Is it right to ask for “more” of God?

If we were to assess the archives (both present and past) of evangelical worship music, it would seem obvious that the answer to the question that titles this essay would be in the affirmative. There has been much singing about how we can get “more” of God, how we want “more of you and less of me,” and how we desire to experience “more of who you are” (the “you” here being God). Can we ask and receive “more” of God’s presence in one place than another or in one moment than another?

At the surface, this seems good. Who would not want more of such a good and gracious God? To be genuinely desirous of the Triune God is a virtue, not a vice. John the Baptist famously said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). The Psalmist sings, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you” (Psalm 63:1). Paul tells the church in Corinth to “earnestly desire” the higher spiritual gifts, particularly prophecy (1 Corinthians 12:31, 14:1, 14:39).

These passages — and many others — certainly affirm the Christian’s desire to know God fully, to understand his depths and contemplate the purveying beauty of his presence. To know God more is one beautiful Biblical desire, but to have more of God is something else entirely. Is it virtuous to ask God for more of him? It certainly depends what you mean. There are a few hesitations for this request, on which I would like to now elaborate:

The fellowship of God through the Holy Spirit by the work of Jesus Christ is a remarkably complete package gifted to us by God. To, as the great Darrell Johnson has put it, “experience the Trinity,” is the supreme advantage of Christian life. For those Jewish believers who came to faith early in our faith’s history, one can only imagine the absolute shell-shock they were under upon understanding that their life could be saturated — literally “baptized” — with the indwelling power of God’s Holy Spirit (Acts 1:6–8, 2:1–6). To know that the Spirit of God is with you, that the Almighty Creator has come to dwell in mere mortals, is something in which to be completely and fully satisfied.

We modern people think God should be grateful to know us, but the ancients did not think that way. To have God in you, is the supreme good—absurd, even. To desire to know the Holy Spirit more, or to desire to understand him in a way you never have, is perfectly congruent with what we see in Scripture, but to want an extra dose of him—a more dramatic experience of his presence—is to probably miss the centrality of the gospel: that the fullness of God has come in Christ and that the same Spirit that raised Christ Jesus from the dead lives in all those who believe upon his name (Colossians 2:9, Romans 8:9–11). Such truths should cause not agitation in believers, but contentedness. God is fully with you.

Those who request more of God are often inside charismatic circles that equate a larger “amount” of God’s presence with positive emotions or experiences. To receive a wider revelation of God will mean more peace, more wholeness, more joy. But, biblically speaking, this is not always the case. In fact, more often than not, when people receive something like this, they die or want to die. Consider Isaiah in the temple courts (Isaiah 6:1–6), or the disciples who saw the transfigured Jesus (Matthew 17:1–13), or John at the start of his Revelation (Revelation 1:17): throughout the biblical narrative, a more immediate experience of God himself is not a pleasant thing, but a dangerous thing.

Consider also when characters in Scripture have requested to see or know God. Yahweh holds back (quite literally) from Moses when Moses requests to just see God’s “glory” at the top of Sinai:

17 And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” 18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”

-Exodus 33:17–20

Moses asks not even for more of God, just more of his glory, and God replies with: you cannot handle that. Likewise, when the disciples of Jesus ask for a closer position to Jesus in leadership and influence, he tells them, “You do not know what you are asking,” and reminds them that proximity to him will come through their death and (eventual) resurrection (Mark 10:35–45).

The prophets all famously react in abject horror upon receiving just the oracles given them by God. The word of God is a burden in its own right that cannot be received lightly, but is often received with a level of devastation on the part of the prophet. Take Jeremiah as the most articulate of the bunch:

For the word of the Lord has become for me

a reproach and derision all day long.

9 If I say, “I will not mention him,

or speak any more in his name,”

there is in my heart as it were a burning fire

shut up in my bones,

and I am weary with holding it in,

and I cannot.

-Jeremiah 20:8b-9

The thesis for my first book, Distant God, is that our complaint of God being far away most often has to do not with God’s presence with us but our presence with him. God is always fully present, but we often are not. The disciplines of Christian life operate to keep us attentive to God’s constant, full presence. God is not “more present” at the Grand Canyon than in your bathroom, it’s just that you are more aware of God’s permeating presence when near his creation.

Scripture affirms that it is much easier for humans to notice the grader of God through the elements of his creation (Psalm 19:1–6, 50:6, Romans 1:19–20). At the same time, Scripture affirms the radical presence of God inside his image bearers (Genesis 1:27–28, 2 Corinthians 5:16). The truth is, we live in a “God bathed world,” as Dallas Willard says, and the presence of God plays no favorites: he is that generous, that vast, and that enormous. There is nowhere God is not. Listen to what systematic theologian Katherine Sonderegger writes,

“God is not an Object encountered in the world of creatures, nor in the vast silence of the limitless space of the universe. God is not located in the cosmos…Despite much loose talk…there is not “more God” in some places rather than others…He is everywhere present through His cosmos, not locally, but rather harmoniously, equally, generously, and lavishly in all places, at once…”

God grants to us the enormity of his presence wherever we are through the radical outpouring of the Holy Spirit as we place our faith in Jesus Christ. When we ask for “more” of God, we should admit that he’s actually asking for more of us. It will never be God who is holding out on us, only giving us his limited attention or half-listening ear…oh no, no, that’s not God — that’s us. His presence will never be lacking, never inconsistently distributed. But ours may well be. So, it is good and right to ask for “more” in the sense of awareness or attentiveness to God’s consistently full presence. This is our way of asking God to move us, not him. To ask God to be “more” is to believe he could ever lack. If we want more of God, it is probably a revelation that we have not yet given him all of ourselves. Perhaps we could try that first?

Pastor at Awakening Church in the Silicon Valley and doctoral candidate at Duke University. Author of DISTANT GOD and LESS OF MORE: chrisnye.co/books