How Rich is God?
And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19 NRSV)
The title of this piece may sound like a silly question at first. But as I was driving yesterday this verse came to my mind in a whole new dimension I had never considered before.
For most of my life I have been familiar with this verse which is one of the most commonly claimed promises of the entire Bible. Of course it is most often associated with needs revolving around finances with which I have been intimately familiar for many years. So naturally whenever I claim this promise it usually centers on seeking God's blessings for more money so I can in turn use that to pay my bills, provide food, shelter and basic necessities for my family. That is how most of our minds have been trained to think. The principle of economics compels us to believe that we have to use money which allows us to make our own decisions about meeting our needs instead of dealing directly with them.
We use money as a translation factor and even a buffer to isolate ourselves from direct interaction with other people like we might experience in a society that doesn't use such a concept. For instance, in what we call primitive societies of the world, people live simply and address their needs directly instead of using the indirect method of converting everything over to artificial economic value and then translating it again back into something more tangible that they purchase.
I explain this to expose unspoken assumptions that are so often linked to this verse in our minds that might otherwise go unquestioned. When we read this verse with its reference to God's riches in glory, we generally assume that it is talking about financial resources or at least God's ability to give us what we are asking for which almost always involves economics of some sort or at least material possessions. But is this really the truth we should see in this verse? Or is there something far more profound and deep and significant here that may be easy to overlook?
Having asked that question, I immediately am reminded of my own reactions when others have tried to unpack this verse by applying spiritual applications to it. Deep in my heart I always felt they were trying to spiritualize it away and weaken its effectiveness to deliver the goods that I wanted to get from this promise. That approach usually left me less than excited as I felt people were trying to make excuses to get God off the hook when I didn't get the answers to the prayers for whatever it was I felt I needed. I have heard reasonings where people try to figure out why prayers are not answered and usually it has to do with our not fulfilling some condition or not going about our prayer life in the right way or some other explanation. But the bottom line usually came back to our heart doubting whether God really had our best interest in mind and they used spiritual language as a means of letting Him wriggle out of keeping His promises. Sounds like another classic scheme of the enemy to keep us from knowing God, doesn't it?
At any rate, I want to get back to what came to me yesterday about this verse. I have already admitted that the riches mentioned in this verse are almost always interpreted as meaning the economic kind of riches. So the logic progresses that since God owns everything to start with, then if I can figure out how to ask Him correctly and figure out how to fulfill any and all attached preconditions He requires of those who come to Him with requests, then through His supernatural powers and abilities He will somehow re-appropriate money or resources from some other person in my direction. Sort of sounds similar to governments promoting the philosophy of socialism or communism where there is forced redistribution of wealth, doesn't it.
But there seems to be a catch in that line of thinking here. Paul is talking about riches that are intricately linked to something called glory, and in addition this is all somehow connected to something termed “in Christ Jesus”. All of these terms and phrases alert me to other things God has been showing me over the past few years that seem extremely significant when it comes to living in intimate connection with Him. Being in Christ is an issue I am very keen to learn much more about. And the word glory is also one of those religious terms that has of late begun to open my awareness to much more than simply a glow of light around someone's head like medieval paintings imply.
The concept of glory is one of the most misunderstood and under-appreciated elements of truth that religion has obscured for too long. Some time ago I began to explore this idea of what glory really is and what I began to discover was very different than the typical assumptions about a bright light or fame. In fact, I am starting to see glory like a doorway through which we can receive enormous resources of truth, love, light and everything else we were designed to enjoy and need for thriving. Glory is a large concept that encompasses so many things we may have tended to overlook. And I believe this is no accident but rather a deliberate scheme of the enemy to prevent us from experiencing the power of God in our lives.
One of the best definitions relating to glory I know of in the Bible is when Moses begged God to show him His glory. What is revealing is the response of God, not just to the request but in the way that God showed Moses His glory. Take a look at it as described in Exodus.
Then Moses said, "I pray You, show me Your glory!" And He said, "I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion."
The LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD. Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished...." (Exodus 33:18-19; 34:5-7)
God's glory is inescapably a description of who He is – His character and reputation. God's glory is the essence of Himself, not something connected to Him like light or power or financial resources. So when I read that God will provide all my needs according to His riches in glory, it begins to soak into my dull thinking that the riches Paul is speaking of here must have something to do with God's character more than it has to do with finances, as disappointing as that may seem at first to some.
I am not denying the fact that the context for this verse has to do with physical provisions that we usually associate with finances and basic human needs. Paul had just received physical provision from the Philippians and was thanking them for it while assuring them that God would also provide for their needs as well. But there is much more in this verse than simply a promise we can use to leverage petitions to God for whatever we think we might need. There is much more to this verse that can be found in the remainder of it where the glory and in Christ Jesus are inseparably connected.
First of all, Paul is writing this to people whom I believe may have understood more clearly the truth about what it means to live in Christ much better than most of us today. This concept of being in Christ is not just a theological phrase designed for seminary professors or preachers. I believe there is much we all need to both learn and experience personally that we have failed to perceive thus far because we have not taken seriously our need to grasp the real significance of this concept. This is much more than a theological phrase but is really a condition of the mind and heart – an intimate relationship. It is what Jesus urged on His disciples during His last hours with them as He shared with them their need to abide in Him and allow God to abide in them. John 14-17 is filled with instruction and insights that are designed to encourage us to enter into this relationship called in Christ.
When I see Paul here adding that phrase on the end of this assurance about God providing for our needs, I sense that maybe we are still too ignorant of much deeper needs for which we still lack sufficient appetite for satisfaction. We are so consumed with wanting God to meet our desires or arguing over what is a want versus what is a need that we may miss encountering the true glory of God that Moses craved to experience. And while God is certainly interested in providing for our basic needs in this life and even satisfying many of our temporal desires, if we are not drawn toward a much deeper level of awareness of our true needs we may be lost while thinking we have this Christian life all pretty much figured out.
When Paul says here that the riches that God will provide for me are in glory; and as I am learning, His glory is really all about His character and who He is and what He is really like – then I start to sense that the kind of riches Paul wants me to desire will be found in coming to have my mind and especially my heart opened to the real needs I have that are sometimes too deep to even articulate. Far beyond basic needs which Jesus urged us to quit worrying about, I need to ask God to awaken an intense hunger to encounter God's real glory like Moses did; for to seek for the far greater riches of true glory is to encounter a God who is passionately desirous of imparting far more to me than simply sustenance or provisions for my physical necessities. God longs for me to begin to appreciate who He really is at the heart level, to feel a passionate hunger to know the real truth about God which is the very essence of what the word glory really involves.
This brings me back to what I hastily jotted down yesterday to remind myself of what had come to my attention on the road. When I think of God supplying all of my needs and bring my requests to Him in prayer, what kind of God is my mind imagining Him to be anyway? Just how rich do I really believe God to be? And when I use the term rich, what does my heart first think about? If the word rich always connects first to a financial concept, then I am likely still immature in my relationship with Him and He may need to take measures to wake me up to my much deeper needs of which I may b answer my prayers for wants and needs or I felt afraid that maybe He was punishing me or manipulating me in some way to extort what He wanted out of me.
The dark views I have long had of God were anything but what I now am starting to see as the true riches of His glory. It has taken far too many years for Him to introduce Himself to me and show me His real beauty and attractiveness. But gratefully He is beginning to get through to my dull senses and past my confusion about what He is really like. The more I come to know about the real truth about Him and how He feels towards sinners like me, the more desire is awakening within me to want the kind of riches that are found in His true glory – the glory of how good He really is and how passionately He is seeking to be connected to every one of us at the heart level.
More and more I find myself resonating with the passionate cry of Moses, “God, show me your glory!” I truly want more and more to know this God who longs to provide far more than just simple pleasures or physical necessities as much as He can do that without any problem. Where He encounters the most difficulty is in the arena of convincing my heart that He really is the answer to all the deepest longings that, left unfulfilled often cause me to malfunction in my relationships with those around me.
I am coming to see that possibly every internal trigger and sin is rooted in some misunderstanding and disconnect in my thinking about the true richness of God's character. I know that may sound philosophical or spiritualizing at first. But the more I become aware of how terribly off I have been most of my life in my perceptions about who God is and what He wants with me, the more hungry I am becoming to know and experience the kind of glory that I am now seeing that defines His very essence.
To come back to the heart issue I had for so many years – doubting that God really intends to provide for my physical needs and desires, I now realize that my heart viewed God as someone looking for excuses to not bless me rather than a passionate God filled with genuine desire to clean out of my heart the lies about Him and about myself that inhibits my capacity to appreciate and love Him. While having that dark view of God in my heart, He was compelled to balance providing my requests against my need to have a deeper knowledge of Him. As my frustration pressured me to look for better answers when my requests seemed to go unnoticed, He could then draw me into a better perspective of what He is really like and give me more of the riches that I really needed.
Recently I have been seeking a heart practice of intentionally believing at a deeper level that God is my faithful provider no matter what circumstances may suggest about Him. I am learning to trust His heart, His words, His promises while resisting the habit of basing that trust on how situations suggest is real. I have been learning that my gratitude has too long been dependent on what I thought was 'evidence' – blessings that I wanted, that showed up on time and just the way I wanted them. Rather, I am now focusing my attention on choosing to believe that God is my provider all the time; that the words and promises of Jesus are real and valid and are more true than the world around me. And as I have persistently kept focusing my mind and heart and attention more deliberately on God, His character, His true glory and His good intentions towards me, I have found that my faith is growing more, my spiritual perceptions are sharpening and that life is making so much more sense than ever before.
How rich is God? Our answer depends on personal perspective. The God that we worship is inevitably the God limited by our willingness to believe what He reveals to us about Himself. To a great extent the God we imagine in our hearts is largely shaped by our upbringing, our early caretakers, the way authorities in our lives have treated us in the past and many other factors that distort our understanding of the truth about Him. All of these things inhibit our belief in the true riches of God which is His heart's thoughts about us and His desire for us to be drawn into close intimacy with Himself.
I have been coming to see that the basic concept of economics is a counterfeit system of thinking that may be designed to distance us from our Creator and alienate us from the love He longs for us to experience. One fascinating insight I found in the description of the fall of Lucifer as he was morphing into become the devil, was the fact that he got caught up in the practice of trading.
By the abundance of your trade you were internally filled with violence, and you sinned; therefore I have cast you as profane from the mountain of God.... (Ezekiel 28:16)
As I consider the implications of this fact, I have to admit that too often I want to employ this verse in Philippians to get something I feel I need. Yet in too many ways I am unduly influenced by this concept of economics. I want money or something specific so that I can then appropriate it to satisfy some craving in my life. Money allows me to make my own decisions about what I really need instead of taking my needs directly to God and discussing them with Him. That awakening to this truth has allowed me to revisit many of my perceptions and to have new requests emerging in my prayers.
When I feel a craving associated with temptations of the flesh, pride or some other area of weakness, instead of trying to suppress these desires I now feel more free turn to God and ask Him what deeper legitimate need is driving this inappropriate desire. I am coming to see that my true needs are much deeper than I ever thought and that God's intense desire is to make me more aware of how He wants to meet every need that craves satisfaction inside of me. Whether He provides the answer through another appointed channel in my life or whether He provides it to me directly, what I need to learn is that I must wean myself away from the deceptions that economics brings into my relationships. I can learn to talk with God about my deeper needs instead of begging for something that I can then redirect to meet my needs in ways I think they should be met.
So, how rich is God? In my perceptions He is as rich as I have come to know the truth about His character. Of course He is far more than that, but the image of God contained in my own psyche is as big as I am able to perceive Him until I am willing to let go of the restraints of the little box I keep Him in inside to allow Him to reveal Himself far beyond any previous perceptions I have had about Him. God is constantly seeking to expand our awareness of His richness, riches that are only found as we come to see the real glory of who He is, what He is like, how He feels and thinks and interacts with all of His children.
Jesus did many acts of healing when He was here on this earth and continues to do them even today. But after each act of physical healing, the person healed still ended up dying at some point in time. Even Lazarus who was raised from the dead ended up dying again. So what was the real purpose for all these healing miracles if the people only succumbed to the curse of death later on?
The main reason that Jesus performed all of His miracles was to awaken within hearts a a greater awareness of the much deeper and more important needs and longings of our heart. I realize this may sound like spiritualizing away practical needs we think we have in our lives, but this is why Jesus addressed practical problems even though the solutions were often far from permanent. It was to make us aware of the real truth about the riches of God, not just to make us temporarily comfortable for a few years longer on this earth.
All of the miracles of God for meeting our physical needs are meant to propel us to want to know this God better and to find out for ourselves how good He really is. Jesus hoped with each miracle He performed that the people involved and all those who might hear about it would be attracted to want to draw closer to a God who was willing to bless them in this way. But the real purpose of meeting any physical need is to attract us into the eternal kind of living that is far more real and satisfying than anything our minds can grasp when we only live in what we call the tangible world. Eternal life is not nebulous and ethereal and disconnected from reality like Satan has led us to believe; eternal life is more real, more tangible, more powerful and vivid and satisfying than anything we are yet experiencing now.
But here is the really wonderful news – eternal life is not future but needs to begin right here and now. That is what Paul was talking about when he mentioned the in Christ concept at the end of this promise of God providing for all of our needs. Jesus put it very plainly when He gave us the explicit definition of eternal life.
This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. (John 17:3)
So what are the riches in glory that is promised to each of us? Well, I looked up the word glory in the Greek and here is Strong's definition of the word.
Doxa – dignity, glory(-ious), honour, praise, worship.
In the very next verse after the one we started with above I find this statement.
Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Philippians 4:20)
I am coming to discover that worship is what all of us do whether we realize it or not. Worship is the act of created, intelligent beings looking to someone or something from which they expect to receive life, provision, satisfaction, fulfillment or anything else that promises to meet their needs. A god is any source we subconsciously believe will satisfy a craving, a sense of emptiness that we may experience. There are actually many gods that we tend to worship, and as we become aware of this it is easier to see why God instructed us to not allow any other gods to come before Him (Exodus 20:2).
I have come to see that instead of denying that there are other gods, we must rather learn to keep every other channel of provision (gods) subservient to making God our highest priority and recognizing that He is really the one who assigns the various channels for meeting the needs in our lives. As long as I keep in mind that everything really originates from Him and that He should be the primary focus of my praise, ap my life.
I want my internal picture of God to be far richer than it has ever been before. I want to enter into greater riches of His glory, to get the gold from Him that He invites me to have, to put on the white clothing He provides that covers up all the shame of my nakedness, my fears, my feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy. To feel whole, loved, honored and wanted by God is the greatest riches I could ever hope for. I can be confident that if God views me as a most precious son that He will also make sure I have everything else that I need because I am His representative before the universe. And as His representative His reputation is involved in how I live and act and present Him.
My God is really rich and is getting richer all the time in my mind. I invite you to come to see this God in the riches that are found in His glory, to discover the incredible riches of His grace, His goodness, His compassion, His unfailing love.
And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19 NRSV)
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him. (Romans 10:12)
O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:33 NRSV)
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints. (Ephesians 1:18)
...that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man. (Ephesians 3:16)
...the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:26-27)