BY ED MATHEWS ─ We are creatures that crave assurance. We want to know. We want to be sure that God cares, that He answers prayer. For, in troubled times, our faith is tested.
- How do know God knows?
- How do we know He calls us?
- How do we know He guides us?
- How do we know He hears our prayers?
The crux of this discussion pivots on the word “know.” How do we understand that term? How does the Bible use that word? Are there differences in meaning between what the Scriptures say and what we understand? And, if so, does that difference explain our quandary?
Let’s begin by clarifying the perimeters of this study, the challenges in knowing what we believe.
There are two problems in knowing spiritual things with physical certainty: a linguistic challenge and a religious challenge.
I. The Linguistic Challenge
Words must be understood in their cultural context. Assuming the same term means the same thing no matter where it is used leads to grave and damaging conclusions. This is precisely the case with the word “know.”
A. The English Word “Know.” The dictionary definition reads as follows: “To perceive directly with one or more of our senses; to understand with certainty.” Therefore, according to that definition, I should “know” beyond doubt that God calls me to serve Him, that He guides me in my life because one or more of my five senses tell me so! Do I smell God? Do I taste Him? Do I see Him? Do I hear Him? Do I touch the Lord?
Mmmmmmm! I think I am beginning to realize there is a disconnect between our knowing and believing in the Almighty. For, the Scriptures plainly say, “we walk by faith and not by sight.” Plus, I think it is appropriate, to add that we do not walk by touch, taste, smell, or hearing either. Our sensory perceptions do not operate in spiritual realms.
B. The Bible Word “Know.” In the Bible, the word “know” carries the idea of learning by experience, cf. Deuteronomy 11:1-5. This same emphasis is in the New Testament, too, cf. Romans 1:18-20.
Clearly, the word of God indicates that we know by what we experience. As Jeremiah wrote, “(God) defended the poor; is that not how we know Him? Jeremiah 22:16. Likewise, the phrase “to know the truth” refers to “becoming a Christian” or “being converted,” namely, the abstract is made concrete though doing something, Philippians 1:9,10.
II. The Religious Challenge
The Christian faith demands that we believe in what we cannot prove with rational or sensory methods, Hebrews 11:1. During most of our life, we pursue certainty. But we must shift gears when we go to church. For there, it is a matter of faith (though we often want assurance). In short, we want physical certainty where spiritual trust is required. And, unless we recognize the difference, unless we keep them separate, we will likely become discouraged.
Christian truth is not gained by logic. It is discovered in obedience. We know God when we trust Him, when we do His will. Indeed, the proof is in the experiencing. “Those who know Your name will trust in You,” Psalm 9:10. “Your people will fall slain among you and you will know that I am the Lord…. I will stretch out my hand against them and they will know that I am the Lord,” Ezekiel 6:7-14.
If we really want to know, if we really want to be certain, we must follow in His footsteps. Here are two scenarios where belief finds certainty.
I. School Of Pain
Life has its tragedies: traffic accidents, terminal illnesses, and the lost of family members. We wish we could understand them. We want to say that the pain will disappear, that things will get better, that we will get past it. And, indeed, memories will fade. But, in truth, the pain will not fully disappear in this life.
But God became like us. He suffered pain. He knows what it is like. He has been here. He has done that. Pain is one of our connections with the Almighty. He hurts when we hurt.
I wish I could answer why we have so much pain. Yet God did not explain it to Job. In effect, He merely said to “keep trucking.” His tears motivate us to continue because He knows, He knows it will end when we enter the pearly gates.
When we hurt, our mind is riveted on serious questions. Trivial matters fade away. When I hurt, I think of family. I wonder what I have accomplished. And, am I ready for what is next?
God uses pain to get our attention. The sufferings of Jesus show us that pain is not punishment but the proving ground of faith. Indeed, pain explained helps me more than pain removed.
II. School Of Prayer
We “learn to know” in prayer, Matthew 7:7,8. Prayer gives us assurance. We will receive. We will find. We will know. When we confidently expect an answer, we will realize that God has been patiently waiting for us. And, because we find Him, we can have fellowship with Him. And, then, will get to know Him. But, none of that will happen, if we fail to seek Him.
One thing is sure. The Almighty wants us to know. The Lord wants us to respond. He came to earth. He made the first move. Now He wants us to come to Him. He wants us to believe. He wants us to ask, to seek, and to knock. His welcome mat is out. If we want certainty, He will provide assurance as the guaranteed fruits of prayer. This is not an experiment. It is the formula for knowing.
Jesus repeated His promise six times. Why? Because we are so reluctant. We hold back. We want physical confirmation about spiritual matters. Our faith is weak. He asks us to take the plunge.
We tend to pray without expecting an answer. Therefore, we feel God is distant, prayer does not work, and we are left empty. And, under those circumstances, we will never get clarity.
There are two sides to prayer. We ask, He gives. We seek, He responds. We knock, He opens the door. But, when we assume that that does not happen, we conclude that heaven did not hear. However, cannot a non-answer be an answer? Does not our Father have the right to say: “Yes,” “No,” or “Wait?” Does He not know best? Does He not respond in the way that blesses the most? Could our disappointment be rooted in wanting a specific answer instead of His answer?
One of the frustrations for many believers’ is prayer that is not answered like it is worded. They ask but do not get what they asked for. They assume that their request was in sync with the will of God. So when they do not get exactly what they want, they conclude that prayer does not work, that the Lord does not hear. Their confidence is shaken. Their faith shrinks!
If a child always gets what he asks for, does he not become a spoiled brat? Likewise, if a believer always receives what he wants, does he not become a shallow disciple?
Prayer is a school. It is the Father teaching His sons and daughters what life is all about. It is the classroom where we learn to grow-up, to mature.
We should need to grasp the real significance of prayer. It is not our wish-list. It is His textbook. Do not let human reason weaken the lesson. In due time, He will teach us how to walk by faith, to rejoice in the answers we receive.
Is not prayer—as fellowship with God—enough of a blessing for now without a direct answer to what we ask for? Indeed, that may be the answer after all.
Ed has been a missionary and a college professor. He is also an author of several books that can be accessed for free online.