[Jesus said:] "Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" (John 17:3).

We settle for so much less than God wants for us. So often this is because we will simply not let go of our own ways of doing things. I'm not sure I had realized it before, but as I left a rat hole called a halfway house, I knew it in my gut.

The place stunk with the acrid smell of old urine from a bathroom not kept up to standards. It smelled with the odor of stale cigarette smoke and damp mold. It smelled of body odor. And as I sat across from this one guy going through detox, it stunk with the awful smell of speed sweat — the sweat of a guy who had mainlined crank for far too many years and was literally sweating the "speed" out of his system.

"You know," I replied when given an opportunity to respond, "some folks talk about addicts as folks aching for God, but having taken what they thought were shortcuts to get there without having to do the religious thing. Next thing they know, they are in bondage to satan and can't get out of their addiction."

"I know I have had a hunger for God all these years," the guy said, "but I have to decide to surrender to Him for Him to be real to me, and I don't know how to do that. It's just so much easier and quicker to get a fix... and that's what I know how to do."

It's not just those who crave some drug that hunger for God. There is a "God-shaped hole" in each of us and nothing can satisfy the soul-ache, the spiritual-hunger, the relentlessness in our hearts, but God. Nothing else, no matter how socially acceptable, can satisfy this hunger. God made us to crave relationship with Him... to need His presence in our lives to be complete. But, He also gave us the freedom to accept or reject Him.

God also gave us the freedom to choose substitutes, even so-called spiritual ones, if we choose them over Him. In fact, I am absolutely convinced that the evil foe we face is perfectly happy for us to substitute some form of Christian-sounding religious hooey for really knowing God. But life — real life, eternal life that begins right here and now and never ends — is only found in knowing God.

This language for knowing God is bold, daring, and dangerous. Think of it: the Creator, the Almighty that no one can adequately describe, the Ruler of the universe, the only true God really wants us to know Him and be known by Him. And the language used to declare this truth is frank and personal.

Our modern translations have taken the metaphor out of some of the passages that help us understand this. The word in Scripture for sexual intimacy was to "know" someone — see * below. This is the Holy Spirit's way of daringly saying that we are made to know God — to experience His personal presence in a very close way in our daily lives. In other words, "to know God" is so much more than just "knowing facts about God" — after all, Jesus promised that he and the Father and the Comforter would come to us, live in us, make His home with us, and reveal Himself to us (John 14:19-23). That's intimate knowing!

Think about this a minute! The concept is mind blowing. God wants us to experience His presence in our lives. He wants us to have a real relationship with Him. And at a soul level, we know it's true — something deep inside us yearns for this. That's why so many of the Psalms speak so powerfully to our hearts. They are personal, honest, open, and yearning. That's why some worship songs grab our hearts: they speak the truth of our yearning souls.

  • And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own; ...
  • As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after you.
  • My spirit pants for Thee, O Living word!
  • What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear...
  • What a friend I've found, closer than a brother ... Jesus, friend forever.

Rather than settling for less, let's call each other to know God.
So rather than settling for tired, stale, religious rituals and forms, let's call each other to truly "know" God. But as my friend at the halfway house reminded me, we have to choose to surrender our preconceptions, biases, and traditions to Him, and let Him "draw us ever nearer"!

But where do we begin on this quest?

For centuries, Matthew was the gospel most cherished in the church. Over the last couple of hundred years, that has not been the case and we have lost many treasures found in this gospel. The Holy Spirit blessed us with what I call the "Immanuel sayings" in the gospel of Matthew. These sayings point us to four ways we can experience God in Jesus:

  • Through the story of Scripture with Jesus as a focus — having Jesus come alive through his story -- (Matthew 1:22-23).
  • Through radical forgiveness, accountability, fellowship, and worship — genuine Christian family -- (Matthew 18:20).
  • Through loving service to those in need — caring for others as Jesus did -- (Matthew 25:40).
  • Through reaching past barriers and helping others know and live for Jesus — walking beside people until Christ is formed in them -- (Matthew 28:18-20).

I can't think of a better place to begin our search for knowing God, than these four Immanuel sayings. I can't think of a better way to evaluate the balance of a church than by looking at how they give their people the opportunity to experience Jesus' presence in these four ways. I can't think of a better way to evaluate my own spiritual health than to honestly evaluate how I'm participating in each of these four opportunities to know and experience Immanuel through the story of Jesus, through living as genuine family in Jesus, through serving others as Jesus, and crossing cultural barriers to see people formed into genuine disciples of Jesus.

Let's not settle for religion, going to church, or fast-food spirituality when God longs to fill that hole in our soul and become real to us as Immanuel.

* See  Genesis 4:1;  Genesis 4:17;  Genesis 4:25; and  Luke 1:34 — all use the term "knew" or "known" for the act of sexual intimacy.