September 21, 2023

Knowing God: A Matter of the Heart

Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

— Proverbs 4:7, NIV

Have you ever struggled with the idea of what it means to truly “know” God? How is it possible to know the Creator of the Universe? Can he even be known? Does he want to know me?

As a young Christian, I remember being told that if I read enough scripture I would know God better and develop a deeper relationship with him—that whatever was deposited in my head would eventually drop to my heart. Thirty years later, my thoughts about that statement are…complicated.

For years I knew something was missing from my faith journey. I wanted assurance. I wanted to know I belonged. I wanted to know I was loved. I knew what the Bible said. I could quote all the “right” verses. I just couldn’t believe it for myself. I tried so hard to force the knowledge in my head, all the memorized scripture and good doctrine, into my heart. Nothing seemed to budge, and I began to wonder what was wrong with me.

What I eventually realized was that I had it backwards. Jamming information into my mind, even if that information was scripture, could never replace a heart encounter with God. Why? Because God cares more about our hearts than anything else. He desires intimate relationship—something that cannot occur through mere mental assent.

What I’m NOT saying is “You don’t need to read your Bible.” On the contrary, spending time in God’s Word is essential to our spiritual growth, a non-negotiable. We can’t know God without knowing his Word because Jesus IS the Word. However, it is also possible to know scripture with our head without truly knowing God in our heart. Knowledge about someone is not the same as knowing them. Even the enemy knows scripture—it is the nature of our relationship with God that matters.

The French language has two verbs that mean “to know.” The first, savoir, means to know something with your intellect, the way you know the answer to a math problem or a trivia question. The second, connaître, is relational or experiential, like knowing a friend or a favorite place. I would say that I “know” Chicago in this sense, not because I’ve read about it or seen pictures, but because I have lived there, worked there, and experienced first hand what I like and don’t like about the city. I am familiar with its character, its essence.

When our relationship with God neglects the importance of experiential encounter, it looks much more like savoir than connaître. It becomes more about the head than the heart. Forcing information, no matter how important, into our heads will never make us wise. The process of gaining wisdom must begin with God—and it must take place within the heart.

One of my favorite verses is Proverbs 4:23. Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. It is a wonderful reminder that the condition of our hearts matters to God. Why? Because our hearts are the very foundation of our relationship with him—the place where he deposits his wisdom.

Belonging to the category of biblical wisdom literature, Proverbs is full of references to wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. I used to think these words were synonymous, entirely interchangeable. But as I’ve allowed God to work in my heart, I’ve begun to see that understanding transcends knowledge. Understanding comes by way of wisdom and penetrates far deeper than knowledge. In short, head knowledge is a vastly different thing than heart understanding—the latter has the power to transform our very being.

Earlier this week my husband and I had the opportunity to discuss matters of wisdom with one of the wisest couples we know. Our own understanding barely scratches the surface when compared to theirs, but we are grateful to know people who can walk alongside us, helping to guide us deeper. Yet, true understanding cannot come from even the wisest of people, but only from God.

As Proverbs 4:7 implores us: Get wisdom! Get understanding! All we need to do is ask. God does the rest.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5, NIV)

If your heart desires to go deeper into God’s wisdom, to discover the mind of Christ, pray with me today:

Loving Father,

I want to know you more. I want to know your heart and your ways.

Open the eyes of my heart and help me see with your perspective.

Grant me wisdom and bring me deeper into true understanding.

Open my heart to revelation.

Help me experience the overflow of your love that renews our minds and brings us peace.

I thank you that you give generously to all who ask.

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