Thirty-three years ago I took a woman to a Gilbert and Sullivan play as a first date. Before the evening of our get-together, I had a collection of facts about her: she was a farmer’s daughter, she was a Social Worker, and she was cute. After the evening of our get-together, I told my parents that I had just met the woman I would marry.
What happened during those few, short hours? I had known she wanted to be a missionary, but over a glass of wine, she told me of her longing to help internationals. And I fell in love. I didn’t get new information; somehow, something I already knew became real.
She breathed life into the facts I already possessed. A personal connection trumped my data.
Western nations—Americans in particular—are information junkies. The Self-Improvement market guzzles ten billion dollars a year as we gather more info on health, personal finances, and relational well-being. Yet we remain over-weight, under-saved, and highly-divorced.
Christians likewise are data collectors. We download hundreds of sermons, stockpile libraries of books, frequent retreats, and memorize verses. Yet we remain anxious, timid, and lonely.
We don’t need more information; we need what we already know to become real.
We’re hoping in the wrong solutions
Our biggest problem—at this moment—is that God is not real to us. We think our greatest need is for good advice or different circumstances: “What must I do to achieve a healthy marriage?” or “If only I had a better boss”. But more data or better jobs won’t heal our aches.
Jesus said the Bible is written so we can meet God personally; not just know about him but know him; not just encounter cold facts but encounter a warm person; not just to change our settings but to be transformed by a relationship:
You search the Scriptures because you think you will find rich life in them; yet they are talking about me. You refuse to come to me that you may have life. (John 5:39-40)
Our single greatest need in all the world right now is for God to become more real to us.
So … how do we do that?
When we read the Bible, we see … but do not see, and we hear but do not understand. We read Scripture to find guidance (a change of circumstances) or to affirm what we already know (one more data point to collect). Jesus says we should come to meet him.
One day a piano tuner told me that if I sang the right note into a piano, the corresponding string would vibrate. She struck the middle “A” so I could get the right pitch, dampened it, and I then sang “Ahhh” into the piano. And the string reverberated. Though it took me a couple tries.
When we read Scripture, we have the “A” strings of information, like that God loves us enough to call us his children. But it isn’t enough. We are seeing without seeing. We need something more. We need the resonance of God’s Spirit.
That’s why Paul tells us that “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16). God begins to sing his word into our hearts and soon the information we have begins to resonate. Information about God is trumped by God himself.
It’s really all we need
The book of Job overflows with Job seeking God for information (“Why, God, are you doing this?”) or a change in circumstances (“God, let me die”). Instead, God simply reveals himself.
When Job meets God, he responds, “I had heard of you with my ears, but now my eyes see you” (Job 42:5). And he is completely satisfied. Notice: God has not told Job why all this is happening, nor has God changed the circumstances. Yet Job says he got all that he really wanted.
Scripture says that no one “knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him. So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:11). Our need is for the Spirit of God to speak his words into our lives—to hear the living God himself—and we’ll be satisfied.
Instead of asking God for new data, let’s just ask God for a date; and let our knowledge of him resonate as he sings his song into our hearts.
This article includes material from my upcoming book Hearing God in Conversation: How to Recognize His Voice Everywhere. It will be released in mid-July by Kregel Publications.
I believe it will help you begin to hear God in a new conversational relationship.
Please consider pre-ordering the book now by clicking on one of these links or on the book cover.
- Learning to recognize the sound of God’s voice
- Hearing God in his silence
- How to Brainstorm with God
- Hearing God in Scripture
- Hearing God for guidance
Wayne Jacobson, pastor and author of He Loves Me and Finding Church, said this:
If you want to grow in your ability to recognize how God makes himself known to you, I can’t recommend a better guide than Sam Williamson’s Hearing God in Conversation.
Thank you brother! I needed to hear this. Also the video blog on Confession before Repentance. Your a blessing to me and treasure to the kingdom of our Lord. Love you Sam, but not near as much as the Lord Jesus does. Take care my friend! Russ
And you are an encouragement to me.
It’s funny that we forget simple truths. We need the Spirit of God to help us hear and understand God. Duh! And Jesus said,, “If you parent who are evil give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask.”
He WANTS us to hear and see him!
Another good word, Sam. Right time, right place. Just an hour ago my grandson asked if there was any difference between knowledge and wisdom and we had the deep discussion about what you may know and what you do with it. And now I get to reflect on all the great books I have from all the great men of God, and maybe I need to put the books down and just look up. Like the piano string this morning’s message resonated and stirred – – Thanks.
But – Gilbert and Sullivan for a first date?
Yeah, I know, Gilbert and Sullivan … I think I wanted to impress her with how cultured I am. She, of course, has learned better since then.
Amen! This really is the heart of the matter. I have heard it preached repeatedly, from several pulpits, that “The Bible is the ONLY way we can know God.” It grieves me deeply. Why does so much of the modern-day church ignore the Holy Spirit? Why are people so unaware of Him, and so afraid of Him? We desperately need both the Word and the Spirit. Thanks for this reminder Sam.
It’s weird. I know many preachers who say, “the Bible is the only way,” and ignore what the Bible itself says about the Holy Spirit; but I also know many people who just ignore the Bible completely claiming all they want is to feel God’s presence.
And spiritual truth speaks differently. The truth is, our biggest difficulty is learning to recognize God’s voice, to distinguish it from all the other voices in the world (and in our heads). The best place to learn to recognize his voice is in Scripture (with his Spirit illuminating, speaking it to us); but then we know the sound of his voice, and we begin to hear it everywhere.
Thank you for the timely post Sam! I needed to read/ hear this tonight. I’ve been trying to cram as many sermons and bible studies in as possible but it’s not enough without the Spirit. Emily
Even though I wrote this post, I partly had to write it to myself, to remind myself that the busyness of cramming information is completely different that hearing his voice. One is collecting information like kids collect baseball cards; the other is meeting the players themselves.
Another superb post, Sam. So very insightful, and so well expressed! Thank you for the wise, Spirit-breathed message.
HEY EVERYBODY: Bob Hartig is the editor of my two books, and HE IS FANTASTIC!
(I’m also glad that he likes my writing.)
And he’s a good friend.
Hey, Sam, thanks for the shout-out! I’ve been thinking about you–would like to get you in at my church sometime, if you’re up for it. Added incentive: The award-winning Walldorff Brewpub here in Hastings. We have yet to toast your new book with a celebratory mugful of the nut-brown, aye?