In the story of how Russell and I got together, there’s a funny moment – a Freudian slip on my part – that gave him the extra push of courage he needed to initiate the conversation that dissolved our friend zone and made me his girlfriend. I mentioned that I talk in my sleep and he said he did too. I began to say, “Oh, we’re…” and then rapidly changed what I was about to say, which would have been “We’re going to have conversations in our sleep together,” totally giving away the kind of thoughts I couldn’t help having occasionally, since I’d been attracted to him for months.
Since Russell and I have gotten married, we haven’t actually had conversations in our sleep together, but we’ve caught each other talking in our sleep – mostly me – and definitely noticed differences in how long we sleep. Although I’m smaller than he is, I actually can sleep several hours longer than he does on a regular basis. And when I was in England as a student missionary, I had hypersomnia, which is the opposite of insomnia. What that meant was that my depression at the time was making me sleep excessively as a way of coping with how overwhelmed I was by various stressors. I could curl up in a chair, in a room full of people, in broad daylight and just go to sleep pretty quickly…! I never could do that before and I haven’t really been able to do it since.
Some of us have a love-hate relationship with sleep, because there’s so much we want to get done, yet we cannot do without sleep! To some of us, sleep is almost a necessary evil; we view it as slowing us down. Sleep is so crucial, yet we seem to get nothing done while we sleep – we just lay there. Our visible activity is stilled.
Though from the outside it seems like nothing is happening when we sleep, there are several, complicated and crucial things happening on the inside. We look like we’re inactive and useless, but what is happening invisibly to an onlooker is nonnegotiable in the long run.
In stage 1, we have light sleep – we’re between being awake and really falling asleep.
In stage 2, sleep begins, we become disengaged from our surroundings, our breathing and heart rate are regular and our body temperature drops.
In stages 3 and 4, we experience the deepest and most restorative sleep. Our blood pressure drops, our breathing slows down, our muscles are relaxed, blood supply to the muscles actually increases, tissue growth and repair both occur, energy is restored and growth hormones are released. 25% of our sleep is REM sleep. It happens about 90 minutes after we fall asleep and it recurs every 90 minutes, getting longer later throughout the night. REM provides energy to our brain and to our body. REM supports daytime performance. During REM the brain is actually very active and our dreams occur. Our eyes dart back and forth under our eyelids and our body becomes immobile and relaxed. The muscles are actually turned off.
So in light of all this, we can see that to get the most out of our sleep, both quantity and quality are important. We need uninterrupted sleep to leave our bodies and minds rejuvenated for the next day. If sleep is cut short, the body doesn’t have time to complete all these phases. Then we wake up less prepared to concentrate, make decisions, or engage fully in our activities.
When we don’t get enough sleep, I found that there are at least 8 negative affects we receive.
#1: We have a lower stress threshold
#2: Our memory is impaired
#3: We have trouble concentrating
#4: Our optimism and sociability are decreased
#5: Our creativity and innovation are impaired
#6: Our resting blood pressure is increased
#7: Our appetite is increased and we eat more than we actually need
#8: Our risk of cardiac morbidity is increased
#1: We have a lower stress threshold
#2: Our memory is impaired
#3: We have trouble concentrating
#4: Our optimism and sociability are decreased
#5: Our creativity and innovation are impaired
#6: Our resting blood pressure is increased
#7: Our appetite is increased and we eat more than we actually need
#8: Our risk of cardiac morbidity is increased
In other words, when we don’t get enough good sleep, we can’t handle as much, we can’t remember as much, we can’t focus as much, we’re difficult to live with, we’re less helpful, we eat too much, our health is worse and we’re more likely to die from heart issues!
I’m very convicted – and have been for several years – that much of the Adventist church in Western culture is suffering from spiritual sleep-deprivation because of how many of us tend to respond to our desire to get a lot done for God. Now, let me be clear: the desire to get a lot done is a good thing. Productivity is good. Results are good. Service is a nonnegotiable of the Christian life. We are not called to be lazy. But as an author I love tends to repeatedly say: “There is a way things work.”
We know that if we are harsh and unreasonable with our physical bodies, inevitable disease and even trauma are no surprise. I had a client who passed away a few years ago and he was an extremely driven man. He accomplished a lot and he built one of the top 5 electric supply companies in the country. He was wealthy and he had a big family who adored him. But he had a debilitating stroke fairly early in his life that forced him to slow down, and a second one after that that required caregivers to attend to him 24-7 until his death. His lifestyle before his strokes was basically being a ruthless workaholic throughout the day, eating whatever he wanted with some martinis sprinkled in and then he’d sleep about 4 hours and do the same thing all over again…and again…and again. That he eventually had health issues is a not surprising to most of us…!
The spiritual sleep I believe many Adventists are low on is our time alone with God, nurturing our relationship with Him.
In 2011 at one of my pastoral practicums, I heard a statistic that might have changed since then, but I saw in the General Conference booklet last summer status updates that seemed to confirm it. The statistic said that Adventists are next to the bottom amongst worldwide denominations on regular Bible reading and that we score at the very bottom when it comes to our prayer lives.
And yet we have the truth.
In Desire of Ages, Ellen White says, “There is a tendency to pray less, and to have less faith. Like disciples, we are in danger of losing sight of our dependence on God, and seeking to make a savior of our activity. We need to look constantly to Jesus, realizing that it is His power, which does the work. While we are to labor earnestly for the salvation of the lost, we must also take time for meditation, for prayer, and for the study of the word of God. Only the work accomplished with much prayer, and sanctified by the merit of Christ, will in the end prove to have been efficient for good.”
I feel a strong conviction that because of our unique light on prophecy, we get caught up in it at the expense of the personal love relationship with God that we are commanded to have. And please hear me: I am opposed to prophecy-bashing. I believe our unique light on prophecy and knowledge of the truth adds an exotic dimension to our faith. A friend of mine tweeted this back in February: “Nothing juggles all the disciplines – mathematics, linguistics, philosophy, history, science – like the study of prophecy.”
Prophecy is stimulating, exciting and informative. I greatly value it. I am thankful for it. Although prophecy is sometimes abused to motivate people with fear and guilt, prophecy adds peace to my life. Prophecy is a complex masterpiece. I’m stimulated by prophecy. I love it. Prophecy is a gift from God. Prophecy is beautiful.
But follow me to 1 Corinthians 13:2 and let me know when you find it.
1 Corinthians 13:2: “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”
And skip down with me to verse 8.
1 Corinthians 13:8-10: “Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.”
And then skipping to verse 13:
1 Corinthians 13:13: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
What is greater than prophecy is love. What will remain and continue to be paramount after prophecies cease is love. As amazing, helpful and crucial as prophecy is, I believe we need to be reminded at times about what is even more important than prophecy. And this reminder is meant to be a refreshment that realigns us to the right relationship with God.
Turn with me to Exodus 20:3, and let me know when you find it.
Exodus 20:3: “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
God knows that there’s no one else like Him. He knows that nobody and nothing can replace Him; that nobody and nothing can do what He does or love the way that He loves. But I believe He gives us this commandment as the first of the ten, because He knows the damage we will experience and the damage we will do if we start giving the best portion of our love, energy and time to anyone or any pursuit that is not our relationship with Him, even if that pursuit is meant to serve Him. When we wander into replacing Him often without meaning to, despite our best intentions to be good witnesses, we damage and sin against ourselves as well as damaging and sinning against others.
I believe in the great commission. I also believe that we have focused on it so much that it eclipses the Greatest Commandment in many of our minds. Upon re-reading the great commission, I was reminded of something – let’s read it together in Matthew 28:18-20; let me know when you find it.
Matthew 28:18-20: “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’”
I was reminded that the great commission mentions the commandments. That we are to teach others and encourage one another to obey all that Jesus has commanded us to do.
Now, in Revelation 19:13, we are told that one of Jesus’ many names is the Word of God. I think we can all agree that the great commission is not saying we should only teach people to obey what Jesus said, strictly in the gospels at the exclusion of everything the Old Testament and the rest of the New Testament have to say. Jesus certainly didn’t feel that way!
Come with me to Matthew 22 starting in verse 36; let me know when you find it.
Matthew 22:36-40: “’Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’”
This text here tells me that while breaking any of the commandments is always a sin, all the commandments are not created equal. Two of them are more important and one of those two is paramount and must dominate our Christian experience. Breaking one of the lesser commandments is like cutting your wrists. You will eventually bleed to death, but it will take longer because your wrists are not as vital to you as other parts of your body. Breaking the greatest commandment is like shooting yourself in the head. You will die instantly, because the body cannot live without the mind.
There’s also a small word in this verse that I think makes a crucial point in helping us realign our lives back into God’s design for our spiritual health. It’s the word “like” in the phrase that says, “and the second is like it.” We are supposed to give of ourselves to people. We are supposed to work and serve. But I don’t just believe – I know – from all I’ve witnessed as a lifelong Adventist that it is far too easy and far too common to give more of ourselves to people than to God. We must remember that our duty to people is not the greatest commandment. It is the second greatest. Our duty to God is the greatest commandment. Turn with me to Revelation 2, beginning in verse 2. Let me know when you find it.
Revelation 2:2-5: “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for My name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”
Chronologically we are living in the time of the church of Laodicea, but Jesus’ letters to the seven churches have three applications. First, they were literal churches Paul was writing to. Second, they each represent eras of church history beyond Paul’s lifetime. And third, they contain personal applications for us today. So, even though the verse we just read is from Jesus’ letter to the church of Ephesus, I absolutely believe that it contains convicting truth for us today.
This verse convicted me this last Christmas. I was so busy as a pastor’s wife, busy in ministry, doing all the right things. But I was mostly running on the memories of how God had loved me in the past, not giving God my heart in private. I was not treating Him like the Personal God of Love that He is. I was working for Him, but I was disconnected from Him. I was treating Him like my boss rather than my Father and Lover of my soul.
I was grateful for the conviction in this verse, because I missed God. I missed feeling closer to Him and being more conscious of His love and goodness. And this verse gave me permission to pursue those experiences again. It was important that I learned to submit to Him, obey Him and follow the truth more carefully, but I needed to let Him love me again. When the prodigal son came home to his Father, he let the Father love him again. He didn’t insist on staying a servant and remaining distant from his father to do penance.
I also needed to give my love to God again the way that Mary Magdalene poured her perfume over Jesus. When she performed her act of loving worship on Jesus, many people did not understand. It looked strange. And it looked like a waste. It didn’t appear practical. But Jesus told them to leave her alone because she had done a beautiful thing to Him! I mean, just think about that for a second! I can’t recall anyone else in Scripture who is described as having done a beautiful thing to God. In that story, the Greek word for beautiful is kalos, which means beautiful and chiefly good, valuable, virtuous, better and worthy.
And think of what it says about God’s heart that He mandated that the story of Mary’s act of worship would be told wherever the gospel was preached! It was Mary’s impractical act of personal, loving worship that has been made famous by order of God Himself.
I believe that we need to receive God’s personal love for us afresh and that we also need to seek Him out to love Him again. We need to know how to enjoy God’s personal Presence and both revel and rest in His love for us.
But as poetic and beautiful and true as all of this sounds and is, it brings us to an important question – a question I struggled with a lot when I was first beginning my relationship with God: what does it look like to do this? It’s so much easier and clearer to practice loving tangible human beings than to practice loving our invisible God in heaven.
Here is where I want us to revisit our key text – turn with me to Psalm 46:10 and let me know when you find it.
Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.”
This is a very famous text. It’s been made into many cover photos on Facebook, many posters, many songs… It’s almost become a platitude; you know, one of those spiritual clichés people toss at you when your struggle is complicated. It’s also been used to defend mystical practices. New Age and Emergent brands of Christianity use the English translation of this verse as affirmation of practices that empty and endanger the mind rather than engage it.
When I was in Michigan, I had someone try to tell me, “What if you just stopped for a day?” and I said, “And do what?” and she said, “Exactly!” Her point was that she thought I was too focused on doing – even in the realm of my private relationship with God. She literally advised me to do nothing. And that didn’t make sense to me, because the last time I tried to stop applying myself to my spiritual life I had the worst, darkest and most depressed year I’ve ever known. And when you’re in a love relationship with someone, you don’t do nothing with them and expect that the relationship will improve. The minute we stop doing something on every level, we’re dead – not alive. We were made to live not to do nothing! We were made to relate to God, not to do nothing.
I didn’t feel comfortable with this person’s advice and so I decided to do my version of being still rather than hers, which was to still journal and read – it was still activity through it looked inactive and was very quiet.
And that brings me back to the metaphor of understanding our relationship with God through the metaphor of getting enough sleep at night. When we pull away from external busyness – the kind of spiritual activity other people can see and measure – and we retreat to spend time alone with God, we can appear to others to be doing nothing for God, in the same way that when we go to bed and sleep at night we appear to others to be getting nothing done. Yet, in a realm they can’t see a lot of complex restoration is happening in our being.
Spending time alone with God to return to our First Love every day looks like you’re trading active service for inactivity, but it’s not true. When we sleep at night, we lay down the activity that is contingent on our conscious decisions and we surrender to a different kind of activity that people can’t see – the activity that happens in the 4 stages of sleep we went over in the beginning. It’s an activity that recharges us to be active again the next day!
When we spend time with God, we lay down the activity that is busy and noisy and extroverted. We set aside our relationships with people for a time and focus on our relationship with God. We also have to set aside hobbies and push against the urges of past or current addictions in order to spend time with God. It’s an activity that recharges us to serve and minister again afterward!
We cannot be long term, loving Christians without daily spending quality time with God.
We are not our own spiritual energy source – God is.
We cannot love others on our own. 1 John 4:19: “We love because He first loved us.”
We are not our own source of peace. Micah 5:5: “And He will be our peace…”
How can we cope, how can we captivate people for Christ if we have no love and peace, if we’re just white-knuckling it, if we’re just going through the motions?
We cannot give what we don’t have. And on our own, we are leaky buckets.
We must constantly refill and recharge ourselves by investing in our relationship with God. We must guard against viewing God as an abstract concept we live our lives by and fight to know God as a Loving Person we live our lives for and with.
Sadly, there really are some Christians who view time alone with God as more of a luxury rather than a necessity. And others have let fear of Satan so fill them that they won’t pray at all because they are that petrified of opening their mind to him! Satan knows how crucial a relationship with God is to having a vibrant Christian witness, to our personal joy and to our ability to persevere and so he seeks to destroy it from any and every angle.
Turn with me to 1 Thessalonians 5:17 and let me know when you find it.
1 Thessalonians 5:17: “Pray without ceasing.”
Now, this is such a short verse but there are 2 Greek words in it that I want to unpack, and then we’re going back to Psalm 46:10. The first word is Pray. The word in Greek is proseuchomai and it is translated to mean to exchange wishes; to interact with the Lord by switching human wishes and ideas for His wishes as He imparts faith.
Prayer takes on a much richer meaning with this understanding, doesn’t it? Prayer becomes a task of relating, of talking to Him, of telling God what we’re feeling, telling Him what we think, telling Him what we want and then asking Him to remove whatever displeases Him and replace it with what He knows that we need. You could even think of it as spiritual replacement therapy…! Prayer becomes the process of learning who God is and grounding ourselves in His goodness. Prayer is the process of changing the negative and faithless patterns in our minds because – as Romans 14:23 tells us, “Everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
And turn with me to 2 Corinthians 10 beginning in verse 3 and let me know when you find it.
2 Corinthians 10:3-5: “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
We need time alone with God. We need prayer because it is in prayer, in interacting with God in a focused way, with an open heart and through faith that we are changed on the inside. Proseuchomai – exchanging, switching, replacing our thoughts and ideas for God’s thoughts and ideas is how we change our thinking, it is how our minds are renewed. The Greek word for repentance – metanoia – means to change your thinking. Many people become Christians externally, they change their lifestyle (which does require a lot of work sometimes), but they never change their thinking and so they either burn out quickly and return to the world, or they become Christians who misrepresent God, because they still have sin-based thought patterns and habits on the inside.
This verse articulates two particulars I don’t want us to miss: demolishing strongholds and taking every thought captive. When we read throughout the New Testament – not just in this verse – we are reminded that it is totally possible for believers to have spiritual strongholds of evil or strongholds of demonic oppression in their hearts and minds, pinning them down from experiencing victory and being more greatly used by Christ. In postmodern America, I think Satan has opted for subtlety rather than scare tactics so we don’t see full demonic possession frequently like the early church did, but we would be fools to believe that there is no spiritual oppression assaulting our lives. These strongholds can only be demolished through strong, heartfelt and repeated prayers in the name of Jesus.
Also, we must take our thoughts and make them captive to Jesus in every particular, because our thoughts lead our feelings. And if we are having trouble with our feelings, the problem is actually in our thoughts. Our feelings are affected by agreements we have made with lies from Satan and we need to articulate those agreements and break them in the name of Jesus to reclaim more and more of our minds and hearts for Him. This is a realm of healing that God won’t magically do for us if we’re not interested or involved. He will supply the power if we will get involved and resist the temptation to think that praying on such deep levels is silly.
And so 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 is about taking ourselves back from Satan through Jesus in prayer; it is about purifying our hearts by re-training our minds so that we can see God.
Matthew 5:8: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
Now, going back to 1 Thessalonians 5:17’s “pray without ceasing,” the English phrase “without ceasing,” is just one word in the Greek: adialeiptos. It basically means “without ceasing,” except there was one additional translation that caught my eye. It can also mean, “without omission.” And so this verse can also be understood as: pray without omitting anything. I know we’ve heard the phrase, “pray about everything,” but it has a different feel to it than “pray without leaving anything out.” I believe that often, we write off certain trials or annoyances as unworthy of prayer or we consider hunkering down to pray about them as too much of a hassle. And so we try to just shrug them off. Sometimes we do this about trials that are quite heavy that we really need to be praying about! I have done this a lot, and not about small issues, but about big ones.
Satan has used emotional trauma to assault my relationship with God. There are times when the idea of praying and opening my heart to God literally makes my head feel heavy and I just want to lie down and go to sleep. And other times when I’m impressed to spend time with Him over something painful that’s just happened, I feel a sudden restlessness that gives me a strong preference for just checking out with watching something instead. This is what spiritual warfare looks like these days. It’s subtle and it doesn’t seem like warfare. Satan uses subtlety to make us doubt because he’s learned that when he uses scare tactics, we’re more likely to run to Jesus because the evil is so clear. But everything that does not come from faith is sin.
Whatever takes the edge off of our relish of spiritual things is sin. Whatever influences us to move away from God rather than closer to Him is sin. Even as we start making progress in our prayer lives, we can never let up, because our old way of faithless thinking has the power of alcoholism. We know that it’s not enough for an alcoholic to get sober in a treatment center. He or she has to stay away from alcohol and from environments that contain alcohol. The alcoholic has to live intentionally for the rest of their life to stay clean. It gets easier over time, but the minute a former addict starts trusting to their own strength, thinking they can handle it without their higher power, they’re in deep trouble and there’s often a relapse.
So really, this tiny verse in 1 Thessalonians turns into: pray all the time without leaving anything out. And now that we’ve taken this deeper look at what prayer can do and why we need it, it makes sense that Ellen White has written to us that, “No man is safe for a day or an hour without prayer.”
So now let’s go back to Psalm 46:10 – be still and know that I am God.
There are two Hebrew words in this verse that have impacted me deeply and I also believe that they are key to the biblical application of this verse as opposed to the empty, emergent applications. The first word is the Hebrew translation of the phrase “be still.” It is the word raphah, which can mean: sink, relax, fail, alone, abandon, become helpless, cease, collapses, courage, dropped, fall limp, feeble, forsake, leave, let it go, loosens, lose courage, slack, subsided, and wait.
These words all imply actions. They’re all choices of surrender. They all speak of setting down our methods of controlling our lives and becoming helpless in God’s presence; of acknowledging whatever messy, unresolved, disorganized, hurt state we might be in and not pretending it’s anything less. Getting caffeine out of my life was an act of raphah, of becoming helpless with God.
I thought I needed it for all sorts of things, one of which was to get up early to spend time with Him. I thought I needed it to wake me up and make me alert and receptive to Him. It was an idol. Caffeine was something I’d given my heart and trust to more than God. Rather than getting power from God, I was trying to get it from a substance. Staying away from it – even after making a promise to Russell – is still extremely hard sometimes. But God has shown me that I can still be just as and even more sensitive to Him without it. I don’t need it to worship Him in the morning.
But being still isn’t all.
We are to be still and know. Not separately know after being still, but be still and know. The Hebrew word for “to know” is yada. Yada is a special word that covers several contexts. It not only describes abstract knowing – the way we know 2 + 2 = 4 – but it can also describe the experiential knowing of intimacy, including marital intimacy between a husband and wife, as in Adam knew Eve and she conceived.
This isn’t to imply anything inappropriate about what our relationship with God should involve, but it is to say that we should know God through experiencing Him in our hearts as well as knowing things about Him on faith. While it is true that feelings are not more important than faith, that doesn’t mean feelings don’t matter. God created them. And even though Satan hijacks them sometimes, they still serve the good purposes God intends. And as we saw earlier when we looked at 1 Thessalonians 5:17, thoughts lead feelings, so if we are making our thoughts captive to Christ, our feelings gradually become safe, not suspect.
Ellen White says, “We need to have a living experience in the things of God; and we are not safe unless we have this.”
Wow. We are not safe unless we have a living experience in the things of God. The Christian life is a symphony of both feelings and faith, just as our human bodies need both bones and our softer, more sensitive components to fully function. We need personal experiences of God’s personal love because otherwise Satan will supply his own version of personal spiritual experiences that will ruin us. We need to know what God’s love feels like and be transformed by it as much as we need to know the truth. Satan and the demons know the truth and believe in God’s existence, but their relationship with Him is not one of love or surrender.
In Matthew 7:16, Jesus said, “By their fruit you will know them.”
Ten years ago when I was 16, I had my first spiritual experience of God’s personal presence. And the fruit of it was conviction and surrender. Although it actually took me 9 years after that moment to permanently give up caffeine, that night on January 13, 2006 was the first time I flushed my stash of caffeine. God moved my feelings; I was sobbing for at least an hour. And did you know you have toxins in your tears, which is why you feel better after you cry? It’s literally detox – having emotional moments is sometimes exactly what we need.
God also simultaneously impressed many things on my mind about how He had been taking care of me and would continue to do so. Two songs were playing that drove home important messages. The songs were “I’ll Trust You Lord” and “How Great Is Our God.” And for someone like me who struggles with control and anxiety, I have needed the reminders that God is bigger than me and therefore deserving of my trust. I needed that emotional experience. It melted my grip around what I was addicted to, if only for a few months so that even when I went back to caffeine to “worship” God in the morning, I was never able to forget that my first personal experience with God led me to get rid of caffeine and so something wasn’t adding up.
Some people have emotional highs at worship services and they later rewrite those memories when they leave the faith and become atheists. They chalk it off to the music. But that night in my life was an experience that I knew was completely beyond me. I knew it had to be God. And even though it unhinged me and convicted me to throw away something I was attached to, it felt so good to have my feelings be telling me the truth in harmony with faith – that there is Someone bigger than me and more powerful than me to rest in. I know there is a God because I have felt Him and He is the deepest relationship I have ever wrapped myself up in. I know there is a God because I do not know who I’d be without Him and I don’t want to know. I just want to keep knowing Him. That experience and others like it is why I wrote to God once, “You’ve ruined me for less and my heart will always long for You.”
Turn with me to John 17:3 and let me know when you find it.
John 17:3: “Now this is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.”
This verse lets us know the key to eternal life. And that key is knowing God. And it’s the same kind of knowing as what Psalm 46:10 is mentioning. The Greek word for “to know” is ginóskó, and it also has the same richness of definition as yada. In Luke 1:34, when Mary asked Gabriel how she, being a virgin, could conceive the Son of God, she said, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” and the word is ginóskó.
The kind of knowing that yada and ginóskó talk about in Psalm 46:10 and John 17:3 are intimate. They’re the knowledge of experience. You can’t be known by someone else without being aware of it because you have to allow it. They can know things about you without you knowing it, but they can’t know you without you participating and allowing it…it doesn’t happen without interactions. God calls us to this. He calls us to come away with Him and rest and be restored by Him. Ellen White says, “We respond to His invitation, Come, learn of Me, and in thus coming we begin the life eternal.” Turn with me to Matthew 11:28 and let me know when you find it.
Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Just like Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman at the well about spiritual thirst for living water, I believe He’s talking to us in this verse about the restoring spiritual sleep and rest we need, which only comes from spending quantity and quality time with Him. Only Jesus can make our hearts truly rest. And although I’ve certainly had my fascinations with feelings of ecstasy through my addiction to caffeine among other things, I’ve grown to know that there is nothing more healing or more deeply moving to the core than the rest only Jesus can bring us to.
Ellen White says, “As through Jesus we enter into rest, heaven begins here.” And it’s absolutely true. When I am resting in Jesus, my restlessness, my worries, my desires are all calmed and for awhile, the noise in my mind is quiet, the smog is cleared up, there’s blue sky and I realize that this is all I want – to be close to God, learning about Him, thinking about Him, experiencing that He loves me, to know that He knows me perfectly. David the Psalmist also had this experience.
Turn with me to Psalm 139:1 and let me know when you find it.
Psalm 139:1: “You have searched me, LORD, and You know [yada] me.”
Again, it’s yada. God knows us intimately and He calls us to know Him intimately as well.
Ellen White says, “Heaven is a ceaseless approaching to God through Christ. The longer we are in the heaven of bliss, the more and still more of glory will be opened to us; and the more we will know of God, the more intense will be our happiness. … As we walk with Jesus in this life, we may be filled with His love, satisfied with His presence. All that human nature can bear, we may receive here. … Heaven is to begin on this earth…”
Do you think Satan wants us to taste this heaven on earth and see that it is good? Absolutely not.
Do you know what Ellen White’s favorite hymn was? Jesus, Lover of My Soul.
So, with that in mind, let me share with you a quote from the book Captivating: “To pursue intimacy with Christ, you will have to fight for it. You’ll need to fight busyness (Martha’s addiction). You’ll need to fight accusations. You’ll need to fight the Thief that would steal your Lover’s gifts to you outright. … Getting time with your Lover is worth whatever it costs. Ask His help in making you desperately hungry for Him. Ask His help in creating the time and space you need to draw close to Him. Ask Him to come, to reveal Himself to you as the Lover that He is.”
We were made to know that we are loved, and only in the heaven to come will not have to fight to abide in that knowledge. But until then, we are given such grace in being able to have heaven in earth in moments, sometimes hours with God.
Turn with me to Matthew 16:25 and let me know when you find it.
Matthew 16:25: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me will find it.”
Living close to the Lover of our souls and being able to sense His presence is indeed heaven on earth and is worth any sacrifice.
And I know this fact through experience as well. Back in 2010, God was asking me to make a decision and I refused. And He withdrew His presence from me. And since I was stubborn, my separation from God only grew and it ended up contributing to my post-traumatic stress disorder. Finally in 2013, I was so spiritually worn out – even though I was feasting on all my old addictions to my heart’s content – and I was so desperate to have God’s presence back in my life that I was willing to be shown whatever I’d done wrong that had brought such living death on my experience.
When I’d cry and break down about it – as I occasionally did to a friend or in a journal – I mostly wouldn’t say, “I just want to feel better,” (which I sometimes say these days) but I would usually say, “I miss Him…I miss when I felt close to Him…” I was living in separation from God. I was living in sin, I could feel it and it was killing me. The temporary feelings my addictions gave me did not compare to the spiritual rest I had known in Christ. He had ruined me for less and I am so thankful that He did. It saved me in the end and made me willing for my pride to be broken.
In Steps to Christ, Ellen White tells us that “A life in Christ is a life of restfulness. There may be no ecstasy of feeling, but there should be an abiding, peaceful trust. Your hope is not in yourself; it is in Christ.” No one can slake our thirst for rest like Jesus. And isn’t it beautiful about God that the greatest, the paramount commandment is to love Him with all of ourselves? That the paramount commandment is draw near to Him, give Him our love and receive His love? That the paramount commandment is to rest in Him and know Him intimately and experience being known by Him because that is the way to eternal life? Our God is so kind…! He is the polar opposite of the Pharaoh Moses had to go up against. Truly, all His commandments are for our good…! He is good. He is so good and kind and thoughtful toward us.
So what will we do with what we’ve heard? I needed this message myself. Badly. It was a journey to write this sermon. I cannot in good conscience finish giving you this message without making a change in my own life. Remember that our old ways have the power of alcoholism – we must ever be intentional in fighting darkness and choosing Jesus, in making time for Him daily to open our hearts up to Him so that we can clean out our hearts and keep them clean and have Jesus in our hearts. In early February, I was sharing a testimony with all of you after a 3-day retreat I did. And in the time since then, I’ve counted twenty trials and negatives that have popped up in my life. I only counted them just recently because in sharing with two friends what all I was dealing with, they were saying, “Chloe, this is a lot…!” and I wasn’t realizing how much it really was.
When I wrote it all down in a list, it was clear to me that Satan had been attacking me for pursuing God. He’d been deliberately trying to rob me. And I’ve kind of been letting him…! It’s hard to keep fighting for joy and rest in Jesus. I think Satan arranges for us to be shamed into thinking that joy and rest in Christ are luxuries, and that we should always function in cold, emotionless faith but all of that is a lie. Joy and rest should be staples in our Christian experience – even during trials. The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy and peace – those are the first three!
Those of us who are married know that you can keep conversations with your spouse going throughout the day either through texting or through whispering during an event, but all of that is nothing compared to the depth and safety of conversation you can have when you’re alone together with no one else around. We as Christians can stay in touch with God throughout the day by talking to Him in the car while we drive and sending up little popcorn prayers, but it doesn’t compare to blocking out a portion of our days to spend just with Him, alone.
It doesn’t compare to giving God our full and undivided attention for at least one uninterrupted hour, if not more, every day. And we know that when our marriages or our close friendships are having issues, we can’t go on without one of those long and difficult but ultimately rewarding conversations. Yet too often, we don’t treat our relationship with God that way, and He is our First Love. He is our most important relationship, our spouses and children are second, and the people we minister and witness to should be coming in at third place.
Luke 14:26 and Matthew 10:37 both tell us that if we love people more than God that we are not worthy of Him and cannot be His disciples. Loving God with our whole hearts, minds and souls and with daily, quality time is the Paramount Commandment. We don’t just give God our time on Sabbath, and even Sabbath can get filled up with only external activity if we’re not careful. Sabbath, being holy, is a day when God draws especially close to us. Just think about how much richer our time alone with God could be on Sabbath, if we’d make the time for it…! We should be planning our lives and our ministries around God, rather than attempting to fit God in where we can because we’re so busy ministering to others. That’s backwards. I know many of us do that with good intentions, but we have all been reminded of the truth today, so I hope we’ll leave here intending to rearrange our priorities.
Turn with me to John 17:26 and let me know when you find it.
John 17:26: “I have made You known to them, and will continue to make You known in order that the love You have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
Wow. Jesus’ prayer, His desire is that both the love of the Father and His own holy, wondrous presence would be IN US…! It’s the desire of Jesus that we live with our hearts full of heaven. Do you see how good and kind He is? Imagine how much more bearable all our trials would be if we were obeying the Paramount Commandment so that intimacy with God and His personal presence in our hearts would be our new normal…! All our pain would feel peripheral in comparison to how it feels without God’s presence in our hearts.
Turn with me to Psalm 19:7 and let me know when you find it.
Psalm 19:7: “The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul.”
Russell made me aware that the word “refreshing” can mean restoring. The Hebrew word is shub, and it means to return, bringing back. Obeying God’s law, especially the Paramount Commandment brings us back from the shadowlands, from the shallows where everything is potholes and gray skies. Obeying the Paramount Commandment gives us back to ourselves. Have you ever felt like you’ve lost yourself and you have no anchor? Intimacy with God is our anchor. But as Revelation 3 tells us, Jesus waits at the door of our hearts. He knocks, but He doesn’t insist. We have to let Him in and make a place for Him to stay.
In Matthew 5:17, Jesus says “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
The Paramount Commandment is still paramount. It still stands as the command that should dominate our lives. And obeying the Paramount Commandment will not detract from our teaching others about prophecy and witnessing to them about it. It will make us better at it! When we are spending the quality and quantity of time with God that we need to, people will see the love in our eyes for what we believe, for who we believe. Rather than seeing paranoia in us about the time of trouble, rather than seeing anxiety in us about being prepared, they will see our heartfelt longing to be ready because it’s almost time to go Home, because we want them to experience the beauty that graces our spirits because of the supreme relationship we are in that is bigger than ourselves. They would see that we are a people captivated by God’s beauty – not held captive by fear of getting it wrong – and that that is why we live the way we do, worship on Sabbath and believe in prophecy…! We are who we are and live the way we live because we are a people in love with our utterly, completely good God; because we are captivated by His love.
In John 14:15, Jesus says, “If you love Me, keep My commands.” Especially the Paramount Commandment! All the rest is meaningless and forced without a relationship with God.
And in John 15:9-10, Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in His love.”
And Jesus absolutely kept the Paramount Commandment. Ellen White tells us in Desire of Ages: “No other life was ever so crowded with labor and responsibility as was that of Jesus; yet how often He was found in prayer! How constant was His communion with God! … In a life wholly devoted to the good of others, the Savior found it necessary to withdraw from the thoroughfares of travel and from the throng that followed Him day after day. He must turn aside from a life of ceaseless activity and contact with human needs, to seek retirement and unbroken communion with His Father. As one with us, a sharer in our needs and weaknesses, He was wholly dependent upon God, and in the secret place of prayer He sought divine strength, that He might go forth braced for duty and trial. In a world of sin Jesus endured struggles and torture of soul. In communion with God He could unburden the sorrows that were crushing Him. Here He found comfort and joy.”
The Paramount Commandment does not suggest that we should become monks and recluses. But it bids us change our priorities for our own good and for God’s glory…!
1 John 2:3: “We know that we have come to know Him if we keep His commands.”
1 John 5:3: “In fact, this is love for God: to keep His commands. And His commands are not burdensome.” This echoes Matthew 11:28-30, wherein Jesus Himself told us that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. The Paramount Commandment heals and restores us. It is beautiful.
John 17:3 taught us that eternal life is knowing God.
Matthew 22:36-40 taught us that the Paramount Commandment is loving God.
Loving God and intimately knowing Him by experience go together. You can’t love someone without knowing them. And because God is love, we cannot know Him without loving Him! And to know Him at all is to be gripped with the conviction to love Him with our all.
Psalm 40:8: “I desire to do Your will, my God; Your law is within my heart.”
When we are Christ’s, His commands are in our hearts, they’re part of us. They don’t feel like foreign objects. On the contrary, we cannot live without them. And although my addictions push against my love for Jesus, I have fallen in love with Him enough to still testify that He has ruined me for less and I know that nothing else can satisfy me except His love and healing presence.
I am imperfect, but He has my heart. I want more of my thoughts to be His, but He has far more of my thoughts than He ever has. I love to talk about Him. My warmest affections are His. I am at my best when I am focused on Him. I have not been the most faithful lover of Him, but I know I am Christ’s. My thoughts are with Him and my sweetest thoughts and memories are of Him. I am doing all I can to completely consecrate and give myself to Him more and more over time. I am a work in progress, but He is committed to finishing what He has begun in me. I long to bear His image and breathe His spirit, do His will and make Him happy.
This experience with Jesus is the best and most beautiful thing I could wish on anyone. God longs for all His children to have it and that is why it is so sad that so many will sacrifice heaven for their own small ideas rather than surrendering their own concepts of control to a beautiful God of love who is graciously bigger than we are. Do you want this same experience? Do you want to join me? I pray so.
I’m going to play a song and while we all listen, I invite you to close your eyes and think about how your life needs to change, what ideas and habits you might need to sacrifice in order to make loving God paramount. And I’d invite you to pray to God during this song to give you the strength to make your convictions a reality.
(The song was "Abide in Me" by Ana Laura: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hspfBTZLhU)