CHASING AFTER GOD
SERMON PRESENTED ON 08-05-06
In a recently published book entitled Furious Pursuit written by Tim King and Frank Martin, Frank tells of a telephone conversation he had with his good friend Andy. He could tell Andy was feeling down. He had been struggling through some tough life issues, so Frank tried to cheer him up by sharing some thoughts from a book he had been reading about pursuing God with passion. The book talked about seeking God through spiritual disciplines such as prayer, fasting, and meditation. Frank could tell by Andy's silence that he wasn't buying into it. Finally he sighed and said, "You know what, Frank? I'm sick of chasing after God. I want God to chase me for a while!"
Even though these words came from the most brutally honest friend Frank had, He wasn't sure what to think. Should Andy be saying such things and thinking such thoughts? Is there room in our relationship with God for such candor? Part of Frank wanted to remind Andy that God doesn't answer to us and that His thoughts are higher than ours and if God feels distant to us it’s probably connected with something were doing wrong and that it's not right to question God's ways and that it's certainly not right to doubt him. But Frank didn't say any of that. In fact, what he did say surprised the heck out of Frank "To be honest," Andy, "I'm tired of chasing God too." Frank didn’t know exactly where that came from, but it was the most honest he felt he had been in a long, long time.
There is a weariness that seeps into our spiritual lives at times. It doesn't come all at once, and thankfully it doesn't always stay long. We all have tasted it, been frustrated by it and tried to pretend it wasn’t happening. The weariness doesn't define our relationship with God, but it definitely messes with it. It confuses us and sometimes even indicts us. Actually, weariness may not be the best word for what we experience from time to time. Let's call it a nagging sense that all is not right between God and us. We sense that our faith should be stronger, that our resolve should be more resolute, our lives should be more in tune with God's will. We sense that we should be closer to God than we feel we are.
We speak of God's merciful love and our complete joy in having found it, yet deep in our souls we sense a strange divorce between our faith and what appears to be the reality of life around us. We pray for people to be healed and their not healed. We pray for our nation leaders to make right decisions and yet they often make decisions that are very suspect. We pray for peace in the Middle East and all we get is war. We begin to question where God is in all of this. We find we can no longer deny the dark chasm that separates what we believe about God from what we experience. There seems to be an identity crisis between what we believe about God and reality. Like David, we cry out in our darkest hour:"Why, 0 LORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me?" (Psalm.88:14). We follow hard after God, giving him the best we have to offer. And in response we get nothing more than this suspicion that we're the ones doing all the work and that for some strange reason God isn't doing his part.
Andy told Frank, "I'm sick of chasing after God," Maybe he was speaking for a lot of Christians. Think about how many miles Christians log in the pursuit of God. And yet spiritual loneliness is common in the Christian community. After a time some Christians just become dog-tired from chasing after God and give up on the process. How many times have you sat in church as the minister outlined the steps to developing a deep and more meaningful relationship with God? Often there is an initial renewal of hope that if one can just follow the steps outlined by the pastor, God will become more real and an intimate relationship will develop.
You promise yourself that you'll pray more, give more, study more, love more, and sin less. You'll chase God with everything you have, hoping it will cause him to draw near. And yet you really don’t feel any closer to God, you don’t feel your prayers are being answered any more now than in the past. As the weeks go by, and the busyness of life takes it toll on your good intentions, you once again find yourself in the same pew listening to the same words from the same church pastor and and you're wearier than ever.
You know it's not a question of faith. You love God, and in the deep recesses of your heart, you know he loves you back. It's just that you don't always feel loved by God. And you rarely feel all that close to him. For a God who promised to be with us forever, to live within us and through us, he seems to excel at keeping his distance. Apostle James said, "Draw near to God and he will come near to you (James 4:8). But what if you have fought to draw near to God, struggled to find him and get close to him and you still feel that he is distant.
So what is the solution to this seeming alienation from God? The solution may be in better understanding how God has purposed to related to His human creation.
The Purchased/Over Powered Heart:
God could have decided to buy our love with the gift of a pain-free life and the promise of answering every prayer exactly as we desire. But he doesn't want our purchased hearts. God created us as physical to live in a physical world and experience physical things. God has given us the freedom to make choices and reap the consequences of our choices. God does not generally interfere with our choices or their consequences. God isn’t interested in purchasing our love by seeing how many good things He can do for us.
God is not interested in forcing us to love Him. God is not interested in an overpowered heart. Just think of how many have walked down the proverbial saw dust trail at so called revival meetings where they are threatened with eternal hell fire if they don't then and there make a decision for Christ? I have always wondered how many of those people actually became a true disciple of Christ and learned to love God not to avoid "hell fire" but because God provided the means to escape eternal death by facilitating the Christ event.
God gave us physical lives and intends for us to experience the cause and effect and time and chance of this life. God intends for us to practice righteous living but knows we will often fail and reap the negative consequences of our failures. The track record of life should make it evident that God isn’t out to gain our love by micro managing our lives and catering to our every need and desire. God could conquer our will by displaying his might and supremacy and scaring us into submission, But that would gain him nothing more that our overpowered heart.
God wants our willing hearts, so he chose to draw us into his love by providing us release from eternal death instead of buying us off or forcing us to love him. Wouldn't you rather be drawn into a relationship than be pushed into one? Wouldn't you rather glide down the center aisle of your free will than stare down the barrel of a shotgun? Wouldn't you rather give your heart than have your heart taken? God has wired us with the desire to be drawn into relationship with him. The scriptures say that we love God because he first loved us. In this respect it is more correct to say that God pursues us rather than we pursue God. God pursues us despite our failure to live up to His standards. God loves us, imperfections and all.
So why do we sometimes feel God is distant. Why do we get into spiritual funks? Could it be we are pursuing a relationship with God for the wrong reasons? In the book Furious Pursuit, co-author Frank Martin writes about his son David. He says “David is an amazing kid. He's in love with life and crazy in love with Jesus, and he's more than a son to me; he's my best buddy. There's nothing we'd rather do than spend time together. Yet there's a truth about our relationship that is hard for me to accept: David doesn't have to include me in his life. He has a car, he just got his first job, and he excels at school without even trying. He's incredibly bright, independent, and creative. He doesn't have to engage in a relationship with me. And yet he wants me to go to Starbucks with him! He desires to spend time with me. He longs for relationship with his father. And that thrills me beyond words." Frank goes on to write about how beautiful, exciting, and powerfully satisfying it is when someone loves you with no ulterior motive but just a pure desire to spend time with you?
What would happen if you woke up tomorrow morning and flipped on the news only to learn that God had just announced to the world that everyone on earth was saved? That regardless of what they had done in the past, were doing in the present or would do in the future, they would be given eternal life in heaven with God once they left this physical life. No more concern about eternal punishment. How would you react to such an announcement? If you knew for certain that no one would end up in the proverbial hell would you still tell people about God? Would you still seek to have a relationship with him? What would be the nature of that relationship? If everyone on earth were saved, what could you say about God that might still appeal to people?
How we answer those questions says a lot about the nature of our relationship with God. So many Christians were introduced to God through gripping tales of the terrible fate that awaits them in the afterlife if they fail to accept Jesus as Savior. It is their belief in the possible terrors awaiting them in hell that continues to define their relationship with God. What is called a "relationship with God" is little more than an eternal reprieve of the consequences of sin. Confronted with the fires of hell and told about God's power to keep us safe, people come to God with an overpowered heart and stay with him out of fear of what might happen if they leave.
On the other hand many people have come to God through the door of love, through complete awe and wonder at the depth of God’s goodness. Many have come to accept Christ as Savior and Lord because of a genuine understanding and appreciation for the sacrifice of the Christ event. But somewhere along the way that great gift of forgiveness and release from the penalty of sin isn’t good enough anymore or becomes taken for granted and ones relationship with God becomes a matter of, what have you done for me lately Lord?
It's a trap that's easy to fall into-and many have dived in headfirst. Entire religious movements are built around the premise of seeing how many good things God can do for you. Instead of a relationship with God based on what Christ did on the cross, we development an arrangement, a purchased heart arrangement, whereby we respond to God as long as he performs favors for us. As the authors of Furious Pursuit point out, God wants a willing heart, not an over powered heart or a purchased heart. It’s the story of God’s pursuit of us and not our pursuit of God. Yes God wants us to seek after Him. He wants us to totally embrace Him. But we have to recognize that we pursue God only because He pursues us. Earlier I alluded to the scripture that speaks of us loving God because He first loved us.
I John 4:10-21: This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
We pursue God because He pursues us. Our pursuit of God cannot be based on fear of punishment if we don’t in some way measure up. Jesus has already suffered our punishment. Our pursuit of God cannot be based on what we can get from God. God has already given us the greatest gift of all. If He chooses not to give us anything else, it doesn’t really matter. Our pursuit of God must be based on acknowledgement that God pursues us. We don’t have to find God. God has found us and simply wants us to live in His presence and express his love toward each other. By expressing his love, we are in relationship with Him as apostle John clearly shows.
Having a relationship with God is to practice the law of love. It is to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. If we do what the Scriptures reveal pleases God, we automatically have a relationship with Him. Having a relationship with God is not about having a warm fuzzy feeling. It is not about having visions or revelations from God. It is not about God blessing us with health and wealth. It is not about God intervening to save us from the cause and effect/time and chance of this physical life. While God will at times have mercy and intervene to deliver us from the consequences of our sins and mistakes and the sin and mistakes committed against us by someone else, our relationship with God should not be seen as dependent on such intervention.
Our experience of life should tell us that God pretty much allows life to play itself out within the context of normal cause and effect and time and chance. If we live our lives in harmony with the standards God has established, we will avoid many of the negatives of life. More importantly, we will engender a relationship with God based on behaving according to His will and doing what is pleasing in His sight. In doing so we will be positively responding to what He has done for us in providing salvation thought His Son Christ Jesus.