Our Greatest Need
There is one thing that the Christian needs more than anything else––one thing on which everything else rests, and on which all others turn. It is the lack of this one element in many of our lives that leads to us being unsettled in our hearts, undecided in our pathways, ineffective in our testimony and desultory in our worship. So what is this lack? A second blessing? The gift of tongues? A greater surrender? No. What we require is an increasing and deepening knowledge of God––all else is secondary.
The Word of God teaches us (and we know it from our own experience as well), that “we do not know what we should pray for as is fitting, but the Spirit itself makes intercession with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8: 26). The Holy Spirit knows what we should pray for, and what we need. Whilst we are occupied with many irrelevant trivialities He would have us pray on a much higher and valuable level. In Eph. 1: 17, we have the Spirit’s prayer (through the apostle) set forth in these words: “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, would give you [the] spirit of wisdom and revelation in the full knowledge of him”. This then is our greatest need: A full knowledge of God.
Now knowledge is the essence of all trust or faith. We cannot safely trust a person––have faith in him––if we do not know him. By contrast, when we know a person well, we cannot help trusting him––no effort to trust is required. Our trust is always in proportion to our knowledge. This is also so with the Christian and His God. Most of us will readily admit that our trust in God, particularly in relation to this scene of trouble in which we walk, is not as it should be. Rather than being characterised by “great faith”, we are more often marked by “little faith” (Matt. 8: 10, 26). So why is this? Why do we not trust God? Is not the answer obvious? It is because we do not know Him as we ought to!
Too many of us have a form of Christian fatalism, little better than the Moslem’s resignation to the will of Allah. As believers in the true God, we are not merely to bow to the inevitability of His will, but to prove it “good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12: 2). Jonah resisted God’s will (Jonah 1: 1–3), Esther was resigned to it (Esther 4: 16), but David delighted in it: “To do thy good pleasure, my God, is my delight” (Ps. 40: 8). This is the attitude that should mark you and I. So why do we so little delight in God’s will––indeed why do we so often view it as anything but “good and acceptable and perfect”? In truth, many of us have an inadequate knowledge of God––if we knew just a little of the infiniteness of His love, and the vastness of His wisdom, we would yearn for His will. It would be the one great desire and longing of our hearts for Him to do exactly what is pleasing in His own sight in us, and for us, and through us.
The real trouble with many of us is that if we really examine our hearts, at bottom we think we know better than God. We would not admit such a thing for all the world, not even to ourselves, but that does not alter the fact of the matter––and the proof of it is in the way that we organise and plan our lives with so little reference to God––except as a kind of rubber–stamp to our arrangements. How little do we trust Him with our affairs! How reticent we are to practically commit our way unto Jehovah and to rely on Him (see Ps. 37: 5)! If we really knew Him and believed that He knows better than we do as to what is good for us, there would be none of this effort on our part whatever, just a blessed desire for His will.
Before I proceed to consider some of the practical effects of the knowledge of God, it will be of value to appreciate the difference between the two most common words in the Greek NT for the verb to know, especially as both are sometimes used in the same verse. The first, oida, means to know without learning or effort, and refers to what we know intuitively––subjective knowledge. Put simply, I know what I know because I am what I am. Man, for example, lacks the inherent knowledge or instinct peculiar to the animal. The second word, ginosko, means to get to know by effort, or experience, or learning––it is an acquired, objective knowledge. This difference will be clearly seen by examining some passages of Scripture:
John 13: 7: “What I do thou dost not know (oida) now”. Know here means that Peter had no intuitive knowledge of the real meaning of what the Lord was doing, and had no means of knowing. The Lord, however, goes on to say “but thou shalt know (ginosko) hereafter”, which means that Peter would learn, and find out, by experience and revelation, what the Lord was then doing.
1 John 5: 20: “And we know (oida) that the Son of God has come” means that we have an innate knowledge, not learned, but present in the soul by virtue of being born of God. The verse continues “and has given us an understanding that we should know (ginosko) him that [is] true”. Here the truth is taught that before any one can get to know God, he must have a spiritual understanding imparted to him in order that he can get to know God. Thus we read in 1 Cor. 2: 14: “But [the] natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him; and he cannot know (ginosko) [them]”. Why is it not possible for him to know them? “Because they are spiritually discerned”. The natural man has no means of getting to know spiritual things––a spiritual understanding must first be given to him. Then he will not only be able to discern, but to love and delight in the revelation of spiritual things, and to get to know Him, “the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent”. (John 17: 3).
The importance of getting to know God is thus emphasised as our one great need. This knowledge is not only the basis of trust in God, not only the foundation of Christian faith, but of Christian life. Practical Christian life and walk will be in direct proportion to our knowledge of God. Carefully weigh the words of Col. 1: 9, 10: “For this reason we also, from the day we heard [of your faith and love], do not cease praying and asking for you …”––asking what? “to the end that ye may be filled with the full knowledge of his will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding …” Why? For what purpose? “[so as] to walk worthily of the Lord unto all well–pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and growing by the true knowledge of God”. Thus to walk worthily of the Lord, I must know Him. If I wish to act in a way that pleases Him––then I must be aware of what gives Him pleasure. How can I find this out? By sitting down with God’s Word. There is no other way of getting to know Him. He has given us His Word, and revealed Himself therein on purpose––that we may study it and find out what He loves, and what He hates. There is revealed His wisdom, His will, His love, His power, His faithfulness, His holiness, His righteousness, His truth, His goodness, His mercy, His long–suffering, and His care––as well as innumerable other blessed attributes of our great and glorious God.
We cannot please any of our friends unless we know what gives them pleasure. If we want to give a present to a friend, we try to think of what he would be pleased to have. If we are receiving a guest, we try to find out what they like to eat or drink. If we cannot find it out, then we have to resort to guessing, and we may or may not then succeed in our efforts to please. We may take the greatest effort and trouble, but that is no guarantee of success––we may even, in our ignorance, provide the very thing which is most disliked! It is exactly the same with God. How are we to find out the things which please Him? From His Word.
There and there alone can we get to know Him. No man has the knowledge of God intuitively. We are not born with it. We must acquire it. Where from? God’s Word. No servant of God can even help in imparting it, except in and by ministry of that Word. A servant’s own thoughts are valueless. Only so far as he enables us to understand that Word can he be of any assistance to us. He may be mistaken himself, and even a hindrance instead of a help. God has revealed Himself in His written Word, the Scriptures of truth, and in the living Word, His Son Jesus Christ. And it is by the communicated Word revealed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit that we begin to get to know Him, whom to know is life eternal.
This is the one great reason why the written Word is given to us. It is not given merely as a book of general information, or of reference, but it is given to make known the invisible God. Why do we read it? Why do we open it at all? What is, or ought to be, our object in reading it? We should sit down before it with the one dominant object being to find out God, to discover His mind, and to get to know His will. Those who are not engaged in this way make their own god out of their own thoughts and imaginations. They have to fall back on what they think their god likes. Ignorant of God’s word, they are alike ignorant of the God who has there revealed Himself.
See the power of this truth as it is applied to what is called ‘public worship’. Oblivious to the great truth of John 4: 24, “God [is] a spirit; and they who worship him must worship [him] in spirit and truth”, many talk of the kind of ‘church–service’ they prefer and what appeals to them––as if the worship of God was merely about what pleases man. They forget that word “must” which dominates the whole sphere of worship.
Worship must be only with the spirit. We cannot worship God with our eyes by looking on the ritual being carried out. We cannot worship God with our noses by smelling incense. We cannot worship God with our ears, by listening to the ‘worship band’. No. Worship cannot be with any of our senses or even by all of them put together. It must be spiritual and not sensual––with our spirits, and by the Holy Spirit. True worshippers must be spiritual worshippers for “the Father seeks such as his worshippers” (v23). Not just worshippers but such as His worshippers––those who worship “in spirit and truth”.
How many such worshippers frequent the churches and chapels of this land? How many are still, in reality, worshipping an “unknown God” (Acts 17: 23)? Is it possible that if God were known––the great, “the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity” (Is. 57: 15) , who “dwells not in [places] made with hands” (Acts 7: 48), the God in whose sight the very heavens are not pure and who charges His angels with folly (see Job 4: 18; 15: 15)––is it possible, I ask, that any who know Him could imagine for one moment that He could accept as worship a performance of music, the reading of a prayer, or dancing in the aisles? Is that what the great and infinite God is seeking? Is that the occupation of heart with Himself which He says He “must” have? No indeed! And the greater the ignorance of the Word, the greater the ignorance of God––and the more degraded will become the accompaniments of what is called ‘public worship’.
Consider further, the effect of this great truth on our prayers. What is prayer for? Why are we told so often to pray? Why? Because prayer is intended to humble us by putting us into the place of helplessness and dependence. Prayer is meant to put us with our faces in the dust before the Mighty God. Instead of this what do we find? We turn that place which is meant to humble us and keep us in a low place, into a throne, from which we dictate to God what he shall do in our affairs and how He shall help to carry out our plans. It is one thing to come “with boldness to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and find grace for seasonable help” (Heb. 4: 16), but quite another to summon God to our throne, and then to petulantly blame Him in our hearts when things in our lives don’t run quite as we had wished. A true knowledge of God would lead to a very different condition of things. Instead of telling God what to do, and our will being paramount, we would cease to take the burdens of life upon ourselves and leave all our cares with Him. His will, that “good and acceptable and perfect will” (Rom. 12: 2), would become everything to us. Why do so many Christians receive no answer from heaven to their prayers? Because they have an inadequate knowledge of God. If we know Him, we know something of His will, and ask accordingly. Thus: “And this is the boldness which we have towards him, that if we ask him anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of him.” (1 John 5: 14).
When we pray for our will to be done in any matter, it means that we are willing to take all the responsibility if that request were granted. Oh what a solemn responsibility! And God sometimes allows us to have what we want, however senseless and wrong, and we have to be taught in the affliction of his government the foolishness of our way, and the blessedness of His. How much better to leave our affairs in His hands––how much better a little more of “not my will, but thine be done” (Luke 22: 42)! If we know God well enough we can surely say, in making our request, ‘I will leave it to thee, Lord’. We have His assurance that He is “able to do far exceedingly above all which we ask or think” (Eph. 3: 20). If we do all the thinking, we shall surely limit him. How much better to leave the limit to Him––and we will do this in proportion to how much we know Him. Take an illustration. Suppose a friend is in great difficulties, and we have a plan that will lift him right out of them, and set him on his feet again. He, meantime, comes to us to borrow some small sum that will only give temporary relief, and leave him to struggle on still in difficulties. He limits our power. His poor thoughts cannot rise to the extent of what we are able to do. If we answer his prayer and grant him his request and lend him what he asks, how small will be his blessing. Why does he not “ask” or “think” more according to our ability and love? Because he does not know us well enough! That is the secret, and that is why he is not properly delivered. He thinks he knows better than we do, and measures our willingness to give by his poor power to ask. Oh to know the love and power and wisdom of our God! What a revolution it would make in our prayers, as well as in our lives.
Look again at another effect of this knowledge of God as applied to gospel work. What is the first thing that must come out of the lips of the evangelist? Is it not to explain his God to the unbelieving––“him I announce to you” (Acts 17: 23)? Is it not to show how the living God is far above all their ideas? Is it not to tell how God has revealed Himself in His Word, and to explain that revelation, and to minister that Word? We thus see how a true knowledge of God lies at the heart of all evangelical work. How can a man explain God unless he knows God––and how can God be known apart from His Word? Hence the supreme necessity of so studying His Word so that we may not only enjoy but also be able to speak of Him of whom that Word is sent to testify. What did the Lord Jesus say the Scriptures were about? “The things concerning himself” (Luke 24: 27).
Thus the Christian’s one great object ought to be to get to know Christ. And so the apostle can desire with all his heart “to know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings” (Phil. 3: 10). Not merely to get to know about Him, but to know Him. How is this done? By feeding upon the Word of God in the power of the Spirit. What was it that led the heathen world into all its darkness, corruption and sin? It was this: “professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into [the] likeness of an image of corruptible man and of birds and quadrupeds and reptiles … according as they did not think good to have God in [their] knowledge” (Rom. 1: 22, 23, 28). What was it that led the earthly people of God astray? It was this: “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib; Israel doth not know, my people hath no intelligence” (Is. 1: 3). See how the Lord Jesus confirms this in Luke 19 as He weeps over Jerusalem. All is summed up in the opening and closing words: “If thou hadst known, even thou, even at least in this thy day, the things that are for thy peace” and then turning to the reason for the judgement coming upon them, He adds “because thou knewest not the season of thy visitation” (v42, 44). What is to be said in the day of Israel’s restoration? It is this: “And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know Jehovah; for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith Jehovah” (Jer. 31: 34). And then, what shall be creation’s glory, and the peace and joy of the whole earth? It will be this: “for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Jehovah, as the waters cover the sea” (Is. 11: 9). And what is the secret of our being able to glory only in the Lord, and to enjoy His blessing in this day of visitation? It is given in Jer. 9: 23, 24: “Thus saith Jehovah: Let not the wise glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty glory in his might; let not the rich glory in his riches: but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me…”.
We are thus brought round, and brought back to the one great duty which should henceforth absorb our hearts and minds, and fill our days and years––to be diligent in our study of the Word of God, which has been given to us with the one great, commanding purpose––the revelation of Himself, in order that we may GET TO KNOW HIM.