Dr. Jim Denison and Dr. Mark Turman discuss Psalm 42, how we get the idea of the “soul” wrong, evangelicalism’s weak spot, why we should yearn for God, and how to start hungering for a relationship with Jesus.
Dr. Jim Denison and Dr. Mark Turman discuss the image of a deer panting after water in Psalm 42 (2:12). They talk about how evangelicalism can unhealthily swing the pendulum away from spiritual discipline to praying “the prayer” of salvation (7:50). They consider in-depth how the Hebrew authors thought of the “soul” and how it differs from the modern notion (17:36). Dr. Denison talks about C.S. Lewis, why we can only find peace in God, and the difference between knowing “about” God versus knowing God personally (27:45). They point listeners to where they should start if they want to yearn for God and consider how to grow that true, intimate longing to be with God (32:50).
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About the host
Mark Turman, DMin, is the executive director of Denison Forum. He received his DMin from Truett at Baylor and previously served as lead pastor of Crosspoint Church.
About the guest
Jim Denison, PhD, is a cultural theologian and the founder and CEO of Denison Ministries, which is transforming 6.8 million lives through meaningful digital content. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy and a Master of Divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also received an honorary Doctor of Divinity from Dallas Baptist University. Dr. Denison is the Theologian in Residence for the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia.
Transcribed by Otter.ai
Mark Turman 00:10
Welcome to the Denison Forum Podcast. I’m Dr. Mark Turman, Executive Director of Denison forum sitting down again with our cultural apologist and founder Dr. Jim Denison. Good morning, Jim, how are you doing?
Jim Denison 00:22
Well, Mark, how are you today?
Mark Turman 00:23
Doing great. Looking forward to the conversation. It’s been a little busy here at the first of the year in Denison forum world, but he kind of always is busy with the way the world goes, right?
Jim Denison 00:33
Well, we just don’t want you to be bored. You know, Mark, when you came into this job and agreed to leave the pastorate, right, we just didn’t want you to sit around and wonder what to do with your time. And I take that personally, that’s kind of a personal responsibility of mine is to make certain that you don’t really just kind of wonder if you have a meaning and purpose in life. And so it sounds like I’ve been successful in that regard.
Mark Turman 00:52
So you wake up every morning or go to bed every night thinking, you know, Mark looks like he might have some spare time on his hands. So let’s see what we can fill it up with. Yeah.
Jim Denison 01:01
What should mark do today? That’s the founding question in my life.
Mark Turman 01:04
So yeah, well, you know, my wife went on a retreat several years ago, where they talked about the word busy being an acrostic for being under Satan’s yoke. I wonder, Oh, you might be cool of that. Right? No, Surely
Jim Denison 01:16
not. You must be busy then in that regard. You know that we’ll have to work on that. Maybe being being under the spirits yoke, maybe could we maybe we could be maybe Yeah, yeah. But then I’m nowhere. I’m not claiming to be the Holy Spirit. So maybe we should just move on.
Mark Turman 01:32
Yeah. All right. Well, I wanted to talk with you for a few minutes today about a talk you recently gave. And I’m just going to title this longing or yearning for God in ways that we may be aware of sometimes we’re not as aware of them as we should be. But just wanted to ask you what prompted you to kind of go to Psalm 42, which we’ll spend a little bit of time there in a minute. But what, what brought this to your heart in mind that led you to talk on this?
Jim Denison 02:03
Yeah, well, thank you for that. So since first of the year in the chapel, where I speak on Sundays, we’ve been looking at ways that we can live lives that God can bless, what does that mean, what does that look like? So when we’ve talked about living missionally, we’ve talked about using our influence effectively using our time effectively, that sort of thing? Well, this past Sunday, I especially wanted to connect that to what’s happening at the Asbury University revival. As you know, as we’re speaking right now, that’s been going on for nearly two weeks, it’s been much in the news, they’ve made the decision recently to move it off campus, but to hope that the services continue on some level, as a catalyst to a larger movement that our culture needs so desperately. So I asked the chapel folk, how could we be part of that? How could we join that? How could we be catalysts for awakening such as we’re seeing happening, and as Barry, and I’ve seen historically at Asbury, and I’ve seen and other times across our history, you and I’ve discussed that in the past? What would that mean? What would that look like for us? Well, the bottom line is, really, if I’m going to be a catalyst for spiritual renewal, I have to recognize that I need spiritual renewal, that I need more of God than I have. Some years ago, ma’am, that was on the staff of the church, I was pastoring. At the time, he shared with me some wisdom that had been given him from kind of an elder statesman in the church, who said, The problem in our church is we have all of Jesus we want, not all of Jesus we need. But all of Jesus we want. I think that’s true of a lot of us in our culture, and really Awakening on some level starts there. And that’s what took me to Psalm 42, and the deer panting, and US panting for God. And what does that mean? What does that look like? Why should we want more of God than we have? And how can we take steps in that direction?
Mark Turman 03:37
So let me just read those couple of verses that start that Psalm. Some will be familiar with this, but other won’t, others won’t. But the psalmist simply says this in Psalm 42, as a deer longs for flowing streams. So I long for you, God, I thirst for God, the living God, when can I come and appear before God? That may not be the way people verbalize it? as much or as often as they should, but that really is a description of the nature of the heart of the soul, right? And talk about the context of those two verses in that metaphor of the deer you and I have been to Israel together we’ve seen deer I was on a trip over the last few days, I actually stayed in a small cabin out at a retreat center could look out the window, I saw six or eight deer just walking by not exactly like the deer that you and I saw in Israel, but why do you think he picks this metaphor? What’s significant about a deer and it’s longing?
Jim Denison 04:41
That’s a great question. And it really illustrates the fact that we need to understand the context of the text before it can really matter to us. As I’m talking to you right now. I’m looking out my window at Preston Road in North Dallas don’t see a lot of deer out there. No, not too many. Houston didn’t see a lot of deer either. So if you’re living in a major city, you’re probably not as familiar with the culture and the customer. So what we’re talking about here is what’s known technically as a Persian follow deer. It’s a specific species of deer that today only lives in Israel and Iran. Oddly enough, it especially thrives in the deserts of the Judean wilderness that you and I’ve driven through there where it can be 120 degrees in the summer. Well, deer need four to five quarts of water a day, especially in the summer in order to survive. The problem is that if they’re not looking for running water, for streams of water, if they’re going to drink from stagnant water, that water can be dangerous, as you know, pools of water can get all sorts of bacteria and infection type things in them. So they’re looking for streams of water problem isn’t a desert, it’s hard to find those there are there, there are springs in the Judean Desert, and the deer know where they are. So the deer pant for them, they long for them to Hebrew means that they yearn passionately for the streams of water in the desert. And according to the Psalm was that sell his soul is and that’s how my soul is, because we were made by God, to need God just as much as those deer need that living water.
Mark Turman 06:02
And then when you talk about streams of water, it makes me think about how we longed to have a fresh encounter with God. You know, my pastor, my pastor used to say that some Christians have, you know, one year’s experience with God 20 times over, and that we need, as believers, and certainly for people who have not yet come to faith in Christ, that fresh encounter with God, but it’s not just a one time thing that Well, that happened to me back when I was a child, or when I was a teenager or some earlier point in my life. And there’s, there’s not in many people’s case, that kind of daily fresh encounter. But as you said, you know, there’s a continual need for these deer in the in the desert regions of Judea, they have to have this every day, especially in those long summer months when it’s so dry. That is there’s a continual refreshing that is needed in their case, and in the case of our soul, right?
Jim Denison 07:00
That’s exactly right. I’m glad you made that point. Because that’s one of the downsides of Evan Jellicle theology. I’m grateful to be in angelical want to hasten to say that so grateful that we emphasize the need for a personal salvation experience and need to be saved as we would say or be born again, as Jesus said, but one downside of that can be the wicked, so emphasize that we can so inappropriately, so try to call people persuade people to that decision, that we can sometimes give the impression that once you’ve done that you’ve done all you need to do, you’ve checked the god box. Now you’ve been born again as the child of God. So now kind of go about your business and when you die, you’ll go to heaven. Well, you want to pay God back, we would think erroneously, so go to church, read the Bible, pray, do good things. But that’s kind of kind of your religious kind of paying God back for God’s saving your soul kind of an idea. Unfortunately, we kind of get people saved as it were, and don’t quite know what to do with it. Well, the other traditions in the Christian faith and more liturgical traditions do a better job than we do, I think and emphasizing the need not just for salvation, but for sanctification, the need for the various spiritual disciplines. I’ll admit to you, Mark, that nearly everything I’ve learned about spiritual disciplines I’ve learned from non evangelicalism in renown has been hugely important in my life. Right. Richard Foster’s book out of a Quaker tradition on the disciplines of the Christian faith some years ago, was enormously helpful for me, solitude, fasting, meditation, various spiritual disciplines to continue to grow in the Lord, because we’re made to continue to need a relationship with God. I don’t know of any parents that choose to bring a child into the world. So they can simply bring a child into the world. Now they’re born, go do what you can Good luck. I’m moving on with my life, right? We want our kids to grow up, we want a personal relationship with them. I want to be with my grown sons as much today as when they were born. And especially my grandkids, don’t get me started on my grandkids, right? Or you for that matter. Yeah. So God sees us like that. God loves us. This is hard to believe as much as we love our granddaughters. I know, that’s hard to believe, can’t imagine it could be true, even more. And that’s why God you’re in for long for made us too long for, as you’re saying an ongoing relationship with Him that starts at salvation, but doesn’t end there, as unfortunately, sometimes we might tend to think.
Mark Turman 09:11
And I think that brings up a really good point that we sometimes miss in evangelical Christians, as as evangelical Christians, as you were saying a minute ago that, you know, someone said to me years ago that salvation is the miracle of the moment, but holiness, what the Bible calls sanctification, as you mentioned, is the miracle of a lifetime. It’s the ongoing work of a lifetime. And a lot of us as evangelicals are really focused on. Sometimes an inappropriate level of conversion ism that we see. You know, we read the story of Paul’s conversion on the Damascus road and he encounters Jesus has this very dramatic conversion experience where he is temporarily blinded and over the next few days comes to an understanding that the very person of Jesus that he’s persecuting He is actually the Savior that he needs. And, and we see that we’ve lived through that in the Billy Graham era, the revivalist era of calling people to that initial faith, which is absolutely essential. But as you said, there’s a lot of there’s a lot of times we don’t emphasize the other. And I try to sometimes tell people, you know, most of the other apostles, we don’t know exactly when they converted and really committed themselves to Jesus. There’s, there’s no story about when Peter at that moment, okay, he became a Christian. Where was that? Where was it for John or for Andrew? We see indications of it. But we don’t see that kind of pivotal, dramatic moment that we see with Paul. And sometimes I’ve had to have conversations with myself and with others, like some people have said, You know what, I was raised in the church, I can’t remember exactly. When I decided to believe in Jesus as my Lord and my Forgiver. I just know that it happened. Can you kind of unpack that a little bit, especially for evangelical Christians who have had so much emphasis on? Can you point to a moment in time on your calendar? And if you can’t, you need to be suspect about your faith?
Jim Denison 11:16
Yeah, it’s a huge issue, isn’t it? And understandably so. And it’s kind of a spectrum seems to me if you want to think of theology as a pendulum, it’s always swinging from one extreme to the other, from one edge to the other. And extremes can beget extremes. So evangelicalism as we think of that sometimes aligned with revivalism and it centric kind of focus on salvation experience, salvation, prayer, ticular prayer that you find in the four spiritual laws, or you might find it, Billy Graham’s track, have they had peace with God, the prayer that he would often offer at the end of one of the revivals that they would do, or the Crusades, or what they would then call Franklin Grimm would call, perhaps a festival, others, that sort of thing, all focused on this idea that I need to have a personal one time transactional decision where I pray something like Jesus asked you to forgive my sins and be my Lord, and I give my life to you that sort of an experience. Well, that comes out of and I’m so grateful for that. By the way, that’s how I became a Christian at the age of 15. I would urge anybody listening to us that isn’t sure they’ve done that, to settle that today, to make certain that you’ve trusted Christ as your Lord. It’s kind of like when you I’ve never met anyone that I’ve asked, Are you married? And they say, you know, I’m not sure. You know, I might be I believe in weddings, I go to weddings, I think that’s a good idea. If you’re married, you probably know it, you know, you stood in front of somebody and said, I do as it were, well, I’m glad that we emphasize the need to have that decision to actually enter into a relationship with God. But that whole emphasis, in some ways back to your point comes out of a history, where there maybe wasn’t extreme at that point going on to the 19th, early 20th century, known as the social gospel, where the church was a lot of movement behind this a lot of things that we can speak about going back to slavery and modern liberalism and all that. But the church is many, in many ways, becoming a social agency. It’s really focusing much more on social activity in the culture on dealing with child welfare issues and with poverty, and with all the things that were going on at that time, that the emphasis of a personal relationship with God was being lost. And so it’s out of that kind of a context that this emphasis in a personal saving relationship emerges. But to your point, that can be an extreme as well, where we think there’s a magic prayer, you must say these words, and therefore, you know that you’re going to happen just because you said the words I’ll kind of a hocus pocus order. But bottom line is Mark, there is no salvation prayer in the Bible. There is no place that the Bible says pray like this, Lord, I asked you to forgive my sins and become my say, you know, that isn’t there. I mean, you have the thief on the cross that said, Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom? Well, when I was a pastor, and people came down to the front during the invitation to receive Christ, that wasn’t the prayer I let them through. Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom. But that was the prayer that the thief offered. And so this conversion, prayer, salvation, prayer is a wonderful way, a biblical way to lead people to trust in Christ personally, but it’s not prescribed in the Bible, as we know. And I know a number of people. Well, Billy Graham’s wife, for instance, who grew up in a Presbyterian tradition that couldn’t remember a time that she didn’t know the Lord that she didn’t trust in Christ as their Lord and Savior, that she wouldn’t have said, Jesus is my Lord. I’m trusting him to take me to Heaven when I die. I know that I’ve trusted him as my Savior. But if you ask Ruth Belle Graham, okay, tell me when you made that decision, she couldn’t tell you that. Does that mean she’s not in heaven today? Does that mean Billy Graham’s wife was lost because she couldn’t pinpoint the day and the moment my wife was riding a bike once as a girl, she found a track on the ground. It had a prayer on the back of it, she took it home and she prayed that prayer. She thinks that’s the first time that she trusted in Christ as our Lord, but it wasn’t anything so dramatic as over here. She was this and now she’s this and it’s Damascus Road and all of that when I prayed that prayer, At the age of 15, my first reaction afterwards was, Is that all there is to it. I didn’t have an emotional response. I didn’t feel the big weight lifted off me like people talk about, I hadn’t been a drug dealer. Previously, I didn’t have some massive transformation overnight in my life. I questioned my salvation for a year and a half. Because I didn’t have any of the emotions that I saw other people describing when they became a Christian, took me a long time discover no place in the Bible doesn’t say how it feels to become a Christian. No place. Is there this one prayer that if you don’t get all these words, exactly right, in English, you won’t go to heaven. I think that’s a wonderful way to trust in Christ, as you and I both know. But really, for a lot of people, it’s a process. For a lot of people. It’s an ongoing, kind of a daunting experience. So the way bottom line that I’ve always done this with people is to ask them right now standing here today talking to me, Are you certain that Christ is your Lord? Are you sure you’ve trusted Him as your Lord and Savior? If the answer’s no, let’s settle that now. But if the answer is yes, I don’t have to worry as much about when that happened, as that that happened, and whatever process it was for you. Now we could talk about believers baptism, that’s a second issue. If you’re not certain you were baptized after you actually became a believer, we could talk about that. But that, again, is not a saving issue. That doesn’t mean you’re not going to heaven. If you were baptized as a child, and you trusted Christ as an adult, and you didn’t go back and get baptized. That’s a different story, we could talk about an important story. But that’s not a salvation issue, per se. So, bottom line, even though I grew up as a Baptist, even though I became a Christian, after praying at Salvation Prayer, I’ve come to understand that God moves in different ways in different hearts. As long as you know, that you’ve asked Jesus to be your Lord, and given your life to Him, that I think is what constitutes following Christ and being the child of God.
Mark Turman 16:46
That’s so helpful, right? Because evangelicals particularly sometimes get mocked or criticized for this emphasis on making a decision. And some people are very confused about it. And people will talk about there being spiritual fireworks, or, or sometimes we’re led to believe that there is always going to be some kind of a spiritual firework when a person believes in Christ, or it becomes clear to them or even at their baptism. And sometimes that might be the case, there might be an overwhelming amount of emotion. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But the Bible doesn’t prescribe that. And even though the Bible says in wonderful places, like Luke 15, that all of Heaven rejoices when somebody repents of their sin. That’s great. But that may or may not be paralleled in the ways that we think about feelings and celebrations. And so I think that’s really helpful in clarifying for people. But in this metaphor of us being like a thirsty deer in the desert, looking for water, us looking in a fresh way for a connection to God, it talks about the soul. So talk a little bit in your conversation that you recently gave you talked about? What does it mean for us to have a soul? Sometimes we’re confused about that we hear from the Bible that the most important thing is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength? How should we think about that? What’s the best way to think is Jesus giving us four categories? To understand ourselves? Are those psychological categories that the psychologists would understand? 1900 years later? How do you look at that when the Bible speaks in those terms?
Jim Denison 18:28
That’s a great question. And it’s also an example of progressive revelation, I think you’ll learn to add and subtract before you multiply and divide before you get to trigonometry before you get to calculus. So in Psalm 42, we’re talking about the nephesh. That’s the Hebrew word for this folder. And at that point in time, I think mostly the Logins would agree, you’re really thinking about the nephesh, as the person, the enduring person, the person you are, in your essence, the essence of you, the the essential thing that you are is is a way to look at that I think, and this kind of holistic sort of Hebrew anthropology, where they didn’t think of your body, soul and spirit as being separate categories. They thought of those as different ways of expressing the one person I think that’s the biblical anthropology. When First Thessalonians five says, May your spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless to the coming of our Lord. It’s not, I think, meaning that you have a spirit and a soul rattling around inside your body as three different entities what philosophers would call ontological categories as though they’re three separate things. As you and I are talking today I’m looking at you and talking you through my iPad, well over there is my over here’s my laptop, and over, here’s my monitor three separate things that are all connected in a way technologically, there’s some people that would see us as the secret three separate entities as it were, that’s Greek psychology, that goes back to Aristotle, that’s known as what that’s called the tripartite view of man, body, soul and spirit is three separate things goes all the way back to the orphan called six centuries before Christ where there’s this idea, your soul existed in a pre incarnate state, it simply would say, it was punished by have been put in your body and the point of life is to purify your soul. So when you die can go back where it came from? Well, that influenced Protagoras who influenced Plato, who influenced the whole Western world. And Plato’s thinking this physical world is a shadow of the world of ideas that he has this demo organically created the world out of bad materials work two by fours and rusty nails, you might say. And so you’ve got this flesh stuff that’s inherently evil, you’ve got body and, and you’ve got soul and spirit that are inherently good. All of that’s Greek. That’s Greek psychology, Greek anthropology, you might say, I believe the Bible wouldn’t say we have a body, soul and spirit, but we are body, soul, and spirit. I think those are different ways of describing the one person, I can say to you that I am a husband, I am a son, and I’m a father. It’s not that this hand is a husband. And this hand is a father. All of that describes me in various ways. Body Soul spirit describes us in various ways. I think when Jesus and Merrigan, Matthew or excuse me, Mark 12, says, We’re to love God with your heart, soul, mind and strength. He is describing us in four different ways. The heart was known as the seed of the emotion, the soul being the essence of man, mind being, obviously our rational categories, our rational experiences and strength being what we do about that. But again, not in four separate entities over here’s the garage over here’s the living room over here’s the dining room, are really different ways of describing the one person. And so in my thinking, anyway, we’re more unified than we in the Greek world tend to think we’re more holistic than them. And these are various ways of describing us. So when he says, My soul longs for you, the Psalm is back in Psalm 42. He’s talking about all of it, not just his spiritual life, not just his religious life. He’s not just describing what he wants to do in church on Sunday. He’s describing his very essence. And when he says long as its present tense, not sometimes not during my quiet time, in the morning, walk, the dog took up the trash had my quiet time, check the box, that’s our compartmentalizing that we get from the Greeks is transaction or religion, put the sacrifice on the altar. So the gods bless your crops. God wants us to have this unified holistic Present your bodies, a living sacrifice, be crucified with Christ, take up your cross daily. It’s all about a personal, intimate, transforming holistic relationship with God, our culture gets that desperately wrong. And a lot of us in the Christian faith can do so as well, I’m afraid.
Mark Turman 22:25
And there you know, you mentioned compartmentalizing and in some ways that might be a really helpful tool that God gives us in certain areas of our life. But when it comes to our faith, that we kind of intuitively know that if it’s a genuine faith, it should be holistic and pervasive through all of our life. And so much hypocrisy has emerged, both in biblical times before Jesus’s time and even in modern day where people do compartmentalize their faith and the hypocrisy of it shows up pretty quickly after that, and it was just like
Jim Denison 23:01
a marriage relationship. I’m married to Janet all the time, whether I’m in the same room with her or not, right, if I lived in a way where over here I’m married to her and over here, I’m not how hypocritical would that be? What kind of a marriage would that be? But that’s one of the lessons we a lot of us are married to Christ is in a part time religious versus real world sort of a context.
Mark Turman 23:18
Right, you and I, one of the things I’ve gained from our friendship over the years and from other avenues, as well as just a love for the British author scholar, CS Lewis, you included a quote from the very important book Mere Christianity that you’ve talked about in your own faith, I just want to read the quote and get you to respond to it. In Mere Christianity, CS Lewis says, God made us invented us as a man in Vinson engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on himself. He Himself is the fuel of our spirit. Where were the fuel of our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on, there is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way, without bothering about religion. God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from himself, because it is not there. When did you learn that quote? And sounds like that one has stuck deep in your soul for a long, long time, right?
Jim Denison 24:28
Yeah, really has? Well, the first thing I need to just hasten to add here is everybody on earth or in heaven has to read Mere Christianity. It’s required, they should be required to do it. Well, it will be I think, when you get to heaven, if you haven’t read it, you’re gonna walk through the pearly gates and there’s gonna be a stack of the books right there Mere Christianity right there. You’re gonna have to sit down and read it before you can go any further. I mean, it’s just there in every language. I’m just convinced of this. I really
Mark Turman 24:51
now without being overweight. Yeah. Would that be in a wooden chair or in a lazy boy, because that’s gonna matter?
Jim Denison 24:57
Well, yeah. wouldn’t matter, would it really? No. If it’s Louis, it’s a desk chair, you know, but that’s a different story. I’ve actually sat in his desk chair, but that’s probably shouldn’t have what I did. But nonetheless, that’s another story we could talk about for another day. So yeah, first of all, the book itself. Next to the Bible is the most important book I’ve ever encountered myself. I mentioned before becoming a Christian at the age of 15, and really questioning my salvation because it didn’t have these emotional experiences. I said a lot of intellectual questions. I was wondering, in 10th, grade Sunday school now, what about the dinosaurs? And what about science? And what about these other religions, and I just got the impression mark, no one’s fault. But mine, not at all blaming my church I, by God’s grace became a Christian in a wonderful Church in Houston, Texas, but I just somehow got the idea that if you have enough faith, you don’t have questions, that you don’t have doubts that you that your mind and your faith are two separate things. But somehow the idea that I caught it, that wasn’t working for me, I was really struggling with that. And someone gave me Mere Christianity. First time I’ve ever seen anyone deal with faith intellectually. And from then till now, CS Lewis has been a hero of mine, a mentor to me, just makes me like 10 million other people. I’m not claiming anything unique here. But that’s why the books were important to me. And that is one of several passages in Mere Christianity that you’re right, was enormous ly clarifying for me, from the moment I encountered it. One of the reasons I think Lewis is so effective is that he’s so good in using illustrations that make the point so persuasively, so powerfully, the illustration stands alone so often. And what he does, and of course, is a great example of that. You can’t put anything but what he calls petrol, their gas and a car and have it function can’t put water in there can’t put iced tea in there can’t put coffee, you can only put gas because it was made to run on gas. That’s just how it was engineered? Well, when I first came across that and understood that God made us for himself, then that illustration became very powerful and very persuasive for me. Does it still retains that force for me today?
Mark Turman 26:53
Yeah, so so many good things come out of that book. Interesting. I learned years ago, at your urging to read this book that it was actually a series of radio addresses that he gave through the BBC. You, if you read it that way, it may be in some ways easier to comprehend initially, that it was a series of short radio messages that then gotten compiled into a book. But through that, and and I’ve heard you talk about this several times. In fact, since the first of the year, understanding the difference between knowing God, knowing Christ and knowing about him that you’re I heard you say recently, it’s actually in some ways, maybe easier or safer to know about Jesus than it is to actually know him. What do you mean by that?
Jim Denison 27:40
Yeah, at least in my experience, this has been the case, knowing about God keeps him at arm’s length, I can know about him, like I can know about algebra, you know, like I can know about car repair, or computer maintenance, or some such as that makes no demands on me. There’s not a, there’s not a reciprocal relationship there. I can know about Jesus, I can deliver sermons about Jesus, I can write daily articles about Jesus, the same way I would about Napoleon. Or the same way I might about Jingis Khan or somebody like that. And they’re a figure of history. They’re an important figure of history, but they’re not a living person who can make demands on me in return. Well, if I’m going to know a person, individually, if I’m going to know you, and not just know about you, Mark Turman, well, then now we’re going to be in a reciprocal relationship. Now, you can ask me to do things like be on this podcast with you right now. Now you can challenge me, in places where you think my life isn’t what it should be. Now you can give me wisdom and direction in my life is going to be on some level impacted by that relationship. That’s how relationships are. And the deeper the relationship, the more transforming those relationships are. Well, maybe I don’t want that with Jesus. Maybe again, I’ve got all the Jesus I want. Maybe I’m as religious as I want to be. Maybe I know some things in my life, Jesus would change if he could, some things, I should stop doing some things, I should start doing some places where my life isn’t what he wants it to be, but it’s everything I want it to be. Maybe I’m like that guy that doesn’t really want to go to the dentist. Because if I do, they’re going to do more than just treat this pain, they’re going to pull the tooth, and then who knows it might find other teeth to want to mess with. Again, Lewis Lewis uses that analogy. And so it’s really easier for me to know about God. And then as a pastor, as a theologian as an apologist, I can even impress you with how much I know about God perhaps, and in so doing substitute for knowing God. All the while, missing all that a personal, intimate transforming RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS can really be about quick illustration of that there has been an awakening going on in Cuba for more than 10 years. More than a million Cubans have come to Christ in the last 10 years. The remarkable thing God is doing there. There is a hunger for God in Cuba, that I have witnessed, that I have not typically witnessed in our culture. Some of them maybe the poverty they face the oppression they face, the issues the challenges of daily life as a Christian in Cuba that we don’t face At least yet here in America, maybe a large part of it. But I will tell you, there’s a transforming faith that you would want, if you could see it. There is a hunger for God that is met by God and Cuban hearts that we don’t experience in our culture very much. And it’s no surprise to me, they’re experiencing awakening in a way that we are not Philippians. He said, God goes where he’s wanted. Well, knowing about God keeps them at arm’s length, and that safer for me. But knowing God is when I become all that God intended to meet. And now I’ve got the petrol in the car. Now the car is doing what it’s supposed to do. And now life makes sense, in a way it doesn’t otherwise.
Mark Turman 30:36
Know when I heard you talk about this, and even just now just makes me think back to something I ran across in the Bible a few weeks ago, maybe a few months ago. Now, you know, Jesus is about to be arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane John 17, records this prayer that happens somewhere kind of between the upper room in the garden. And Jesus, the longest prayer that we have of Jesus is recorded in John 17. It begins, he says, In the third verse of the of that chapter, this is eternal life that you know, God, and you know, me as his son, that eternal life is not just simply a quantity of time, it’s a quality of time, and, or a quality of experience in relationship with God. That is about deepening in that we struggle. Sometimes I think many, many of us struggle sometimes to know the nuance between knowing about him and actually knowing him between Christianity as a religion and Christianity as a relationship. Sometimes it’s just hard to really distinguish that. And as you said, a minute ago, you can substitute knowing about him for actually knowing him. And you can check all the boxes, you can answer most of the questions, and you think that’s what it is. But that doesn’t necessarily equate to a relationship. In marriage comes to mind, that’s what we need
Jim Denison 31:54
are called Yeah. Yeah. You know about marriage. That’s not the same thing as being married. Yeah, right analogy.
Mark Turman 32:00
So you your first recommendation kind of coming off of Psalm 42, is to admit to make an honest assessment and admission that you need more of God than what you have. And I was listening to you kind of describe that. I wondered if maybe for some of us, the prayer might be not simply I want more of God, but rather, I want to want more of God. Yeah. And just to get to that point of realizing, yeah, I don’t I don’t have that desire in me right now. And I that’s maybe where I need to start is to be is to simply say, honestly, God, God, I know I should want more of you. I should want a deeper closer relationship with you, not simply about you, but actually knowing you. But I need you to stir that in me. Is that a legitimate prayer to start with?
Jim Denison 32:50
Absolutely. My favorite prayer in the Bible is the father that says to Jesus, Lord, I believe Help my unbelief. In Mark chapter nine, we can absolutely pray for the faith to have faith as it were, to me, it kind of works on two levels. The first is to understand what it is you’re missing. understand who God really is, understand the omnipotence, the omniscience, the Omni benevolence of God, you were a golfer. And you could get Tiger Woods to give you some lessons, maybe you’d want to do that. If you were an investor in Warren Buffett could spend some time with him. Maybe you’d think about that, you know, think about what you’re missing by not knowing God by not experiencing his power in your life is his wisdom in your life, His love is transforming grace in your life. Realize that. And it’s back to what we said before. If we see Jesus as our Savior, we pray to salvation prayer. Now we’re going to heaven instead of hell. When we dive we’ve done the transaction. That’s all the Christianity that there is, we think, or maybe that we want, than we’ve missed what it is for him to be our Lord, what it is to have this life changing, experience daily encounter with Jesus. So on one level, it’s thinking about what I could experience if I knew God better than I know, I’m right now. And then once I’ve had that kind of conversation with myself, and maybe I’ve gotten specific about that, I’m dealing with this challenge here and really need somebody’s wisdom, I’m dealing with a sin and really need forgiveness and need help with my guilt. Or I’m dealing with this burden and really need help carrying it. And maybe I get practical about what could God be in my life more than he is now? Then I think it’s exactly that prayer you just offered. So Lord, I really want to want you more than I do. I need to need you more than I do. You can ask the Holy Spirit to help you do that. You can ask the Lord, by the power of His Spirit and in your life to to create a greater hunger for him, then you now have and know that he loves to answer that prayer. If you went to your spouse and said, and said, especially in the presence of a counsel, I want to love you more deeply than I do. I would hope your spouse wouldn’t say no, I’m good. We’re good here. Got all the I need. We’re my marriage is everything I want it to be. I hope that wouldn’t be the case. Right? I promise you that’s not the case with Jesus. I promise you Jesus won’t say no, I’ve got all of you I want. We’re good here. He wants that kind of depth of personal transforming relationship with you For that he died to give, that He died to create record says it really well, Jesus didn’t die out across the wicked, just live safe, comfortable lives. He died on a cross. So we ended up transforming relationships with the God of the universe. And so have that in mind and pray that prayer. And I think that’s a great first step.
Mark Turman 35:16
And then you said, in your talk, he talked about how that means making an intentional decision to spend time focused on Jesus and focused on time with him. And we kind of intuitively know this like said, when it comes to romantic relationships and marriage, we know that, you know, my pastor used to say most marriages don’t end by explosion, they end by eroding and just neglect over time. We know that if we’re going to have a healthy, deepening relationship with anybody, that we have to spend some intentional time if that’s going to be in a marriage or a friendship, it’s going to be with our children or our grandchildren, which is really the biggest upside, right? That we have to we have to decide that we’re going to intentionally pursue that relationship. And I, I go back to the earliest days of my own faith when I was a teenager that one of the first things that was emphasized is where you carve out some intentional time, sometimes it was called a quiet time, sometimes it was called a devotional time. And we see the pattern of this. All throughout Scripture, I think of Jesus in Mark 135 says that he got up early in the morning before everybody else, and he went and had some personal time. In prayer, we see him regularly going off. After some big events in the story of his life, he goes off for Time Alone With God. I learned about a year year and a half ago, just in a fresh way about Daniel who, even when there was a conspiracy to remove him as the second most powerful person in the world. It says that he went home, got down on his knees, open the window toward Jerusalem, and prayed. But it said that was his regular practice, not just an action of panic. Talk about that a little bit in can you kind of help some help us with some expectations, because let’s face it, I don’t get to talk to God by sitting down over coffee the way I do with you or with my wife or a bunch of other people in my life, it really is the same but at the same time not the same. To sit down and have some intentional time with God. Can you kind of frame some expectations about how that works?
Jim Denison 37:31
That’s a great question. And I think the place you start, as you said, is in any other relationship, we tend to schedule what we value. You know, if it doesn’t, if you and I wanted to get together later today and talk about the cowboys and what they’re going to do in the next year, and you know, who they should draft and all that sort of thing. I doubt we’re going to schedule that time, I doubt that so important to us that we’re going to make some time for that and set everything else aside to do that. If we were sports writers, it might be different. If you were Kevin Sherrington, and I was Tim Cowlishaw. And we were trying to write an article that was predicting what they should do in the draft, that would be a different thing. We tend to schedule our priorities, you know. And so when our relationship with God, if that is our first priority, we’re going to love the Lord your God with your heart, soul, mind and strength, then it starts by scheduling time and protecting time, specifically to be with him. Technology is not our friend. At that point. We’re constantly surrounded by the ability to work or to watch videos or to be engaged in media, whatever that might be. So my strong recommendation and something I have myself to do every single day, is to schedule some time, set it aside, in a place where I’m not surrounded by distraction, and where I can focus specifically on the Lord. Now we’re all wired differently. We all have different ways of doing what I’m about to say, what works best for me, is a very specific reading plan. I have a way I read through the Bible every year. And then I take notes on what I read and a kind of a journal. And then I have some prayer lists that I keep. And I have kind of a bit of a routine that I go through in my own way of meeting with God, because that’s just the way I’ve structured. My wife is not structured like that at all. Janet is very intuitive. She’s highly relational by nature. And so she’ll just talk to God all through the day. But she schedules time specifically to read the Bible, time to pray. But she’ll do that without some of that same formality that I do in my relationship with God. So know who you are, know how you’re wired. And then I would start with 15 minutes. Set aside 15 minutes, we actually have the whole branded our ministry called verse 15, verse one five.org, that will help you spend that 15 minutes. It’s got a devotional in it. It’s got some guided prayer, it’s got a worship video, and it will help you spend 15 minutes alone with God, if I didn’t mean to, to advertise one of our brands, but that would help you do that. If you don’t want to do that. That’s fine. But set aside I would say 15 minutes if you’re not sure where to start, I always suggest the Gospel of John, maybe 10 verses in the Gospel of John, I would suggest a journal of some kind where you can write down what goes to your thoughts, and then pray about what’s on your heart. Pray about what your needs are, pray about what your questions are your issues, just start right there, just start in a way that you know, you can repeat. Don’t start with two hours. Don’t start by deciding you’re going to be a monk and meet God seven times a day. Don’t just don’t start with the hours of liturgy and that kind of a context. It used to bother me that Martin Luther said he had so much to do. We couldn’t get on with that two hours of prayer a day. Well, that bothered me because I wasn’t spending two hours a prayer a day. You don’t have to start there. You’re not Martin Luther today, necessarily. So but make some time, get a place where you’re not be distracted. I suggest early in the morning, you put gas in the car before you drive the car. One of the Air Force One Pilots told Ronald Reagan squad he always land at the front of the runway. He said, Well, they teach you in flight school, you can’t use the runway behind you, Jesus, Mark 135 Got up a great while before a day went to a solitary place and prayed. That’s our model, Mark 135. And so I would encourage us to, if you’re not already doing that, to set some time early in the day, make a schedule, make a routine, find a place, put a chair in a closet, find someplace where you can be alone, where you can read His word and print and take it from there. Before the Lord leads you. There are lots of reading the Bible in a year plans or reading the Bible in three year plans. You can get online and see a lot of those. If you’re not really familiar with reading scripture, I would suggest a study Bible and NIV Study Bible or an ESV Study Bible has a notes that will really help you as you kind of process it through the way. But it starts by starting the longest journey begins with the first step right. And so it just really making that time like Jesus did and settling that as a schedule in your soul.
Mark Turman 41:30
Yeah, so, so helpful reminds me You know, I started meditating on something Jesus said, When he said, you know, you need to ask, seek and knock. And just pondering those words for a while it started to become clear to me that we only ask when we’re humble, when we actually come to a place of acknowledging I need this and my life is not going to get better unless I humble myself, you know, my wife gets on me all the time. Why won’t you ask for directions? Why? Why? Why won’t you read the directions before you put something together? So there has to be a humility those. Yeah, that’s right. We don’t need directions where guys? Yeah, so there needs to be a humility. There needs to be an intentionality, which is what you were talking about that seeking implies some form of intentionality, some form of intensity. And then the last part of this, that Jesus talked about knocking, knocking implies that you believe somebody is on the other side of the door, you don’t, why would you knock on a door that you don’t think someone on the other side is there to open it right. And that’s, that’s the act of faith of believing that through the Spirit of God that he is actually there to listen to respond to engage. And, you know, one of the tools that I use, I have a reading plan, like you do and some other tools that I use, but I, I have a simple three by three piece of colored paper I put down beside my breakfast every morning. And there’s been several studies, particularly in recent years that gratitude helps us to live better, helps us to live longer. And so I’ll just write down three or four things that I was grateful for in the last 24 hours. Sometimes it’s as simple as a good cup of coffee and a hot shower. But hopefully it gets a little deeper than that. But just trying to realize that gratitude is a spiritual practice, and not just simply a spiritual feeling. And then recently, I heard like you get you to comment on this, I heard a theologian talking about the connection between gratitude and lamenting. One of the words I think, Jim, that is growing, in my own experience is just a learning of what it means to lament. And the way that this theologian was talking about it, he basically was contending that lamenting or grief is kind of the other side of the coin of gratitude, that when we’re expressing our gratitude for what God has done, and is doing in our midst, we turn around and lament to him, those things that are still undone or still broken, in our own lives or in our world. Just you know, in thinking about that, even today, just thought, you know what things going on in Ukraine are so big. And you just wonder how long is this terrible experience going to go on in this war? And and lamenting becomes a way of just bringing back those longings and aches that are deep in our soul that we’re hoping will will soon turn out to be redeemed and to be justified? Is there is you think he’s on the right track in that way?
Jim Denison 44:34
Absolutely. Yeah. As you know, Mark, there are a lot of laments in the Psalms. One of the reasons I’m so grateful for the Psalms is their honesty, their transparency. I’m reading the book of Job right now. Well, it’s hard to read the book of Job and not see lament on pretty much every chapter and understandably so. Right? Well, I’ve often said to people that every word in the Bible is there for your sake, not just for their sake. Joe didn’t need to write this stuff down in case he might forget. That at one point in his life, he lost his entire race. Children all this present, he didn’t need to be reminded of that someday. So he wrote it down in case somebody forgets this, the Holy Spirit led job to write this for our sake, not just for his sake. But these lamento. There is a model for us as an example for us that first of all, it’s okay to ask hard questions. In Isaiah one, the Lord says, Come let us reason together. The Hebrew says, Come, let us argue it out. From the cross, Jesus could cry, Oh, my God, my God, why have You forsaken Me and remain sinless? It’s okay to ask hard questions. The Lord knows our heart anyway. So lament, first of all, gives us a chance to be honest with God and with ourselves. I think Second of all, it gives us a chance to be specific about those places where we need God to be more of God in our lives, where we need his help, where we need to be praying where we need to be trusting him. Labette moves us into specificity that we could pray, and then we could act in ways that are more transparent. And then last lament gives us an opportunity to to be in community. These limits in Scripture are often shared in community and then we bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. When I hear your lament, I can be grateful for the places in my life where I’m not there, and where I can seek to be an answer to your prayer. At that point, I was in a restaurant the other day and saw a sign on the on the wall that hasn’t left me it said, what you’re taking for granted today, someone else is praying for what you take for granted, someone else is praying for I take piece for granted in Dallas, someone in Ukraine is praying for that right now. So look at what they’re praying for be grateful that you don’t have to pray for that. Help them pray for it, help you an answer to that prayer. And then that limit might turn to gratitude in their heart, even as it makes you more grateful in your own life.
Mark Turman 46:37
Yeah, absolutely. What a good word. Last, last thing we want to mention before we wrap up here is you mentioned in your talk that what God is doing in you and teaching you is something you can share with others. You mentioned job a minute ago that he wrote this down for us. And the Bible mentions that about all of the Bible that these things were recorded. So that we might learn and grow, how to relate to them reminds me of, of, you know, the reminder somebody gave me if you want to know how to pray, listen to other people pray. That’s why we read the Psalms, it’s you know, we, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention our favorite little prayer book by John Bailey of diary of private prayer, I recommended it to a group of people over the last few days. That that’s, that’s something that God gives us so that we can give it to others we can share it with others in our testimony becomes a witness and encouragement to them. And that’s that’s how we pass it on. Right?
Jim Denison 47:31
How growth cool, stay connected other goals to stay lit, you spread a mountain, they go out. It’s really that simple. To stay in love to isolate. He loves to draw us apart in our existential this culture contributes to that. This idea, it’s all about me. And now I’m back to that transactional relationship with God that the Greeks would have us have, really God wants us to be in community and family and relationship. There’s no image of the church in the Bible, that’s not collective. Someone said, there’s no solos in the book of Revelation, which is good news for me because it can’t sing anyway, right? But this idea that we’re supposed to be in this together was always God’s intention, a body with many parts of bind with many branches. So look for someone who will be grateful for you and with you. Look for someone with whom you can lament today. Ask God to help you take your next step to know him and make him known. And I promise you he’ll answer that prayer.
Mark Turman 48:21
What a good word to end on. So look around and say, you know, it’s not, you’re not supposed to be the end result. You know, we’re not reservoirs of blessing. We’re rivers of blessing. It’s got to come, right. We want it to come to us, but it ultimately needs to come through us. And that’s why God has us here for this time. And for this opportunity of being Salt and Light for him as we talk about so often. Jim, thank you for sharing with us and for giving us some insight into what it means to yearn for God to long for him on a daily basis to be fresh in our relationship with Him. Thanks for sharing with us and we hope it’s been a blessing to our audience. And we look forward to you being back with us again soon. If you liked and were helped by what we shared today. Please rate review us and pass this on to others, that it might be an encouragement to them as well. God bless you. We’ll see you next time on the Denison Forum Podcast.