We’ve been talking for months about knowing God and becoming who we were meant to be, finding our identity in Him alone. Because at the heart of us all is a desire to be seen, to be known and accepted…to be loved deeply and truly. And we will go to any lengths for our whole lives, trying to prove our worth, justify our lives as significant, or at least hide the fear that we may never amount to anything.
And I can’t help but think of an obscure Quaker woman named Elizabeth, who lived in the mid-1800’s, known by all accounts for her gentle spirit and the light she shone into the lives around her. Her collection of letters to family and friends reveals a young woman who desired to please God in the small things of life– at home with her family and in her sphere of influence– to encourage others to greater depths of faith and perseverance. Elizabeth died at age thirty-four, in childbirth, and left only that small quiet legacy of good deeds and a life well-lived. I guess what stands out are the glowing memories of others who were touched by her life, and the realization of the everyday ways her life mattered.*
There is truth here, as we study how knowing God gives us a framework for living. It’s natural to apply our knowledge of God to big concepts like sovereignty, the problem of pain, personal free will, accountability, and the breadth of eternity; but if we fail to apply our theology to the everyday, then we are missing something basic and important. God is real. And life is full of heart-breakingly real struggles. And we are real and fragile people with such needy spirits. Our knowledge of God has to affect real life, if we are going to trust Him for the next life. Even the word points us to it: know Him…yada… understanding by the everyday experience of someone….what moves a person, drives him, makes him who he is….the intimate knowing of someone’s heart and mind from moment to moment, so that you can finish each other’s sentences, the way an old married couple does.
And that’s the crazy thing, that the Creator always wanted us to know Him in this face-to-face way. Walked into the Garden each day in the Beginning and loved the way His children came running to greet Him, treasured all the things they had to say to Him– the way we hang on every lisping word of a toddler, cherish the sturdy dimpled limbs, and celebrate every gleeful discovery of the world. And when we grew up and ran away, He followed, just to make sure we would be able to find our way back to Him when we got tired of living on our own.
It sounds like a big challenge to produce a life “worthy of the calling you have received.” (Ephesians 4:1) But Hosea the prophet writes down what God is saying, showing His heart for us: “…I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6) This is a God who finally wraps Himself in skin and walks into everyday life to show us Who He Is in living color, to bring us Home: God Himself walking in the dirt of the world He has made, listening to our voices and living our lives and carrying all our sorrows. This is where we experience Him then, in the mundane, and the blessings, and the rugged reality of everyday life.
And He says it is making me new, knowing Him like that– changing the way I think and act and live. Just like life together changes an old married couple who keep on loving each other. I see the spiritual legacy an ordinary Quaker woman left behind, and it is both inspiring and challenging, because she was not aspiring to greatness, only trying to follow her Lord Jesus with single-minded devotion. I see how we can fill our heads with intellectual knowledge of God, but our experience of Him must be built in the everyday world, one day at a time, as Elizabeth learned. God is not calling us just to study Him, but to know Him, and this is what makes a life worthy.
God’s heart for people shows me how to forgive those who are angry and hurtful. His love shows me what it means to be patient with little ones who only know their own needs. His becoming flesh-and-blood reminds me there is joy and fulfillment in serving, in giving up my rights. His words teach me how to trust when I am worried, protect from the fear that stalks in the darkness, caution me to stay close when other voices clamor for attention. This is theology that matters; this is a life that matters. So I walk beside Him and imitate what He does, just to see Him smile, the way a child adores a beloved papa. And it will happen in the smallest of ways, decisions made in the moment that gradually change who I am and how I think, from the inside out.
I need a theology that intersects with everyday stuff, because right here is where I need God’s help, and because right here is where deception and discouragement and fear come sneaking in. Because in Him I discover who I am and what this life is for. Because wherever He is, there is my heart at Home.
*Memoir of Elizabeth T. King
It is poor religion– is it not?– which can not bear little trials, and keep in a meek and quiet spirit under petty provocations and discouragements! And yet how many fail! How I do!Elizabeth T. King
Keep me within Your shadow–Street called mercy, Hillsong United
Lord tether my heart to Yours.
I want nothing without Your presence;
All I want is You.