Face to face with God
Learning to listen to God speak
I don’t know what it’s like to grow up not knowing Jesus.
Scratch that—what I mean is, I don’t know what it’s like to grow up not hearing about Jesus.
I was born into a missionary family. By the time I could understand words, my parents were singing to me Jesus songs. Some families talk about baseball or movies at their dinner table. Our family talked about Jesus. During family vacation, on long car rides while drifting between groggy naps, I half-listened to my parents talk about Jesus. Sometimes at night, I would awaken to my father stretching outside after long hours of sermon prepping, and as he cracked his back, cry out in Korean, “Ju yeo!” Or “Lord Jesus!”
There’s a special grace in such an upbringing. Every step in life, my parents sprinkled armfuls of God’s Word over me to guide my path. But even the most fragrant and beautiful petals, torn and thrown at somebody’s feet, eventually shrivel and die because they’ve been plucked out of living soil. My parents shone on me flickers of the God they knew, but they couldn’t make me know and love God on an intimate, heart-to-heart level.
That’s the risk of an upbringing that’s so rich in church services, prayer meetings, and family devotions: It’s easy to fill your head with so much knowledge of Christ and train your body to follow Christian customs, yet never fully develop a relationship with Him because your daily life already feels stuffed with Christianity.
There’s a verse that never fails to stop my breath: “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to a friend” (Exodus 33:11). My heart does a little tight hop of envy and longing: To talk to God, face to face ... as though to a friend! Oh, the questions I’d ask Him! How eagerly I’d cling to His every word, tattooing each word to my brain.
But isn’t that what Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross? He tore the veil of the temple that separates man from God and made available to us the indwelling of His Spirit. Why then does Moses’ experience feel like a privilege that’s out of reach for me?
I noticed something in myself and a lot of my Christian friends. We all have our own list of favorite pastors and theologians, depending on our theological, cultural, and political leanings. Some adore Tim Keller and John Piper. Some follow Eric Mason and Charlie Dates. Some admire Kevin DeYoung and John MacArthur. Others read everything by John Mark Comer. We read and share their articles, tweets, and books. We listen to their podcasts and sermons. All these resources are helpful, edifying, and at times prophetic to our era. But how much time do we spend drawing direct insight and revelation from the primary source, compared with the hours we spend absorbing and debating the thoughts of others?
I noticed my tendency to lean on others to interpret for God when I would come across a passage of Scripture that makes me scratch my head and immediately google my favorite pastor’s name to read what he has to say about that passage. Instead of wrestling directly with God, leaving room and time for His Spirit to teach and convict and change me, I wanted somebody else to pitch me the answers, perhaps because that’s quicker, easier, or clearer. Or perhaps I lack trust and experience in the Wonderful Counselor who lives in me, whom Jesus promised would “teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).
So I’m trying something new. I still love my books and podcasts, but I’m also embracing moments of silence, so I can hear God speak instead of only hearing others speak about God. I want my face-to-face time with God, even if at times I don’t get the immediate, clear-cut answers I want. Even if sometimes, what I get in response to my cries of “Ju yeo! Lord Jesus!” is more the quiet stillness of God’s presence, because that is enough.so
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