I would like to begin this morning by reading a text from Isaiah that highlights the God-centeredness of God. Perhaps more than any other text, this one calls attention to the supremacy of God to God. It’s Isaiah 48:9-11, and God is declaring why he has chosen to have mercy on the people of Israel in their rebellion and distress.
For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not like silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.
The Aim of This Address
The burden I want to deliver this morning is this: God is a very important person and he does not like being taken for granted.
Suppose you ask a man — say, the president of a company — “Under God, who’s the most important person in your life?” And suppose he says, “Probably my vice president for marketing.” And you say, “What about your wife?” And he says, “O . . . I just assume that. Sure, that goes without saying."
It may be that a few people would assume that it was his abounding affection and respect for his wife that kept her from coming to mind. But most of us, especially his wife, I think, would assume the opposite: namely, she didn’t come to mind because she’s not of paramount importance in his mind. She goes without saying because she goes without significance.
And we can be certain that she does not like it. She does not say, “I feel so loved and so honored because my husband never thinks to mention me among his top priorities. I am like the air he breathes — he never gives me a thought.” That’s not what she says. What she says is this: “If I don’t come to your mind to talk about, then I am not important to you. And if you think that I am honored by being taken for granted, then you are wrong, because I’m not.”
Acknowledging God Honors Him
It is possible to take important things for granted — like oxygen. But nothing is honored by being taken for granted. It is no tribute to the importance of anything in our hearts when we say, “Oh, we assume that.” To be assumed may make a person feel indispensable, but it does not make a person feel treasured.
God is a very important person and he does not like being taken for granted.
Now, I hope you don’t feel too defensive right now — as though I thought all journalists or media people take God for granted. I have no particular bone to pick with journalists. I just think almost all Americans take God for granted. As I look out over the whole scene of American culture — secular and religious — it seems to me that God is so pervasively neglected and so stunningly absent and so consistently assumed by those who know he exists and disregarded by those who don’t, that it is almost impossible for our generation to realize that something is appallingly and unspeakably amiss.
If you were educators, I’d bring the same message. If you were social workers and psychologists and counselors, I’d bring the same message. And if you were pastors, I’d bring the same message. Lest you feel picked on let me say, especially if you were pastors!
An Amazing Word From an Unlikely Source
I read recently a quote from Charles Misner, a scientific specialist in general relativity theory, about Albert Einstein’s view of preaching back in the ‘40’s and ‘50’s. I was stunned at the prophetic force of these words.
I do see the design of the universe as essentially a religious question. That is, one should have some kind of respect and awe for the whole business. . . . It’s very magnificent and shouldn’t be taken for granted. In fact, I believe that is why Einstein had so little use for organized religion, although he strikes me as a basically very religious man. He must have looked at what the preachers said about God and felt that they were blaspheming. He had seen much more majesty than they had ever imagined, and they were just not talking about the real thing. My guess is that he simply felt that religions he’d run across did not have proper respect . . . for the author of the universe. (Quoted in First Things, Dec. 1991, No. 18, p. 63 [italics added]).
If that was true 50 years ago, I think it is ten times as true today. God is not the subject matter of most preaching, and even when he is, some who have tasted his majesty are often tempted to say, “This is blaspheming.”
It is not my burden today to isolate the peculiar ways journalism can neglect God. We all face the same essential challenge. My burden today is simply to declare that God is an important person, and he does not like to be taken for granted.
Some of the Many Ways God is Important
God is an important person because he created everything in the universe, including all the things and all the people that we think are important and newsworthy. “Behold, I myself have created the smith who blows the fire of coals, and brings out a weapon for its work; and I have created the destroyer to ruin” (Isaiah 54:16). God is important because everything newsworthy — from inventors to weapons to calamities — he has created.
God is an important person because he upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3) and controls the affairs of men and nations with conscious purpose and plan. “He changes the times and epochs; he removes kings and establishes kings” (Daniel 2:21). “He does according to his will among the inhabitants of earth, and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What hast thou done?”’ (Daniel 4:35).
God is an important person because he knows all things — all motives, all causes, all designs, all effects, all structures, all secrets, all possibilities. “I am God and there is no other; I am God and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my pleasure.”’ (Isaiah 46:9-10).
God is an important person because he is the only path to eternal life and the only source of everlasting joy. “Thou dost show me the path of life; in thy presence is fullness of joy, at thy right hand are pleasures forever more” (Psalm 16:11).
God is an important person because in his Son he stands at the center of human history and is the measure of all truth and all beauty and all goodness, and on his saving will hangs the destiny of every human being (John 14:6).
It is simply impossible to overstate the importance of God.
God Means for His Importance to be Proclaimed
And he does not like being taken for granted. The psalm does not say, “Great is the Lord and greatly to be taken for granted.” It says, “Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised” (Psalm 96:4).
God makes known his displeasure with being taken for granted by telling us again and again that his aim in all that he does is to be honored and praised and glorified and loved and treasured and trusted and sung and declared and confessed and enjoyed.
He tells us that no Christian should take him for granted, but should do everything — even the simplest, most basic things — to the glory of God (I Corinthians 10:31).
He tells us that the demons and the angels will not be able to take him for granted because every tongue in heaven and under the earth will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).
He tells us that not one nation of the world will be able to take him for granted: “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations” (Psalm 22:27-28).
He tells us that the Holy Spirit does not take him for granted, because when he comes he will devote all his divine energy to glorifying the Son of God (John 16:14); and Jesus does not take him for granted, but says, “For this purpose I have come to this hour: Father glorify your name” (John 12:27-28).
God's Own God-Centeredness
And most important of all, God does not take himself for granted: “For this very purpose I raised you up, that my name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth” (Romans 9:17).
Yet it’s not unusual for metropolitan newspapers to have an entire section devoted to sports and not one column devoted to God. Not one minute on prime time news. Not one course in 12 years of public education. Not one page in Time or Newsweek.
And how different is it with us evangelicals?
I’ve been to church growth seminars where he is not mentioned. I have heard talks on pastoral care where he is not mentioned. I have read strategies of recovery where he is not mentioned. I have students tell me of practical seminary courses where he is peripheral at best. I have read mission statements of major evangelical organizations and he is not there. And the explanation is always the same: “Oh, we take that for granted.”
The Message of My Life
So I admit very freely that I am on a crusade to say everywhere I can: God does not like to be taken for granted. It flies in the face of his eternal purposes – that he be known and loved and praised and enjoyed.
And it makes us superficial people. Superficial preachers and superficial journalists. If you leave the infinite, all-defining, all-controlling, all-pervasive God out of account, all understandings and all interpretations and all analyses are superficial. When the main thing is missing, what’s left is distorted and superficial, whatever it is.
And if someone says, “O that’s just religion. You can’t expect everything to be religion,” I answer, “It’s not religion. It’s reality. God made the world and everything in it. He owns the earth and everyone on it. He is the main actor in the world. He is guiding the history of every people and nation to their appointed goals. Everything, without exception, has to do with God, and gets its main meaning from God. And not to show this, but to take this for granted, is to be superficial.
A Concluding Word
I close with a personal exhortation.
When a man forgets to mention his wife as the most important person in his life under God, there is a defect in his love. And when a Christian can talk and write for hours and days about what is important in the world without mentioning God, there is a defect in that person’s love.
The healing of that defect, and the opposite of taking God for granted is an hour-by-hour reveling in God and savoring God and admiring God and loving God and treasuring God and standing in awe of God.
One discovery that, for me, has made all the difference in the world is that the reason God does not like being taken for granted is not only that it robs him of glory, but also that it robs me of joy. And perhaps the greatest discovery of all is that these two goals — God’s goal to be glorified and my desire to be satisfied — are not at odds. Because God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him.
So for me, and I pray for you, the truth that God is an important person and does not like to be taken for granted, has come to be not a threat but a declaration of the triumph of God’s sovereign purpose to glorify himself and satisfy his people in God.