Do You Know God?
Or Do You Only Know about God?
Gleanings from the Works of Oswald Chambers
By Reed Benson
For better or worse, I watch Fox News, and the program I light upon most frequently is Bill O’Reilly’s. I agree with some of his views, but certainly not all. Two of the more interesting aspects of the show are his colorful personality and the intense manner in which he argues his perspective. Over time, I have come to feel like I know Bill personally. I can often guess what kind of response he will make regarding the comments of a given guest. However, despite the feeling that I know him, he does not know me at all, and the sense of familiarity I have with him is completely illusory. Truly, I do not know him; I only know about him, and indeed, only the relatively narrow slice of his life that he displays on television. The only way I could truly know him is if I had the opportunity to spend time with him—that is, I talk to him, he talks to me, and we do some activity together. Obviously I do not believe that will occur, so I will never really know Bill O’Reilly. We will never have a relationship; I will only know about him.
Scripture teaches us that we can suffer from the same illusion regarding God. We read the Bible, so we know quite a bit about God’s opinions from His commandments and bits of advice He has passed to us in Scripture. We pray, and so we talk to God, perhaps even pouring out our heartfelt frustrations to him. We assume we know God as well as most anyone can know Him and leave it at that.
However, the truth of this matter is that many of us do not really know God: we only know about God. It is plainly quite possible to be deceived: “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then I will profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:22-23). We do not really have a relationship with Him because we do not listen to Him. By listening to God, I do not mean hearing a voice thundering down from the sky, or even any audible voice at all. By listening to God, I mean listening for God in the words that He has given us in His Word. I must read the Bible with a mindset to apply those words to every affair of my life, not the affairs of other folks. And, I must apply His words not just to the outward decisions that lie before me, but to the inner longings of my heart, the deep-rooted anxieties of my mind, the scarcely acknowledged weaknesses I possess, the hidden parts of myself that I should be discovering. The process of really getting to know God leads us on a path of discovering ourselves, and it is not always a happy journey.
Getting to know God, not just know about Him, was the passion of Oswald Chambers. An English evangelist who died of illness in his forties while serving as a chaplain in World War One, he left a considerable collection of writings. Some of his works were collated into a popular volume entitled My Utmost for His Highest. What follows are some of the gems gleaned from his writings.
1. God’s way of dealing with us is to allow a situation to build up to a crisis in our life because we will not heed His gentler promptings. He then produces this providential crisis where we have to decide—for or against Him. If such a crisis has arrived in your life, surrender your will to Him absolutely, irrevocably, and without reservation.
2. If you perceive what God’s will is, never act on the impulse of that feeling. If you do, you will make difficulties that may take years to set right again. Wait for God’s timing to bring it around, and He will do it without any heartbreak or disappointment. When it is the question of the providential will of God, wait for God to move.
3. One of the greatest strains in life is waiting for God. “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience.” Waiting for God requires spiritual tenacity.
4. Jesus told Peter, “Follow me,” and Peter followed easily, for the fascination of Jesus was upon him, and he did not need the Holy Spirit help him do it. Then he came to the place where he denied Jesus with oaths and curses. You see, Peter had come to the end of his self-sufficiency. Without the Holy Spirit, all our vows and resolutions end in denial. Like Peter, we must receive the Holy Spirit, because our own willpower and dedication will never be enough.
5. The great mysterious work of the Holy Spirit is in the dim regions of our personalities, which we cannot get at. There are motives within me that I cannot trace, dreams I cannot get a grip upon. God must “search me out.” When the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses me from all sin, this means much more than my conscious experience only. I am cleansed of sin of which I am not aware and have never known was seeping out of my person. This obtuse quality in which we do not know what all our sins are makes us utterly dependent on God for salvation.
6. The only way we can be of use to God is to let Him take us through the crooks and crannies of our own characters. It is astounding how ignorant we are about ourselves! We do not recognize envy, laziness, or pride when it wells up within us. Each of us possesses whole tracts of stubbornness and ignorance which the Holy Spirit can reveal in us. We have to get rid of the idea that we understand ourselves; it is the last conceit to go. God will take us through wounded pride in order to help us see ourselves as we really are.
7. All I do ought to be founded on a perfect oneness with Him, not on a self-willed determination to be godly. That will only lead to pride and hypocrisy first, and failure second. We must lean on Him and submit our will to His. To the extent we do this, we cannot help but act in a godly manner.
8. Personal holiness is an effect, not a cause.
9. If love is always discreet, always wise, always sensible and calculating, never carried beyond itself, it is not love at all. True love for God is to abandon ourselves to Him. Abandon to God is of more value than personal holiness. Personal holiness focuses the eye on our own whiteness; we are greatly concerned about the way we walk and talk and look, fearful lest we offend Him. Abandonment for God—true love—is far greater than this. Have I ever produced in the heart of the Lord Jesus what Mary of Bethany produced?
10. If we are abandoned to Jesus, we have no ends of our own to serve. Paul said he knew how to be a “door-mat” without resenting it, because the mainspring of his life was devotion to Jesus.
11. The reason some of us are such poor specimens of Christianity is because we have no Almighty Christ in us. We have Christian attributes and experiences, but there is no abandonment to Jesus Christ.
12. The majority of us have no ear for anything but ourselves; we cannot hear a thing that God says.
13. Troubles nearly always make us look to God; His blessings are apt to make us look elsewhere. It is thus through trouble that we come to know God.
14. “Consider the lilies of the field”—they grow where they are put. Many of us refuse to grow where we are put; consequently we take root nowhere.
15. “Take no thought for your life.” Be careful about one thing only, says Jesus: your relationship to me. Common sense shouts out loud and says, “That is absurd; I must consider how I am going to get by, I must consider what I am going to eat and drink.” But Jesus says you must not.
16. Get into the habit of saying, “Speak, Lord.” Every time circumstances press you hard, say, “Speak, Lord,” and then make time to listen. When God chastens me, it is more than a means of discipline. It is meant to get me to the place where I will say, “Speak, Lord.”
17. Learn to associate ideas worthy of God with all that happens in nature: sunrises, sunsets, the moon and the stars, the changing seasons, and your imagination will never be at the mercy of your impulses, but will always be at the service of God.
18. The test of spiritual concentration is bringing the imagination into captivity. Is your imagination looking on the face of an idol? Is the idol yourself?
19. So often we do not consciously disobey God; we simply do not heed Him. God has given us His commands. There they are, but we do not pay any attention to them, not because of willful disobedience, but because we do not love and respect Him.
20. We like to listen to personal testimonies, but we usually do not desire that God should speak to us. Why are we so terrified lest God should speak to us? Because we know that if God does speak, either the thing must be done, or we must tell God that we will not obey Him.
21. It is in the dark times of life that we should listen for God. Do not talk to other people about the darkness. Do not read books to find a reason for the darkness; but, look in the Bible and listen for God. When the darkness passes, there comes a mixture of delight and humiliation—delight in hearing God speak, but chiefly humiliation for being such a poor listener in the past.
22. Depression and dejection spring from one of two sources: either I have satisfied a lust and am filled with guilt, or I wish to satisfy a lust and have been frustrated in that desire. Lust means, “I must have it at once.” Spiritual lust makes me demand an answer from God instead of seeking God and patiently waiting for an answer. The meaning of prayer is that we get hold of God, not of the answer. Depression is wrong; it is a spiritual failure, and we are always to blame for it.
23. Has it ever dawned on you that you are responsible for other souls spiritually before God? For instance, if I allow private distraction from God in my life, everyone about me suffers.
24. The most impossible thing to you is that you should be so identified with Christ that there is nothing of your old life left. Yet that impossible thing is precisely what He asks of us.
25. It is easier to serve God without a vision, easier to work for God without a call, because then you are not bothered by what God requires. Common sense is your guide, veneered over with Christian sentiment. You will be more prosperous and successful, more leisure–hearted, if you never realize the call of God. But once you receive a commission from Jesus Christ, the memory of what God wants will always come like a goad: you will no longer be able to work for Him on the common sense basis.