In Pursuit of God

DAVID HAD A HEART after God like no other. Samuel told King Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the LORD your God, with which he commanded you. For then the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever” adding, “But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought out a man after his own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you” (1 Sam. 13:13-14, ESV) (italics mine). David’s life was a portrait of success and failure, and he certainly was far from perfect, but it was his desire to fully know God. David was fully aware that God was in control of his life, and he had faith that God would deliver him from whatever peril that came his way.

Pursuit of God is akin to pursuit of godliness. It is more than a character trait, and cannot be attained by mere religious belief or the observance of precepts and sacraments. It is based solely on relationship. Being a person after God’s own heart means your life is in harmony with God. You are “in sync.” What breaks God’s heart should break yours as well. What matters to Him should also matter to you. Chasing after God is not a series of sprints—starts and stops. Rather, it goes the distance, fueled on by a singleness of purpose. Tommy Tenney describes the pervasive lack of God’s presence in the church as, “No Bread in the ‘House of Bread'” (1). Tozer describes lack of the manifest presence of God in the life of Christians as “…God’s children starving while actually seated at the Father’s table” (2).

The world is perishing for lack of the knowledge of God and the Church is famishing for want of His Presence. —A.W. Tozer

Tozer noted an increasing number of believers whose religious lives are plainly marked by a growing hunger for God—eager for spiritual reality beyond mere mental exercise. The kind of orientation that begins at redemption and marches ahead in ever-increasing sanctification. For me, it starts where I am at now and yearns after God. This is what Tozer calls the only real harbinger of revival (3). A recapturing of the initial amazement found at the moment we are saved and re-born. The beginning of our hunger after God! There are many key moments of yearning throughout Scripture. David yearned to know God. Moses yearned to lead his people out of bondage. Jeremiah yearned to courageously warn about the perils of false and insincere worship. Nicodemus yearned to understand Christ. Paul yearned to disciple new churches. I yearn to recapture my thirst after the righteousness of God.

Okay, so why is it so much harder to pursue God than write about it? Because it is not mere words that nourish our spirit, but God himself. Ours is a speaking God, and we must be a hearing church. But to hear God does not mean hearing a sermon, or listening to a biblical exposition on Audible, or reading books about God. Tozer wrote, “The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God himself in the core and center of their hearts” (4). I have learned the hard way that this type of “hearing” cannot be accomplished with the mind; it must be done in the heart. Distractions in the mind and flesh will drown out God’s voice and stop us from entering into Him.

“I hold on to you for dear life, and you hold me steady as a post” (Psa. 63:8, The Message).

Tozer starts a “deep dive” in chapter 1, “Following hard after God.” We read in Psalm 63 that once more the worst has brought out David’s best, in words as it did in deeds. David says in verse 1, “…earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Despite being far from home in a dry and weary land, David drew closer to God and became more confident in spite of his circumstances. With soul and flesh longing for God, David is as dry and weary as the land in which he finds himself. Stephen Lennox writes, “Verse 8 provides a beautiful picture of what God intends for the divine-human relationship, for as the psalmist holds tightly to his God, he finds that God is holding on to him” (5). We will want for nothing, regardless of our condition, with the LORD as our shepherd (see Psalm 23).

We are awakened by God through His prevenient grace. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God said, “I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart” (Jer. 24:7). God blesses us with a sense of His existence—what Tozer identifies as “a work of enlightenment… the secret cause of all desiring and seeking and praying which may follow” (6). The result within us is an impulse to follow hard after God. Friedrich von Hügel said, “All is of God… God is always previous.” Although God pricks our heart, we must pursue Him. David wrote, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God” (Psa. 42:1).

The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. —A.W. Tozer

Tozer again warns of the church getting off track: “The whole transaction of religious conversion has been made mechanical and spiritless” (7). In fact, as noted by Tozer, this whole notion of “accepting Christ” is not found in Scripture. Further, this “accepting” says nothing of what must come after. A “stiff and wooden” heart is like the heart of stone we read about in Ezekiel 36. God promises to change our heart of stone to a heart of flesh. Paul said, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (1 Cor. 5:17). David knew to keep his heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life (see Psa. 4:23). Does this not indicate there is much more to salvation than escaping the punishment for sin? Moreover, we cannot love God completely (with all our heart, soul, and mind) from a position of shallow logic. Salvation is but the beginning of our life in Christ. I agree with Tozer that acute desire (unabashed willingness) is the key to the manifest presence of God in our lives.

There is a huge difference between the omnipresence of God and the manifest presence of God. With manifest presence comes a strong and nearly undeniable awareness that God has entered the room. Tozer unapologetically says, “The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship, and the servile imitation of the world… all testify that we, in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all” (8). Tommy Tenney said, “There’s got to be more.” He added, “One reason I know there’s more is because of those who have encountered the ‘more’ and were never the same” (9). Paul said, “…for I know whom I have believed” (2 Tim. 1:12). Tenney says unfortunately many people in the church today would say, “I know about whom I believe.”

Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.A. Theology

References
(1) Tommy Tenney, God Chasers (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, 1998), 57.
(2) A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1982), 8.
(3) Ibid., 8.
(4) Ibid., 9.
(5) Stephen J. Lennox, Psalms: A Bible Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition (Indianapolis, IN: Wesleyan Publishing House, 1999), 198.
(6) Tozer, Ibid., 10.
(7) Ibid., 10.
(8) Ibid., 13.
(9) Tenney, Ibid., 89.

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