What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. – A.W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy
I find that what I believe about God impacts how I live out my faith daily. So, considering what I believe and what I know stand as vital. Spiritual practices and rhythms keep the core of my faith both steadfast and lively.
What comes to mind when you think about God?
What’s behind that thought?
What is your image of God and how have you developed that image?
In John 10:14-18, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” So, the question becomes: Do I know God accurately? Do I know what His voice sounds like?
In spiritual direction sessions, discussions with friends, and recent podcasts about spiritual practices, comments like these have emerged:
- “That’s not what I thought God was like.”
- “What’s your view of God that has led to that decision, that belief?”
- “God’s perspective must be so very different than mine.”
Taking time to examine our image of God matters. If our image contains elements of a benevolent Santa Claus figure, that may lead us to beliefs and behaviors around that concept of God. If God is Santa-Claus-like, we might expect a transactional relationship where “good” behavior leads to “good gifts” and “bad” behavior leads to the equivalent of lumps of coal. However, that information doesn’t dovetail with what our sourcebook—the Bible—shows us of God’s character. Thus, that incorrect image of God needs realignment. To gain a more accurate understanding of God, we constantly consider His various attributes.
As each year passes, I find myself more eager than ever for what’s before me. I wonder at the way age continues to bring a deep patina of joy to me, even amid some of the deepest sorrows I’ve known. I’m also rather curious about how I’ve arrived where I am.
It’s as if I’ve reached an overlook on a mountain hike. I gaze down into the valley below, catching glimpses of the path I’ve walked, surprised at how far I’ve come. I trace the steps: flat ground, gradual inclines, crooked creeks, fallen trees shimmied over, sharp switchbacks, a quiet lake, unexpected meadows dappled with fresh dawn light, hail’s harsh sting, a cool glade, the roar of a waterfall, the thinner air above treelined, rocks and scree, and the raucous cry of eagles and hawks soaring above.
Reviewing the whys, whats, and hows of my topsy-turvy life, I’m astonished at what the journey has entailed. I recall guides along the way: types of signs, maps, cairns that have pointed me onward. Glancing over the sojourn, thankfulness weaves its bright way on the path alongside somber mourns of lament. I appreciate people in my story: family, friends, faith-sojourners, and work colleagues. Yet most of all, my greatest gratitude goes to God for who He is.
Who is this God I’ve followed so long? And why is it vital to know His voice, His ways, and His character?
In Prince Caspian, C. S. Lewis includes a scene between a lion and Lucy—a young girl traversing a magical land with siblings. They encounter grand adventures involving a variety of characters and particularly Aslan the lion. This wonderfully wild lion resembles God in so many dimensions. At one turn in the tale, Lucy converses with Aslan. She comments that he seems larger than when she previously saw him. However, Aslan refutes this thought. Instead, he insists it’s her growth that makes him seem to have grown.
Can that be right? That the more I grow, the more expansive God becomes? The first time I read those lines, I so hoped they were theologically true. Now that I’ve lived so much life with birthday 71 on the near horizon, I find they are truer than I could have ever imagined. God encompasses far more than I first thought. The longer I live, the more I sense how little I know of Him and how much more there is to discover.
Heading into a total right knee replacement in 2016, aware that my body rarely responds well to pain medication, I predicted pain would companion my recovery process. Yet, I didn’t want pain to rule every single moment. God invited me to consider His character as a spiritual rhythm when throbs, twinges, and tenderness flared up. Centering on His attributes, titles, and names led to worship prevailing over whining. It also allowed the sting of recovery to be more manageable. As I praised God for God, thanksgiving multiplied.
Lately the theme of who God is sits in the spotlight. Approaching our Thanksgiving holiday here in the United States, God’s kind invitation to meditate on His attributes over the month ahead catches my attention.
By considering who God is and telling Him so, I praise Him. By recalling what God does, thankfulness bubbles up. As I read through Psalm 136 a few days ago, it led me on a journey, summoning me to retrace who God is. Pondering His character, attributes, and names, I see I’ve grown up into Him. He has become bigger in my heart and mind.
Knowing God, originally published in 1973, examines various aspects of God’s character. This classic by theologian J.I. Packer (1926-2020) just celebrated its 50th Anniversary edition. I’m on my third or fourth copy of the book, I think. As I read and reread it, there comes a point where I need a fresh version so I can read Packer’s words that are sometimes overrun by my highlights, stars, question marks, and notes in the margin.
A, W. Tozer’s two books, The Attributes of God: A Journey into the Father’s Heart and The Knowledge of the Holy, also center on God’s attributes, names, and character. Three other books join the stack. In Pilgrim: 25 Ways God’s Character Leads Us Onward, Ruth Chou Simons offers hymns, scriptures, and her lovely art. We travel the road with accurate and inspiring reminders of who God is. Rosemary Jensen’s Praying the Attributes of God: A Guide to Personal Worship through Prayer, and Sylvia Gunter’s He Is the I AM, an excerpt from her Prayer Portions, include scriptures and lists full of God’s many facets.
I’m choosing one attribute of God per day to delve into and pray about during the month of November. What might happen if you did the same thing?
God is infinite, immense, immutable, imminent, immortal, as we see in 1 Timothy 1:17. He is love, living water, life, Lord. He is Comforter, Covenant-keeper, Creator. What characteristics come to mind as you think of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
Looking back through my life, I see places where different aspects of His character showed forth in my days. I recall that when I wasn’t sure how to pray, or what to focus on, I turned to the names of God. As I read through names in these assorted books or lists found online, I pause when one grabs my attention.
I notice how Abba has fathered me. I stand confident in the One who holds beginnings and endings as Alpha and Omega. By settling into one facet of His being, I find one aspect of my being come more alive.
If I settle in on the fact that He’s my Abba Father, then I’m aware of what it means to be His beloved daughter. If my attention turns to the Good Shepherd, I’m the sheep that wants to know His voice and follow where He leads. If I see how God is Long-suffering, I’m suddenly not alone in my distress. If I recall that Jesus is the Living Water, my thirst can be quenched.
What happens in you when you call upon Him with different titles, names, or characteristics? May our month of considering God’s expansive attributes shape our heart and life into places of wonder and praise. Thanks be to God for God.
Questions for reflection:
- What attributes of God delight you?
- What characteristics of God are most unfamiliar to you?
- What traits enrich your image of God?
Books and Other Resources:
- Knowing God, J.I. Packer
- Pilgrim: 25 Ways God’s Character Leads Us Onward, Ruth Chou Simons
- The Attributes of God: A Journey into the Father’s Heart, A. W. Tozer
- The Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer
- Praying the Attributes of God: A Guide to Personal Worship through Prayer, Rosemary Jensen
- He Is the I AM, an excerpt from her Prayer Portions – Sylvia Gunter
- The Bible Project – Character of God: Exodus
- The Blue Letter Bible: God’s Attributes
- Bible Gateway: 1200 Titles and Descriptions
- Bible Gateway: Attributes
- The Divine Game of Pinzatski and the Glory of Creation, W. David O. Taylor