The End of My Searching?
By Lindy Croucher
You will seek
me and you will find me when you seek me with all your heart (Jer 29:13).
Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him (Ps 34:8).
Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to God must believe that he exists and he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Heb 11:6).
There are only two kinds of people who please God: those who serve him with all their heart because they know him, and those who seek him with all their heart because they don't know him.
Some of you here tonight are more devoted servants of a God you know much better than I do. And I'm sure there are others who, like me, struggle to serve a God you're not sure you know or understand too well. Or perhaps you're not serving him at all while you wait and wish he'd show up in your life.
We hear many sermons about serving God better, but tonight I want you to attempt with me to understand a little more how we might *know* him better. Not just about him, but how we can relate deeply to the only real and loving God by seeking him with all our hearts.
I wonder if God makes little sense to you and your confusion has you holding him at a distance? Do you see him as a stern uninvolved father who gets put out when you don't meet his expectations, yet doesn't seem to care much about the things that hurt you? Do you see him as a spiritual vending machine: you slot in your requests for help in exams, for a certain person to like you, and for anything else that might help you get through your day, and you assume that if he cared about you he would ease your pressures in life, enable you to feel good about yourself, and cater for your happiness? Even if you live in humble and grateful dependence on a God whose love for you is the essence of your life, I'm sure there are times when your faith is attacked till it's war-torn, or when the pain of life is so deep there is no relief and God seems far away.
If you've hung out with God for a long time I'm sure you've discovered, like I have, that problems don't go away, and the Christian life turns out to be no easier or less painful than before. When we're honest there's little difference between the circumstances of those who are following Christ and those who are not. And Christians can be as wounded and low in self-esteem as those who have not responded to Christ.
Dr. Larry Crabb, in his book Finding God asks the questions 'How can an unmarried man or woman struggling with loneliness find God? How can a bereaved parent enjoy God's goodness? How can a bankrupt businessman with a large family rest in what he knows about God? How can an intellectual rationalist be satisfied that truth is found in Jesus? And how can a discouraged, confused, and unmotivated teenager find enough confidence in God to continue living?'
The human response is to either pretend things are better than they are, or to self-reliantly pull together all our resources to relieve our pain. I believe the only thing that can make you and me different is truly finding God and coming to a profound realization that he can be trusted.
In order to find God, our passion to know him must exceed all other passions. We must desire him more than we desire a new house or a better friend or relief from our grief and loneliness, or the solutions to our problems, or the answers to our questions, more than we desire becoming a better person, feeling happy, or even enjoying good health. And God longs to be known by us far more than we long to know him, and he is relentlessly committed to working on our hearts until our passion to know him is stronger than all other passions.
There are many different obstacles to finding God. For me one of the greatest has been my demands that he make sense to me. In my stubborn arrogance I've sometimes refused to believe about God anything but what is understandable and appealing to my fallen, selfish, limited mind. It can seem strange to me that God would enter his world as a Jew raised in Galilee and then trust his followers to make him known to the rest of the world. I struggle to understand some of the fundamentals of the Christian faith, and this can drive me into immobilizing disillusionment.
Do you remember ever playing hide and seek with a friend who really knew how to hide, and delighted in not being found? They would never call out to you, or jump out and surprise you. And so you carry the full responsibility of working out where this kid is. I have sometimes assumed this role in my search for God. I set about trying to discover for myself, independently, what is really truth: and it has felt as hopeless as searching for a clever kid who doesn't want to be found. It makes all the difference when I realize I am looking for the living God, and he is a person who longs to be found more than I long to find him. He is only hidden because I am blind. He is continually calling my name and directing my next step, and sometimes I am even aware that he is holding my hand. He calls me to search and to obey, and he promises to take care of being found, and I know in my heart of hearts he can be trusted for that. Yet I am so often of the 'wicked, faithless generation that asks for a sign'... and I forget that a sign has been given, and I have known and trusted him well... I just sometimes fail to recognize him.
The last time I felt like screaming at God 'Why don't you make yourself more obvious?', I happened to return to John 14 where Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us." Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves."
And later Jesus promises the Spirit of truth and I acknowledge with him that "the world [and part of me] cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But [and he reminds me too] you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and obeys them is the one that loves me. Those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them."
I have to admit again and again, like Peter, that I have nowhere else to go; I am convinced that Christ has the words of eternal life. Still I am searching, but I know that searching elsewhere is futile. I have taken as my motto Elizabeth Elliot's statement: 'Faith does not eliminate questions; it just knows where to take them.' And my search now is for more of God through Jesus... because when he has breathed new life into you, you just can't get enough knowledge and experience of him. And when I wonder desperately how this gospel can reach a world of people disinclined to believe it, I have to remember that it does not depend on my ability to convince them. Faith is of a different order to any scientific, philosophical or theological proof, and it is only given birth in us by the Spirit of God.
And so I believe with Charles Malik that 'All people of ambition - the conquerors and scientists and philosophers, the industrialists and statesmen, the celebrities and media moguls - are really seeking Jesus of Nazareth, and if only they would meet him, they would understand why. Every alienated person who is profoundly unhappy with himself/herself and with the world, every drug addict trying to escape the burden of existence, every prostitute who does not realize what is happening to her, every victim of a terminal illness facing the grave in terror of the unknown, is really seeking Jesus Christ of Nazareth, and if he or she would only meet him, they would understand why.'
And though often I don't fully understand this myself, I no longer seek to understand so that I may believe; I believe so that I may understand, as Anselm put it so memorably. We all know that you don't have to understand physics to press a switch enjoy the light. And I have learned that if I wait till I understand everything about God before offering him my reverence and devotion, I will never find him.
My passion to know God, in humble dependence on him, has to exceed my passion to understand everything about him.
Larry Crabb says that today we've become far more interested in finding ourselves than in finding God. The church has become aware that beneath cheerful fellowship many people suffer desperate loneliness and discontentment, not liking God, themselves or anyone else. But Jesus 'invites us to come to him as we are, pretending about nothing, feeling our pain, admitting our rage, and longing to satisfy our souls with rich food.'
Yet what begins as an honest recognition of how damaged we are has too often be come a preoccupation with ourselves. The truth that God loves us is twisted to honour ourselves rather than give humble gratitude to God. Instead of drawing us closer to God and freeing us to care more deeply about others, we become aware of how intensely we long to feel better about ourselves. The spotlight falls on us as abused, wounded, needy people, and God is now cast as the great Higher Power, whose job is to heal our hurts. Feeling better has become more important to us than finding God. And we assume that people who find God always feel better.
In contrast, others have maintained that longing to feel better is selfish, and they warn against the corrupting influence of humanistic psychology. So we're presented with two options: either our needs matter more than anything else, or it is wrong to mention them.
There is another more biblical perspective that combines a passionate sensitivity to our deepest struggles with a tender insistence that something matters more than how we feel. God cares about us deeply and he wants us to enjoy our new identity as unique, forgiven, valuable individuals with something important to contribute, but he matters more. I am not the point. God is. I exist for him. He does not exist for me. Maybe that triggers in you a twinge of resentment - why should he matter more? Which, unless you're totally rotten to the core, you'll realize is a crazy thing for creatures to say to the Creator who knows why he made them. Or maybe you feel relieved, that in this life there is someone bigger than you, and someone far more important than you.
I have told you that I sometimes pull off the shelves all my unanswered questions and shoot them at God. When I demand answers from God I naturally withdraw much of my trust and dependence until explanations are given and I can agree that he knows what he's doing. Yet every time, I very quickly become the center of my universe and have to face the consequences of that. This year I have wrestled with a loneliness more intense than I ever thought I would experience. I was grieving the loss of some significant relationships, but what I was most aware of were my many unmet needs. I became appalled at how hard done by I am. A few unmet needs I have always tolerated, but feeling so alone seemed to me undeserved and intolerable. And I was angry, that I could be surrounded by so many people and yet feel so overlooked. Of course, my life has been pretty easy, and this experience was nothing in comparison to what many of you have been through, but it was enough to have me well and truly preoccupied with myself for a while.
To start with I had let my primary purpose shift from loving God to finding satisfactory answers to all my questions. Then faced with the terror of aloneness, my primary purpose quickly became looking for ways to restructure my life so there were people to meet my needs. I found that I can't do either very well. And I have since realized that my attempts to arrange for my own comfort are such a 'giveaway' that I am, at my core, a fallen, sinful person. At the foundation of our fallenness is our inclination to believe that God is not good, or at least not good enough to be fully trusted with what matters to us. And so to make up for his deficient involvement in our lives we choose to trust ourselves and take things into our own hands.
Ask yourself 'Am I bothered more when I hurt or see others hurting than I am to see myself or others acting selfishly? Do I value God's healing (his making me feel better) more than I value his mercy (his forgiveness for an arrogant, demanding, self-serving sinner)?'
Well I don't know how long you can last carrying the weight of your world on your shoulders, feeling responsible to fix things up. But if you've ever known the alternative, the freedom of trusting God, it won't be long before you'll want it back. When I finally collapsed in utter exhaustion, what emerged was my desperate need not for solutions from God, but for fellowship with him.
Joni Eareckson Tada became a paraplegic in a diving accident when she was seventeen. In her book Seeking God, she uses the illustration of squeezing an orange . Of course what comes out is orange juice, unless someone has tampered with the orange. She then asks 'What happens when life squeezes a Christian? What is revealed is whatever is inside. A hypocrite, or someone who simply pretends to be a child of God, resents affliction and runs when troubled times come. Their cowardice and pretense come out. A self-centered Christian may complain for a while, but, in time, affliction can bring them to their knees. Then their heart can be drained of the selfishness and resentment, making them better able to approach God as a child would seek their father.' Only when knowing God becomes our greatest passion can the struggles of life become an impetus to find God.
Think back to John 14:21. Jesus says, 'Whoever has my commands and obeys them is the one who loves me. Those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.' Earlier in John 7:17 he says 'If anyone chooses to do God's will, they will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.' Jesus so clearly states in this passage that if we want to find God we have to obey him first, and then we'll get to know him.
Obviously if you want to walk together with God you have to go in the same direction. And God doesn't negotiate. He invites you and me to join him. And he doesn't come along on our side trips. God has clearly stated his purpose: Paul says in Ephesians 1:10 that he is committed to bringing 'all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ'. So agreeing to join him requires that we have the same agenda. Every other ambition in our hearts has to become secondary to promoting Christ. And if anything contradicts that purpose it should be abandoned. We so easily come to God not to walk with him, but to persuade him to supply the energy and power needed to fulfill our own purposes. God's terms for relationship with him are that we surrender our own agenda to serve his instead, fully aware that he does not always guarantee the immediate comfort of his children.
If we want to walk with God we need more than a prayer of commitment and a few extra efforts to discipline ourselves into spiritual shape. We need to agree to go in for surgery that will probably be painful and will definitely be ongoing. Our lack of trust in God's goodness, and our self-centredness are so deep rooted in us that if we want to be aligned with God's purposes, we have to let him cut out every demand that things go our way.
Perhaps, like me, you struggle to see that you're all that self-centered. I have become convinced that when we really, truly, want to find God, and plead with him to do whatever it takes, he will work all things together to achieve that good purpose. Often he will use the circumstances of our lives to 'squeeze' us, so that we can see just what ugly stuff is still within us. And if we're still willing the surgery continues. And the effect of the operation is that down the track we realize that we're giving more energy to pursuing God's purposes, and that we're more acutely aware of any contrary agendas of our own. Still we hurt when others let us down, but we begin to grieve more over our weak commitment to Christ than over whatever harsh treatment we endure. And we rejoice more that God is good, than that we feel good about ourselves.
In the midst of our suffering (or God's surgery), Christ offers hope, not necessarily relief, and he commands us to pursue him ardently even when we'd rather stop and look after our own well being. And God's peace that passes understanding is promised to those who have confidence in his goodness even when life is tough and their self-esteem is low. We must call God good even when we suffer - because he is! And, when things are going well, we must call him good for reasons that go beyond our immediate blessings. Otherwise, when we hurt, we will speak harshly against God, and we will continue to do whatever it takes to satisfy our selfishness. We will be more troubled by our discomfort than by our unholiness.
And so often God does relieve our suffering and solve our problems, because he cares about us deeply. But his much better gift is someone far greater and more interesting to live for than ourselves.
I have said that to find God we need to desire him more than any other thing - more than answers to our questions, more than solutions to our problems, more than our personal comfort or happiness or a sense of self-worth, and more than relief from our pain.
We need to ask ourselves 'Are we just living out our days or are we walking with God? Are we merely committed to feeding our own souls, to arranging our lives around getting our needs met, to building our own castles in this temporary life? Can we get so immersed in ourselves that we forget there is something more wonderful to think about? Or are we committed to knowing God, to cooperating with him as loved participants in a plan larger than ourselves, to becoming like the Son whom the Father adores, and to looking forward to a better home that God is preparing for us?'
Augustine challenges us to picture God as saying to us, 'My child, why is it that day by day you rise, and pray, and genuflect, and even strike the ground with your forehead, nay sometimes even shed tears, while you say to Me: "My Father, give me wealth!" If I were to give it to you, you would think yourself of some importance, you would fancy that you had gained something very great. Because you asked for it, you have it. But take care to make good use of it. Before you had it, you were humble; now that you have begun to be rich you despise the poor. What kind of a good is that which only makes you worse? For worse you are, since you were bad already. And that it would make you worse you knew not; hence you asked it of Me. I gave it to you, and I proved you; you have found - and you have found out! Ask of Me better things than these, greater things than these . Ask of Me spiritual things. Ask of Me Myself!"
Joni Eareckson Tada says her teenage prayers consisted mainly of requests to lose a few pounds, to get through her homework without going crazy with boredom, and for the latest guy she was in love with to like her in return. Until one night, when she was home without a date and suffering a new pimple on her chin. That night she prayed 'God just do something. I don't care what happens, I'm just sick of being miserable!' When, a month later, she dived into shallow water and broke her neck, she strangely knew she was experiencing the answer to her prayer. Her health and all her hopes and dreams were shattered. But in having God only and none of these other things she has become a most beautiful and Christ-like lady with a contagious love for God and love of life.
(As the medieval mystic put it: those who have God and everything else have no more than those who have God only; and those who have everything else and not God have nothing...)
What God has done for Joni he can do for you. Well?
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