A few years ago a young man sat in my office feeling deeply frustrated with his faith. Although he knew a lot of truths about God, he sensed very little relationship with God — at least, not the dynamic relationship he wanted. God seemed distant.
It seemed that everything God had done, he had done in the past: he created the world, died on a cross, and then inspired a Bible to tell us about it. Then he gave us a mission and left through the clouds. God seemed like a busy teacher who had given an assignment and then stepped out of the room, leaving his students to get it done on their own.
So this guy was busy at work, trying faithfully to learn the lessons, follow the instructions, and complete the assignments. He had a “relationship with God” in the sense that he prayed about his problems and tried hard to trust that God was working somewhere, somehow, to help him. Yet he lacked any vibrant interaction with that God.
But as he read the Bible, he saw a God who interacted with his people, spoke to them, corrected them, and comforted them. In the days of Moses, God had taken up residence among his people, first in the pillar of cloud and fire that guided them through the wilderness and then in the glory that settled down permanently on the Tabernacle. Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, God spoke to his people through prophets, warning them, encouraging them, and instructing them. He was present.
Then there was Jesus — Jesus had not merely given his disciples a body of doctrine to learn, but also escorted them on a guided tour of its application. How awesome would that have been? And then came the book of Acts. You get the sense reading Acts that the church is being blown about by this mighty, rushing wind called the Holy Spirit. He shows up fifty-nine times in Acts, more than twice per chapter, and in nearly forty of those times he is speaking.
“Where was that God?” the man asked.
Must be for a different time and place, he assumed. Maybe one day in heaven, I’ll relate to God like that. But for now, he thought, “I better just get after the assignments. After all, the teacher is coming back.”
But a problem was developing. He told me he was feeling increasingly burned out by the weight of “the assignment.” There was always one more person who hadn’t heard, one more language group without a copy of the Bible, one more orphan in need of adoption. The weight of the assignment, which once had inspired him, now felt paralyzing. In a world of seemingly infinite need, how could he ever feel like he had done enough?
So his life oscillated between summers of feverish, radical activity and winters of paralyzed despair. He gradually began to tune out the heart-wrenching stories of global need. He knew that was wrong — but he simply didn’t know what else to do.
And then another problem began to develop. His sense of disconnect from God left a boredom and yearning in his heart that made the dark appetites of the flesh all too appealing. He knew these sinful indulgences were wrong . . . but at least they felt real.
He sat in my office a weary, burned-out man, wondering if there really was a God who could be experienced.
What would you say to such a guy? I confess that I didn’t know what to say to him. I mean, what unexpected, spine-tingling insight can you share . . . with yourself?
Yes, I am the guy in this story. For many years, even as a pastor with a PhD in theology, I sensed a relational disconnect with God. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand that God had reconciled me to himself in Christ, and I was “in him” and he “in me.” I understood all that and had embraced it.
But how to interact with that Infinite now living within? I was clueless.
Do you ever feel that way? Do you ever feel like God is someone you know about more than someone you know — like he’s more of a doctrine than a person? Does God feel truly present in your life? Do you interact with him personally? Do you read the book of Acts and say, “Yeah, that’s similar to my experience,” or does that world seem like a completely different one than the one you live in?
In this book I want to tell you what I was missing, how God restored it to me, and how you can have it too. I want to show you how you can have a deep, satisfying relationship with God through the Holy Spirit, on the basis of the finished work of Christ.
J. D. Greear, Jesus, Continued…: Why the Spirit inside You Is Better than Jesus beside You(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014).
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