Lesson 9: Encounter-Seeking His Face
Note: This is a Sunday School lesson by Scott Carr Jr. based on ch. 11 in Dr. Tim Keller's book, "Prayer".
* Since prayer is part of a dialogue with God, it follows that we only encounter God in prayer. The Westminster Larger Catechism says that this does not take place “in all persons, nor at all times, in the same measure”, but it certainly is a goal of prayer. John Owen’s third stage of meditation anticipates a character-forming experience of God’s presence and reality.
* Calvin said that enjoyment of Christ’s gifts to His people only happens through communion with Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit, and when the Word of God takes root in our hearts and not just in our minds. The mind must be informed and the heart must be engaged.
* What do we think of when we think of experience?
* Defining the Experience:
1) Being Rich, but Living Poor:
* Ephesians 3:14-19 “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
* What are Paul’s three main petitions?
* Paul’s audience here is the church of Ephesus, a body of believers. Ephesians 2 explains how they had all been united to Christ and to others who had also been united to Christ. Ephesians 1 taught that by being united to Christ, the fulness of God is already in them. So why is Paul asking God to give Christians must they already have?
* It seems that at some level, Christians have these things and at another level, have notexperienced them. We can intellectually know what Christ has done on our behalf, but another thing to grasp the depth of His love. Paul is praying that the Ephesians would not just know these things in principle, but that it would dwell in their hearts and inner being.
* There are those who claim faith in Christ, but their lives are hollow and inauthentic. The things they confess with their minds have not made it down into their hearts to transform them.
* Paul wants us to take full advantage of what we are given in Christ.
2) The Truth Begins to Shine:
* Inner being=heart, center of our person and most fundamental faith commitments.
* The Spirit prepares our hearts to be formed and shaped by the truth. He makes us sensitive to the Gospel (effectual calling).
* Grasp=get a secure hold on something.
* The Spirit must work in us if the truths we confess with our mouths are to make any difference in our lives. When our lives change, we have evidence that we have grasped some of the truth about God. The idea is that we must experience who God is first hand.
3) Knowing the Father:
* Paul prays kneeling before the Father. Such a position was not the normal posture for prayer in early Christianity and Judaism. Paul is showing a special act of reverence to the Father. Remember, in Romans 8, Paul tells us part of the work of the Spirit is to help us understand God is our Father and helps us call out “Abba, Father”. Another important aspect of communion with God is having a deeper understanding of our relationship to the Father and living out of that relationship.
* The Father says at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased. You are my Son, and I delight in you.” Part of the work of the Spirit is to tell us how loved we are by the Father as His children. The Spirit makes us more aware of reality.
4) Grasping the Love:
* How do we grasp the love of God? “It is through the Spirit’s blessing of our meditation on the saving work of Jesus.” In Ephesians 3, Paul sets up how we can meditate on God’s love.
* How wide is His love? It is wide enough to embrace us, despite the things we have done.
* How long is His love? He set His love on us before time began and will love us through all eternity.
* How deep is His love? The depths of His love are marked by the depths Christ went to save us. Christ came to earth as a man and died, enduring the wrath of God for our sins, which is hell. He went to the very depths to save us.
* How high is His love? He is going to show us all His glory and glorify us so that we are like Christ.
* These are some brief things to meditate on regarding Christ’s love. The Spirit can help us fully grasp what these all mean and change how we live.
5) The Face of Christ:
* Psalm 27:8-“Your face will I seek.” God is omnipresent. What does it mean to seek His face and draw near if He is already everywhere? When we talk to someone, we address their face. Seeking God’s face is to sense His reality and presence by the Holy Spirit. To seek His face is to seek communion with Him.
* The Old Testament tells us no one can seek God’s face and live. The Apostle John tells us that in Christ, we beheld His glory. His death and resurrection made a nearness to God possible that was not possible before.
* 2 Corinthians 3:18-“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
* 2 Corinthians 4:6-“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
* Beatific Vision-direct sight of the glory, this is what we will have in heaven and we have it here partially by faith. This is the centerpiece of Catholic theology due to Thomas Aquinas, while many Protestants do not touch it, but Puritan theologian John Owen thought it was very important. For Owen, to experience it in eternity, we have to experience it in some way by faith in this world. “Owen held that, unless you learn how to behold the glory of Christ, you are not actually living a truly Christian life in this world.” This raises the stakes for prayer and meditation.
* So what does it really mean? It is not mere intellectual assent to the truth of the doctrine. It is the affect the doctrine has on our hearts. “To behold the glory of Jesus means that we begin to find Christ beautiful for who He is in Himself. We find who He is, His works, and His Words to be enjoyable, comforting, and strengthening in themselves rather than for the things we can get from Him. If Christ does not captivate our hearts, something else will, which is idolatry. Prayer and meditation are where we can be captivated by Christ’s glory now.
* Keeping Truth and Experience Together:
* The modern evangelical Church has a problem with experience. The goal of most Christians today is to find merely an experience; an undefinable feeling that they keep searching to reclaim. True experience means we have a fuller understanding of the truth that changes our lives. Though experience is more than just intellectual assent, the mind is never left behind.
* The call is to be spiritually minded, to have the mind exercised with delight about heavenly things, particularly Christ. It is experience, but one that comes through meditation on Scripture, theological truth, and the Gospel. We should be wary of any experience that does not have its foundation in Scripture.
* The mind should never leave the emotions behind, and the emotions should never leave the mind behind. “Conservative” Christians have become so concerned with having right doctrine that they have neglected prayer and the role of experience while others emphasize the mystical without any grounding in the truth. Such experiences are more psychological then truly Christian. John Owen did think that if there is any imbalance, it is better to have a strong prayer life than have all of our doctrines in order.
* We were originally made to encounter God face to face, but the Fall has broken that relationship and we look for that kind of relationship in places that cannot fulfill. Christ’s death and resurrection removed the barrier of sin and death and our relationship with God is being restored. We can experience some of that as we see Christ’s glory by faith in prayer and meditation. As we do so, we come to be satisfied in God and love Him rather than the things we have been running after. As God now transforms us by encounters with Him, we are being made more and more holy and one day, we will be able to see God face to face when Christ returns and consummates His Kingdom and we are raised and glorified.
1) Read ch. 12 of Prayer.
2) Continue Bible reading, meditation, and prayer. Find a balance between them all.