Small God, Small Life

This past weekend I had the sweet privilege of sitting under the teaching of Dr. John Piper at the Gospel Coalition’s National Women’s Conference. I have done that countless other times via websites and podcasts, but this time it was live, it was shared with 3500 other women, and it was special. I am pretty sure it was an hour of my life that I will never forget; not just because it was John Piper, but because it was John Piper preaching Isaiah 6, which happens to be one of my favorite passages in the Bible. It was Piper doing what he does best – proclaiming the excellencies of our glorious God and calling believers to spend their lives drinking deeply of all that He is.

Isaiah 6:1 says, “In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on the throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.” The chapter goes on to describe the glorious vision . . . and its life-altering consequences.

Dr. Piper began his sermon by describing how Chuck Colson’s life was radically changed by a fresh vision of God’s glory. His life and ministry were never the same after reading and savoring the truths he found in the pages of R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God.

He then spoke of how the same thing happened to Job who, after receiving a much more thorough picture of God’s God-ness than he ever bargained for, declared, “I have heard You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You; Therefore I retract , and I repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:4,5). He, too, was never the same.

Of course, the prophet Isaiah is another example of a man who caught a glimpse of the divine – who “saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and exalted” – and was forever changed.

Before diving into the text, Dr. Piper shared about his own encounter with the majesty and holiness of God that redirected the entire course of his life and still serves as the heart and soul of his mission to “spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.”

As I was sitting there listening to him set the stage for his exposition of Isaiah’s vision, I thought of my own Isaiah 6:1 experience. It was my freshman year of college and I was really struggling with some doctrinal questions. My mom didn’t have all the answers I was searching for, but she knew well enough to point me back to God and did so by placing a little book entitled The Knowledge of the Holy in my hands. It’s a book on the attributes of God written by A.W. Tozer. The whole book is eye-opening, but the first chapter – “Why We Must Think Rightly About God” – is what changed my life. It pointed me heavenward by powerfully summarizing what I already knew from the Scriptures – that God is glorious and that all of life hinges on knowing Him. Really, really knowing Him.

Here are some quotations that are indelibly imprinted on my heart and have transformed the way I see just about everything. Seriously, aside from Scripture, no written words have had a more profound impact on my life:

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.

For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most significant fact about any man is not what he at any given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like . . . Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech.

Were we able to extract from any man a complete answer to the question, ‘What comes to your mind when you think about God?’ we might predict with certainty the spiritual future of that man. Were we able to know exactly what our most influential religious leaders think about God today, we might be able with some precision to foretell where the church will stand tomorrow.

So necessary to the Church is a lofty concept of God that when that concept in any measure declines, the Church with her worship and her moral standards declines along with it. The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.

What comes to my mind when I think about God is the most important thing about me.

Not my job, not my education, not my family, not my bank account, not my appearance, not my blog stats, not my popularity, not how well my child behaves, not how “perfect” my home is . . .

The most important thing about me – the thing that determines everything esle – is what I think about God.

The same is true of you.

Here’s the gist of it: Small God, small life . . . Small God, small mission . . .  Small God, small impact. When I say “small life”, I mean small from an eternal perspective. Small in God’s eyes. Small in the only way that really matters.

On a really practical level, here’s what Tozer was getting at:

The woman whose chest is busting out of her shirt and whose shorts  leave almost nothing to the imagination doesn’t need a lesson on modesty. That might help, but what she really needs is a fresh vision of the holiness and love of God. Seeing Him is the only way she’ll understand true beauty and feminine appeal.

The control-freak mom who suffers repeat anxiety attacks and can’t go a single minute without worrying about something doesn’t need a therapist. That might help, but what she really needs is a fresh vision of the omnipotence, goodness, and faithfulness of God. Seeing Him is the only way she’ll be able to experience the peace that surpasses all understanding.

The graduating college student who is at her wits end because she has multiple options and no earthly idea which one to take doesn’t need a life-planning seminar. That might help, but what she really needs is a fresh vision of the sovereignty, wisdom, and omniscience of God. Seeing Him is the only way she’ll be able to face an uncertain future with courageous faith.

The widow whose grief has washed over her like an ocean wave and sunk her into a pit of deep darkness doesn’t need another sympathy card. That might help, but what she really needs is a fresh vision of the sufficiency, omnipotence, and love of God. Seeing Him is the only way she’ll be able to find supernatural joy in the midst of such deep anguish.

The self-righteous woman who takes pride in her spiritual accomplishments and boasts in her “churchy” achievements doesn’t need another Bible study. That might help, but what she really needs is a fresh vision of the justice, righteousness, and holiness of God. Seeing Him is the only way she’ll ever see her need, humbly repent of her pride, and be free from her bondage to self. (This one is straight out of my life story.)

Here’s the truth that has forever changed the way I think, the way I write, and the way I teach the Bible: At any given moment, in any circumstance, a woman’s greatest need is to see God.

When your child rebels, shattering your heart into a million pieces – you need to see God.

When your husband shows more interest in the computer or TV than he does in you, filling your heart with a strange combination of anger and anguish – you need to see God.

When the bills are due and you have no idea how you are going to pay them – you need to see God.

When you look in the mirror and loath what you see – you need to see God.

When you’ve been trying for years to get pregnant and yet another period snuffs out hope – you need to see God.

When the dark cloud of depression lingers over your life and you start to believe it will never go away – you need to see God.

When you are buried under a pile of domestic duties, have scraped poop out of toddler underwear for the umpteenth time, and nap time is cut way short – you need to see God.

When that sinful habit grips your life again and the shame and frustration is more than you can bear – you need to see God.

When life is good and spiritual complacency starts creeping in – you need to see God.

You have a proper view of your life to the extent that you have a proper view of God. You must see Him. So must I.

But where?

Where do we see God?

The answer is simple – we fix our eyes on what He has revealed about Himself . . .

In His world – creation.

In His Word – the Bible.

In His Son – Jesus.

God has painted quite a picture of who He is. This picture is so vast, so glorious, so majestic that we could live a thousand lifetimes and never run out of things to see!

We never suffer for a lack of revelation.

We suffer for a lack of vision. We are too lazy to look . . . too preoccupied to peer . . . too satisfied in the lesser things of this world to seek the face of God.

When we do take the time to read God’s Word, we are all too often obsessed with learning more about ourselves, finding verses that make us feel better about our lives, and seeking passages that satisfy our craving for comfort. We forget that God’s Word is about God. We forget that He is not only the Author, but the Subject as well.

The result?

Our view of God shrinks. Our worship fizzles. Our hearts are sorely earth-bound. Our lives are wasted.

Small God . . .small life.

When that alarm clock goes off at 5:00 a.m. and I stumble out of bed to the coffee pot and then to my big green chair where I open God’s Word and “marinate” in its truths, I’m not just “doing devotions” or “having a quiet time.” I’m not checking something off of my “to do” list. I’m not winning brownie points with God. I’m not simply learning more about myself. That’s not enough to get this lazy butt of mine out of my bed!

I get up at that ridiculous hour of the morning to gaze at God.

To see His beauty.

To savor the sweetness of His sufficiency.

To hear His precious promises and perfect precepts.

To touch the textures of redemption.

To smell the aroma of His sacrifice.

I get up to see God.

I get up because I know that the most important thing about me – the one thing that determines every other thing – is what comes to my mind when I think about Him.

Small God, small life . . . Small God, small mission . . . Small God, small impact.

Don’t settle for that. Don’t sleep in for that. Don’t neglect the Scriptures for that.

With everything in you, seek an Isaiah 6:1.

With an open Bible and an open heart . . .

Choose to look.

Decide to gaze.

Purpose to peer.

Resolve to see the Lord sitting on His throne, high and lifted up . . . every day.

Then, spend your life responding to the majestic beauty of your most glorious God.

Because a life spent that way is anything but small.

Resources for further study:

The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer

Knowing God, J.I. packer

The Holiness of God, R.C. Sproul

Desiring God, John Piper

Trusting God, Jerry Bridges

God: As He Longs for You to See Him, Chip Ingram

“Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.” – J.I. Packer, Knowing God

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