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How Big Is Your God?

Three ways our vision of God affects Christian experience

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I was personally acquainted with Dr. A. W. Tozer. He was a member of the committee that approved my ordination, though he didn’t make it to any of the meetings in which I was examined. Back in the 1950s, our paths crossed from time to time because we were both members of what was the Western District of The Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA).

In a message to a District Conference that I attended as a young pastor, Tozer advised his fellow ministers to preach messages on God’s attributes. Tozer often sounded like an Old Testament prophet, and in his message to that conference he predicted dire consequences within the evangelical church for what he perceived to be a diminishing emphasis upon the majesty and greatness of God. I think that some of Tozer’s prophetic insights have proved to be accurate.

Admittedly, teaching about God’s attributes is not the most popular subject that one can deliver to a contemporary audience. People mainly seem to want to hear messages about how to cope with emotional struggles and daily problems. They almost automatically assume studies of doctrine and discussions of theology to be dull and irrelevant.

Yet I dare to affirm that comprehending and appreciating the greatness and glory of God is essential to genuine Christian experience. Indeed, the shallowness of much contemporary Christianity is due, at least in part, to a lack among believers of a consuming awareness of Almighty God’s awesomeness.

Let me suggest three areas in which our vision of God affects Christian experience:

worship
Christians are to worship the Lord. This is a believer’s primary responsibility. We are told in 1 Corinthians 10:31 to do whatever we do to the glory of God.

J. I. Packer wrote, “To worship God is to recognize His worth or worthiness; to look God-ward and to acknowledge in all appropriate ways the value of what we see.” Effective worship, therefore, depends upon “what we see,” and to worship God appropriately we must see His worth and worthiness.

Once a group of tourists were visiting a castle in London when, quite by accident, they encountered the queen, who was passing from one part of the castle to another. Several of the tourists immediately got down on their knees to honor this earthly monarch. How much more should Christians honor the King of all Kings and Lord of all Lords?

We sometimes forget that one of the basic purposes of a church service is worship. In one of the churches I pastored, a man said to me as he left the Sunday morning service, “I didn’t enjoy the service this morning.” It was perhaps impertinent of me, but I answered him, “That’s OK. It wasn’t conducted for your benefit.”

Our purpose and intention in church services should be to bring honor and glory to God. We will not do this unless we come together with hearts and minds filled with a sense of the majesty of the God we serve.

We try very hard to make people feel as comfortable as possible when they come to church services. This man-ward focus is reflected in our singing. More and more the songs are about what God can do for me. I urge those who are responsible for the conduct of church services to exalt God. And I urge that in our study and in our teaching we attempt to comprehend with our minds and hearts God’s glory so when we come together for worship, we are prepared to do as Psalm 34:3 urges: “Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.”

Warren Wiersbe has called worship “the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin.” Tozer once called worship “the missing jewel of the evangelical church.”

Genuine worship should be a part of our daily living and especially of our church services, and that depends upon understanding and appreciating God’s attributes.

Holy-Living
Christian circles today don’t often talk about the importance of righteous living. But it is for our benefit that Scripture urges us to be holy as God is holy. It is for our sake that the Holy Spirit seeks to deliver us from uncleanness and wrong. Second Timothy 1:9 tells us God has saved us to call us to a holy life.

To experience God’s deliverance from unrighteousness, we must turn from those things that displease Him: ugly attitudes, inappropriate speech, and unclean actions. The more we are aware of God’s holiness the more we will be conscious of those things we should remove from our lives.

When I was a freshman in college I did my own laundry. The water at that institution at that time contained a lot of sulfur and rust, and my underwear gradually became gray. When I came home for Christmas vacation and my mother hung those T-shirts on the clothesline alongside of some new, white T-shirts, the ugliness of that older underwear became embarrassingly apparent.

The more we are aware of God’s beauty, the more we will sense ugliness in us. The more we comprehend God’s holiness, the more we will be aware of our unrighteousness. The more we see God’s glory, the more we will be conscious of our shortcomings. When we see our sin and are genuinely sorry and repent, we invite the Holy Spirit to deliver us.

I once had a copy of The Diary of Robert Murray M’Cheyne. He was a 19th-century Scotch minister who was widely known for his remarkably holy life. When I first began to read that book, it puzzled me how frequently this man humbly confessed before God his failures and shortcomings and asked for forgiveness. But I also noticed that M’Cheyne had an exalted sense of God’s holiness, and it dawned on me that these two things go together.

When we see God’s goodness, we see, by contrast, our unrighteousness. And when we see our unrighteousness and repent, we give God an opportunity to work in our lives to make us more like Him.

assurance
We live in troubled times, and our hearts cry out for a rock upon which to stand, a foundation upon which to build, a refuge in which to hide. Christians affirm our God is that rock, that foundation, that refuge.

In the church in which I grew up as a boy, we sang a song that said, The Lord’s our rock; in Him we hide, a shelter in the time of storm. The more we are aware of the greatness of our God, the more confident we can feel about our security in whatever may transpire upon this earth.

In 1972, I was in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and an army officer who had been assigned to us as a tour guide drove missionary Merle Graven and me around the city. At one point we came to a bridge across the Mekong River. The Khmer Rouge, who at that time had the city surrounded, had blown up part of the bridge. When I saw the tenuous repair that had been made to the bridge, I had a lot of uncertainty. I didn’t want us to go out onto that span. However, a large truck was in front of us and made it safely across that repair. Seeing the bridge support that heavy truck gave me confidence that our car could make it over safely.

When we see the greatness of our God and understand that He supports our every crossing, we can have genuine inward peace no matter what difficulties we encounter or circumstances we face.

Oswald Chambers wrote, “Human frailty is another thing that gets between God’s words of assurance in our own words and thoughts. When we realize how feeble we are in facing difficulties, the difficulties become like giants, we become like grasshoppers, and God seems to be nonexistent.”

If our attention’s focus is upon our own abilities, our own strength, or our own wisdom, we are bound to be apprehensive. Surely none of us is foolish enough to think that in ourselves we can successfully cope with the potential economic problems, the recurring international unrest, the personal physical breakdowns, or any of the other multitudes of dangers we face in our day. But our God is greater than any of these things.

Once during a vacation, I sat beside the pool at a motel and watched as a young boy jumped from the side of the pool into his father’s arms. That father was a huge man with bulging muscles, and I thought to myself that I would have been willing to jump into the arms of a man like that. When we see how huge our God really is, we can be confident when putting ourselves into His mighty arms.

Dr. A. B. Simpson, founder of the C&MA, wrote a hymn that I have often quoted to people going through some crisis or cause for uncertainty.

Art thou sunk in depths of sorrow, where no arm can reach so low?
There is One whose arms almighty reach beyond thy deepest woe.
God th’ Eternal is thy refuge, let it still thy wild alarms;
Underneath thy deepest sorrow, are the everlasting arms.

The great antidote for anxiety in this troubled age is to better comprehend the God in whom we trust, a God of incomparable might, omniscient wisdom, inexhaustible goodness, and eternal existence. Rather than looking around or looking inward, we should look up.

It affects our worship, how we act, and what we feel in the face of difficulties. More than ever I appreciate what Tozer said way back in 1956 in that sermon I heard him preach. We need among us today more emphasis upon and teaching about God’s attributes.

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