of our heart. This thread spins out in love to pull people in. The greater the size of our heart, the greater our capacity to reach out to people. The greater our passion for God, the greater will be our compassion for people. Paul chose his words carefully in Romans 10:1, saying that his burden (not his passion) for Israel was that they might be saved.
We often ask people what their passion in ministry is. In doing so we are asking a wrong question and teaching a wrong principle. Christ’s compassion for the multitude is evident through the Gospels (Matthew 15:32, 20:34; Mark 1:41; Luke 7:13, 10:33, 15:20), and always directed to people. His passion was reserved only for His Father.
The Great commission is not to be our Great Passion. The Great Commission Will never be accomplished if it is our passion, for we will quickly lose sight of Who is the real source of power and authority? It is His harvest, not ours. It is His ministry, not ours. He alone is responsible for the fruit, not us. The Great Commission is also His problem, not ours. He is in the process of getting His harvest completed. Our responsibility is to be unreservedly available to Him, clean of sin, and under the power of the Holy Spirit. Never did Christ ask us to make ministry to people our number one consuming passion in life.
We often use phrases like – “His last command, our first concern.” His last command should be our concern, but not our first concern. We say the reason for being on earth is for the sake of the lost. That is partially true. But we are also here for the sake of His Body, and primarily to worship and know Him. The joy of knowing Him intimately is not reserved for Heaven. It begins now.
Our role in ministry is not to make things happen, or to do ministry for Jesus. We are not the quarterback calling the plays, looking to the sidelines once in awhile for coaching from Christ. Jesus Christ is the quarterback, actively and personally involved in every move. Our role is to be a servant, a steward, a shepherd of Christ, a colaborer with Him (1 Corinthians 3:9, 10), pointing people to Jesus.
“The men and women who have most fully illustrated Christ in their character and have most powerfully affected the world for Him, have been men and women who spend so much time with God as to make it a notable feature in their lives.” “To be little with God is to be little for God.” “God’s acquaintance is not made hurriedly. He doesn’t bestow His gifts on the causal or hasty comer or goer. To be much alone with God is the secret of knowing Him and of influence with Him.” – E.M Bounds
To influence people for Christ, we have to first reflect Christ. But to reflect Christ, we must first have a passion for Him that is singular, focused that puts Him first (as the Father does). Then our passion for Christ reflects Christ, which leads to influence and spiritual authority in ministry.
Both ministry to God and to people is important. It is not “either-or,” but “both-and.” To have a holistic scriptural view of ministry both must be considered. But only one is to be our passion. The “Mary and Martha syndrome” has often been the concern of Christian leaders. Should we serve People, like Martha did or choose to only sit at Jesus’ feet? Both must be in balance. God blesses us so we might bless others. We must not selfishly hold this relationship with God for ourselves. It must go outward to others. We are not buckets, but channels of living water to others.
But herein lies a critical, subtle problem – unlimited opportunities and our own burden for people often drive us to ministry far beyond the will of God for our lives into an extreme. Out of balance, we become ministry-centered, with catastrophic results. As Dr. Kenneth Boa has said, “God alone is the worthy object of our total commitment and if we direct our highest commitment to anything else, we commit idolatry.”
An endemic problem is embedded within our Christian culture. It is that we honor, reward, and present as a model, people who are driven in ministry. Often they are neglecting their own relationship to God and family, skimming over essentials. Knowing God and growing in character is less visible and measurable than service for God, and the Christian culture emphasize doing and accomplishing. Sometimes we are so busy in the Kingdom, we have no time for the King. Ministry has become to some an addiction, and we feed that addiction by our applause. The results are tragic. We are driven to do more and more, perpetuating a vicious cycle.
Dr. Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision was a compassionate man who began to make his love for children his deep passion. Burdened by overwhelming needs of children around the world, he burned out, running on empty too long. He never recovered. The history of Christian missions is strewn with such well meaning, but misdirected lives of people who thought of mission as primarily the task – crusading, preaching, ministering – and not a relationship to Jesus.
The Probing Question
How much ministry to people is enough? We often think that we can do a just little bit more. If we feel that just a little more ministry pleases God, then more ministry should really please Him. Wrong! God is not impressed by our doing His ministry without boundaries. We need to not only decide what to do, but also what not to do. Need does not constitute the will of God for our lives. Janice Wise has said, “It is not how much I have to do that determines how much time I spend with God. Rather its how much time I spend with Him that determines how much I am to do.”
Jesus is a great model of having boundaries in His ministry. He often said “no” to people’s needs, even those in desperate need and open to listen to Him (Luke 5:15-16). At the end of His three short years on earth He could say, “Father I have glorified you upon the earth, and finished the work that you gave me to do (John 17:4). Jesus did not heal everyone; He did not meet every need. He did not minister throughout the world. He did not please everyone. But He did finish what the Father gave Him to do. The key questions are: what does the Father want me to do, and who are the people the Father has given me to minister to?
Consider the life and ministry of Billy Graham as He looked back over his life: “Although I have much to be grateful for as I look back over my life, I also have many regrets. I have failed many times, and I would do many things differently. For one thing, I would speak less and study more, and I would spend more time with my family. When I look back over the schedule I kept thirty or forty years ago, I am staggered by all the things we did and the engagements we kept…Were all those engagements necessary? Was I as discerning as I might have been about which ones to take and which to turn down? I doubt it…Although much of that travel was necessary, some of it was not.
I would also spend more time in spiritual nurture, seeking to grow closer to God so I could become more like Christ. I would spend more time studying the Bible and meditating on its truth, not only for sermon preparation but to apply its message to my life. It is far too easy for someone in my position to read the Bible only with an eye on a future sermon, overlooking the message God has for me through its pages. And I would give more attention to fellowship with other Christians, who could teach me and encourage me (and even rebuke me when necessary)”…
Walter Wright, president of Regents College says on this topic, “Moses asked the wrong question to God, ‘Who am I?’…The only appropriate question for a leader is ‘Who is God?…Biblical leadership starts first and foremost with a person’s relationship with God…It starts first with the leader’s ‘inscape – their dependence on God…Leadership begins in a relationship between a person and God.”
Rewards of a God-Ward Passion
There are three journeys that God is actively working in our lives. One is redemptive. It is a journey inward as the Spirit of God is conforming our character into Christ’s likeness. This is our interior design, our inscape, and God’s work in us. We are His workmanship.
The second journey is missiological. It is God’s outward journey through us to other people. It is our unique life purpose, our destiny. As we consider our life design – gifts, life message, calling, and vision, God uniquely uses them to fulfill His eternal purposes, through us.
The third and most important journey is upward to God – our knowing and worshipping Him. The other two journeys are only understood in view of our God-ward journey, and it is this upward journey that we have been focusing on.
The balance of these parts of life has been a challenge since Bible times. Jean Fleming, writing some time ago in “Women of Influence,” observes concerning the Mary-Martha syndrome, “To set aside everyday concerns and gaze uninterrupted at the Lord seems utopian and escapist. But the continual giving of ourselves in service for Christ brings a sobering awareness of our frail humanity and limited store. We become caught in the Mary-Martha dilemma, weighing the active life with the contemplative life. True service for Christ, however, occurs only when Mary and Martha marry – when neither isolation nor compulsion characterize our life…The Christian life should have a rhythm…doing and resting, speaking and listening, giving and receiving. The life of Jesus illustrates that perfect balance.”
Work of God
And Bill Hybels points out; “The way we do the work of God can destroy the very work of God in us.”
What are the consequences of a lifestyle of doing the work of God as our passion? What are the red flags suggesting that we are making ministry our passion? Here are a few suggestions. Perhaps you can discern other danger signals.
A. We begin finding our self worth and identity in performance, production, doing the ministry and pleasing people. Whenever ministry becomes our passion, it becomes our identity. And whenever something becomes our identity, we begin to look there for our self-worth, and for our needs to be met. What happens in the inner world of leaders is pivotal to how they lead. Our True identity comes out of our relationship to God, belonging to Jesus and who we are in Christ. It is never found in who I know, what I own, or what I do. The world finds a false sense of identity in these things. The quality of our leadership emerges from both our identity and relationships.
Through my experience of being confined to bed for three years, God smoked out my dependence on my reputation, accomplishments, position and title. I was having no visible ministry to people. I discovered that I had been placing my identity in ministry and God had to strip that away if He were going to use me for His glory.
B. We begin finding greater joy in ministry, than in our relationship to Christ. Ministry to people consumes our talk with others. We become ministry- centered people, rather than Christ-centered people.
C. We begin taking ownership of God’s people (these are my disciples, my church, and my people). We become concerned about our reputation and building our little kingdom. We start shaping our own legacy for God, not allowing Him to shape His legacy through us. We form our own objectives for ministry and then ask God to bless them.
D. We end up skimming through life in our most important relationships – with God and people. Our ministering without boundaries hurts our family and closest friends.
E. We place ourselves in a very vulnerable position to the enemy and to temptation when we are looking to people and not to Jesus Christ to satisfy us.
F. We experience emotional and physical burnout. With our wanting a quick fix, sin becomes very attractive.
PROMISES OR REWARDS OF KNOWING GOD
It is my belief that we will not be willing to pay the price of sacrifice unless we know the end product…what that pursuit will produce. What does God promise for a person who sets their heart on the lifelong passion of pursuing an intimate knowledge of God? What are the rewards of a Christ-centered, Word-centered life? Is God really a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him? (Hebrews 11:6).
Let’s consider the end result of some of the godly people in the Scripture who made God their ultimate passion.
1. Jacob – Jacob wrestled with God and asked God to bless him. Result – God blessed him and his offspring to bless the nations (Gen. 35: 9-11).
2. Joseph – “One in whom is the Spirit of God,” “Discerning and wise man…” Result – the phrase “the Lord was with Joseph,” is mentioned four times in Genesis 39. God gave Joseph wisdom and favor with the King and success in all that he did (39:23). And it continues, “Joseph prospered in all he did,” including blessing the King’s household.
3. Moses – “Show me your ways that I may know You” (Ex. 33: 11). Result – Moses’ life revealed God’s glory and His very presence and character to those whom Moses led (Exodus 34:29).
4. Joshua – “a man in whom is my Spirit” (Numbers 27:18). Result – Promoted to leadership, given wisdom from meditating on the Scriptures (Joshua 1:8), given authority and courage from God to lead Israel into the Promised Land (Joshua 1). Israel said to Joshua, “Only the Lord be with you, as He was with Moses” (Joshua 1:18). People whom we lead need to be assured that God is with us, that our lives are God-scented.
5. Caleb – “Who wholeheartedly followed the Lord” (Joshua 14). Result – Finished strong in his walk with God and ministry to people – He possessed the Land of Hebron that God promised him. – He saw God’s perspective and had confidence in God’s promises.
6. David – “Man after God’s own heart,” “the Lord God is with Him.” Result – “In everything he did he had great success, for the Lord was with him” (1 Sam. 18:14). God placed His hand on David.
7. Daniel – “The Spirit of God is in him,” “…servant of the Living God, whom you serve continually.” 2 Kings says of Daniel – “…one highly esteemed by God…” Result – God gave Daniel wisdom and ability to interpret dreams. Babylon and Persia sought his God for he manifested God. God put his hand on Daniel (indicated five times in Daniel 8-10). God touched Daniel for very specific things.
In summary – Results of intimately knowing Christ as our Passion in Life:
1. Understanding and knowing Him and His will (Proverbs. 2: 1-6). God reveals Himself to that man or woman who seeks and obeys Him (John 7:17, 14:21).
2. God places His hand on our life (Ezra 7:9-10). God’s hand on our life is proportionate to the time spent in His presence.
3. As we walk in victory and intimacy with Him, He manifests His very presence, power, character and fragrance to others His glory is revealed in us (2 Corinthians 2:14-16). Are we God scented people? Do those to whom we minister know that we have been with Jesus? “Those who are truly great in Christian service have invariably drawn upon the unfailing resource of a rich devotional life.” – Ralph Herring
4. God blesses us and makes us fruitful in character and ministry (John 15:1-5; Josh. 1:8-9). Abiding in Him results in the fruit of character and spiritual children.
5. God will bless our home and family (Psalm 112:1-3).
6. Through times of silence and reflection, we become sensitive to the Father’s mind and heart. He gives us a keen sense of Himself, sharpens our perspective on eternity, gives us a pilgrim’s heart and fills us with eternal pleasures (Psalm 16:11).
7. Wisdom and understanding comes through our lives to the nations around us (Proverbs 9:10; Deuteronomy 4:7).
8. God reveals the very secrets of His heart to us (Psalm 25:14; Proverbs 3:22, 32). “No one can expect to understand and receive the holiness of God who is not often and long alone with God.” – Andrew Murray
9. God fulfils our desires because they are His desires (Psalm 145:18-19).
As I have done this study, two verses have jumped out of the pages of Scripture and revealed the heart of God to me:
Jeremiah 9:23, 24 reveals God’s priority for our lives. He says His greatest delight is that we set our hearts to understand and know Him. Our greatest delight is not to be set on obtaining intelligence or degrees, a position of power and influence, or in setting our hearts on wealth and processions. Knowing and understanding Him is His greatest desire for us.
Then Jeremiah 30:21 offers us a great challenge. God asks a penetrating question that we must answer. Our response to this question will have its price tag, but also its great rewards. “Who is he, who will devote himself to be close to me?” How will we answer that question? Seconds into eternity we will have a whole new perspective. At that moment we will know what was really important and where we truly found our passion and priority.
Read what Joseph Stowell said as he evaluated his life at fifty: “Turning fifty, as I did recently, was a real wake up call for me. I realized anew how much ground I still have to gain in my personal relationship with Christ. After years of fast-paced, hectic business of serving Him, I confess that I’ve spent more time doing for Him than getting to know Him. I figure that I have one more, high energy run in which to maximize my life for Him. And I find in the deepest part of my being, I want this season to be marked by a followership that springs from a deepening intimacy with Christ.”
We have been focusing on revitalizing our passion for intimacy with God. Now we want to address some ideas on how we pursue and cultivate that intimacy, and maintain a God-ward focus and passion for a lifetime.
If you are like me, confronting these issues cause you to wrestle with the busyness and hurriedness of our lives. Noise and the crowds have a way of siphoning our energy and distracting our attention. Voices keep calling louder and louder for our attention, to pursue all kinds of other things. Our secular culture moves us towards comfort, performance, and materialism. Our Christian culture often emphasizes busyness and results of ministry. Our mission agencies urgently push for completing world evangelism in our lifetime.
All these things can drive us subtly into a lifestyle that is imbalanced and that minimizes a diligent pursuit of God. We become shallow in character, and driven by our schedule. To pursue intimacy with God in our culture will take a change of paradigm, a deliberate choice to rethink and revamp our lifestyle. The critical question is…are we willing?
I believe that the crisis in spiritual leadership is a crisis of character, and the crisis of character is a crisis of a life deeply rooted in God.
One of our fellow journeyers had this observation to make about the Christian community:
“Pastors and parishioners alike have often confided in me, admitting that the “tyranny of the urgent” is not a theoretical issue, but a very real fact of life. This is a malady that is reaching epidemic proportions within the family of God. This was the cry of one clergyman who whispered to me following a meeting for pastors. ‘Nobody around me knows this, but I’m operating on fumes. I am lonely, hollow, shallow, and enslaved to a schedule that never lets up.’
As a result of my observations and that recent encounter specifically, I decided to do some serious thinking, reading, and praying. My journal became the anvil on which most of my private thoughts were hammered out. Thankfully I have had the time to let those thoughts linger and spawn other thoughts that drove me deeper until at the heart of what seems to be the core issue – a lack of intimacy with the Almighty. Intimacy with the Almighty calls for disciplines that are not valued or emulated by today’s majority. It will not be easy or automatic. It is upstream, even against the tide of the Christian culture. It will take a deliberate choice of our will, and will always involve a radical lifestyle change.” – Chuck Swindoll in Intimacy With The Almighty
How do we Cultivate Intimacy with God?
Psalm 63 is an art galley that pictures David’s thirst and hunger to pursue intimacy with God. He displays why he wants to pursue God and enumerates some critical principles and attitudes that make knowing God intimately a reality.
Look at these words that describe his pursuit of God. “EARNESTLY I seek Him, my soul THIRSTS for you, my body (with every part of my life) LONGS for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (vs. 1). David likens his thirst for God to being in a desert desperately longing for water. In verse eight he says, “My soul CLINGS to You.”
These are all words that convey dependence, communion, fellowship, and a deep love relationship with God. David’s pursuit of God, like a marriage relationship, did not happen accidentally. It was a deliberate choice of his will to pursue and cultivate intimacy with God. David’s dependence, evidenced by continually resorting to God, bred greater and greater intimacy. He desired extended times of communion and fellowship with the Father. These times cultivated deeper intimacy. Intimacy requires dependence, discipline in cultivating the relationship and devotion to His desires and will (John 14:21).
David then gives some ways that he cultivates intimacy and an increasing thirst for God:
Vs. 2 – “I have seen you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.” Intimacy with the Father demands silence and extended times with Him. His acquaintance is not made known hurriedly. It involves cultivating the awareness of God’s presence and works on a daily basis.
Vs. 4 – “I will praise you as long as I live.” Vs. 5 – “my soul shall be satisfied…with singing lips my mouth will praise you.” David’s life was punctuated with praise and worship. His deepest satisfaction was in God alone. David had made a lifelong commitment to walk intimately with God right into eternity.
Vs. 6 – “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.” David had learned how to constantly meditate on God, His Word and His works. Psalm 1:2 conveys David’s deep commitment to the Scriptures. Since he delighted in them, he meditated on them day and night. We know now through Christ’s revelation that the entirety of Scripture clearly reveals Him. To know Him intimately, we must devote ourselves to soaking ourselves in the Scriptures.
Principles on revitalizing our passion for God
1. Understand the Spirit-controlled life and continually appropriate the Spirit’s filling. Ask God, through the Holy Spirit, to put in us a new intense hunger and thirst for Himself and the Scriptures (Galatians 4:6). “Abba, Abba,” means”Daddy, Daddy, I need you and desire you.”
2. Spiritual Formation (growing in Christ), should be in our ministry description – We need time during our workday to be in the Scriptures and interceding for others. Realize God is giving us permission to sit at His feet and learn of Him. Our time sitting at His feet can be seen as the real work, a priority in our ministry. Jesus gave Mary permission to sit at His feet (Luke 10:42). We cannot reserve time with Jesus only in our private world. Jesus is our model (Luke 5:15-16). He said “no” to pressing opportunities to spend time with His Father in the middle of His ministry.
3. Worship is a primary ingredient in increasing our appetite for God. Set aside regular time to be alone with God on daily basis, and for extended times of prayer and fellowship with Him. Approach the Scriptures to see and know more of Jesus.
4. Healthy relationships are vital in affecting our hunger for God. Keep short accounts with God and people over sin and offenses (Acts 24:16). Keep your marriage relationship alive and romantic. Develop replenishing relationships with people who have a passion for God and where there is not a ministry agenda.
5. Our life mission statement should include our passion to know Jesus Christ. Is it a vital part of our mission agency or church mission statement? An example of such a life mission statement is, “They knew their God intimately, and believed God for multiplying laborers, who are now in every nation of the world”
6. Soak yourself in the Scriptures developing a Scriptural bank account. Are we intensively studying the Scriptures or is our approach more devotional or for ministry preparation? Proverbs 2:1:5 – Seek a Bible Study partner.
7. Set aside time periodically for extended communion with the Father…time to reflect and drive down truth into our spiritual blood system, to evaluate our life and ministry, to refuel our spiritual tanks and to rehearse the works of God, (God-sightings and His handprints in our lives and the lives of others).
8. Engage on a regular basis with a spiritual coach who is older, who has walked with God and can encourage spiritual growth and intimacy with God – an older mentor in Christ to whom we give permission to probe and challenge our spiritual growth and journey.
9. Join a regular accountability group, Bible study or care fellowship where we have given permission to others to ask the hard questions about our spiritual life, marriage and family, and relationships with people.
10. Pray with our mate on a regular basis. 1 Peter 3:7 says that if we are not in intimate relationship with our mate, it will hinder our growing in intimacy with God.
While these things primarily involve principles and attitudes, the way they are fleshed out in growth applications must be uniquely tailored to each individual.
The Scriptures declare that “Loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind” is the first and greatest commandment. It is through this prism that we need to see all other values. It is the filter through which all life’s choices and solutions are made, and it is the source for all our ministry involvement. No ministry to people is valid without this priority firmly in place. It is out of this commandment that we can fulfill with love and compassion the second commandment from which our ministry flows…to love our neighbors.
God, give us an insatiable thirst to know You above all else! May this be our lifelong passion.