Out of Your Comfort Zone: Is Your God Too Nice?by R. T. Kendall
R. T. Kendall brings a fresh perspective to difficult questions of faith and reveals the correct and balanced picture of God's nature in order to draw readers back to the real God.
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Out of Your Comfort ZoneIs Your God Too Nice?
By R. T. Kendall
FAITHWORDSCopyright © 2005 R. T. Kendall
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWHEN GOD PLAYS HARD TO GET
If I were hungry I would not tell you ...
It seems to me that the modern Church has drifted so far from the biblical revelation of the true God that any resemblance between Him and the popular God of today's generation is quite remote. I think we are in a Romans 1 situation:
Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. (Rom. 1:22-23)
It is a case in which the God of the Bible is either too holy or too terrible for us, so we have come up with a God we are at home with. We can thus feel sufficiently religious without having to identify with the ancient God of Israel and the earliest Church.
During seminary I was required to read a book about God in which the author managed to concoct a God whereby one need not be regarded as an atheist after all, even though the God of the Bible was rejected. Theologian Paul Tillich (1886-1965) even suggested that an atheist might be a believer when faith was defined as "ultimate concern."
This book is not an attack on liberalism in themodern Church. I fear that those who deny the historic truths of Holy Scripture are beyond the pale and most likely very hard to reach. Rather, those closer to home worry me, those who seem to want to hold on to the Bible up to a point yet distance themselves from disturbing realities we all know are contained in Holy Scripture.
As Ludwig Feuerbach opined, people want to believe in something, especially a God who will take care of them in times of trouble and then give them a home in heaven when they die, and so they mentally project such a God and claim He really does exist. Of course such a God does not exist, says Feuerbach, outside of their minds where He brings comfort.
It is my view that many Christians do this. They know full well there are things in the Bible they don't want to believe, but they are not prepared to throw out everything in the Bible so they fancy a God who approves of their own comfort zone. This God is happy with Christians who reject Bible-denying liberal theology while at the same time approving of their unease with the total revelation of God as revealed in the Old and New Testament. In fact, some of these people will go so far as to claim they believe in the whole of the Bible-from Genesis to maps while ensuring they are at ease in their folk religion. They have been baptized and, in some cases, confirmed; they are almost certainly approved of by their church leader; they attend church to varying degrees of regularity and feel quite right in themselves.
What does God think of this? Is He so neglected by the masses that He is simply thrilled to have anybody anywhere, whatever their level of conviction, give Him any attention at all? Is God so starved for recognition that He will make any measure of concession to any person who makes an effort, however small, to acknowledge Him? Will God therefore show His approval toward any kind of profession of faith because some tipping of the hat toward Him is better than nothing?
The nice God of today's religious people might do just that, but not the God of the Bible. Unless He chooses to withhold His real feelings and intentions from us for awhile, which is the basis of this chapter.
One reason I abandoned "Your God Is Too Nice" as a title is because I didn't want to make the reader feel guilty or think I feel qualified to judge you. I write out of my experience of over fifty years of preaching, most of which have been as a pastor.
If God is too nice, what does this mean? Perhaps you have been worshipping a God you can be comfortable with but who is not the God of the Bible at all. And yet it could mean that the true God has decided to be nice to you for the moment and let you remain in your comfort zone, undisturbed. "But this isn't being very nice at all if He will eventually show that He is unhappy with me," you say. True, but what if He tried for a while but you wouldn't listen? He then let you carry on as if nothing happened. What if He simply decided to be "nice" to you by letting you remain in your comfort zone and instead seeking a person elsewhere who will listen to Him?
Rodney Howard-Browne told me that the Lord put it to him like this, "If you don't do what I tell you I will find someone who will." Jesus said to the church at Ephesus, "If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place" (Rev. 2:5). This is what happens when a church goes astray or soft and God raises up movements to carry on with what ought to have been the Church's own mandate.
Arthur Blessitt, the man who has carried a cross around the world, said that as a university student he prayed in his dormitory room, "God, give me a work nobody else will do."
A woman once asked Arthur, "Why does God speak to you but not to me?"
"Have you ever felt an impulse to speak to someone about Jesus that you didn't know?" he asked.
"As a matter of fact, I have," she said.
Arthur then said to her, "Start obeying that voice and it will become clearer and clearer."
One of the most stunning lines I have come across is in Psalm 50:12: "If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it." That evening our children were sitting on the floor in front of me watching television, and not being too interested in what they were watching, I found myself reading that verse. I began to feel very uneasy. I wish the Lord would tell me if he were hungry. Then my thoughts traveled to wondering if God wanted me to spend more time with Him than I had been giving Him. If so, would He tell me? The phrase "If I were hungry I would not tell you" troubled me. I couldn't shake it off. I read it again. And again. I began to get the definite feeling that God was telling me He needed and wanted me after all.
The context of this verse in Psalm 50 is that, though the world is His and although He has cattle on a thousand hills, my God is hungry for me. Though He has countless angels beyond millions and billions, not to mention other people all over the world worshipping Him and spending time with Him, He wanted me. I seized the moment, for some reason. I decided to fast the next day. I sought His face as I had not done before. Yet the curious thing was, God was hinting the very opposite of what He was saying in Psalm 50:12.
The unveiling of that verse was part of a process that led me to one of the most unusual teachings I have ever come across in Scripture. I have racked my brain many times over what to call this teaching and I still struggle with the best term or phrase for it. I used to call it "the divine tease" in our School of Theology at Westminster Chapel. By that term I meant God's somewhat playful but deadly serious setup to let us find out what is in our hearts. Essentially, it is when He says or does the very opposite of what He intends for us to perceive. But I have since decided to refer to this startling and profound truth as when God plays hard to get. For He does! You might think this isn't fair. Perhaps not. I still struggle with Jeremiah's words, "O LORD, you deceived me, and I was deceived" (Jer. 20:7). I don't claim to know all that this means. The theme of this chapter is therefore but the tip of the iceberg of a most extraordinary teaching.
Perhaps the best introduction to this truth is when Jesus was walking to Emmaus with two people who were kept from recognizing who He really was. It was the same day He had been raised from the dead. They came to this village and, when it was time to say good-bye, Jesus "acted as if he were going further."
This was not His intention at all. He fully intended to stay with them a while longer. He had more to show them. But He did not tell them so and they certainly did not know. Jesus "acted" as if He were going farther, and He played the role so well the two men were clearly going to be upset if He did leave them. The truth is, Jesus wanted them to do exactly as they did-to plead with Him to stay with them. They didn't know they were persuading Jesus to do precisely what He planned for them: "They urged him strongly, 'Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.' So he [Jesus] went in to stay with them" (Luke 24:29).
When God plays hard to get, then, He often means the very opposite of what He says. And yet it is only because God wants us to plead with Him when He appears not to care, whether we do or not. This particular aspect of God's unusual way of dealing with us is often in operation when our circumstances suggest it is okay this time to put first other things beside God for the day. If I am so busy, and God knows this, He surely does not expect me to spend time alone with Him praying and reading my Bible. If I am in debt and can't pay my bills, He surely does not expect me to return my tithes to Him. If there are important people who want to see me, He surely would want me to put these people ahead of ordinary souls. If I did not sleep well last night, He understands this and surely would not expect me to try to have my usual quiet time.
Listen to these words from Martin Luther's journal: "I have a very busy day today. I must spend not two hours, but three, in prayer." For most of us facing that situation, we would spend less time in prayer, but to Luther it meant he must spend more time in prayer than ever in order to receive divine help to get more done! The movers and shakers and great saints in church history recognized when God plays hard to get-even if they did not call it that.
Why does God do it? To see what is in our hearts. It is not for Him as He already knows. It is for us. It lets us see the truth about ourselves. The truth of this "side" of God, if I may put it that way, brings out the truth of what we want; it brings our true feelings to the surface. Although they did not have a clue at first He was Jesus, the two people on the road to Emmaus had been captivated by His teaching. When our hearts burn within us it is a wonderful, wonderful sign that God is at work and wants us to seek His face. A burning heart is there not to mock us but to prod us to seek His face.
And what do you suppose motivated them then and would do it now for us? You might say, "If Jesus were here playing hard to get, I would urge Him to stay too, just like those two men. They had Jesus interpreting Scripture for them. If He did that with me, I too would plead with Him to stay around." Quite right, but the men didn't even know it was Jesus. The truth and the application of the Scripture He taught is what set their hearts on fire.
It is a strong hint to us when the truth of the Word of God has this kind of effect. Charles Spurgeon used to say to preachers, "When a text gets a hold of you, chances are you have got a hold of it." It is because God is at work to draw us closer to Himself than ever. It is His way of subtly beckoning to us to seek His face. On that night when I kept reading the words, "If I were hungry I would not tell you," I was gripped and did not know why. It turned out that God was telling me He yearned for me to spend more time with Him. It was a demonstration of God playing hard to get. He hides His face from us, just as He did with Hezekiah: "God left him to test him and to know everything that was in his heart" (2 Chron. 32:31).
Another time Jesus was watching when the disciples were rowing against the wind and waves on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had gone up into a mountain to pray and from His vantage point He could see the disciples struggling. I am fascinated how Jesus did not immediately go to help them. Instead, he watched them. Would it not have been nice had Jesus left His place on the mountain at once and turned up on the sea to help them? Could He not have interceded for them by asking the Father to stop the wind? But He only watched them.
Yet He does this with all of us. He sees us in our struggle and anxieties and does not step in. There these disciples were, "straining at the oars," with Jesus doing nothing to rescue them! He waited until four o'clock in the morning before He showed up. Then when He did so, walking on the water, He was "about to pass by them." So He wasn't even going to identify Himself, and they too were kept from recognizing Him; they thought He was a ghost. But Jesus chose at that moment to intervene and said, "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid" (Mark 6:47-51; Matt. 14:22-27). God is never too late and never too early; He's always right on time.
Consider the Syrophoenician woman of Mark 7:24-30. She was not Jewish but Greek, yet she still approached Jesus and begged Him to drive a demon out of her daughter. Jesus treated her with an almost callous coldness. "'First let the children eat all they want,' he told her, 'for it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs'" (v. 27). If the Lord said those words to many of us we would walk away in disgust and sarcastically say, "Thanks a lot, sorry to be such a nuisance to you,"-and never know what might have been our lot had we persisted as this woman did. Instead of being offended, acknowledging what would be an insult by today's reckoning, and going away in a huff, she reasoned with him: "'Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs'" (v. 28). She knew her place and realized Jesus owed her nothing. Jesus told her, "'For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter'" (v. 29).
A widespread feeling exists among people today that God owes us something, that if we do something good or righteous, God should stand at attention and salute us. Our self-righteousness creeps in and we say to ourselves, "Most people don't even go to church at all. This puts me in a special class; therefore God should be very happy that I am doing this good deed." The good deed might be attending church, tithing, or spending extra time in prayer. We think God should reward those of us whom we assume are a cut above most people.
My wife, Louise, was miraculously healed in 1995 when Rodney and Adonica Howard-Browne laid hands on her and prayed for her. They invited her to come to Lakeland, Florida, to attend a camp meeting there. She agreed to go. When she walked in the first night, nothing went right. Thousands of people were there, strange people doing what seemed to her very weird things. The people around her seat were even rude, so she got up and moved to another area. She really wanted to go back to the hotel, pack her bags, and get on the next plane back to England. But she stayed. She phoned me two days later to say of the camp meeting, "It is the nearest you get to heaven without dying; it is the greatest experience of my life" (a sentiment I promised myself I would not take too personally). Louise was never to be the same again; those days in Lakeland were more precious than gold, but she initially had every reason to reject the whole experience.
You might think God would be nice and immediately acknowledge those who sincerely seek His face with a tangible sign on a silver platter. He might have been nice to Martin Luther the night that courageous man stood before the authorities at Worms, Germany, in the sixteenth century. After all, Luther was standing alone for the gospel, the truth of God's own Word. But Luther walked back and forth in his cell that final night before the trial crying out to his Lord, "O God, are you dead?" No angelic visitation. No congratulations. No sense of God. Only silence. But the next day Luther uttered words that changed history: "Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen." God wants us to accept His ways and affirm Him as He is rather than seeing Him only how we may want Him to be. When we are out of our comfort zone we can learn His ways.
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isa. 55:8-9)
Excerpted from Out of Your Comfort Zone by R. T. Kendall Copyright © 2005 by R. T. Kendall . Excerpted by permission.
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