Summary: We come to know God through service.
This morning is the third message in our five-part series on Seeking God. Just to review, on December 31st, I suggested to the church that we each make one resolution for the coming year: that in the year 2001, we would seek to know Christ more deeply than ever before. Why is this important? Because the Christian life is not just an intellectual exercise. It’s not just some kind of self-improvement program. Nor is it a set of rules and regulations. The essence of the Christian life is knowing God; having a vital, living relationship with Him; experiencing His presence and activity in our lives. And this series is designed to give you specific things you can do, specific habits you can develop, to make that a reality in your life.
Our topic today is "Seeking God Through Service," but before we begin, I’d like to review quickly a couple of the promises that God has made to those who seek Him. I’m repeating these because I want you to be absolutely convinced, in your heart of hearts, that seeking after God is worth the effort.
"And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." -- Hebrews 11:6 (NIV)
"The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him" -- Lamentations 3:25 (NIV)
"You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." -- Jeremiah 29:13 (NIV)
God is not hiding from us. He wants nothing more than for us to know Him. He promises good things, and rewards, to those who seek Him. But He is not going to be found by anyone with only a casual, passing interest. The half-hearted may as well not waste their time. The merely curious can find something else to tickle their fancy. Because God is found only by those who seek Him earnestly, who seek Him with "all their heart". God is known by those willing to persevere, those willing to keep asking, and keep knocking, and keep seeking.
Some people have the idea that knowing God should be easy. That developing a relationship with the creator and sovereign Lord of the universe should require nothing more strenuous than listening to an occasional sermon or reading a book or two. Why is that? Why is it that we will study for years in college to get a degree, we’ll labor nights and weekends to get ahead in our careers, and yet we think that knowing God should be effortless? We’ll exercise for hours to improve our physical health. We’ll insist that our children do their homework, and practice their piano every day. In other areas of life, we understand that having things of value require work and dedication. Yet in the realm of the spirit, we expect good things just to drop into our laps. But that’s not the way it works. Like anything else of great worth, knowing God requires diligence and sustained effort. Is it worth it? Yes, the reward of seeking God far exceeds the cost. But there is a cost.
" . . . Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe." -- 1 Timothy 4:7-10 (NIV)
Knowing God isn’t something that just happens. It requires that we "train ourselves" (NIV), "discipline yourself" (NAS); "exercise yourself toward Godliness" (NKJV).
Does this mean that we’re somehow earning something, that by working hard we merit God’s love and His blessings? Absolutely not. Our relationship with God is all based on grace, from beginning to end. Every good thing we receive from Him comes as a gift. Knowing Him is a gift. It’s not something we do, it’s something he does in us and for us. But at the same time, there are appointed means, which God has established, by which we receive His gifts, and those means include the five spiritual habits we’re now studying.
So with that as the backdrop, let’s look at the spiritual habit of "service". Imagine that you’re an actor preparing for a role, and you want to know what makes your character tick -- you want to understand how they think, what they feel, how they view the world -- what would you do? For instance, let’s say you’re playing the role of an emergency room physician. You might read a doctor’s biography, or a book of stories about the ER. You could watch the TV show "ER". You might interview a doctor. But if you really wanted to get inside the head of your character, the best kind of research would be to actually live that life. Go through the day with an emergency room physician. Experience for yourself what it’s like -- see what she sees, hear what she hears, watch what she does, feel the pressure and stress of her work. To really know someone, you have to enter their world and walk a mile in their shoes. In the same way, if we want to know Christ, we have to do what He did. We have to imitate Him. And we are never more like Christ than when we are serving others.