Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord.
Whether you’re new to the Logistics of Lent series here at His Own Heart, or you’ve returned for Part 5 this week, I so appreciate your being here. And I have to tell you, I read a book recently that gave me a lot to think about regarding a believer’s relationship with Christ and how it looks. Or maybe how it should look.
Don’t worry: we’ll return next week to the winding path of Scripture that shows Old Testament and New Testament to be one continuous progression of God’s plan of redemption for mankind. But as I began the post you would’ve read this week, it struck me that the nature or depth of my relationship with Jesus Christ is directly proportionate to any benefit I might receive from journeying along that winding path of Scripture.
It can, in fact, guard against the replacement of heart-knowledge with head-knowledge, a sad and stifling turn of events for any spiritual life. Think of it this way: daily Bible reading is little more than an activity (head-knowledge) unless a person determines to draw from what he or she reads and infuse those scriptural principles into his or her lifestyle (heart-knowledge).
Which turns my thoughts to the aforementioned book penned by mid-western author Jamie Ivey, If You Only Knew: My Unlikely, Unavoidable Story of Becoming Free. Published by B&H Publishing Group, this is a quick and engaging read. Its pages tell the story of Ivey’s spiritual journey from head-knowledge of mere facts to heart-knowledge of a personal, relational experience of a life lived in surrender to Jesus Christ. While I admit that we don’t necessarily agree on every theological idea the book presents – we differ, for instance, on the general implications of Matthew 7 as discussed here – her story underscores a number of good points that are imperative for nurturing habits of a healthy spiritual lifestyle.
One of those points brings to mind the words of Isaiah 1:18 listed at the top of this week’s post. The prophet’s simple statement serves as a lead-in of sorts to the promise that through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection – His Passion – our sins will be forgiven, forgotten, made “white as snow.” Often I’ve wondered, though, whether the prophetic directive bears an additional point; that we are simply to “come now” and spend time “just being” in relationship with Him.
Ivey speaks in clear detail of the importance this aspect bears on a believer’s fruitful living through Christ. She also speaks in clear detail of what can happen when a believer lacks proper training in this aspect of spiritual health. To this end, an alternate title for the book might be If Only I Had Known. Before delving into that area of the book, however, allow me to preface her point with a caveat: Ivey rightly classifies sin as sin and is quick to take full responsibility for the choices that led to her own pitfalls. She offers no excuses to readers and asks them for no sympathy regarding the dark turn into sin that her life took for a number of years. She states, in fact, that:
[w]hen we hide the mess we’ve been through, we also hide the redemption that God has lavishly poured on us. We can’t proclaim His grace until we expose our mess.
What Ivey does do, though, is bring to light an issue that in a very large way spurred me toward answering the unlikely call to this weak effort at ministry. Ivey takes readers through a number of personal experiences in which she was told what she should do as a follower of Christ, but she also candidly admits that too often what she wasn’t told was how to go about doing what she should do. In a nutshell, she makes the point that meeting human expectations of the Christian lifestyle outwardly does not fill the spiritual need of knowing and living with the Savior inwardly. Head-knowledge versus heart-knowledge, you might say.
In other words, attending church as a child, publicly answering the call to salvation and baptism, signing 25 pledge cards to remain pure until marriage, attending a Bible college and promising to read the Bible every day without fail – all of these activities seem honorable when your friends say let’s and you say cool and you go do it because, well, everyone else is going and doing it. But when you’ve done these things and still feel empty – incomplete – inside, you continue searching for fulfillment. And often that continued search for inward fulfillment leads you away from the very things you know you should do outwardly.
What Ivey insinuates in If You Only Knew – and what I’m saying outright without apology – is this. Christ-followers are indeed called to lovingly walk alongside non-believers to the foot of the cross of Christ for their salvation, but – please hear me, especially if you are in any form of Christian ministry – we are not called to leave them there with a pat on the back and a get-out-of-hell-free card in their hands. By definition, Christ-following doesn’t – and won’t – work for anyone that way. It takes a wide array of spiritual tools to live for Him and do it deliberately. You know it; I know it. And both of us are falling far short of our responsibility to Christ when we shortchange His children by not introducing these tools that enable them to do something besides stand where they are and waste time waving that get-out-of-hell-free card around. True, they may be sealed for eternity, but mark it – they’ll never experience earthly freedom of living for Christ in the way He died and rose for them to experience it.
Which, in essence, shortchanges not only them but also Him as well.
In the day-to-day living of life, we can all be tempted to think that because we’re Christians, read our Bibles regularly and study until we’re cross-eyed in order to be able to say we know a great deal about God, we therefore actually know God Himself. In reality, that’s just not the true picture. The only way we can really, truly know our Lord is to invest in the committed one-on-one time with Him that’s necessary for any friend- or relationship to flourish.
With Jesus, many of these experiences come in the form of dedicated prayer or a request for the Holy Spirit to indwell us completely, daily. Submissions of the heart like these are tools that allow us to open ourselves to a real and effective knowledge of Him. Just Him.
That’s why it’s of dire importance that we share these tools with other believers and walk them through the process of using them. Because despite the intentions of the most dedicated believer, the call to “come now and reason together” with Jesus as He bids us is not always an easily-established routine. It’s even a challenge at times because – let’s face it – patience can be about as misplaced in today’s culture as horse-drawn buggies on the freeway. One author, in fact, attributes the issue to the frenzied pace of our society.
We might consider an appointment with a hairdresser to be inviolable, but when God lays claim to our time, we balk.
Squirming yet? Because as I retrace the steps of my past – even to mad-dash I made last week to schedule a salon appointment – I am. And the conviction gets worse.
Rather than spend time with God and allow ourselves to bask in His presence and soak up His love, we manufacture substitutes – things to do to take the place of simply being with Him.
Her specifics are brutal but true. They include offering praise, worshiping through music, doing good works, memorizing Scripture – all good activities, she says, but unequal to resting quietly before Him.
The highest value of “being with” Jesus is something inward, not outward. It rests squarely and without compromise in development of a personal relationship with Him. True, it requires time and willingness on our part, but our meager efforts will never touch the time and willingness required on the other side of this relationship. In His life, death and resurrection lies the truth that the Savior gave us fully His “up” time as well as His “down” time.
Intentionally or otherwise, how can we as Christ’s followers even think of withholding the spiritual tools that are so valuable to our lives from the lives of others? May no one ever reflect on our sharing the Gospel with them and say, If Only I Had Known.
– Copyright 2018, Carole Anne Hallyburton. All rights reserved.