What kind of person do you think God is? Is He good? Is He bad? Is He caring or unconcerned? Is He loving and merciful or harsh and critical? Emit Fox said this, "What you think God is like will determine your whole life, that is the central question we all have to wrestle with."
A very helpful book on the nature of God is the book by A.W. Tozer, entitled THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE HOLY. Among other things that he says in the book, a significant statement, I think, is this one:
The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man's spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base, as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. For this reason, the gravest question before the church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.
He's saying the most important thing that a man has is his understanding of God, and the most important message the church has to give is the knowledge of God. And I think he's right.
To know God and all that God has revealed about Himself is the highest pursuit of life. God desires that we know Him. The Bible is so explicit about this. In Hosea chapter 6, God, through the prophet, is rebuking Israel for their hypocrisy; they carried out the sacrificial system with hearts that were totally estranged from God, and he says this:
Hosea 6:6 (NKJV) For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.
Men are to know God, and God desires that men know Him, this is meaning to life. This is what we're all about. This is our highest pursuit and God's highest purpose for us.
How can we know God? Well, Solomon gave some wise information in Proverbs 2. He said:
Proverbs 2:3-5 (NKJV) Yes, if you cry out for discernment, And lift up your voice for understanding, 4 If you seek her as silver, And search for her as for hidden treasures; 5 Then you will understand the fear of the LORD, And find the knowledge of God.
Solomon said, "There's only one way to really know God and to know all that's revealed about God, and that's to make that the pursuit of your life. If you're looking for money; if you're looking for success; if you're looking for something else, you'll not really discover all that there is to know about God." But, he says, "My son, if you seek God like silver and search for God as if for hidden treasure, you'll find the knowledge of Him." God wants us to know Him. God wants us to pursue Him. But as J. B. Phillips points out in his book, Your God Is Too Small, people today see God as: (a) the resident policeman; (b) the grand old man; (c) a parental hangover, or some other short-sighted, twisted view of God.
What you think God is like will determine your whole life. Because what we think God is like really does line up a lot of pieces and a lot of steps that we're going to take from that point forward. Let me give you some examples:
If you think God is this harsh lawgiver; taskmaster with the hammer of Thor ready to squash you as soon as you get out of line, then life is about anxiety and it's about doing back flips and handstands, somehow trying to make this hard to please father think we're okay.
If He is distant and unconcerned, many of us would just say, "I couldn't care less what He thinks of my life, I'll live it the way I want, because He couldn't care less about me. He's distant. He doesn't care."
If the ultimate thing to me is money or accomplishment or my achievement, then I will organize my whole life to get those things. Whatever carnage it brings in my relationships and my spiritual life in my family are acceptable losses, because I've organized my life to get what to me is ultimate.
But, if He deeply loves you; if He is merciful and forgiving; if He is faithful to you and to me like the Bible says He is, then that changes everything. Because the entire world is dying to hear that that kind of love is real; and that that kind of love comes from God.
I want to suggest to you that it is just as important a question to you if you're not yet sure that you are a Christian, because the kind of God you're considering believing in has a big impact on whether you're going to believe in Him or not.
There's a man who came into a pastor's office proclaiming himself to be a hard-core atheist. The pastor was a pretty savvy guy and he said, "Tell me about this God in whom you do not believe".
The man began to say, "I don't believe in this God, who is just up there waiting to steal all my joy, ready to squash me every time I make a mistake."
And the pastor said, "You know what, if that's God, then I'm an atheist too. Because I don't believe in a God anything like the one you just described. Let me tell you about the God of the Bible."
It's a very big question, what we think God is like. And it is not a new question. It's a question the nation Israel struggled with as well. Israel was similar to us in that they would run hot and cold with God. Some days being totally in love with Him and other days being very, very far away. When times got hard and the pressure was on, instead of believing that God could be trusted to come through for them, they would say, "You know what, God's not going to come through." They would go off and try to cut little side deals with the false gods of the people around them. It'd be like, "Okay, I heard that Bob's god over there grows good crops, I think I'll try that one." "I heard that Sally's god over there helped her get pregnant or get a boyfriend, I think I'll try that one." "Or this other god over here, I've heard is a good warrior god and we're going to war, so I think I'll try that one." The bottom line is that these little false gods could not meet the people's needs, but they could and did throw a huge monkey wrench into their relationship with God. In Psalm 81 we see God calling them back to himself.
Psalms 81:8-11 (NKJV) "Hear, O My people, and I will admonish you! O Israel, if you will listen to Me! 9 There shall be no foreign god among you; Nor shall you worship any foreign god. 10 I am the LORD your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt; OPEN YOUR MOUTH WIDE, AND I WILL FILL IT.
Something had broken down for the people. They were supposed to trust God and look to him to meet their needs. But at this point in their history, they had forgotten all that God had done for them in the past, and they had no confidence that God was going to be there for them in the future. So, they were going other places, to other gods to try and get their needs met. That brings us to verse 10 where God says:
Psalms 81:10 (NKJV) I am the LORD your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt; OPEN YOUR MOUTH WIDE, AND I WILL FILL IT.
I get the picture here of a little baby bird with its mouth wide open, and the mother bird putting food into it. Baby birds are totally dependent upon the mother to feed them. This is what God wants of us, total dependence - trust.
I think that's the picture that God paints for us here, of Him ready to meet our needs if we would open wide our mouths so that He can fill them. But too often we don't trust Him and our jaws are clinched, and we will not open our mouths, because we don't believe that God will put anything good in our mouths if we were to open them, and we won't trust Him. Verse 11 says:
Psalms 81:11 (NKJV) "But My people would not heed My voice, And Israel would have none of Me.
Israel's problem was not that she believed God for TOO MUCH, it was that she believed God for TOO LITTLE. It wasn't that she was presumptuous and arrogant believing that God would do this, that and the other. It was that she believed God for too little, and when she wouldn't believe that God would come through, she'd go and try and find somebody that she could cut a deal with. I read a story of a missionary who would send this thought through her mind as her day began: "God, what great thing will You do for me today? Give me eyes to see it when it comes?"
What do you think of that? Does it sound presumptuous? I'm sure that many would think that was an arrogant statement. But remember Israel's problem wasn't believing God for too much but believing Him for too little, and then going elsewhere.
When we think that God doesn't love us enough to give us what is good, we're not being humble, we're not being unpresumptuous by not anticipating good from God, we're simply insulting God as a father, we're insulting God and His care for us.
Matthew 7:11 (NKJV) "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!
We need to open our mouths believing that God will fill them. God is NOT some sadistic, puppet-master up there just teasing us and taunting us. We are to live as people who trust Him enough to open our mouths believing that, one way or the other, He'll give us what's good.
Psalms 81:13-16 (NKJV) "Oh, that My people would listen to Me, That Israel would walk in My ways! 14 I would soon subdue their enemies, And turn My hand against their adversaries. 15 The haters of the LORD would pretend submission to Him, But their fate would endure forever. 16 He would have fed them also with the finest of wheat; And with honey from the rock I would have satisfied you."
Verse 16 speaks of the blessings of God. God wants to fill your life with good things. He wants you to LIVE - not just survive. Jesus said, "I have come that you might have life to the fullest" (John 10:10). And he means it.
A story is told about a professional golfer named Miller Barber. (I'm not sure if this story is true or apocryphal.) It goes like this:
Miller Barber was quite successful, and made a lot of money. Most golfers who are at his success level would always fly first class, but not Miller. Miller would sit in the last row or two of the airplane every time. On a certain week, all the golfers were on an airplane flying to their next tournament. Miller was in the back.
One of the other golfers, Lanny Wadkins, came back and said, 'Miller, you cheap rascal, I will pay your ticket to go sit in first class. You know you have the money, I will pay for you, come on up there'.
And Miller says, 'Lanny, I just don't want to do that.' Lanny said, 'Miller, you're not understanding, I will pay the difference in your ticket.' Miller says, 'Lanny, I don't want to do that and I'm going to tell you why. Have you ever heard of an airplane backing into a mountain?'.
I think God has a very similar experience with us when He's coming to us saying, "Open your mouths, so that I can fill them with first class fare, not this other stuff you're getting." And yet, we are so hesitant to trust Him that we lock our jaws, and we just stay at the back, because we're afraid if we trusted God, He would slam us right into a mountain of one type or another. And we just clinch our jaws and won't open up.
Let me give you some specific examples of what this may look like. When you say, "I'm tired of being single, I don't think God will give me anybody who loves Him, so I'm going to take anybody, any way I can get him." What you're really saying is, "I don't believe God CAN or WILL provide for me if I do it His way."
When you say, "I don't think I can live as a Christian on my campus and have any friends." What you are really saying is, "God can't give me friends unless I sell out to peer pressure."
When you say, "I'm never going to make any money unless I neglect my family or my spiritual life or cut some ethical corners." What you're really saying is, "God won't provide for me if I do it His way. I gotta do what I gotta do."
Friends, if you see your reflection in the mirror of Psalm 81, let me suggest two ways in which we can open our mouths to God. And the first one is this:
1. TRUST HIM:
In one of the truly great statements of the Bible, the writer of Hebrews tells us:
Hebrews 11:6 (NKJV) But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
There is no way our relationship to God can be pleasing to Him unless we trust Him. God wants us to trust Him. Apart from faith, we cannot please God. So, apart from faith, it doesn't much matter what we do.
"But without faith it is impossible to please Him" Here the writer lays down an axiomatic truth. He uses the aorist tense in the infinitive "to please." The statement is universal in its application and timeless. The idea is; without faith it is impossible to please him at all.
"He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." God rewards those who diligently seek Him. Do you diligently seek Him? Why not? Do you not want to be rewarded? Or is it that you don't believe Him? You think the reward is greater if you live your own way. "Diligently seek Him" is to seek to know Him in an intimate way. Walking with God is rewarded both temporally and eternally.
The Christian life starts with an act of faith. We believe that Christ will save us if we trust in Him alone for our redemption.
John 3:16 (NKJV) "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
That is a promise; when I believe in Christ, I am given everlasting life. When I come to the living God as a guilty sinner, who deserves hell, trusting in Jesus Christ and Him alone for my redemption, I am engaged in an act of faith. I've never seen God. I've never seen this place called heaven, or this place called hell. I've never seen Jesus Christ. But by faith, those things which I cannot see become realities to me. They take on substance for me, and by faith, I gain assurance and conviction about things that my eyes cannot behold. That is what faith is all about. But trusting God for my eternal salvation is only the beginning. It is the start of a journey that cannot be traveled successfully in any other way but by a growing faith. We must distinguish between saving faith and the faith of obedience.
Thousands of believers have trusted Christ for their salvation, but are not living in faith, trusting God in each and every area of their lives.
There are two main factors which determine the strength of our faith: First, is our knowledge of God. The main explanation of the troubles and difficulties which most Christians experience in their lives is due to a lack of knowledge about God, theology proper. We need to study the revelation that God has given of himself and of his character. That is how to develop strong faith. The more you know God, the more you will trust Him.
The second element is the application of what we know. A knowledge that never ventures out upon what it knows will never be a strong faith.
At times, we do apply what we know, and we come through the problems and difficulties victorious - like David when he faced Goliath. And yet at other times, we become consumed with our circumstances, and we do not apply our faith - like David before Achish the king of Gath. David was scared to death, and he changed his behavior and pretended he was crazy. He began to scribble on the doors and drool all over himself (1 Sam. 21:13). What happened to the giant killer? He wasn't applying his faith. He forgot about his God. Have you ever done that? You think your faith is strong, then you have a trial; a situation that causes you to panic and drool all over yourself. At those times, we need to focus on God to meditate on Him and apply what we know.
Listen to what David says about knowing God and trusting Him:
Psalms 9:10 (NKJV) And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; For You, LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You.
"Those who know Your name" - i.e., those who know God's character. To know God's character is to be able to trust Him. Do you know God well enough to trust Him? Do you know Him well enough to have such confidence in Him that you believe He is with you in your adversity even though you do not see any evidence of His presence and His power? Do you trust Him? God wants our trust. In order to trust God, we must always view our adverse circumstances through the eyes of faith. Faith pleases God. Without faith, it is impossible to please Him.
Where is it that you can't quite find it in you to open your mouth and trust that God would be good to you? Is it your job? Is it your career? Is it your kids? Is it your desire for a spouse? Is it your finances? Is it your marriage? Is it your future? Where is it that you can't open your mouth believing God would fill it with something good?
Psalms 34:8 (NKJV) Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!
So, we open our mouths to God by trust, and as we:
2. OBEY HIM:
Psalms 81:11-14 (NKJV) "But My people would not heed My voice, And Israel would have none of Me. 12 So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart, To walk in their own counsels. 13 "Oh, that My people would listen to Me, That Israel would walk in My ways! 14 I would soon subdue their enemies, And turn My hand against their adversaries.
Because Israel wouldn't obey, they suffered at the hands of their enemies. As we walk in obedience to the Lord, we are opening our mouths to his blessings. Paul tells us this in:
Philippians 4:9 (NKJV) The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.
The verb "do" in Philippians 4:9 is from the Greek word prasso, it means: "to practice." Robertson says it means: "to practice these as a habit." The verb poieo means: "to do", but prasso means: "repetition, action that is continuous." Paul is saying, "This should be your practice, this should be your pattern of life."
When we walk in obedience to God's Word, "the God of peace will be with us." Sinful behavior produces anxiety and spiritual instability.
Isaiah 32:17 (NKJV) The work of righteousness will be peace, And the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever.
Righteousness equals peace. Obedient behavior produces peace and stability.
Psalms 37:37 (NKJV) Mark the blameless man, and observe the upright; For the future of that man is peace.
Matthew 7:24-27 (NKJV) "Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: 25 "and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. 26 "But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: 27 "and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall."
Act on what you have heard, and you will be stable on the rock. The storms of life won't destroy the person who's life is built on the rock of obedience.
Do you know what I've noticed? There are many people who want to be happy, and their strategy for finding happiness is to do things that can only make them miserable. It's like they say, "I want to see the sunset, and I'm going to look to the east until it happens." You will never see the sunset if you look only to the east, and you will never find happiness if you live in disobedience to the Word of God. Yet, this is exactly what many people do, day after day, year after year.
Some people fill their lives with self-destructive activities that are guaranteed to bring misery - such as abusing alcohol, spending too much money, being promiscuous, taking drugs, and on and on. They do this thinking it will bring them happiness, but it doesn't.
I don't know where you are spiritually right now. Maybe some of you here today have never made an effort to walk with Christ. Maybe your spirituality consists of attending church on Sunday, and that is all. I want you to know there can be much more to having a relationship with God than what we do here on Sunday morning. Living the Christian life is about more than just "doing good deeds for God." It is about having a spiritual relationship with God that lasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Psalms 81:10 (NKJV) I am the LORD your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt; OPEN YOUR MOUTH WIDE, AND I WILL FILL IT.
God is saying that you need not look any further. You don't need anyone else. You don't need anything else. All you need is him. Commit your life to Christ and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. He is saying that he can give you happiness, joy, peace and contentment above and beyond anything the world has to offer.
What do you think God is like? The consistent testimony of Scripture is that He is Good, He is Trustworthy, that He will fill our mouths with good things over the course of a lifetime as we trust Him and walk in obedience.
God is saying to us, "If you would but listen to me, if you would trust me enough to open your mouths so I could fill them, how quickly I would turn My hand against your enemies and fill you with the finest of wheat. Nothing would be too much, nothing would be too good, if you would open your mouths enough to trust Me and obey Me.