I sensed God calling me into pastoral ministry when I was a teenager in 1989. I had become a Christian in 1988 and was blessed to find myself in a wonderful church to begin growing in my walk with Christ. My pastor preached Biblical sermons and I had a youth pastor serious about discipleship. That experience set the stage for my Christian life. When God called me into pastoral ministry, part of that call was to do for others what my pastor and youth pastor had done for me – help me develop a deep relationship with Jesus.
As I began Bible college, then seminary, I was exposed to a number of resources on spiritual growth. Some good. Some bad. In the middle of it all, it has stood out to me that there is a considerable amount of division within the Body of Christ regarding what is appropriate spiritual formation and what is an inappropriate approach to spiritual growth. It is a division that can be tense and, at times, a bit hostile.
The two main camps in the division can be described in the following ways, though somewhat broad-brushed. First, there is a camp that is open to just about anything and everything, so long as it helps the Christian feel close to Jesus. This camp can draw from anything from Roman Catholic practices like lectio divina to New Age practices such as walking through labyrinths. Emotionalism can run wild in this camp. It can be common to hear people saying, “God told me…”
The other camp runs in the other direction. They react to the first group by shunning anything and everything that resembles any of these practices. They can go so far as to say that emotions are never to play a role in our relationship with God. Prayer is downplayed. God has given us His Word and He no longer speaks in any way other than through His Word.
To be honest, I believe that part of this division, while theology plays a role, actually has more to do with personality and temperament than anything else. More intellectual types fall into the second group, whereas more emotional people fall into the first camp. And so, the two sides never understand each other, and tend to vilify each other.
My concern is simple – what does God desire? How does God desire to meet with us? What should my relationship with God look like – according to His Word? That is the point of this work. I want us to take a tour through the Bible and see how people have met with God. Then, determine whether or not there is a precedent intended for our lives today.
Doing this has forced me to be willing to set aside my personal preferences and personality. You see, for my birthday or Christmas, I enjoy receiving a CD, a book, or a DVD. My wife loves to get clothes. I don’t get excited about clothes. So, early on in our marriage, I would get her a book, CD, or DVD as a gift. It took me a while to realize that my love for her should result in getting her a gift that she likes to receive, not a gift I would like to receive.
As we give ourselves to God in a worship-based relationship, should we give Him what we want to give Him or should we give Him what He desires to receive? I think it should be what He desires. With that in mind, I invite you to join with me in this journey through the Bible to see how God has seen fit and has been pleased to meet with His people. My prayer for us at the end of the journey is that we do more than just acquire information, but that we deepen our relationship with Jesus. At times this will be personal. At times it will be academic. But I believe both sides are needed and helpful as we continue on this adventure.
In the Beginning…
I know that not everyone knows the exact day when they became a Christian. For some, they were too young. For others, they just never wrote it down. I do remember. It was Friday, May 6, 1988. I can go so far as to say that it was just after 10 PM. I was in Canton, Ohio. Not only do I remember the day, I vividly remember what the next several months were like. Praying, reading the Bible and going to church were all things that were so fresh and exciting for me. The thought that I could actually talk freely with God and read His Word was something I did not take for granted. I couldn’t get enough! I was in church as often as possible. I could easily spend at least two hours with the Lord every day. I had never felt so alive.
The very first person to meet with God in the Bible didn’t quite have the same experience. Adam was created into a perfect relationship with God. He didn’t know anything different than a life that is close to God. In fact, at first, Adam knows of no other voice than the voice of God. Imagine that! As far as we are told, the first thing that God says to Adam is, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). This is followed with, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food” (Genesis 1:29-30).
Let’s not rush past the significance of this. God’s first words to Adam boil down to two things: 1) telling Adam what his purpose in life is, and what God wants him to do (be fruitful…multiply…fill…), and 2) assuring Adam of God’s provision for his physical needs (I have given you every plant…).
The next time God speaks to Adam, it is to give an exception to the provision of food, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17). So, everything is up for grabs, except for the fruit from one particular tree. Seems simple enough. Even a man should be able to remember one simple condition, right? We’ll see.
God now creates a helper for Adam – a wife. Eve. God had commanded Adam to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. God provided the food Adam would need to survive. Now He is providing the partner he will need to fulfill the command to multiply.
Everything seems perfect until we hit Genesis 3. In this chapter, Adam and Eve have a conversation with the serpent. The serpent helps them justify doing what they want to do – eat fruit from the one tree of which God commanded them not to eat. Why do I put it that way? As chapter 3 begins, it is interesting to note that we are never told that the serpent directs Adam and Eve to the forbidden tree. It leaves the impression that they are already there. You probably know how the account unfolds – they eat of the fruit. This leads to their next meeting with God.
The next scene in the account is, “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8). Here we are introduced to a key word that will appear a number of times throughout the Old Testament. It is the Hebrew word for presence – paniym. It refers to a person’s presence, or their face.
Something very shocking has just happened to Adam and Eve. So far, they have lived in perfect fellowship with God. For the first time, that fellowship is broken. They know they have done wrong and their instinct is to try and hide when they hear God coming. We are not told what that was like – to have God walking in the garden. It may have been a pre-incarnate form of Jesus, but we just don’t have that information. The bottom line is, they are experiencing guilt for the first time and they hide from the presence – the face – of God.