Knowing Like a Lion

To the Masai, faith is like a lion who pursues it prey, brings it down and enfolds it within itself.

The Masai have two words for ‘faith’ an old hunter once explained to the missionary Vincent Donovan. One called to a mind a white hunter with a high powered rifle who only sees the animal through a scope and brings it down from a hundred yards away. The other evokes another a lion, who chases down his prey, leaps onto its back, brings it down with its own claws, and enfolds the animal into itself. That, the old Masai hunter said, is the true meaning of faith.

I love Mark Gelinas’ sermons because they challenge me with unforgettable images such as this one. It struck me because I have long felt that I’ve only known God from a distance. I have been a Christian my entire life. Read the Bible from cover to cover. I even have a three year Seminary degree, but these attempts seem only to glimpse at God through a high-powered scope. I’ve studied him, but I do I know him like a lion? Would I recognize his voice if he spoke to me? Do I miss him if we go days without speaking? Do I love what he loves? Does my heart break for that which pains him? Do I pray his thoughts after him?

I want to reach behind my Bible and embrace the God who inspired its words. I want to punch through the invisible ceiling over my head when I pray and grab hold of him. I want to go beyond knowing things about him, to knowing him. But how do we get there?

Mark suggested that our journey begins with the humble words of young boy named Samuel, “speak [Lord], for your servant is listening.” We can’t know God, until we are prepared to listen to him. When I have found the time to pray, I notice that it is I that does all the talking. If God was speaking to me, how would I ever hear him?

So what would it look like to carve out space to listen to his voice? That question was put to the congregation, but no answers came to me, which was good, because it forced me to listen to my brothers and sisters. One person pointed out that Samuel only recognized the voice of God through Eli (1 Samuel 3:4-9). We often hear God through the people he has placed in our life. Others challenged us to sit quietly in the presence of God and listen for his voice. These are all things I am going to try. To pay attention to my wife and children. To listen to them. To invite them to speak into my life. To stop, pay attention, be silent and sit in the presence of God.

But I kept thinking about that lion. What could I add to that conversation? I also love to read and have cultivated a discipline of reading the Bible every day. How could I learn to read like a lion, and not like the white hunter, peering through a scope, collecting trophies that trumpet my “expert knowledge of God.” Could I hear God’s voice and meet the one calling to me through its words? I think we can.

The book of psalms paints the portrait of a man who has a ferocious knowledge of God.

Psalm 1:2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD (the Torah, the Scriptures) and on his law he meditates day and night.

I thought I understood this passage until Eugene Peterson pointed out in his book, Eat this Book, that the Hebrew word translated, ‘meditates’, is same word used to describe the low throaty growl a lion makes when guarding his prey. It is the rumbling as he slowing chews, savors and sucks the marrow out of his kill. That I believe is what it means to read like a lion. To read, to savor the words of God, to turn them over in our mind, to make his words a part of us. I read to collect information, to impress, to put together sermons and talks so that I’ll get paid and admired. That is white hunter knowledge. But meditation is to read for the purposes of gaining a lion-like knowledge of God. I’m going to try reading like that.

This morning I prayed through Psalm 38 and this phrase leapt off the page. “I wait for you, O LORD; you will answer, O LORD my God.” (Psalm 38:15) Those lines have returned to me throughout the day and I have turned them over in my mind. I”m not reading for information anymore, I’m reading to know God. I’m reading to know myself. As I chewed, growling even, although there was no one to hear me, I realized that I prayed without expectation. I didn’t wait for God, because I didn’t believe he would hear me. He wanted me not to solve problems, but to stop and believe that he hears and that he answers. He wanted me to sit at his feet. ‘Know me, trust me and I will take care of you.’ he called.

It was one of the few times when I have prayed and read Scripture where I felt like God was actually talking to me. He wasn’t a distant image in my crosshairs, he was with me and I was connected to him.  I felt like a lion. I had reached into heaven and taken hold of God.

But had I? Well sure, I had gotten up early this morning. I made time to read this psalm and to pray. I was quiet. I chewed on the word of God and he met me in that space. But was it me? I can see that old Masai hunter shaking his head. You see, we can’t know God with lion knowledge until we realize that he is the lion.

God made me hungry and desperate. That’s why I was awake that morning. It was God who inspired the words of Psalm 38, they were not my words. Yes, we pursue God with a lion-like intensity, but he is caught only because he was the one who stalked us in the bush, pounced on us, brought us down and enfolded us into himself. We take hold of God, because he has taken hold of us. We love him, because he first loved us. We know him, because he knew us before we were born.

Knowing this, I will toss aside the rifle and press in to know him like a lion. How will you pursue the God who pursues you? Continue the conversation by posting a comment. We’d love to hear from you.

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