By John David Hicks, Evangelist © 1998 Faith Encounter, Inc.
“The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you. Sing praises to the Lord, enthroned in Zion; proclaim among the nations what he has done.” — Psalm 9:9–11
In his book Desiring God, John Piper asks an interesting question and poses an even more interesting answer—”What could God give us to enjoy that would prove Him most loving? There is only one possible answer: Himself! If He withholds Himself from our contemplation and companionship, no matter what else He gives us, He is not loving.”
Knowing God and having an intimate relationship with Him is God’s original design. This is eternal life, an eternal relationship. Life eternal does not come from knowing about God, but from knowing God. We are made for the Lord. To know, love, enjoy, and serve Him is the purpose of our lives. Out of this relationship of the human spirit in fellowship with God, faith is born. We enter into this relationship by desire, discipline, and delight and the result is passion, faith, and praise.
Desire—the first key to this relation-ship—was expressed by David in Psalm 9:9, “The Lord is a refuge,” my dwelling place, my environment. This is the place where I live and breathe; this is where I am at home. The New Testament expresses the same thought when it speaks of being “in Christ.” When oppressed or in trouble, He is my refuge and stronghold, my environment, the very air that I breathe. Because I am “in Christ,” I dwell in His temple.
Tony Campolo describes this environment in his book The Kingdom of God is a Party. “A Christian is not simply a person who accepts some biblically proven propositional truths about who Jesus was and what He accomplished in His death and resurrection; it also involves a subjective decision to surrender to Jesus and to allow Him to invade one’s personality. Becoming a Christian means being permeated by the presence of Jesus. It is to allow this Person who is alive in the world and is as close as the air that one breathes to be inhaled and enjoyed.”
The seventeenth-century philosopher and scientist, Blaise Pascal, described his experience of God’s indwelling presence as, “…from about half past ten in the evening to about half an hour after midnight—Fire. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not the God of philosophers and scholars. Absolute Certainty; Beyond Reason! Joy, Peace. Forgetfulness of the world and everything but God. The world has not known thee, but I have known thee. Joy! Joy! Joy! Tears of Joy.”
And Paul speaks of this in Romans 8:11, “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.”
To have this relationship you must know you are loved, accepted, and forgiven by God. When you love someone, you enjoy them, delight in them, and want to be with them. God enjoys you and likes being with you. He wants you to be aware of His presence. When you grasp this, your Christian life will be a pleasurable, joyful experience. “In your presence there is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forever more” —Psalm 16:11. David knew the presence of the Lord was the only all-satisfying experience of life. He cried, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for you, O God, for the living God”—Psalm 42:1–2. Do you desire the Lord to be your dwelling place, your environment?
In verse 10 of Psalm 9, David gives us the second key to this relationship —discipline. “Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” It is not easy to keep trusting in the difficult times of life. Tolstoy warns us, “If we reason about love, we destroy love.” Faith is not dependent on a theological argument or intellec-tual understanding. Faith is belief and trust in a relationship. Problems and struggles come to everyone, but thepsalmist knew God would never forsake those who trust Him.
Through suffering, Job’s faith was perfected. How could Job have faith when everything in his life went wrong? All his children died. The enemy stole his livestock and burned his fields. His health was broken. His best friends and wife turned on him. How could he have faith? In chapter 13:15, he explains, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” He saw the character of God, His love, His faithfulness. He knew God would not forsake him. Out of the relationship, he had faith. Hebrews tells us Jesus also learned a discipline relationship of faith through the things He suffered.
Paul Billheimer gives us insight into the discipline of suffering in Destined for the Throne. Learning to overcome Satan is the qualification for rulership in eternity. This explains why God permits Satan to tempt us, to give you exercise in overcoming. We have the privilege of trusting God. Without our suffering, we wouldn’t see God work and our faith would not develop.
A lasting relationship with God— regardless of the circumstances—is based on faith, trust, and dependence on God. Jesus said the world’s sin is unbelief in Him. Hebrews 11:6 says, “without faith it is impossible to please God.”
Let’s take, for example, a man who gives his testimony. He says, “I have been filled with the Spirit. I have come to know the Lordship of Christ and His mighty power in my life!” So you get your notebook and start to write: (1) The starting place was God revealing Himself. Okay. (2) Next he heard a message on total commitment. Okay. (3) Then he prayed a certain way. Okay. Now you have three things to do. You go to your room and do the same thing as that brother, but nothing happens! Why? Because you wanted an experience of power and blessing, the gift, rather than the giver. All you got was a procedure or formula. Things and experiences cannot satisfy you.
I have heard people say, “If I could just break that habit. I am bound by some sin. If I could just get the victory. If I could just get patience or if I just had more love.” So they seek it. It’s a hide and seek game. I know some who need the power of God in their lives. They have been seeking it for years and have never found it.
The one with a testimony found a Person. He had an encounter with the living Lord. God rewards those who earnestly seek him—Hebrews 11:6. Jesus said in John 7:37, “If a man is thirsty, let him come to me!”
You need a relationship with God. Jesus is all you will ever need to have abundant life. He is all you will ever need to be made into the image of God. He is all you will ever need to do the work of God. Jesus is the end of everything and at the same time He is the means to that end. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst”— John 6:35. Bread is meant to satisfy our hunger for things. Water is meant to quench our thirst, our passions. Jesus is the fountain, the source of life, that flows like a river from the throne of God to be all that we will ever need. He is the Light that gives guidance, direction, and purpose to life. When He said, I am the way, He is also what we find at the end of the way, the truth, and the life. The only way to have a relationship with God, is the same avenue of forgiveness for sins, and the only street for salvation, Christ.
The Bible calls Jesus our Savior, but He is also our Salvation—He saves us to. Psalm 27:1 says, “The Lord is my… salvation.” God gives us life, but this life is in His Son. Jesus is the life God gives us. >From one viewpoint, it looks like God is giving us things—wisdom, righteous-ness, holiness, redemption. But in reality God is giving us Himself so we can have all we need. First Corinthians 1:30 says Christ Jesus “has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” God does not give us things; He gives us Himself in Jesus. “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness”—2 Peter 1:3. He is all you will ever need, for all things consummate in Him (Eph.1:10).
God’s intention is not to take you to heaven, or improve your lot on earth, or make you a better person. His purpose is to replace everything about you with Christ so that the relationship is every-thing. This discipline relationship of suffering and temptation produces faith and trust resulting in a deep relationship.
Verse 11 of Psalm 9 gives us the third key to this relationship—delight. “Sing praises to the Lord, enthroned in Zion; proclaim among the nations what he has done.” My praise for him overflows into my world. My faith is put into action and is expressed in joyful praise.
We praise what we value, what we believe to be of worth. C.S. Lewis noted that all enjoyment overflows into praise and only what we delight and value will we praise, because it completes our joy. God wants you to enjoy Him, otherwise your Christian life will be empty and miserable. Worship is adoration; you adore only what you delight in. Unhappy praise or adoration do not exist. Those who go through the motions of worship without adoration are hypocrites. The command of the Lord is to “Delight yourself in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4), and to “Serve the Lord with gladness” (Psalm 100:2). Then your praise overflows into a testimony to your world.
A pastor spoke to his graduating high school and college kids. He told them, “Today you have your diploma, a degree, a title, which give you an opportunity. You have experienced the commencement, which means the beginning. You are just starting out. But when life is over and your body is put in a grave, what will matter? Who will come to your funeral? Who will honor your life? The big question is, Will God honor your life and reward you in heaven? On that day you will have either a testimony or a title. A title is some degree or office you hold on your job or in the church. It’s an opportunity given you. But a testimony is when you put your faith into action, when you love God and care for people. It’s the fulfilling of Jesus’ great commandment to love God and your neighbor. Will people say you cared, you helped them in the name of the Lord? God will separate the sheep from the goats— those who have a testimony and those who only have a title—at Judgment Day. Will you have a testimony because you put your faith into action with people and God, or just a title, opportunity, but no action?”
Your testimony comes from experiencing “the steadfast love [of the Lord who] is better than life”—Psalm 63:3. He is better than anything the world can offer you. This is the cry of Psalm 73:25–26—”Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Nothing in this world can completely satisfy you, not even God’s gifts of health, wealth, and prosperity. Only God can. “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you”—Psalm 16:2. This relationship is surrounded with desire, discipline, and delight—the essence of loving God and enjoying Him.
Paul understood this principle of relationship when he boasted, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” —Philippians 3:7–8. The relationship made him bold in his witness for Christ. As the first missionary Paul said, “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel!” At the council at Jerusalem, the relationship made him stand for grace over the law. The relationship was his testimony. What can you do to Paul? Take his title. Take his church. Stone him. Beat him. Imprison him. Kill him. What did he say? What was Paul’s motivation? “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain….For Christ’s love compels us…that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” When we understand how much God loves us—Christ’s love will compel us too. The relationship motivates! Out of the relationship Paul could become fearless, facing the storms at sea, the threatening sword of Rome, the howling mobs, the bribe-swayed judges, the beating, and the false brethren. The relationship was everything.
Paul affirmed this in 2 Timothy 2:4, “No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer.” The desire, the discipline, and the delight of the relationship were all his. Hardships and discipline were a part of soldiering. The delight of his life was to follow the Captain of his salvation and to be with Him in the fellowship of his sufferings. The praise of men, the comfort of life, and wealth had no motivation for his service. Paul had a testimony—Christ’s love compels me! The relationship motivated him!
To experience Jesus, Paul knew there must be desire, an utter commitment of his whole life and person to Christ. “Believing in Christ” means making Him your environment, your passion, which involves letting go of things and emotional attachments. Next, discipline yourself in faith to obey and follow Him. Then delight and praise will spring forth into testimony. The purpose of God is the relationship! Has Christ become your all in all? “May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation always say, ‘The Lord be exalted!’”—Psalm 40:16.