Be Satisfied with Nothing Less
The “desert” is the place where joy has dried up. The solution to the desert is the presence of God. God’s presence is the source of blessing and joy.
“Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O LORD. They rejoice in your name all day long; they exult in your righteousness” (Psalm 89:15-16 NIV).
You experience God’s presence by experiencing his attributes when he turns his face favorably toward you. And it is through that enjoyment that you increase your love for God.
It is not enough to learn true things about God. It is not even enough to experience the benefits of his attributes. We must not be satisfied until our experience of each attribute has been profound enough to move our soul toward deeper love for him. We must keep learning and experiencing what is so wonderful about each attribute until there is a response in our affections.
The Source of all Joy
Each of God’s attributes is a single ray in the spectrum of the brilliant radiance of his glory. They are waves in a massive ocean, and one drop of that ocean is enough to delight your soul and occupy your faculties of praise for all eternity.
“… You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11 NIV).
How to Go Beyond Mere Knowledge
How do you find intimacy with God? Open the pages of Scripture, and instead of merely looking at all the words, putting in your time so you can say you did your reading, make an all-out search for anything and everything you can learn about how to experience the excellencies and perfections of God.
Suppose you’re reading Romans 15 and come across verse 5.
“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity.”
This verse supplies three facts about God:
1) He gives endurance.
2) He supplies encouragement.
3) He brings unity.
Three facts about God, but be careful. You can gather facts about God in ways that do not produce intimacy with him.
You might read the part about God being the the one who supplies encouragement and think, “Yep. I already knew that. Nothing new there,” and move on. If you do, you’ve missed an opportunity to experience God’s presence.
The fact that God encourages may not be new to you, but it’s always possible to experience that attribute of God in a new way.
Think of how you get to know people. Someone says, “Have you ever noticed what an encourager Sarah is? Every time I’m around her I come away feeling like I can handle anything life throws at me.”
What effect would that comment have on you? You would not simply think, “Sarah has the attribute of cultivating inner strength in people. I need to memorize that fact.” No. You would think through what it means in practical, relational terms and you would notice it more in the future. You would recall your interactions with Sarah and put this information into that context. And you would be alert to her encouraging attributes the next time you saw her.
That is how we should respond when we read about the attributes of God in Scripture. What does it mean that God gives endurance? How does he do it? Why does he do it? What does it feel like when it happens? How can I experience more of it?
Then, as often as possible, seek to make the connections between what you know to be true about God and what you experience in everyday life. Making those connections is the key to enjoying intimacy with God.
Love is not caused by bare information. It comes from interactions, exchanges, and experiences of the person you are learning to love.
How do You Know When You’ve Experienced His Presence?
As you read the Bible (especially the Psalms), each time you come across an attribute of God (an attribute is anything that is true about him), spend time in meditation and prayer seeking to have your eyes opened to the goodness of the attribute and to experience that it.
Ask yourself, “What kinds of effects would be present in my heart if I were to experience this attribute?”
- Gladness and joy
- Greater love and desire for God (and all those he loves)
- Safety and protection
- Peace and calmness
- A joyful, willing heart
- Fullness and satisfaction
- A greater abiding presence of Christ in the heart
- Experiential knowledge of the love that surpasses understanding
- Fear of God
- Awe and reverence
- Desire to obey
Need Help Getting Started?
If the concept of experiencing and enjoying God’s attributes in a relational way is new to you, there is a resource you may find helpful. The book Deeper Knowledge of God is a daily devotional that explores 76 of God’s attributes. The book is divided into 180 daily meditations.
Each day’s reading provides a few paragraphs on what is so amazing about that attribute and some ideas on how to experience that attribute as you go about your day.
I pray the book will assist you in drawing nearer to God’s presence than you ever have before. But even without the book, this is something you can do. Try it now. God to Psalm 63 and make a list of all the attributes of God you find stated or implied in that psalm. I would love to see in the comments. Your list might help others get started.
Next, pick one attribute from your list and give some deep thought–beyond what comes to mind right away–about what is wonderful about that facet of God’s glory.
Finally, write a prayer or a psalm, praising God for being that way and talking to him about how you might have greater experiences of that attribute than you’ve ever had.
Okay, I haven’t forgotten about this. I spent a lot of time studying this verse, and I wanted to “live with it” for a while too.
In particular, I really tried to keep my focus on the point of the exercise – to spend time meditating on this attribute until my affections for God are excited to such a degree that I truly come to love this attribute of (and thus come to love *him* more) and can rely on it in practical ways to *actually* help me battle sin in my everyday life.
I have a LOT of thoughts on this, but I’ll try to keep my response to the main points, which are 1) the verse itself and what it tells us about God, and 2) what it means to actually experience this attribute.
1. The verse itself. Sometimes I like to think of a piece of Scripture as a note from Heaven. That is, I assume I have NO access to a Bible (indeed, in this though experiment, there is not even a concept of “Bible”). We have absolutely no communication from God. Then one day, God reveals this one verse to us. It comes down as a paper airplane from Heaven with only these words written on it, “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.”
1.1. In this exercise, I KNOW this is direct communication from God, and it’s the ONLY communication I will ever receive from him. What do I do with it? How does it affect how I think and feel and respond? How does it inform what I understand about God?
1.2. At the outset, I know at least 4 things: 1) God is loving, 2) that love is steadfast, 3) God’s love is better than life, and 4) because of this love, GOD HIMSELF is worthy of praise. I think that last one is important. We don’t praise “the love” or the “steadfastness.” We praise GOD! To your point, love and steadfastness are attributes of God. What kind of God must this be if He’s loving, AND steadfast in that love, AND this love is better than anything we could ever experience in this life?! I REALLY want to know that God!
2. Actually experiencing this attribute. Okay thought experiment over, and now I have the rest of the Bible to help me study and interpret this verse. I’ve come to two conclusions about experiencing this love and why it’s better than life. The first is when our life is going badly and we are absolutely heartbroken, and the second is when our life is as good as it could possibly be. In both cases we can look with joy and hope to God’s love, which is always “better.”
2.1. Based on my study, I believe there are two possibilities of when this Psalm was written, basically either during the events of 1 Sam 23, when David was in the wilderness fleeing Saul, or 2 Sam 15, when he was in the wilderness fleeing Absalom.
2.1.1. Personally, I find 2 Sam 15 to be more compelling. Most people point to Ps 63:11 where David refers to himself as “king” to argue for 2 Sam 15. But the 1 Sam 23 camp also explains that verse by saying David had already been anointed king by that time, even if he hadn’t yet taken the throne. So I think v. 11, by itself, isn’t compelling either way to determine the correct context.
2.1.2. There are a few other minor evidences I found, but the main reason I favor the 2 Sam 15 interpretation is emotional appeal of it. This Psalm has a more desperate tone than does any of the Psalms David wrote when he was running from Saul. Because this time it’s personal. His own *son* has betrayed him!
2.1.3. I believe all this context is important, because it helps me interpret the Psalm – and thus know how to experience this attribute of God – correctly.
2.1.4. I think never are we lower than when our familial relationships are broken. Those closest to us have the capacity to hurt us the most deeply.
2.1.5. When our wounds are at their deepest, we’re in the most need of the Physician’s care.
2.1.6. David’s heart is crushed. He is absolutely desperate for God. (v. 1)
2.1.7. He needs the healing touch of the Physician (v. 2) He remembers the experiences he’s had while he was in God’s presence in the tabernacle. He intentionally fixes the gaze of his soul upon God again so that he will remember and be strengthened by God’s power and glory.
2.1.8. **The experience itself IS the strengthening.**
2.1.9. Being in God’s presence *is* the thing that gives us strength and heals our soul. God is like a physician in that we come to him when we’re sick and weak, but he’s NOT like a physician because he doesn’t have to rely on anything outside of himself to bring the healing. The doctor needs to rely on some tool, some external means to provide relief, either medicine or physical therapy or rest. God can heal instantly out of his own nature. We go to the doctor to get the thing that will really bring relief (medicine), we go to God because *he* is the relief!
2.1.10. And the more broken our hearts are, the more dramatic is his touch.
2.1.11. Not only to do we crave it more, but its effect is more profound. Psalm 34:18 – God *saves* those who are crushed in spirit. When we call to God in such a desperate state, it’s because we are literally about to be overtaken by our grief. We are almost gone – we are at the point where *only* God can come in and save us. All the little worldly distractions we typically turn to in times of trouble are exposed for the liars they are. When we’re in *this* state of desperation, we don’t even bother turning to those things because we know they’re bankrupt – they have no chance of saving our soul from this crushing grief. But God can. God *can* and *does* *actually* save that poor soul that would otherwise be crushed and obliterated under the weight of grief.
2.1.12. So back to Psalm 63.
2.1.13. The loves of this world are so broken, so incomplete, so unsteady, so unreliable. Familial love brings great joy, but when it lets us down or fails us, it brings us great pain. Often, our life consists of simply navigating those swells and troughs of joy and pain caused by familial, human love. We are always unsteady, bracing ourselves for the next great change.
2.1.14. But, oh, not with God’s love! God’s love is perfect, and complete, and whole, and steady, and reliable! If our life on this earth is simply holding on while familial love batters us about, then OF COURSE God’s love is better than life! Because, by definition, it’s our shelter from those things!
2.1.15. David was being racked and thrown by Absalom’s failed love, and from the complexity and heartbreak that comes from loving something so imperfect.
2.1.16. So in those moments especially, looking to God’s great, steadfast, abounding, PERFECT love lifts the tortured soul and brings great comfort.
2.1.17. When we are down in this life, we look with great comfort to God’s love, because experiencing his love is BETTER than life!
2.1.18 So that’s one way I personally would look to this attribute of God for practical help: when my spirit is crushed because of other, lesser loves that have failed me.
2.2. A second way is the point you make in your sermon (and I noticed, in Chapter 9 of At War With the Wind): God’s love is better than even the *best* about this life.
2.2.1. So when things are going *perfectly* and we’re absolutely as happy as we could be, God’s love is still better than even that.
2.2.2. The other day, I was sitting in my back yard, enjoying the sunshine, the mountains, and the beautiful weather. There was no drama I my life, nothing stressful. I was listening to, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written (Allegro Con Fuoco from the New World Symphony by Dvorak). Life was good.
2.2.3. As I enjoyed the warmth of the sun on my face, and beautiful music that reverberated in my soul, and spectacular scenery that surrounded me, I remember thinking, “Now THIS is the life!” It was so peaceful, so relaxing, so *enjoyable.*
2.2.4. And if FILLED me with ABSOLUTE JOY knowing that this experience is just a taste, just a glimmer, just a faint glint, of the peace and the joy and the excitement and the contentment that we get from experiencing God’s love. I cannot WAIT for heaven and the new heaven and the new Earth and to finally, really experience God’s presence in an immediate sense. But the amazing thing is that we can experience this wonderful attribute about him NOW, here, in this life! Even when things are going as good as they can possibly be going, there is still yet another level of peace and joy available to us in God!
2.2.5. My wife and I were very fortunate and blessed to find a piece of property up in the mountains that is ABSOLUTELY PERFECT for us! It’s tucked away in a valley in the forest, surrounded by mountain peaks. It backs up to National Forest with literally hundreds of thousands of undisturbed acres. We own just about an acre but it might as well be a million. We can’t see a single neighbor. Yet, it’s only 10 minutes from the heart of the city, so all the conveniences are still readily available to us. We get all the benefits of seclusion without any of the drawbacks. It’s beautiful and it’s peaceful and it’s PERFECT. When we reflect on our property, we literally wouldn’t trade it for any other piece of property on Earth – again, as far as we’re concerned, this property is the BEST! There is no better property anywhere in the world!
2.2.6. And so the amazing thing is, with God’s love, it’s always better! There is no pinnacle! Even all the joy and peace we experience at our property, indeed the BEST THINGS this life has to offer, doesn’t even hold a candle to what experiencing God’s love is like. The more time we spend at our property, the more excited we get for God because we know that once we leave this life and enter into ACTUAL reality, it will be even better, by an infinite factor, than even the best we experience here.
And so that’s why we can’t help but praise HIM. BECAUSE God’s love is better than even the absolute best about this life, we praise him. And conversely, when we’re absolutely crushed, and we’re at our lowest in life, we know we have a refuge to which to flee. And he WILL heal our heart there. So because God’s love offers us an escape when we’re in the absolute worst about this life, we praise him.
If you’d like a little assisted meditation, here’s a sermon on that verse:
I usually put off listening to your sermons until last, until after I’ve already done my own study, because listening to you is like checking my answers in the back of a book, LOL!!!
Some attributes of God I noticed. God is:
Satisfying like water
His steadfast love is better than life
Covers us in the shadow of his wings
Causer of joy
Destroyer of enemies
Silencer of liars
Several of these are intriguing, but the one I’m most curious about is in v.3:
“Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.”
This idea of love better than life. And it’s the reason he praises God. He could have chosen a million reasons for praising God, but he chose this one.
These are just some of the things I’m going to think on.
I’ll come back once I’ve meditated on it a bit.