Going Deeper with God, Part 1
Bob L. Phillips April 20, 2017
“I feel like I’m missing something. When I hear other Christians talking about the life of God flowing through them, I just can’t relate. What does it mean to be full of joy and peace?”
“I’m tired of faking it. I go to church, I read my Bible, I even pray. But, honestly, my spiritual life is pretty mechanical. Why don’t I have the passion for God I see in other Christians?”
“As a new Christian, I’m supposed to be a ‘new creation’, so why can’t I control my temper as I should? Every once in a while, I get better at it, especially if I’ve just been to a good church service, but my joyful moods never last very long. Pretty soon I’m feeling as dry and powerless as ever. Am I doing something wrong?”
“I’m disappointed with God. Does ‘intimate fellowship’ with the Lord even exist? Whenever I talk to the Lord, our conversation is pretty one-sided. I don’t hear His voice like other people say they do. And frankly, I don’t see too many answers to my prayers.”
Four voices. Four complaints. And they are all talking about the same thing, a superficial relationship with God. A relationship that’s stagnant or stale, intermittent or phony. A relationship that doesn’t produce power or joy on a consistent basis.
Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Why, then, are so many Christians so totally lifeless? Why are joy and peace so elusive? Let me answer these questions using an analogy found in nature.
God is a River of Life
Some years ago, while teaching in New Mexico, I toured a beautiful valley just outside Roswell. It was dotted with trees, irrigating canals, alfalfa fields and orchards, things that are commonplace in a rural community. But in this part of the country, they seemed out of place because just beyond the valley lies a hot, dry desert.
“Why is this valley so green?” I asked my resident tour guide. He pointed to some mountains in the distance. “A river flows out of that mountain,” he explained. “You can’t see it because it’s deep underground, but it flows into a large lake not far from here.”
“And how does this lake provide water to the town?” I wondered aloud. “Let me show you,” my guide responded, and he drove me to a wide stream called Spring Creek, which flows out of the lake.
“The stream flows year-round,” he said, “that’s why real estate along here is very expensive.” I could see why. The property skirting Spring Creek was especially lush and green.
We left Spring Creek and drove across town to another stream. The contrast was poignant. This stream, called “Hondo”, flows out of the same mountain, but it was dry and barren that day.
During the rainy season, or in springtime when the snow on the mountain is melting, water rushes down Hondo with a mighty, flooding tide. The rest of the year, the stream is dry. Known for these extremes, land along this creek is relatively inexpensive.
There’s Life on Spring Creek
As I thought about the contrasts between Spring Creek and Hondo, it occurred to me that these two streams are illustrative of many Christians.
Spring Creek Christians experience a steady flow of living water in their spiritual lives. By spending time with Jesus consistently, they remain “connected” to God’s fountain of life, which flows continuously through a deep and hidden channel not visible to others. Because they are in God’s stream of life and power, they have joy and peace. There is a spiritual richness about them. They live on Spring Creek.
Hondo Creek Christians, on the other hand, dry up because they don’t dig deep into God’s Word, nor do they labor in prayer. Their Christianity is “cheaper” than that of believers living on Spring Creek, but for good reason. Hondo Christians don’t know how to tap the abundant life that flows from God’s presence. No springs of joy or power feed into their spirits.
Once in a while, there’s a big gush of spiritual activity in their lives. They go to a church retreat and get inspired to seek God anew. They get interested in the latest “movement” of God’s Spirit, or some crisis forces them to their knees temporarily. For weeks they may talk, even boast, about the latest thing God is doing in their lives. But, after a short flood of spiritual activity, the Hondo Christian dries up again.
Bob L. Phillips April 20, 2017
As Christians, you and I are like athletes. Every day we’re training for competition. Every day we’re engaging in battle with the enemy. To meet this serious challenge we need divine strength and power. Like a body-builder, we need energy to reach and sustain our optimal level of performance. And we need fuel for our spiritual fires. There is such a thing. The Bible calls it honey.
Victory Awaits You
The day you stand with nothing in your hand, relying not on your own abilities or resources, the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you mightily. Things that once seemed impossible will become easy for you. Doubts and fears will flee. And in the carcasses of your defeated lions, you will find the honey of joy for yourself and others.
Listen, my friend, God is able to turn an empty, defeated and powerless life into a marvelous testimony of His grace. Through trials and conflict, He will remove the worthless weapons from your hands until all you have to offer Him is your trust in His Word. Only then will God empower you that no flesh should glory in His presence.
We have ignored this truth. The church goes forward with so many things in-hand: programs, propaganda, human enthusiasm, prestige, learning, but the Spirit of the Lord does not rest mightily on these things, and most believers never discover God’s PowerBar because they depend upon personal resources and not upon the Spirit of God.
Self-Sufficiency Always Brings Defeat
Even Samson wasn’t always victorious, however. Out of human weakness, he revealed the secret to his strength to a deceitful woman named Delilah, who delivered him into the hands of the Philistines.
As they gathered outside Samson’s tent, he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free” (Judges 16:20). But the Lord had departed from him and Samson was truly powerless. The Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes (v 21).
Samson failed when he tried to be self-sufficient. Let us not follow his example. You and I cannot “shake ourselves free”. We must be empty of ourselves and full of Him.
The lion is dead. Jesus won the victory. And yet, we still hear satan’s roar from time to time. He is still able to afflict you and hurt you. In fact, he will destroy you if you let him.
Honey is your only hope. Your only resource. Honey will take you beyond your natural strength and abilities. It will give you the energy to reach and sustain your optimal level of performance as a Christian. It will fuel your fire for God.
The question is how? From a practical standpoint how do you lay down your weapons and come empty-handed before God? If faith unleashes the work of the Holy Spirit, how do you develop that faith? Let me suggest three ways.
1. Cultivate a personal fellowship with Jesus Christ.
The object of your faith is not a creed, nor a sacrament, nor a slogan, but the person of Jesus Christ. To eat the honey of Christ’s victory over satan, you must cultivate His friendship and lean upon it above all else. With glorious abandon, you must surrender yourself to God’s will. This must become your priority for each day. Don’t go to bed at night until you have sought His holy presence.
As you spend time reading the Word and praying, let His purposes and will enter in and possess your mind. Let His promises distill in your heart. Talk to Him in secret and allow Him to talk to you. Consult the Lord about all your affairs, and then take His counsel and apply it to your daily activities.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? And yet, so many Christians fail in this area. They neglect the one thing that matters most.
2. Make holiness your supreme desire.
Some Christians are so wrapped up in collecting and claiming God’s promises that they forget all about God’s highest calling for their lives—sanctification—or the process of being remade into the image of Jesus.
Your desire for a clean mind and a pure heart must reign supremely over your desire for personal comfort and material blessings. A casual or vague yearning to be holy will not suffice. But rather, with passion and ruthlessness, you must remove every obstacle and every bad habit that is keeping you from becoming more like Christ.
If you lack a burning, consuming thirst for His holiness, ask God for it. And keep on asking Him until a fire rages in your heart. God will not fail to bring it to you.
3. Focus on the campaign, not on the battle.
A few lost battles don’t mean defeat. You’re going to blow it sometimes. But God will use your failures to create in you a greater desire for His presence and a deeper dependency on Him. And He will use your mistakes to bring you to the place in which you have nothing in your hands.
So when you face a difficult trial or temptation, place your trust in the victory Jesus won for you, and not in your own individual performance. Focus on Jesus and not on yourself. Stop worrying about your image, and how others might perceive your ability to handle your problems. People who are “performance trained” by the ways of the world seldom surrender to the ways of God.
Let’s face it, God uses conflict and defeat to bring about your surrender. When you can no longer handle the pressure on your own, then—and only then—you become a candidate for the Spirit of God to come upon you with might and power.
The Bottom Line
God wants you to learn about the strength and grace that is available to you as you engage in spiritual conflict.
While under the influence of the Holy Spirit, that grace gives you exceptional power beyond your natural abilities and experience. It gives you strength from the honey in the hands of Jesus.
And, amazingly, to the degree in which you fellowship with Jesus and eat the honey of His life, you will become more like Him (2 Corinthians 3:18).
So, what are you waiting for? Unwrap that PowerBar, and dig in!
What Are Your Motives?
If you pray mostly to enlist God’s help in promoting your self-interests, then your motives for spending time with God are no different from those of the moneychangers. Your so-called house of prayer is really a robbers’ den that must be cleansed before you can go deeper with God.
To cleanse your temple, and restore its status as a house of prayer, you must uncover and expose your true motives, just as Jesus did with the merchants and moneychangers that day in Jerusalem.
Search your heart for hidden motives. Be honest and transparent with God. He obviously knows your true motives already, but confess them anyway. Only then can He cast them out.
Look at your prayer list. What prayers has God not answered to your specifications lately? His silence or inaction may be God’s way of saying, “look at your motives. You don’t want more of Me. You just want more of the good things I can give you.”
Yes, God does answer even self-centered prayers. Not by meeting the needs you’ve presented to Him, but by doing a work in your heart, by molding your desires to harmonize with His divine plan.
As this happens, your prayers change from, “Meet my needs, Lord.” To “How can I please you, Father?” They become increasingly Christ-centered as opposed to self-centered.
Once a house of prayer has been re-established in your heart, God can talk with you more freely and show you other areas in your life requiring change. Recognizing your sin is half the battle. When you can say, “I’m the problem,” not, “I have a problem,” that’s when God can change you!
But that’s not all. When the temple is cleansed and God is able to work more deeply in you, your life becomes a dwelling place for His glory and power. When God’s house is in order, He moves in power, and His presence brings a continual flow of joy and peace. Your circumstances won’t be able to disturb that flow because it runs so deep within your soul.
And finally, when the temple is cleansed, healing comes. That’s what took place in Jerusalem that day. Look at Matthew 21:8-14. At no point along the road into Jerusalem did Jesus stop to teach or heal anyone, which seems rather out-of-character given the atmosphere of praise. But, after He had cleansed the temple, the blind and the lame immediately came to Him and He healed them (Matthew 21:14).
That’s significant. He wanted the temple to be a place of healing, but He couldn’t heal the sick until the temple had been cleansed. Likewise, Jesus wants your life to be a place of healing, but He can’t heal you emotionally or physically, until you cleanse your temple.
If people could see God’s purpose in cleansing the temple, they’d run to it. If they could see His heart, they’d welcome this experience. For I am convinced that anger didn’t motivate Jesus to overturn the moneychanger’s tables that day. Jesus acted out of love and compassion for the needs of the people who had come to the temple looking for forgiveness of sins, healing and peace with God.
He didn’t stop to heal or preach in the streets because there were hurting people at the temple who were seeking answers from God. He went to the temple because He heard the cry of His people. That’s what I see written in His character.
Going Deeper Means Desiring God Above All Else
If your heart is clean and your motives are Christ-centered, you will go deeper with God. Expect to be more conscious of His presence. Increasingly, day after day, you will desire God above everything else this world has to offer. You will cry out as David did, “My soul clings to You…” (Psalm 63:8).
And as you do, you will experience the mighty power of God. He will take you deeper into Himself, into His strength, His holiness, His joy, His love and His faith. And there, in the flow of His Spirit, you’ll find power beyond your natural strength and abilities.
But you must find Spring Creek, the live-giving river that flows from His presence continually. And to find that valuable source of water, you must go deeper into His Word and deeper into His heart.
Let me warn you, however, going deeper is costly and often painful. It requires honest self-examination and self-exposure before God, which often come only in response to disappointing or difficult circumstances.
And don’t think for a moment that God will cleanse your temple as quickly as He cleansed the temple in Jerusalem. This process takes time—months, even years.
But look what lies ahead. See what Ezekiel wrote about life on Spring Creek, “Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing” (Ezekiel 47:12).
Start today! Start cleaning house in your heart. And soon you’ll be fruitful, not dry and withered spiritually. And the life of God in you will bring healing, change, provision and power.