By Steven F. Sturm
Throughout Scripture believers are encouraged to seek God. Jesus called people to “seek first his (God’s) kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). James wrote “come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:8). Isaiah told his readers to “seek the Lord while he may be found” (Isaiah 55:6). David said “I seek you with all my heart” (Psalm 119:10). He charged his son Solomon with the words, “If you seek him, he will be found by you” (1 Chronicles 28:9).
What does it mean to seek for God? In the divine human drama, who is the seeker and who is being sought? In a very real sense the Bible is the story of God seeking humanity. After the first couple sinned and hid from God, it was the Creator who went looking for them. His question to Adam, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9) has echoed down the corridors of redemptive history. Jesus proclaimed, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).
Perhaps our desire, the yearning for God, is evidence of his call to us. We know to “seek first” and to “come near” because the Holy Spirit through Scripture invites us to. These are not so much challenges to uncover a God who is hiding from us, as they are invitations to slow down, look around, and be found by the God who has been seeking us all of our lives.
In our culture—with its emphasis on frenetic activity—slowing down and waiting on God may seem out of place. To “be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) is not what many of us do best. Contemplative living, being still and listening, could be quite foreign to those who communicate primarily by exchanging voice mail messages over cell phones as they race between appointments. Once again God my have to ask, “Where are you?”
If seeking God is not exactly active, completely up to us, neither is it exactly passive, entirely up to God. Maybe it is something like the middle voice in the Greek language. For example, one could describe the learning process using the active voice saying, “I learn.” Here I am the actor. Using the passive voice would result in “I am taught,” where I am acted upon. To employ the middle voice one could say, “I receive instruction.” In this case I am a participant in the action of another.
So, do I seek God, or am I sought by God? It might be more accurate to say that I respond to God’s initiative to be present with me.
What is it that our hearts cry out for when we seriously seek God? I think the words of a song describe it well for me. “Just a closer walk with Thee . . . Daily walking close to Thee.”
Do the words “daily walking close to Thee” describe your current experience with God? For many Christians, even those committed to biblical truth, living with moral integrity, and active in service, they do not.
A few years ago, in the 28th year of ministry, my soul was dry, barren, and weary. I attended Hawaiian Islands Ministry’s Honolulu Conference and heard Bill Hybels give the keynote address. He spoke of young Samuel offering the words, “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10).
I realized I longed to hear the voice of God. I yearned to encounter God in my own life. I decided that with whatever time I had left, above anything else I wanted to know God. I have been on a journey of seeking to make myself findable by God since then.
Where to Seek for God
If we are seriously seeking God, where do we look for him? There is not a single aspect of a person’s life outside the boundaries of what can be considered “spiritual.” We can look for God in (1) the world without, the environment full of people, things, nature, and human systems; (2) the written Word, the Bible; and (3) the world within, the inner person of the soul.
The world without—The incarnation of Jesus shows that God is interested and involved in the very real flesh and blood arena of human life. Jesus took on human flesh, human personality, and human experience (with the exception of committing sin), and moved into this world of people and things. In doing so he brought God’s grace into the full realm of human life.
Jesus taught us about God by referring to things in the ordinary and natural world. He said the kingdom of God is like seed and soil, a net full of fish, flowers and birds, fields and bread, lost coins, a lost sheep, and a lost son. God is so present in ordinary human experience that it is easy to miss him. We need to be on the lookout for God.
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat (Psalm 19:1-6).
The psalmist declared, “Honor his holy name with Hallelujahs, you who seek God. Live a happy life! Keep your eyes open for God, watch for his works; be alert for signs of his presence. Remember the world of wonders he has made” (Psalm 105:3-5, The Message).
Too often the church offers only abstraction. Maybe we want God in our lives, but kept at a safe distance. In answer to Philip, Jesus replied, “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” (John 14:9).
Jesus pointed to his real self in their real lives as the way to encounter God. Our symbols, ordinances, and institutions are all pointers to the reality of God. They are not meant to be substitutes for that reality.
The written Word—The Bible, the written Word of God, is a primary venue for our encounter with God himself. Scripture is a window, allowing us to see the nature and character of God.
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. . . . The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward (Psalm 19:7-11).
In God’s Word we read of his mighty acts and dealings with people in centuries past. The written Word introduces us to Jesus, the living Word of God, who put on flesh and entered the world of first-century Palestine. The Bible speaks of the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit, the rather mysterious third person of the trinity. We marvel as we read of his powerful effects on the lives of Jesus’ followers then and struggle to understand what his indwelling means to us today.
It is the record of the lives of ancient people, whose culture was different than ours, but whose human nature was remarkably like our own. Here we find stories and lessons about good and evil, and our absolute need for God to transform us. God discloses his purpose for us, stated in the words of Romans 8:28, 29: “Those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose . . . he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.”
For those who seek God, the Bible is a window and a mirror. It can also be a portal, a door that opens to the direct experience of the divine.
Knowledge of the Bible is not an end in itself. It is through the Bible that we can come to know the living person of God. David writes of God speaking to him through the written Word.
You’ve opened my ears so I can listen. So, I answered, ‘I’m coming. I read in your letter what you wrote about me, and I’m coming to the party you’re throwing for me.’ That’s when God’s Word entered my life, became a part of my very being (Psalm 40:6-8, The Message).
The soul within—We also seek to experience the presence of God within ourselves. We are invited to look into our own soul, into the depth of our being, to meet God there. With the psalmist we pray, “forgive my hidden faults” (Psalm 19:12). Among some this idea may evoke uneasiness, or outright suspicion. The Restoration Movement has been highly skeptical of subjective experience.
What I am suggesting is the farthest thing from the idolatry of self worship. It is not something borrowed from Eastern religion, or a product of one of the new spiritualities. Finding God present in our soul is taken from the teaching of Jesus, the practice of the early church, and the tradition of at least the first 1,500 years of church history.
Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would indwell his followers, would be in us as Jesus had been with those disciples. He offered that both he and the father would make their home in us (John 14:17, 20, 23). Where in us does God reside if not at the center of our being? When we purposefully go there in consecrated longing we can expect to encounter the living God.
John Calvin, the 16th-century reformer and theologian wrote, “Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God.” And, “Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self” (Institutes of the Christian Religion; Book One, Chapter One). By “knowledge of God” Calvin meant more than simple objective knowledge. His use of the term includes an element of knowledge by experience. Calvin continued, “No one will follow and obey God completely without knowing himself to be ‘cherished’ by God.” We can say that to know God is to know self, because Calvin is writing about knowing God relationally.
During the summer of 2000 I was on a personal retreat, solo camping in the back country on the island of Kauai. I took the words of Psalm 139:23, 24 as the text of my prayer. Here David invites, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
In that spirit I asked God to let me see myself as he saw me. Those days were a rich and refreshing time with the Lord. However, there was no clear answer to my prayer. Two months later, while in the process of searching to replace my 1979 Buick with a newer car, my mind was opened to see the compulsive, self-serving, obsessive, self-deceiving behavior I was exhibiting as a recurring pattern in my life.
God has since illuminated other facets of my character that had been hidden from my view. This, in turn, has caused me to humble myself and cry out for the mercy of his grace. I have pondered with new understanding the words of David:
God made my life complete when I placed all the pieces before him. When I got my act together, he gave me a fresh start. Now I’m alert to God’s ways; I don’t take God for granted. Every day I review the way he works; I try not to miss a trick. I feel put back together, and I’m watching my step. God rewrote the text of my life when I opened the book of my heart to his eyes (Psalm 18:20-24, The Message).
Steven Sturm is minister with the Waialua Christian Church in Oahu, Hawaii, where he lives with his wife, Blossom. He works as a pastoral counselor and spiritual director and is an adjunct faculty member with the master of science in counseling psychology program at Chaminade University. Recently he was appointed chaplain and assistant professor of spiritual formation at Hawaii Theological Seminary.