Can I know God personally?
Passage: John 10:1–10:21
Commitment grows connection and connection grows commitment.
When do you feel really connected to someone? Early on in our marriage, Katie brought something to my attention about how I was treating her. We both were working for a college ministry where we each had a handful of college students we were discipling. We would meet with them weekly to mentor them in their relationship with God through teaching them to read the Bible, pray, share the gospel with others, and navigate life in a way that honors God. After a couple months of marriage, Katie pointed out that when I made a commitment to one of these guys, I would never break it. I wouldn’t reschedule. I wouldn’t postpone. Unless I was sick and dying, I would be there. And I would inconvenience myself to meet with them. I cared deeply about their relationship with God and so I would do whatever I could to keep my commitments to them.
Katie pointed out to me that I was unwilling to break a commitment to them, but I was willing to break commitments to her. If we had planned to do something but it was the only time I could meet with one of the guys, I would reschedule with her to meet with them. Or if I had something scheduled with them and she wanted to do something with me or needed me for something, I would make her wait and wouldn’t reschedule with them.
The problem is that I was taking my relationship with Katie for granted and therefore I was more concerned about disappointing other people than disappointing her. Because my commitment to her was weak, it was hurting our connection. If your actions are telling someone they aren’t important to you, they aren’t going to feel close to you and you aren’t going to feel very close to them.
I’m sure all of us have had people in our lives whom we say are important to us but whom we take for granted. As adults, we can take our parents for granted. We assume they will always be there so we don’t call them or visit them. They want us to come visit but we tell them we are so busy with work and the kids’ sports or whatever it is. Those things just feel more urgent and immediate so they get our attention and we think that our parents will always be there so they can wait. Kids, you can also take your parents for granted. You can easily place friends or video games or whatever above a relationship with your parents because you think they will always be there. Since they will always be there, you give your attention to other things.
Work can also occupy the number one priority slot in our lives. It’s easy to put our family or our spouse or our kids or friends or our church family on hold because of work. We think, “If I don’t do this thing for my boss, they might get mad at me or I might get fired.” So we put the people who should be most important to us on hold because we are afraid of disappointing our boss. We fear losing our job more than losing our family or friends. Because, after all, they will always be there but our job might not.
This evening we are finishing our Explore God series by answering the question “can I know God personally?” Another way to ask it is: can I have a relational connection with God? The short answer is “yes” and I’m sure most, if not all of us, would answer “yes” to that question. The answer might even seem so obvious that it feels silly to be asking the question. “Of course God can be known personally. That’s why we are here. That’s why we read our Bible. That’s why we pray. That’s why we are trying to grow closer to him. That’s why we tell other people about him.”
Here we need to pause and let this fact actually sink in: we can know God personally. What an amazing statement! I can know God personally. I can be in a real relationship with him. I can be relationally connected to the one who created all things and governs the entire universe. That is almost impossible to even grasp and understand.
But this fact can quickly become commonplace. We can become so used to talking about knowing God personally, having a relationship with God, and walking with God that it becomes assumed. And when something starts to be assumed, it can start to be taken for granted. It will become less important and less precious to us.
If there is a relationship that we find easy to take for granted, it is our relationship with God. Of any person in our life, God is the one who is most often put on hold. He is the one who is most quickly put on the back burner. Our commitments to him are usually the first ones to get broken when life gets crazy. When other people and other things start putting demands on us, the first person to get pushed out of our schedule is God.
When we assume someone’s existence in our life - that they are always going to be there - we usually take them for granted. Sometimes we see people get snapped out of this mindset. Maybe a spouse takes their partner for granted until their partner is in a near fatal car crash and the spouse suddenly realizes, “I could have lost you. You could be gone. I need to stop taking you for granted.”
Worst of all, we can do this with God. “Oh, he’ll always be there. He isn’t going anywhere.” Whether we say it outloud or not, our lives can reflect this mentality. Everything else just seems more urgent: paying the bills, mowing the lawn, homework, video games, sleeping, vacations, sports, TV shows, errands, chores, work. We feel that all of these things need to be done or need our attention and God will always be there so we will get to him later.
Throughout this series, we have heard how God has made it possible for us to have a personal connection with him. He has made himself known through nature, through the Bible, and through Jesus. He has paid for us to be forgiven and reconnected with him. But that doesn’t mean we are actually taking advantage of it. From our side of things, in order to be connected with him, it requires commitment. So as we wrap up this series, we are going to explore this big idea: Commitment grows connection and connection grows commitment. Commitment grows connection and connection grows commitment.
God has done everything necessary for us to have connection with him and he defines how to enjoy that connection: through commitment. After we commit to God, the two play off each other. The more connected we are, the more committed we become. When you feel connected with someone, you start to rearrange your commitments to spend more time with them because you enjoy them and want to be with them. And as you become more committed to them, you feel more connection to them.
The passage we are looking at to explore this big idea is John 10. There are four primary pictures the Bible uses to describe our relationship with God: God as Father and us as children; God as King and us as servants; God as Husband and us as spouse; God as Shepherd and us as sheep. Each of them is a picture of a relationship where God takes responsibility for looking after us and in turn we look to him for care. God provides, guides, cares, and protects while we trust, obey, and follow.
John 10 focuses on the image of God as shepherd. God promised the people of Israel that he would come as the shepherd to take care of his sheep then in this passage Jesus famously calls himself the Good Shepherd. He is God come to take care of his sheep. Throughout this passage, we see connection and commitment. God has come to connect with his sheep but they must commit.
In this passage, Jesus tells us what he has done to open up a connection with him - with God. Take a look at the first six verses of John 10.
1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. (John 10:1-6)
In those times, rocks would be stacked up as a fence to create a pen to keep the sheep in. There would be an opening in the pen where there would be a gatekeeper. The gatekeeper would block the way for the sheep to get out. There might be several different flocks of sheep belonging to different families in the same pen. The shepherd of the sheep would come to the entrance where the gatekeeper was and call for their sheep. Since the shepherd would have spent time with the sheep, they would know his or her voice and only those sheep would come. All the other sheep would ignore them.
Now, if someone was not the shepherd of the sheep but was a stranger to them, they would not listen to that person’s voice. Also, if someone was a thief trying to steal the sheep, they would not enter through the gate by the gatekeeper.
Jesus says that his sheep know his voice. When he speaks, they recognize it. They hear it and they follow him because they know his voice. They know he is the shepherd to protect them, care for them, and guide them. Often in modern shepherding, the shepherd drives the sheep forward using dogs. But in those times, the shepherd would be in front of the sheep leading them as they follow him and his voice.
If we are to be connected with God, he must communicate with us. He has to reveal himself to us. He has to reveal who he is and what he is about. He also needs to tell us who we are and what he wants us to do. He needs to tell us the kind of life he wants us to live and bring us back when we go astray. All of this a shepherd did. They lead the sheep to food, the protect the sheep, they call the sheep back and keep them from going astray.
But if we are going to experience connection with Jesus, the Good Shepherd, we need to commit ourselves to listening and responding to his voice. If you think about that situation with Katie earlier, she communicated with me but that doesn’t mean we are connected. If she communicates with me but I ignore her or just defend myself, our connection was hurt even more. I need to listen to her and respond.
Even though God has communicated to us - he has revealed himself in creation and in the Bible and in Jesus - if we aren’t listening, it will do us no good. Connection is available, but we need to commit to listening to him and responding to what he says with trust and obedience.
If God has communicated to us, what keeps us from experiencing connection with him? We often have ear plugs in. We aren’t even trying to listen. Or we have earbuds in listening to something else. The volume on everything else is so high we aren’t hearing God. If we want to be connected to God, we need to commit to listening.
In verses 7 through 10, Jesus switches his metaphor.
7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:7-10)
Instead of the picture of a shepherd, Jesus uses the picture of the door that the sheep go through to get in and out of the pen. Like I said, the sheep pen would have a wall made of rocks and there would be an opening for the sheep to go in and out. Jesus says that he is that door, meaning if we want to be part of his flock, part of his kingdom, part of God’s people, we need to enter through him. If we want to be saved and enjoy the abundant life he desires to give us, we must enter through him.
We already talked about Jesus’ definition of eternal life in week 1 of Explore God. In John 17, he defines it as knowing God and knowing him. Eternal life is found in a relationship with God. And the way into a relationship with God is through Jesus.
In verse 11 Jesus says:
11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11)
The reason Jesus lays down his life for the sheep is because we are in need of forgiveness. Without Jesus, there is a separation between us and God. Doing wrong to someone, sinning against them, and hurting them builds a wall between you. This wall creates separation. It creates a barrier between you. Connection is broken. In our relationship with God, our sin, our desire to live life on our own terms, our refusal to submit to God’s will, our breaking of his commands all separate us from him. Stone by stone, a wall is created between us. And the only way to get on the other side of that wall is through forgiveness. Jesus as God in the flesh paid for our forgiveness and opened a door for us to have a relationship with God.
But opening the door isn’t enough. We have to be willing to walk through it. We have to admit we have done wrong, seek forgiveness, and accept forgiveness. All three are important. If you don’t think you’ve done anything wrong, you can’t be forgiven. If you don’t seek forgiveness, you can’t be forgiven. Then if you seek forgiveness but don’t accept the forgiveness and still live like there is separation between you and the other person, you aren’t experiencing the forgiveness.
In that situation with Katie, she pointed out something I was doing wrong and as the gracious person she is, forgiveness was available. If she wasn’t willing to offer and pay for my forgiveness, then connection in our relationship would remain broken. If I wasn’t willing to seek it and accept forgiveness, then connection in our relationship would remain broken.
In our relationship with God, he has fully paid for and offered us forgiveness so we can be connected with him. But we will remain outside the fence, separated from him, unless we commit ourselves to him - to admitting we are wrong, seeking forgiveness, and accepting it.
In a relationship where someone isn’t communicating, connection isn’t possible. In a relationship where forgiveness isn’t offered, connection isn’t possible. But on the flip side, if the other person isn’t committed to listening or seeking and accepting forgiveness, connection isn’t possible. Both are needed.
Connection and Commitment
In verses 11 through 18, Jesus gives us a picture of the intense commitment he has to his sheep. He’s the good shepherd. He is fiercely loyal to his sheep. He doesn’t flee when there is danger and they need protection. They belong to him and he cares deeply for them. He know each of his sheep and each of them knows him. He knows his sheep personally and they know him personally. In the same way that God the Father knows him personally, Jesus knows his sheep. He lays does for his sheep - he gives his own life for their good.
Jesus is 100% committed as our good shepherd. Jesus gives us everything we need to be connected with God. If there was no communication or forgiveness on God’s part, connection would not be possible. But he has done everything for us to be connected with him. From God’s side, there are no barriers. The door is wide open.
What is required from our side is commitment. So what keeps us from committing to God? It’s what we talked about earlier: we take him for granted. We see other things as more important. We put God on the back burner. Our commitments to him are the first to be broken.
The problem is that we say we want connection with God, that we want to know him personally, but we aren’t willing to let go of other things. We are all committed to things that drive our life. God says: “If you want connection with me, you have to let go of those so you can grab onto me.” Jesus wants to lead us into abundant life with God. Jesus wants us to experience deep connection with God. But we need to let go so we can follow.
What is the thing you are committed to that keeps you from committing more to God? What label would you put on here?
If we want to know the shepherd, we have to be part of his flock. In order to be part of his flock, we have to commit to following him where he goes. We can’t know him if we aren’t with him.
Connection with Jesus requires commitment. Then commitment grows our connection to him and our connection to him grows our commitment. As we experience his care, his love, his protection, his guidance, his tender and fierce loyalty, we want even more to follow where he leads. We trust that he intends good for us.
Now, if we start thinking about Monday morning and you want to be more connected with God, what is the best commitment you can make? Most of us would say we feel busy and don’t have time for anything else. So if you were going to fight to do one . If you want to experience connection with God and there is one thing you could do, what would be the best thing?
We can each have a personal relationship with God but where we go wrong is to make our relationship with God individualistic.
Too often we believe that the real work and the real experience of connecting with God is off by ourselves. We’ll get together with people and let them say things to us but if we really want to hear from God, we need to get alone by ourselves. No, God speaks through other people. His Spirit is fully present in another person and especially in a community of people. So if someone else is speaking to you and are relying on the Spirit and not speaking out of selfish motives, then that’s God speaking to you. If someone offers you wisdom or care or comfort or a correction or affirmation, that is God offering it to you.
Maybe you are saying to yourself: “I don’t feel personally connected to God at all. I’ve got all these issues in my life. I’ve got all these things I’m stressed about. I have problems in my life. I’m struggling. But where are you God? Don’t you care?” I’d want to ask, “Does anyone else know about these things going on in your life? Have you opened yourself up not just by venting and dumping it all on them, but have you opened yourself up to their care and guidance?” We can’t expect to experience personal connection with God if we refuse to open ourselves to other people.
One of the areas we need to open ourselves to others is in decision making. So often we make decisions by ourselves. We tell people about what we have going on, but don’t want their advice. And if we want to hear their advice, we will take it under consideration and may or may not follow it. We go off to decide whether that’s what God wants us to do. We will decide for ourselves whether that was good advice. What if we took the opposite approach. What if we assumed we were hearing God’s guidance unless proven otherwise, especially if a couple people are telling us the same thing.
This is why as a church we have five Community Practices. You can do each of these as an individual and you can do each of them with your family, but they are called Community Practices because we can’t do them alone and aren’t meant to do them alone. The new identity we are given in Christ can only be lived out in community with other people.
What God wants to do in your life cannot be done without other people. If you aren’t experiencing God’s transforming power in your life, it might be because you aren’t allowing other people into it.
Here are two commitments for you to consider. The first is a community commitment. What’s an area of your life that you can bring another person into. The second is an individual commitment. If reading the Bible isn’t a daily habit for you try this: for the next 7 days, read your Bible every day. Whether that is 30 minutes, 1 minute, 5 minutes, make a commitment to open your Bible and read. Then, say something to God about it. Ask him for help in that area. Thank him. Say something to him about it.
If we want to be a community that experiences deep connection with God, we need each other. We need to let each other into our lives. We need to open God’s Word together, pray together, and share in one another’s joys and sorrows. We need to walk through the ups and downs of life together.