They say that students and lovers of art will spend weeks sitting before a single masterpiece by one of the great artists. Some repeat this process year after year. To fully enjoy such a masterful work of art they deem it necessary to immerse themselves in a painting for prolonged periods of time. Austin Phelps, in The Still Hour, recounts a conversation he had with an admirer of one of Raphael’s great works of art. This man said he spent years studying that painting and is able to “discover some new beauty and a new joy.”
To me, an untrained and uncultured barbarian, it seems impossible that a person, even an expert or enthusiast, could spend weeks and weeks pouring over a piece of art and continue discovering something new, a “new beauty or joy.” To invest that kind of time, attention and appreciative scrutiny to something I believe myself to be so familiar with and find some never seen nuance, a part of the painting, a certain stroke of the brush, a use of color or other fine detail is almost unthinkable.
If there is that much beauty and intricate detail in a painting, a creation of man, how much truer of God’s creation, one so vast we have yet to discover its full splendor much less study and observe it. That begs the question. If creation is so expansive and magnificent, what does that say about the one who created it? Our feelings of familiarity can easily become blinders that shield our eyes and serve as anesthetic to dull our mind and cause us to feel flush with a malaise of laziness that refuses to look beyond what we have always seen. Yes, God does not change. The picture is set. He is and always will be who He has always been. He is immutable. There is comfort in that but as we approach this never-changing God there is a word of caution as well.
This God who does not change is also transcendent. He is much bigger than we could ever imagine. Job 11.7-8 says, “Do you think you can explain the mystery of God? Do you think you can diagram God Almighty? God is far higher than you can imagine, far deeper than you can comprehend, Stretching farther than earth’s horizons, far wider than the endless ocean.” There is a depth to the nature of God that we have yet to see and enjoy. You can set out to swim in the ocean that is God and find that after a life-long pursuit of knowing Him and His ways that your toe has only touched the first ripples of God’s majesty. Ten-thousand years into eternity we will have only waded beyond the shoreline and have yet to dive into the immensity of His glory.
If God is so big, can our bound minds comprehend a boundless God? They can’t. However, the impossibility is the very reason we keep coming back. There is a newness and a freshness to God, not because there is something new about God but because we see Him and experience Him in a way we have not done so before. It will seem as if we have discovered some new beauty and joy. Sometimes the joy comes in the rediscovery of a beauty that we have all but forgotten, one that God has framed in a new setting providing an even greater appreciation. As we grow so does our capacity for understanding and enjoying the person and work of our God
Let’s not approach God, His church, ministry, prayer, the Bible or our preaching with the small-minded and arrogant thoughts of I’ve seen all this before. Let’s not allow feelings of familiarity to anesthetize our spirits and dull our senses. Approach God with anticipation. Preach God with anticipation. Expect God to reveal more of Himself as we study and to our people as we preach Him.
A.W. Tozer in his book, The Knowledge of the Holy, said “what comes to mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. For this reason, the gravest question before the church is always God Himself…The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him…The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God…The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian Church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him – and her. In all her prayers and labors this should have first place. We do the greatest service to the next generation of Christians by passing on to them undimmed and undiminished that noble concept of God which we received from our Hebrew and Christian fathers of generations past.”
Because of that, I believe my first and primary task is to preach the Bible and say here is your God. I know that I will never preach God as big as He is…but I will keep trying. I will never preach Christ and His salvation as glorious as they truly are…but I will keep trying. I will never preach the sufficiency of God’s Spirit as He deserves…but I will keep trying. Words will fail. My passion will falter. My inadequacies will always be on display, but God will show Himself captivatingly beautiful and irresistible to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. May we be faithful to immerse our minds and our souls in the one great inexhaustible masterpiece of eternity, God Himself.