A few weeks ago, I was a part of a small gathering. We were sharing about our lives and a new family that joined began to share. They were the only believers in their people group and used to meet with only one other person for fellowship. When they had to move to a different country, the first Sunday that they joined with a large group of believers to worship the Lord, the wife couldn’t stop crying. It was so special for her, and she experienced the Lord ministering to her in such a special way! She was filled with joy and thanksgiving to the Lord.
We looked around, most of us having been born in Christian families and going to church for most of our lives, and I was reminded of how we can get so familiar with the blessings and providence of our Lord, that we do not appreciate them or celebrate them as we should. For what the Lord gives us—grace, forgiveness, new life in Him, being part of His family, His Holy Spirit indwelling us, being brought into His Kingdom having been freed from the Kingdom of darkness—the list of precious and unmerited blessings and favour we receive through our Lord Jesus goes on. And yet, sometimes we give little thought to these and easily seek the lesser and transient things of this world.
Familiarity, which means having a close acquaintance with or knowledge of something, can be good and bad. In the Bible, we are called to respond to God's everlasting love and draw close to Him. We are invited to love Him, treasure Him, revere Him and know Him intimately.
Yet, familiarity lacking these can lead to casualness. We can develop an attitude where we know it all and have already attained all things. My seven-year-old daughter, when she hears stories from the Gospels or the Old Testament, will listen to the first few lines, and then with a smug look on her face, declare, 'I know this already!' She then lets her mind roam and she has missed out on learning new truths. How often do we lose sight of the greatness of God and display a similar attitude, shutting our ears and hearts to spiritual truths?
Aren’t we like that when we just glance through familiar passages in the Bible or let our minds roam when we listen to sermons on topics we ‘already know’? Familiarity in this sense can lead to a lack of reverence. We can take the love and grace of God for granted, and not prioritise His Word in our lives.
The Israelites often had a similar problem. They were very familiar with the feasts that God instituted and the offerings and sacrifices. Yet they neglected God and lost their reverence for Him. They became like the pagan nations around them and didn’t honour God and His law. This meant there was often a lot of meaningless ‘doing’, just a mere set of actions performed, with hearts far from God and the things He required of them.
God addresses this issue repeatedly in the Prophets. They deserted Him and sought other gods and yet thought they were okay because of what they ‘did for God’. Looking at one such passage in the book of Amos, God says:
21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!
The Israelites lost the point. The feasts, sacrifices, worship, the music to the Lord, were all to flow out of their covenantal relationship with God where they belonged to Him as His chosen people, redeemed by Him. They were called to fear the Lord their God and carefully keep His commands, and to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul and strength (Deuteronomy 6:1-6). They were to live as His people in every aspect of their life, the things they loved and hated, their businesses and work life, the way they dealt with the poor and those who were weak in society, their attitudes and inner heart, as well as their acts of worship and sacrifices.
Now, their religion had become a set of things they ‘did’ outwardly, and it brought God no pleasure. They thought they could satisfy and please God by doing what He required in one area of their lives and neglect Him in the rest. Their hearts lost their devotion and fear of the Lord as they forgot to seek God.
In the same chapter in the book of Amos, from verses 4-11, God calls His people to repentance. Our merciful God is always calling for people to turn away from their sin and turn to Him. In this passage, twice He calls them to seek Him and live, and once to seek good and not evil, that they may live.
Do our lives sometimes look a little similar? Is there complacency in us or our churches? Are we satisfied with the church attendance – maybe even serving with a team, listening to Christian music, having a perfunctory daily quiet time, while neglecting to truly seek Him and live our whole lives as those fully belonging to Him? Are we so familiar with the Bible that we don’t care to seek out its truths and study it, or maybe we find it dull and uninteresting? The Lord calls us to repent.
In my own life, in His grace, God showed me how I had this attitude in different areas. I had a lot of activity and my love was little. As He took me through a painful season of seeing my sin and my blindness to my heart condition, I tried initially to find many excuses for it. And yet, as I saw in His Word that He desires truth in the inmost parts, and confessed to Him, He took me on a journey of understanding the beauty of the gospel, of forgiveness in Jesus, of Him blotting out my transgressions. He calls us to examine ourselves and repent. Will we listen to Him or remain content as we are?
Yet, the Bible also calls us to a good kind of familiarity. The loving, intimate familiarity seen in deep relationships. This familiarity grows out of love, honesty, dependence, reverence and honour and intimate knowledge of the person. How can we get familiar with God this way? Firstly, we can only have this special intimacy with Him through Jesus. Thanks be to our Lord Jesus, who brings us into the family of God. But how do we foster this intimacy? The answer lies again in the same truth we just read from Amos – seek the Lord.
David writes in Psalm 27: 8
When You said, “Seek My face,”
My heart said to You, “Your face, Lord, I will seek.
And again in Psalm 105:4 b
Seek the Lord always.
Seeking means to go after or to be in pursuit of. What does it mean to seek His face? I learnt that it meant to desire and be in pursuit of His presence, of Him. Jesus promises His presence with us always, and yet we are to seek it in all we do through our life.
How does this play out in our everyday life? We can do this by consciously and constantly setting our hearts and minds, our affections and thoughts on God, keeping His lovingkindness before our eyes, remembering always in our hearts HE is our King and we desire Him and what HE wants! To love God is to love all of Him, His Word, His Will, His ways, His character.
Jesus says to love Him is to obey Him and His command is to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and love others as He has loved. If we are consciously seeking Jesus, we will walk in His ways, in love, in truth.
Am I willing to set my heart (my desires and will) – this is an active word, something I can’t just wish into existence but act upon – on Him and all He loves and says, moment by moment? Am I willing daily, to choose His way over mine, sifting through my thoughts and only allowing myself to dwell on thoughts that He would love, honour Him in what I see, say, hear and feel?
David, who was so close to God’s heart, who loved to be in the presence of God, says in Psalms 27:4
One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
And again, in Psalm 63:1
You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.
These verses show how much David desired God and set his heart towards God. He sought Him early, he longed for Him as one who is parched with thirst and finds no water around. God is His treasure. Does this characterise our relationship with God and His Word?
Let’s ask the Lord to examine our hearts as we repent of the ways we have been so familiar with Him, His blessings, and His Word that we have lost our reverence for Him and taken Him for granted. Let’s repent if we’ve neglected setting our thoughts and affections on Him. Let’s repent of ways where our worship, our ‘spiritual disciplines’ have been from a place of things to do and not flowing out of love and reverence for Him. Let’s humble our hearts, ask Him to give us a deep thirst and hunger for Him, and set our minds and hearts on Him daily, keeping His lovingkindness ever before our eyes! He is our treasure. And in Him is abundant life!