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God As He Longs For You To See Him
How would you describe God!? Awesome? All Powerful? Creator? While we cannot know Him exhaustively, we can know Him truly. And God longs for you to see Him as He truly is. This fascinating series studies seven attributes of God. As you begin to see God for who He really is and what His true desires for your life are, it will change the way you pray, the way you live, and the way you think about the world around you.More from this series
About five or six years ago I had one of those once in a lifetime opportunities. I have a very, very close friend, a Chinese fellow from Hong Kong, and I was doing some ministry in Hong Kong and he said, “Chip, you’ve been here a number of times, here’s what I would like to do. Your daughter is going to come and your wife and I would like you to be my guest and I want to take you to my fatherland. My father grew up in China and I don’t want you to go on any of those tours. I want to fly you and your family with me and my wife and I want to go to Beijing and then I want to walk around and I want to show you China from the heart of a man whose father grew up here. I want you to see this great country and what it means to me.”
And so I thought, “Boy, I mean, you’re kidding me. This is just amazing!” And so he had a number of business trips and so his wife came in on one plane and he came on another and my wife and daughter and I were on another one.
And we are on this airline where I am looking around and everybody is Chinese except me. And I’m twenty rows, they couldn’t get the tickets so Annie and Theresa are twenty rows back and I sit in the middle. And everyone is talking but I can’t understand a word anyone is saying. And being the talkative kind of guy, I think, This is going to be a pretty decent flight from Hong Kong to Beijing. I’d kind of like to talk to someone.
So I looked over and next to me was a very well dressed young Chinese lady. I would say she was about twenty-nine to thirty-two. I looked down and her nails were immaculate. She had a business suit. Her jewelry told me very quickly that she was upwardly affluent.
I looked at her briefcase and the monogram and it didn’t take much to figure out that she is an upwardly mobile, professional, Chinese person. And so I tried my old, “Hi! How are you doing? My name is Chip!” And I was expecting to get a nice acknowledgment. And in the crispest, clearest English accent she said to me, “Hello, my name is…”
And so I realized I was going to get to talk to someone. And I don’t know, sometimes God sends you to a class to get an education and sometimes He just sits you next to a person.
Her parents were born in China, she was a businesswoman. In the Cultural Revolution, her parents were professional people but they were forced to sweep the streets because they were pushing down all the professional, intellectual people.
She was separated from her parents as a young child. However, she was in the top one percent of all the people in the great city that she came from and so she got a college education. It’s all based on taking tests in China.
She did her graduate work in London in finance and she was an executive with a multi-national corporation, living in London. And she was one bright cookie.
And a very kind, very non-defensive, and so before long, she asked me what I did and that led very clearly to a time where, for the next two and a half hours, I shared Christ with her.
And what was interesting is she grew up with twenty-plus years of atheistic Communism. And even in graduate school, the thought of God was never brought up in China. It wasn’t until she moved to London, where she was now living.
And so the world went, wheew! And here is a person that is open and bright and she has seen all of the atheistic Communism. She now is at the pinnacle of success, she has lived in a country where most people have very little. And she has brains, she has beauty, she has money, she has a great job. And she began to read and think and look at all the different systems out there, the isms, and the religions and the truth claims and now she sits next to someone who claims to be a follower of Christ, and I explain to her a personal relationship with Jesus and the God who created everything.
And we got near the end and you need to understand, this is not a conversation with someone in California where there is a little bit of an edge to it. This is someone who listens patiently, asks very intelligent questions, and then with a sense of gentleness turns to me and says, “Could you help me understand why I should believe in your God over against all the other gods and other truth claims that I have been reading about in about the last eight or ten years?”
I mean, she was quintessential, classic seeker. And it was like, you know what? “Go ahead and open your Bible, use logic, use science, I would honestly like to know why you believe your God is better than all the other gods of all the other peoples.”
And now, remember where she is at and where her world is at. She has grown up in an intellectual arena where tolerance and being politically correct and pluralism has now infiltrated its way into all the upper-level graduate schools.
And so she has been fed, for the last five to seven to eight years, Who is anyone to say, “This is right, this is wrong”? Who is anyone to say, “This is truth and this is false”?
The context of what pluralism really teaches in our day, spreading all around the world, is that all ideas, all truth claims have equal value. And for me or for you to say to anyone, “This is true and this is not true,” that means you are intolerant. And by intolerant, I don’t mean the good sense of tolerance. Intolerant as in you are narrow, bigoted, anti-intellectual, who are you to say that?
You see, tolerance in the meaning of the word is a very good thing. We should be tolerant of people’s idiosyncrasies. We should be tolerant of people’s differences in backgrounds and tastes. We should be tolerant even of different religions and races and ethnic backgrounds and different ways that we come about life.
We are not to tell everyone how they are supposed to live their lives. We should be very gentle. Jesus was extraordinarily tolerant where He could sit with a Pharisee, knowing the hardness of his heart, and a prostitute as His feet. And both of them understood, within an hour with Jesus, that though they both had issues, they were welcomed and they were loved.
But tolerance, when it comes to mean that there isn’t a right and there isn’t a wrong; tolerance, when it comes to mean there is no absolute truth is a very dangerous thing.
And so I began to talk with her and as we did, I thought my work was going to be cut out for me. And so one of the things I needed to get over before I got too far along was to help her see that maybe tolerance wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be.
And so I said to her, “Can you imagine driving in your car in London and pulling up to a gas station and the attendant comes up to you and says, ‘What you would like? Water, alcohol, or gasoline in your car?’ And you say, ‘Um, well, I would like gasoline.’ And the attendant says, ‘Ugh, how intolerant. Who are you to think that one fluid is better than another? I mean, where do you think you’re getting off? Where are you coming from?’”
You see, what we all know, when it gets down to real life, is that gasoline works in a car; water will ruin a car and I’m not sure what alcohol would do but I don’t want to find out.
“Or can you imagine,” I said, “going to a doctor and realizing you had had a very severe infection. And, now, if you have this severe infection, the doctor says, ‘Well, would you like Penicillin, Coumadin, Cytoxan, or Morphine?’ And you’re thinking to yourself, Wait a second. I have an infection. I need Penicillin. I need to clear up the infection. I want Penicillin. And the doctor or the nurse is going, ‘How intolerant! I mean, who are you to say one drug is better than another drug? I mean, come on! Every truth claim, every suggestion has equal value.’”
Well, see, you can play around with that or so we think, at the philosophical level, but when you have an infection, you take the wrong drug, you’re going to be dead.
And so I spent the next two hours, from memory and whatever God taught me over the years, walking through the most logical, biblical basis for why the God that I worship is actually superior and real and above and sovereign and different and unique than all the other truth claims in all the world and because of who He is, for Him to be any other way, would be intolerable.
And as I get to that, I shared that because I did it from scratch and I had a pen and I’m writing on napkins and turning to passages and she was a very bright lady and so I’m trying to make it as organized as I can.
But what I would like to say now is that if she would walk through that door right now and she would sit down in one of these chairs, I’d like to say to her, “You know, I gave it my best shot on the plane but I have had some time to think. And I have had some time to organize some notes. And if you, don’t move, okay? Just stay right there. I want you to understand, in a more clear way, why I believe in the God of the Bible.”
And what I would say to her I will say to you: I gave you my best shot but this is going to be a little bit more organized. And as I go through these, some of you that are slightly obsessive compulsive, I mean, you’re kind of slightly, like, you want every note of everything, this section, relax. I am going to make you crazy in the next four or five minutes because what I want you to do is I want you to feel the Spirit of God take the Word of God and just wash over you and I want you to feel like the truth comes over and over so that you sense, with power and clarity, that I am not picking a passage here or there about the truth claims of God.
And so I would say to this lady, “I worship the God of the Bible because He is before all things.” Psalm 90:2 says, “Before the mountains were born, or You brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting You are God.”
Revelation 1:8 says, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” I worship Him because unlike all these other isms, He is before all things. Second, He created all things.
Colossians 1 says, “For by Him, all things were created,” all things, “things in heaven, things on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things were created by Him and for Him. He is above all things, He created all things, He upholds all things.”
Hebrews 1 says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining,” think of this, “all things by the Word of His power.”
He is above all things. “We have one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all,” Ephesians 4:6. Isaiah 45 says, “I am the Lord, there is no other, apart from Me,” how unequivocal is this, “there is no God; I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged Me, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting, men may know that there is none besides Me; I am the Lord, and there is no other.” That sounds pretty intolerant. That sounds pretty narrow. That sounds very matter of fact.
He has created all things, He is above all things, He is over all things, He sustains all things, and He knows all things. Psalm 139, “Before a word is on my tongue, You know it completely, O Lord. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, it is too lofty for me to attain.” And God, this God that I am worshipping, I would say to her, “He can do all things.”
Listen to what the Scripture says, Jeremiah 32:27, “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too difficult for Me?” Emphatic answer: No. Mary would say, “For nothing is impossible with God.” That would be the response she would hear when she said, “How in the world can I, as a virgin, have a baby?” And the angel would say, “Mary, you don’t understand. With God, nothing is impossible.”
Not only that, He accomplishes all things. Isaiah 14:24, “The Lord Almighty has sworn: ‘Surely as I have planned it so it will be, and as I have purposed it so it will stand.’” There is nothing in all the world if God plans it, if He purposes it, He will bring it about.
That’s the God that we worship. Not only that, He rules over all things. I Chronicles: “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and on the earth is Yours. Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom; You are exalted as head over all.”
And [if you didn’t get it from Daniel 4], I Chronicles 29 says, “Wealth and honor come from You; You are the ruler of all things. In Your hands are strength and power to exalt and to give strength to all.”
God is over all things, He is above all things, He created all things, He sustains all things, He can do all things. This is the God that I worship. And ultimately, He is in control over all things. Job 42:2 says, “I know that You can do all things and no plan of Yours can be thwarted.”
He is in control of what? He is control of kings and we are so uptight about, What will this leader do in this nation? And what about these countries? And what about world events? “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord. He turns them whichever way He wishes,” Proverbs 21:1.
He is in control of human events. In Psalm 33, “For He spoke, and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm. The Lord foils the plans of the nations; He thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations.”
Kings, human events, even angels. People are afraid of the supernatural. The sovereign God of the universe is in control, not only of visible things, but invisible things. Colossians 1:15 and 16, “He,” Jesus, “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him and through Him all things were created,” – which things? “things in heaven, things on earth, visible and invisible,” and then, “whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities,” those are all angelic beings, “these things were created by Him and,” – why? “for Him.” For His pleasure, for His purposes.
He is even in control of Satan and bad angels. Job 1:6, “One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord and Satan also came with them.” And as you read the passage, what do we learn? He has to ask permission of God, “Can I do this? Can I do that?”
He is the sovereign God of all the world.
He is above all things, He controls all things, He created all things, He sustains all things, He is before all things, and He is sovereignly in control, even of human decisions, Ephesians 1:11 says, “In Him we were chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will.”
In summary, I worship the sovereign God of the universe. Now, I didn’t have quite all those verses memorized at a way that I could list and if some of you are feeling like, “My head hurts, I think this guy just read about fifteen or eighteen or twenty verses in about three and a half minutes,” and if you’re thinking, “He talks as fast as anyone I have ever heard in my life,” you’re right.
But did you get the sense that it is totally unequivocal? Did you get the sense that, from beginning to end, “I am the Lord; there is no other. I am before, I created, I am in control, all things are possible – visible, invisible, kingdoms, nations, people, decisions, human events.”
Here’s what you can know: Nothing ever, in all your life will ever come into your experience that has not been either allowed or filtered through or decreed by the all-knowing, all-powerful, sovereign, wise God, who is good and has your best in mind.
He is not one of the gods on the salad bar of religion that we can say, “I like this part of Christianity and I like this part of this religion and this part of this religion.” No, no, no. “I am the Lord; that is My name. And I will not give my glory to another.”
Now, I don’t know about you but the word sovereignty, at least in my experience growing up, was not one we threw around in our house a lot. It wasn’t like, “Dad, could you pass the eggs, the potatoes over here, and, so, oh, how are the sovereignty issues going, Dad?” I remember the first time I heard this word.
A good, good friend, I was in a Bible study with a fellow and we were all brand new Christians on this college campus. And he and my roommate went out on a bike to do a little ten-speed biking. And it’s very hilly in West Virginia.
And so he ended up going down and he was a wrestler and he ended up going down a very steep hill and they were both having fun and going down. Except Frank was always used to the old kind of bike with the brakes here.
And these had hand brakes. And so they are going down this steep hill and he and Bob were going down. Well, Bob hits the brakes just as the curve comes, and Frank does it like this and in the split second that it doesn’t stop, and he starts to reach, he misses the curve, goes over, and lands head first into the side of a house, and Bob finds him laying. Bob gives him CPR, we call 911, we all meet down at the hospital, and Bob said, “The only thing I heard as I went down to the hospital, is Frank just screaming, “I can’t move my legs. I can’t move my legs. I can’t feel anything.”
And we ended up at a chapel and we began to fast and pray for the next couple, three days. And they didn’t give him any hope because he had such internal damage.
And I’ll never forget the first time I ever heard the word sovereignty was, one of the young gals in the college group said, “You know, this is a tragic situation, but God is sovereign. And we can trust that He will bring something good through this, no matter what we feel. Our responsibility is to intercede and to pray.”
And you know what? I nodded my head and we prayed. Then I went to one of my friends and said, “What does sovereign mean? I have never heard that word before.” I did not have any idea what she meant.
And so what I want to do, before we go on and look at the Scriptures, I would like you to follow along, and let’s do some definitional work. What do we mean when we say sovereignty?
And by the way, sometimes one of the best places to go is the dictionary, believe it or not. Webster’s defines sovereignty as, “Above all or superior to all others; chief; greatest; supreme; supreme in power, rank, or authority; of holding the position of ruler, royal, or one that reigns; independent of all others; excellent, outstanding, a person who possesses sovereign authority or power, specifically a monarch or a ruler.”
Now, think of that definition and then expand it to, that is God’s role and it is over all the universe. That is who you worship. When you sing songs, that is who you sing to. When you pray prayers, that is who you pray to.
Some synonyms that have been helpful for me, “He is the ruler, He is the ultimate authority, He is in control, He is the King of kings, He is the Lord of lords, He is without equal.” Notice this, “He is without limitations in any way. He is the only absolutely free being in the universe.”
In fact, I love what Tozer has to say on this one, “God’s sovereignty is the attribute by which He rules the entire creation, and to be sovereign He must be all-knowing, all-powerful, and absolutely free. The reasons are these: If there was one datum of knowledge, however small, unknown to God, His rule would break down at the that point. To be the Lord over creation, He must possess all knowledge. And if God were lacking one infinitesimal modicum of power, that lack would end His reign and undo His kingdom; that one stray atom of power would belong to someone else and God would be a limited ruler and hence not sovereign.
“And furthermore, His sovereignty requires that He be absolutely free, which simply means that He must be free to do whatever He wills to do anywhere at any time to carry out His eternal purposes in every single detail without interference. Were He less than free, He must be less than sovereign.”
Before we continue and simply because most of our backgrounds are ones who believe what I have just said. And we can all intellectually agree I’ll tell you what, you can believe or not believe the Bible, but you cannot take the position that the Bible does not teach the sovereignty of God.
Now, you can say, “I don’t believe it,” but if you believe it, this Book, inspired by the Holy Spirit, tested over centuries, clearly declares that God is not one among the gods. He doesn’t want to be first in our life among others. He wants to be the unique, the only, the sole ruler, authority, Lord of our lives, as He is in the universe.
But I keep going back to my friend. And I could give her all these definitions and I could show her from Scripture that what I believe really is accurate if it’s true. But my Chinese friend, I think she deserves a little more. I think what I ought to, at this point, say is, “This is what I believe. And what you need to understand is that it is either very narrow, very intolerant, and very outrageous in its claims, and should be totally dismissed, or it is absolutely true.”
But what I can tell you is, the teachings of Jesus and the teachings of the Bible are completely incompatible with some level of syncretism or blending with other world religions. The God of the Bible is not looking for teammates.
Either what I have shared is one hundred percent true, and He is the God who created all that there is, who is outside of time, who is the ultimate authority, and who deserves my worship and your worship, or I have just described one of the most narrow, outrageous, ridiculous, anti-politically correct truth claims on the face of the earth.
And so, see, the teaching of Scripture always brings you to a crossroads. And so what I think is God wants us to love Him – how? With all of our mind and our heart and our strength and our emotions. He wants all of us to love Him. So He wants to give us information from our mind so that we can say, This makes sense.
See, what I want you to get is that He is called sovereign, His promises demand He be sovereign, His control of space-time history reveals that He is sovereign. The extent and the predictions and the fulfillment of prophecy confirm that He is sovereign.
And Christ’s birth, life, teaching, death, resurrection, ascension, and ultimate rulership and return all point to a God who claims unique alliance: “I am the Lord. That is My name. I am the center and the core and the object of worship of all the universe, before time began and long after time is gone.”
See, when Jesus taught about the lordship of Christ, He came to – what? To explain Him. He came to explain the Father, full of truth and grace. And He lived out this life and He wanted us to understand, by His resurrection and by what He has done in us, that we now can have relationship with this almighty, all-powerful Lord of lords, King of kings, because of what He did on the cross.
And that the role that He must have, not wants to have, would be nice to have, we have developed this idea that Jesus can sort of be your Savior and that’s a nice warm, ooey-gooey feeling. And superstar, second-mile, wonderful Christians He is really the Lord of their life.
And the calling of Jesus to His people is, “Follow Me. Follow Me.” And His demand is, “I absolutely deserve it.” Because He is part of the triunity of the Godhead who is sovereign and king.
This issue raises two very important theological questions that I really can’t cover, but if I just completely blow over them, I’ll be in trouble. And two questions come up. Thinking people, “Okay, He is sovereign. Well, if He is sovereign, then why did He allow evil and pain and suffering?” Right? He is all-knowing, and if He knew it was going to happen, and if He is sovereign and He could prevent it, there are lots of good resources. C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, is a good place to go. Ravi Zacharias and Norm Geisler have some excellent work in this area.
But let me give you a word picture that has helped me. I want you to imagine, if you would, it’s not too hard, longing and dreaming for that very perfect person in your life. You can make in your mind, if you’re a guy, she is beautiful like someone, cooks like Betty Crocker, loves you like no one else, every moment of every day. And if you’re a lady, you can picture that hunk of a man, but he is warm and sensitive, caring, likes to take walks, loves to shop.
And so you are building a relationship with this person and you’re just thinking, If this person were in my life, it would be so awesome. I mean, so awesome. And this is a hypothetical story so I get to make up whatever I want.
And you go to this weird guy with a long white beard and funny hair, and his eyes look kind of crazy. And he says, “Do you really want to have this relationship?” And you go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” And he says, “Okay,” and he gives you a little, tiny blue pill. And he says, “I’ll give it to you,” and you say, “How much?” He says, “For free!” And you go, “Wow, what does it do?” He says, “When you are talking, have a little date, when he or she turns their head, drop this in their drink. Put it in their coffee or their Coke and after they drink it, the moment they make eye contact with you, they will be forever fixated and love you and you will be the object of their affection forever and ever and ever.” And you go, “No kidding?” “Yeah!”
And so you take the blue pill and you’re sitting at a romantic dinner. “Oh, look at those children!” Drop it in. And then they look back and then he or she sips it and then your eyes meet. And then they turn to you, “You are the most beautiful person in the world. Do you want to get married now or, like, wait five minutes?”
And then you get married. And this person, they bring coffee in bed, he brings flowers, he is sensitive, she is warm, caring, I mean, it is unbelievable. The first three months you’re going, “Yoooo! This is awesome! Unbelievable!” And it’s just like, “Wow, wow, wow, wow!” And then after about three months, it’s like this robot keeps waking up and loving you and loving you and loving you and loving you and loving you and loving you.
And you’re out on the back patio and this thought comes to your mind, I wonder if he or she really loves me, or I wonder if it’s just the blue pill. You see, if there is not the opportunity for choice, genuine love is impossible.
God so loved us that He knew, for us to freely choose and worship Him, from the heart, as moral beings with dignity, in His sovereignty, He allowed for a limitation on evil, knowing that to provide choice meant there had to be a real possibility for some to say, “no” to God while others would say, “yes” to God.
And He loved you so much and wanted an honest and genuine relationship of a real moral being, not a robot, that He would say, “The risk and the pain, knowing, from the foundations of the earth, that the price tag for the Godhead would be the death of My Son to bridge the gap yet again,” but the ability for you to choose and me to choose, yes or no, was a part of the sovereign plan of God. And so that is why, in essence, I believe there is a limited time for evil to be in the world.
The second question, however, is if He is sovereign and He knows all things and He has predetermined and, depending on where you come from theologically, and He has predestined everything right down to when I cough and if I trip, oh boy, I’m glad that’s over with because that was predetermined, I was supposed to trip.
The second question that’s hard to deal with is this: Are we just little cosmic puppets? Has God so orchestrated everything that I just thought I was singing and making a choice earlier and praising God. I just thought that, in my heart, during the worship, I had a little relationship that was bugging me. I just thought that I forgave someone and asked God to forgive me for being a little bit short on the phone earlier this morning. Maybe it was all just predetermined. Maybe I’m just a little marionette and there are these strings, invisible strings of God, and He is just yanking and pulling and I’m really not making any choices and I’m not really a free, moral being at all.
If He is really sovereign, if He is really in control, if He is over all these different things then do my choices matter? Does my praise matter? And when you take this issue, I’m going to just cop out here in just a second. But there are two, and I am just going to say, real extreme positions on this one, alright? And they are both out of great hearts of great people that really love God that are really not worth spending a lot of time arguing about.
But there is one group over here that they so care about the character of God, they so care and want to honor and guard His character and He is the One who does it and His sovereignty, extreme, extreme Calvinism over here. A lot of the Calvinism, John Calvin wouldn’t recognize. But some of this way over here is they so want to do that, they make God actually a puppeteer who is so in control of everything, every day, and every way, you don’t even believe. You don’t even trust. It is all done and you just get to be in on it somehow. But everything of every moment of every time is predestined and you just thank your lucky stars.
So much so that in some periods of history, we actually had people who thought, Gosh, I’m…they praised God that they were “non-elect.” God has chosen me, for His glory, to go to hell. What a perversion of Scripture.
And it has had huge impact in terms of people’s prayer life and evangelism. Why pray if it doesn’t matter? Why share your faith if it absolutely doesn’t matter? So extreme, extreme over here. But the motive was to guard and protect.
And then over here was a response to that, Jacob Arminius, and then a whole group of followers that took stuff he said way over here. And they so want to guard your personal freedom and dignity and responsibility that basically God is on the throne biting His nails, wondering what is going to happen. I hope this okay! Gabriel, I hope this comes out okay! I just don’t know. I wonder what they are going to do!
In fact, we have a movement today called “Open Theism,” where they want to so push the idea of man’s free choice that if it’s really free, God couldn’t know, which is absolutely ridiculous.
And what I would like to suggest is that it is not a nice, neat package, but the Scripture is very, very clear. God is absolutely sovereign and you are an absolutely free, moral being. Your decisions matter and God is in control.
And I want you to imagine, if you would, the truth of this is like a telephone pole, a very big telephone pole, and on each of these telephone poles are one of those big, thick, steel guide wires. And then it is in into about thirty feet of concrete.
And it pulls it in this direction and then another guide wire is over here and it’s in thirty feet of concrete. And the truth that God is absolutely sovereign and in control and you can trust Him and, yet, your decisions matter and you are a moral, free being with dignity and what you do really matters, to the point that you will be rewarded or not rewarded.
Obedience brings certain things in this life and at the judgment seat of Christ, I will be rewarded, you will be rewarded for what we did in this life, and it will really matter. Your decisions and your obedience and your choices.
And those two things pull with a dynamic tension and they keep that thing in balance and where we live knowing both those things are true. And I would suggest that that was the apostle Paul’s position.
He says in Philippians 1:19, very interesting, he says, “Here is what I am confident about,” he’s in prison, he’s writing, “I’m confident of this, that through your prayers,” man’s responsibility, “and the provision of the Spirit,” God’s sovereign work, this shall turn out for my deliverance.”
Isn’t that an interesting phrase? “I am confident of this, that through your prayers,” Paul must have thought that when people prayed, it actually made a difference, but he also believed that it was the Spirit sovereignly working. How those things fit together, you know what? We are killing ourselves trying to figure it out.
If you can figure it out, you are God. In chapter 2, he would turn around and say the same thing. He says, “Now, here’s what I want you to do. I want you to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” You need to work out what God has worked in, human responsibility. Next verse – why? “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
These things run in parallel. And I would suggest that if you get tilted this direction where all the weight is on you, or you get tilted this direction, where God is so sovereign, what you do doesn’t matter, I think you may have a theology but you have lost your biblical roots.
Those things are held in dynamic tension and that is the briefest net-net but you’ve got to cover those two issues.
I’d like to close with a little time to respond. It’s a lot of information, isn’t it? That’s why it’s, really, you’ve got a Bible study on your hands. I’d really encourage you, all those verses, it’ll do something for your soul. If you haven’t learned yet, listening to other people can inspire; personal study transforms.
See, I don’t know what it is, and I try and make it fun, I put up my feet and, I love coffee, get a great cup of coffee, and I’ll just read and do a little underlining and write myself a few notes and then just set it down and say, “God, speak to me.”
And then the key is to take some small step of obedience or application. Because Jesus said, “If you respond to the light that I show you,” what is He going to do? He’ll give you more light. If you don’t respond to the light then what does He do? The light that you have, He’ll take away.
See, we think it’s all about knowledge and knowing more and more and mastering all this. You know what? That’s a part of it, but it’s really about responding to what you know, and as you respond to what you know.
So I encourage you, look up those verses and take your time and maybe there’s some little verse before it and one after it, and enjoy it!
So what does it look like to respond? Let me give you three things and then let’s just actually do it together. How must we respond? If He is the sovereign ruler, you will either respond rightly now, or someday, right?
So, number one, bow before the king of the universe. Bow. Philippians 2, “Every knee will bow one day, every tongue will confess.” And the application is: Absolute surrender of all you are and all you have.
I don’t know where you’re at. For me, I was talking to a fellow at breakfast and it was at Penn State that, “My introduction to the lordship of Christ, intellectually, came. And I realized that the only logical, emotional, spiritual response was I needed to take all that I am and all that I have, with empty hands, and I needed to offer it to Him. No reservations. My future is Yours, my money is Yours, my time is Yours, my relationships are Yours, my geographical location is Yours, my vocation is Yours, my gifts? They are Yours. And I want to absolutely surrender all that I am and all that I have and just before you start feeling really afraid, remember, “He that spared not His own Son, how will He not with Him freely give you all things?”
“He is a sun and a shield; He gives grace and glory; He will not withhold any good thing from,” – who? “those who walk uprightly.” And to walk uprightly begins where He has to have the same place in your heart that He has in the universe.
And I see more and more and more, I have been pastoring about twenty-five years, the roadblock to people experiencing what God wants to give them is that we want it on our terms and our way and us in control. And there can only be one king of your heart, but it’s not you. It can be you, but then you get what you can do.
Now, I’m going to give you some time to shut your eyes and say, “Lord, I’m going to bow my heart,” and does it mean you’ll never have to bow it again? No. But you’re going to drive a stake and you’re going to take that stake, on the stake it says “surrender.” And you’re going to knock that stake all the way into the ground and then you’re going to say, “Lord, whatever You want me to do, wherever You want me to go, whatever response, as sovereign, good God, I will do it, knowing I am in good hands.”
The second response is: Believe. Believe all that comes into your life is either allowed or decreed by a good God who will use it for your benefit. Believe! We chaff so much in our relationship with God. We have such resentment and we have such anger and such dissatisfaction, and we whine and complain to one another.
Do you believe that they may mean it for evil but God means it for good, to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive? That’s what Joseph said! Joseph said to his brothers, after his dad died, they thought, Dad’s gone, Joseph is now going to whack us! And Joseph turned to them and he says, “You don’t get it! You meant it for evil,” that ex-mate may have meant it for evil, that boss may have meant it for evil, that business partner may have meant it for evil, the parent that abused you may have meant it for evil, all that you have been through, believe God has sovereignly allowed it and that He will use it for your good, to bring about this present result.
And you can take all those hurts and all those pains and all that frustration and just, I want to believe, Lord. I just lay them in your lap and I can’t figure this out. But I trust You. I trust that the One who holds two billion stars in this tiny little galaxy and the two billion galaxies, by the Word of His power, cares about this one little person on this planet with my name. And that You can orchestrate events, as I entrust myself to You, to bring honor and glory to Yourself. And since I know You are good, You are actually orchestrating these painful events in a way that you will find holy pleasure in the happiness of your servant, and that’s me.
The application is to absolutely refuse to worry. Just refuse. Stop it! I am not going to go there. If You are in control, okay? I am not going to project out in my mind and my heart, all these scenarios and what could happen. I refuse to do that. That will take quite a bit of practice for some of us.
The third application is: To behold. Behold in all the mystery and the majesty of His kind, compassionate, just, and sovereign rule of all that is, or will ever be. “Oh the depth of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His paths, and His ways beyond finding out! Who has given to the Lord that He should repay him? For from Him and by Him and through Him are all things.”
And the application here is worship. Worship God for who He is, not merely for what He has done. I want to tell you a little secret that I am very slowly learning, very slowly learning, is that if you want to get an accurate view of God, yes, you must study the Bible. It is very important to be in a small group. Yes, you need to cultivate and develop your prayer life.
But what I want to tell you is that so often in Christian circles, I think what has happened, is we think these are all these duties and demands. And what we have lost is the awe and the wonder that you get to sit before the presence of the One who named the two billion stars. And to wonder that you are the object of His affection, that He knows all your tears and puts them in a bottle. That He understands all your hurts, that He is patient and quick of sympathy.
And the only way you get a right view of God is you need to sit quietly in His presence and you need to sing to Him and you need to worship and you need to not accomplish anything and not get any intercession done and not figure out how you can tell Him how to orchestrate your part of the universe, and just worship Him!
And when you see Him for who He is, and as you worship Him, because as God gets bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger, in your mind’s eye, your problems get smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller.
But if you focus on your problems, problems, problems, problems, problems then pretty soon, your God becomes very small.