Lately I have been thinking about the over six billion people on this planet. Actually, I think about them a lot, but even more so in recent weeks. I think about the people who walk on the sidewalk near my home and those living on rickety rafts and boat-houses on the rivers of southeast Asia. I think of young and old, male and female, poor and rich, healthy and unhealthy. Mostly I grieve over the billions who don’t know God.
I want them to know God. I want everyone to know God, for their good in both this life and the life to come. But why should they want to know God? Even if, as is the case, the overwhelming majority of this world’s population believes in some kind of a God or exalted being (or beings), why should they desire to know God, or even know about God, more than they do?
This line of thinking leads me to write about the central reasons why I long to know God more fully and more personally than I now do. These are not primarily reasons to know more about God, although this is an inseparable part of my lifetime quest. These are, above all, my reasons for knowing God experientially—personally and intimately.
First, I want to know God because, frankly, my friendship with him gives me the most enjoyable quality of life that I can imagine on this earth. I was born again into the family of God in 1962, and have not once regretted that I was drawn into the body of Christ by the gracious pull of the cross. It is literally impossible for me to conceive of a more personally satisfying relationship with anyone (or ones) other than the all-mighty, all-merciful, and all-holy God of the Hebrew-Christian scriptures.
I have not always had the degree of satisfaction in God that I now have. This has been a growing relationship over many years. I have failed the Lord many times during my journey, but this was never because he abandoned me. I have been the one who did not remain in close fellowship with God as I should have. Yet he has always brought me back to himself, leading me again and again to repentance and forgiveness and full acceptance as his loved child.
Another reason I want to know God more fully is to know what to do with the rest of my life. While I am writing this after the most active and public years of my Christian service are likely behind me, I still have some time remaining on earth, even if it’s only a short while. Even in these, my “retirement” years, I never have considered myself retired. In my view, God’s people don’t retire. We, by God’s grace, live everyday seeking to do God’s blessed will, just as we have before finishing our more formal work life.
Circumstances—health, finances, activities, places, people—may change, but life as a child of God continues. I seek God through prayer, meditation in the Word, interaction with others, acceptance of my gifts and ministry opportunities, and experimentation, just as I did before my major work responsibilities changed in 2005. In that year, for health reasons, I needed to retire early from my position as Professor of Theology at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, MN. But I am continually seeking to know how to serve others with the remainder of my life and resources, and to stay on a meaningful, useful and Christ-centered course, I want to know God more and more so that I sense the direction he has for me. I have no desire to flounder and fumble along until the end of my life. I remind myself often of the words of the apostle Paul: “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
My final reason is a spinoff from the second, which is a spinoff from the first. I want to know God because I want to know, more and more, how he thinks, feels, and acts in this world, so that I may think, feel, and act like him. The longer I live the more saddened, as well as encouraged, I become over the condition of the peoples of the earth. I grieve and I rejoice; I scratch my head in bewilderment and I have glimpses of light and hope. I desire to know God so that I may—as much as is possible in this life—see the big picture of what God has been doing in this world since its beginning, what God is doing now, and what he has yet to come.
I do not wish to know these things for my own intellectual curiosity or psychological stability, or to feel closer to God. All of these are by-products of knowing God well, and we surely must be grateful for them. But I desire to know the big picture in light of God’s will so that I may be involved in his kingdom program as productively as possible. For example, since I know through the close reading of God’s Word, the Bible, that God longs for justice and mercy to prevail in this world, I want to give a portion of my energy and finances to strengthen those agencies that are concerned with these activities. I want to pray for and encourage those who are suffering and bowed down with care, because I see Jesus in the Gospels ministering compassionately to the hungry, the sick and the weary.
Here I close with two scriptures (NASB) that will encourage you and me to continue seeking to know God more and more all of our days on earth.
“Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand all things” (Proverbs 28:5).
“The people who know their God will display strength and take action” (Daniel 11:32).