One of the most enriching and challenging things that we can do in our life is to really get to know other people. Each of us has a different capacity for this. Some of us find it relatively easy, others must work harder at it. Yet all of us have the desire to know others and be known by others. It is a part of what it means for us to be created in the image of God. Just as God lives in eternal, perfect community, so we were created to live in community.
One of the things I have learned is that getting to know another person is a process and that it takes intentional effort.
The process begins with observation. Most of us are people watchers. Have you ever sat in a crowded airport or at the mall and watched the people going by? That situation usually raises my curiosity. I wonder where they are going or where they are coming from. I wonder about what they do. I wonder about who they are. In reality we do this all the time with the people we regularly encounter. We observe them from a distance and we begin to unconsciously form an idea about who they are. Many of our interactions stay at that distance.
The next step in the process is to actually encounter the person. We intentionally greet them. We ask their name and maybe gain some basic information about them. At this step we are clarifying our image of the person. But the information we gather tends to be superficial.
If we feel connected to that person in some way, we may take the next step to move from knowing about the person to actually getting to know the person. In my experience, this takes on many forms. Of course, the obvious way we get to know someone is by talking with them. We begin to ask probing questions that get beneath the surface. In order for this to really develop, we need to be willing to open up to the other person ourselves. The more open we are with them, the more open they become with us. This often leads to the next level, shared experience.
We really get to know someone when we enter into shared experiences. It is in shared experience that we get to see the person in action. Different kinds of experiences reveal different aspects of the person’s character. You might visit some point of interest with the person and discover that you share similar tastes. You might work on a project with that person and see how they handle a challenge or work under pressure. By sharing experiences, we have the chance to explore the full range of who the other person is inside. We discover where we are alike and where we are different.
A number of people here at my church have shared some significant experiences with me outside of church. The people who traveled to Ukraine with me came to know me in a different way than people who only see me on Sunday. The men who have gone on the backpacking trips with me have seen me struggle and endure in ways that would never be evident here at church. Shared experience tends to strip away some of the façade we all have and can expose the real us underneath. That is scary for some people, but it is the path to really getting to know another person.
Ultimately, the greatest step to getting to know another person is being present with them over time. The longer we are intentionally connected with another person, the better we come to know them and they us. There are a couple of men that I have met with on a weekly basis for many years. The depth of our relationship has grown more by the amount of time we have invested in that relationship, than what we actually did.
Just as we strive to really get to know other people in our lives, we have been invited to strive to get to know God.
Many people live their whole lives viewing God from a distance. I recently began rereading J.I. Packer’s excellent book “Knowing God.” At the beginning of the book, he makes the point that there is a big difference between knowing about God and knowing God personally. Many people settle for knowing about God, without really knowing Him. So how can we move from knowledge about God to knowing God personally. The process is very similar to what we have been talking about regarding getting to know another person.
The first step to getting to know God personally is to invite him into your life. All of us rub shoulder with people all of the time that we will never get to know. Why? Because we don’t invite them into our lives. The same is true with God. In the beginning of the book of Revelation, Jesus makes it clear that He is waiting for us to invite him in. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. Rev. 3:20 Jesus wants us to get to know him, but he will never impose or barge into our lives. He has already taken the initiative to reach out to us. It is up to us to respond. But that is only the first step. If we stop there, our relationship with God will remain on a superficial level.
The second step to really getting to know God is to enter into dialog with Him. Just as talking with another person is the gateway to discovering who they are, so it is with God. So, how do we do that? We do it through reading God’s word and prayer. I know that sounds simplistic but it is not. Getting to know God through the Bible and prayer takes intentionality and effort. We can settle for just reading the words of the Bible and reciting standard prayers and we will never grow in our relationship. Instead we need to learn to study the Bible for ourselves and engage God is genuine prayer. Let’s take a closer look at both of these.
Like the study of any subject, study of the Bible has multiple levels. We all begin with getting an overview of the Bible. We learn the main characters, the main stories and the main themes. This would be akin to when I took Intro to Biology in college. The idea is for us to get the big picture. But God did not give us the Bible to fill our heads with interesting facts. He gave it to us so that we could get to know Him.
The second level is to go deeper in understanding the significance of the main themes and stories. Here is where we move past the what question to the why question. Why is this story significant? Why did God use that person? What is God trying to communicate to me about Himself? To do this we need to slow down and examine the Bible in smaller pieces for a longer period of time. There are many good tools that help us to go deeper, such as commentaries, Bible handbooks, Bible dictionaries, and the like. We should never be afraid to use the tools God has made available to us.
The third level is to put ourselves into the picture. How do the things I am discovering apply to my life? In what way is God revealing Himself to me? What difference does this make in my life? All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Tim. 3:16-17. There are many excellent devotional guides that can help with this.
Coupled with digging deeply into the Bible, we need to learn to pray genuinely. It is so easy for us to pray laundry list prayers, filled with requests of God. God has invited us to do this, but genuine prayer is so much more. Our prayers should include time to honor God and marvel at who He is. The Psalms are filled with examples of giving praise to God in very specific ways. We can ask God to reveal more of Himself to us. We also need to be willing to ask God to reveal to us what he desires from us. Prayer should be a dialog not a monolog. Often, as I am praying a persistent thought will come into my mind. I have learned to recognize that God is speaking and directing me to something that I need to talk with Him about. Prayer is an essential part of getting to know God personally.
Paul challenges us to make prayer an integral part of our lives. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Ephes. 6:18
Jesus assures us that prayer is not a waste of our time or a hollow activity. "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8
But we are not done with our quest to get to know God personally. We need to move on to the next, and most important step; shared experience.
As our knowledge of God grows, we need to take it out into the real world and put it to the test. We have all known people who talk big in the comfort of the coffee shop or living room, but can’t perform when put to the test. To really get to know God, we need to actively get involved in His world. The most common shared experience for most of us in corporate worship. It is relatively safe and we are comfortable there. But if we really want to grow deeper in our relationship with God, we need to step out in faith and move into some less safe situations. Here are just a few examples of how we can do that.
- Volunteer to teach or help in a Sunday School class.
- Engage in mentoring a young person.
- Volunteer in the community with some worthy endeavor.
- Ask God to give you a Timothy, who you can invest in over time.
- Go on a mission trip.
- Take the initiative to help a neighbor
- Get involved in a small group
- Take a personal interest in a specific missionary family.
- Host a visiting missionary in your home.
- Invite an international student to lunch or dinner.
- Be a friendship family for an international student
- Make the effort to get to know a college student who attends Bethel
- Make the effort to actually connect with the people who serve you on a regular basis.
Our faith in God moves from theory to reality when we actively put it into practice in our everyday world. Getting to know God is a lifetime pursuit. It is worth all that we put into it and more. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. John 17:3