A recently published book asks When Did We Start Forgetting God? The Root of the Evangelical Crisis and Hope for the Future. Mark Galli has written this book from the perspective of having edited for many years the leading evangelical periodical Christianity Today. No doubt, like everyone, he has his own bias but it would be foolish to jettison such a fundamental question because we don’t like the messenger.
Galli speaks of forgetting God as maintaining activity for God without a single-minded desire for God. We can have words, activities and doctrines that all relate to God but not this passion that should energize all we do. This desire for God did indeed characterize the evangelical movement in the past. Today evangelicals are known for our activism, social values, mission, focus on conversion, church planting techniques and so on. Yet while the passion is here and there in some individuals, it’s not what we are known for. We live in a world that excludes the transcendent, there could not be a greater tragedy than to become of that world without realising it.
There are many in the world who reject or merely neglect God altogether. They do not consider that God is all-present, all-just, all-holy and all-powerful. They do not set God before them; they do not remember God as they ought. But this may also be true in a measure of those who profess God.
We cannot hope to consider the full extent of practically forgetting God and its impact. Perhaps it is something to return to on another occasion. We can, however, address some basic considerations. What then does it mean to set God always before us in our everyday life? In this updated extract, Archibald Skeldie briefly covers some valuable points in relation to this.
1. Set God’s Will Before You as the Rule of Your Actions
Those who set God before them look to the will of God as the rule of their actions. As many as follow this rule will have mercy and peace on them Having regard to God’s will involves the following noteworthy things.
(a) Seek to Please God Rather than Man
A Christian should so look to please God that they have no regard to pleasing man. That is to say, they must not do anything offensive to God in order to please man. They must not omit anything that may please the Lord even though by doing it, they greatly offend man.
It would have been good for Joab if he had so deeply considered the matter of Uriah as not offend God in order to please his king. This was better considered by Peter and John, who asked the Jews to judge whether it was better to obey God, than men. For seeing none can serve two masters, it is the best and wisest course to serve the best and worthiest master. The early Church father Gregory asked how can you give like service to those that are so unlike each other; mortal men and the eternal God?
(b) Seek to Conform Your Will to God’s
Those who do the will of God and makes it the rule of their actions, should not be desirous to conform God’s will to theirs. Rather they should strive to conform their will to God’s will. If this is how earthly employees should conduct themselves towards their earthly masters, how much more ought it so to be towards God, their heavenly Master. Augustine says that we are God’s true servants if we are ready to will what we hear rather than hear what we will.
A Christian must carefully consider this, not only in abstaining from things that ought to be avoided, but likewise in doing things that ought to be performed. They should avoid the one because they are forbidden and do the other because they are commanded of the Lord. By this means a Christian gives testimony of sincere obedience in the sight of God. Augustine also said that they are truly obedient who do not enquire into what sort of thing is commanded but are merely content to know that it is commanded.
2. Set the Glory of God Before You as the Goal of Your Actions
In order that a Christian may set God before him, it is not only required that they consider the will of God as the rule of their actions. They must also consider the glory of God as goal of their actions. This manifests the faithfulness and sincerity of God’s servants. They are those who will obtain their master’s approval in the day of reckoning. A Christian may be said to set the glory of God before them as the end of his actions, when they are so zealously protective of the honour of God, that they will not do anything to dishonour Him. Even though it would bring them the greatest profit and benefit possible they will not do it. Neither will they omit anything by which God should be honoured, even though by doing so they would incur both harm and shame.
In the parable of the talents, they servant respected their master’s honour so much that they gave into his hands both the talents they had received and those they had gained. They left the distribution of their rewards to their master’s discretion. Happy is the Christian who can say with Christ that, in finishing the work which God has given them to do, they have glorified God on earth. They may be well assured, that just as those that dishonour God will come to shame, so those that honour Him will be honoured by Him (). Augustine says, in commenting on John 12:26, that the Father of Christ will honour the servant of Christ with that great honour, that they will be with His Son. This happiness will never fail or fall away.
3. Set the Light of God’s Word and Spirit Before You, to Lead You
Those that set God before them must be led by the light of His Word and Spirit. The Word of God is a light to our feet and a lantern to our paths. It gives light to those that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. David requests the Lord to teach him His ways and to lead him in a right path, because of his enemies. Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit is the anointing that teaches us all things. He leads us into all truth. This is not to be understood of extraordinary but ordinary revelation. This is when by illumination He makes us understand the true meaning of the written Word of God so that we may flee the evil to be avoided and follow the good which is commanded.
4. Set God’s Divine Attributes Before You
Those that set God before them must remember God in His attributes of being all-present, all-just and all-powerful. They must consider that God is present everywhere, to take notice both of the inward and outward conduct of all people, whether it is good or evil. Augustine says that God is all eye, to see all things; all hand, to work all things; and all foot, to walk everywhere.
You must likewise remember that the righteous Lord will not allow neither the evil doings of individuals to be unpunished, nor the good doings of individuals to be unrewarded. The Church says in the book of Lamentations, “The Lord is righteous, for I have rebelled” (Lamentations 1:18). The apostle says, “God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love” (Hebrews 6:10).
Remember also the power of Almighty God. He does whatsoever He wills in heaven, and earth. Indeed, He can do all that He can will, without limitation. He can punish sinners for their iniquity no matter how great they may be and no matter how great a multitude they join with in sin. By His power, God protects His Saints in their greatest danger and difficulty. He comforts and strengthens them in their greatest trouble and calamity and is able to satisfy their desire exceeding abundantly.
Why Should We Strive to Set God Before Us?
There are three reasons why a Christian should carefully strive to set God before them in this way.
(a) This is the great evidence of God’s people
Spiritual people like David always set God always before them, but the wicked and worldly, like the enemies of David, do not set God before them at all. They live in the world without hope, and without God, and by their conduct they declare to the world that they are devoid of the fear of God. Yet when Christians set God before them, it is evidence of their effectual calling. They have been turned from the power of Satan to God and from the power of darkness to the kingdom of the Son of God. They are called out of darkness into the marvellous light of Christ.
(b) This is the great happiness of God’s people
Consider the happiness of those who set God before them against the misery of those who do not set God before them. The happiness of the one is that as they set God before them, so He sets them before Him. In those things which are mutually done by God to man and by man to God, the Lord is always the one who begins. If we do our part, we may know for certain that God will do His. There is mutual love between God and His saints, but God begins first. As the apostle John says, “We love him, because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). And those that love God may know that they are beloved of God. God has already chosen the person for His portion that chooses God for their portion. God seeks us before we can seek Him.
The Lord sets before Himself anyone who sets God before them by doing His will, seeking His honour, following His light and remembering His attributes. He sets them before Him by a high estimation of them; tender and earnest love towards them; and by a fatherly, providential care about them (Isaiah 49:16).
But the misery of those who do not set God before them is correspondingly as great as the happiness of those who do. In a word as they were careless about walking as in His presence while they live, so they will be for ever banished from the presence of God and the glory of His power.
(c) This is the great activity of God’s people
This is required in relation to our living and walking in a spiritual way. Christians must not walk like the Gentiles who do not know God (Ephesians 4:17). Rather they must walk like Zachariah and Elizabeth in all the commandments of God (Luke 1:5-6). This is called walking worthy of the Lord, walking in the Spirit and after the Spirit. It is walking with God, as Enoch did. It is walking before God, as Abraham enjoyed (Genesis 15:1). It is impossible for anyone to walk in this way unless they set God before them. Only by this will they know the path in which they must walk, the way they should walk and the destination towards which they ought to walk. In all these respects we may make conscience of walking in the sight of God by walking in His commandments with a perfect heart. Such walk from strength to strength towards Zion where they will see the Lord of Hosts. They walk worthily of the Lord, pleasing Him in all things, seeking to be fruitful in good works and increase in the knowledge of God.
Skeldie expresses the desire: “May God in His infinite mercy bring all our souls, for the sake of Jesus into this heavenly and holy condition”. This is what we should want for ourselves and for others—for the glory of God. We need to set God in Christ before us in everything. The engrained habits of virtually forgetting God are not easily broken. They have influenced so much of what we do and think but setting God constantly before us helps to address the problem at its root.