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Following Hard after God

The Throbbing Heart of New Testament Religion

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*Editor’s Note:* This article is excerpted from The Pursuit of God .

Christian theology teaches the doctrine of prevenient grace, which, briefly stated, means that before a man can seek God, God must first have sought the man. Before a sinful man can think a right thought of God, there must have been a work of enlightenment done within him.

We pursue God because He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit. “No man can come to me,” said our Lord, “‘except the Father which hath sent me draw him’” (John 6:44, KJV). The impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the outworking of that impulse is our following hard after Him. All the time we are pursuing Him we are already in His hand.

On our part there must be positive reciprocation, if the drawing of God is to eventuate in identi? able experience of the Divine. In the warm language of personal feeling, David said, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God” (Ps. 42:1–2, NIV)? This is deep calling unto deep, and the longing heart will understand it.

True Spirituality

The doctrine of justification by faith—a biblical truth, and a blessed relief from sterile legalism and unavailing self-effort—has been interpreted by many in such a manner as actually to bar men from the knowledge of God. The whole transaction of religious conversion has been made mechanical and spiritless. Faith may now be exercised without a jar to the moral life and without embarrassment to the ego. Christ may be received without creating any special love for Him in the soul of the receiver. A man may be saved, but not hungry nor thirsty after God. In fact, he is specifically taught to be satisfied and is encouraged to be content with little.

Religion, so far as it is genuine, is in essence the response of created personalities to the creating personality, God. “‘Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent’” (John 17:3). God is a person, and in the deep of His mighty nature He thinks, wills, enjoys, feels, loves, desires and suffers as any other person may. In making Himself known to us He stays by the familiar pattern of personality. He communicates with us through the avenues of our minds, our wills and our emotions. The continuous and unembarrassed interchange of love and thought between God and the soul of the redeemed is the throbbing heart of New Testament religion.

He Waits to be Wanted

This communication between God and the soul is known to us in conscious personal awareness. It is personal in that it does not come through the body of believers, but is known to the individual. It is conscious because it does not stay below the threshold of consciousness and work there unknown to the soul, but comes within the field of awareness where the believer can know it as he knows any other fact of experience.

Being made in God’s image, we have within us the capacity to know Him. The moment the Spirit has quickened us to life in regeneration, our whole being senses its kinship to God and leaps up in joyous recognition. That is the heavenly birth without which we cannot see the Kingdom of God. It is, however, not an end but an inception, for now begins the glorious pursuit, the heart’s happy exploration of the in? nite riches of the Godhead.

That is where we begin, but where we stop no man has yet discovered, for there is in the mysterious depths of the Triune God neither limit nor end. To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love, scorned indeed by the too-easily-satisfied religionist, but justi? ed in happy experience by the children of the burning heart.

St. Bernard stated this holy paradox in a musical quatrain that will be instantly understood by every worshipping soul:

We taste Thee, O Thou Living Bread,
And long to feast upon Thee still;
We drink of Thee, the Fountainhead
And thirst our souls from Thee to fill.

Come near to the holy men and women of the past and you will soon feel the heat of their desire after God.

Moses used the fact that he knew God as an argument for knowing Him better. “‘If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you’” (Exod. 33:13). From there Moses rose to make the daring request, “‘Now show me your glory’” (v. 18). God was pleased by this display of ardor, and the next day called Moses into the mount, where in solemn procession made His glory pass before him.

David’s life was a torrent of spiritual desire, and his Psalms ring with the cry of the seeker and the glad shout of the ? nder. Paul confessed the mainspring of his life to be his burning desire after Christ. “I want to know Christ” (Phil. 3:10), was the goal of his heart, and to this he sacrificed everything. “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (v. 8).

I want deliberately to encourage this mighty longing after God. The lack of it has brought us to our present low estate. The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long—so very long—in vain.

Keep It Simple

Every age has its own characteristics. Right now we are in an age of religious complexity. The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. The shallowness of our inner experi-ence, the hollowness of our worship, and that servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all.

If we would find God amid all the religious externals, we must first determine to find Him, and then proceed in the way of simplicity. Now, as always, God discloses Himself to babies, and hides Himself in thick darkness from the wise and the prudent. We must simplify our approach to Him and put away all effort to impress. Rather, we must come with the guileless candor of childhood. If we do this, without doubt God will quickly respond.

When religion has said its last word, there is little that we need other than God Himself. The evil habit of seeking God-and effectively prevents us from finding God in full revelation. In the and lies our great woe. If we omit the and we shall soon find God, and in Him we shall find that for which we have all our lives been secretly longing.

When the Lord divided Canaan among the tribes of Israel, Levi received no share of the land. God simply said to him, “‘You will have no inheritance in their land, nor will you have any share among them; I am your share and your inheritance among the Israelites’” (Num. 18:20). By those words God made Levi richer than all his brethren, richer than all the kings and rajas who have ever lived.

There is a spiritual principle here that is valid for every priest of the Most High God. The Christian who has God for his treasure has all things in One. Many ordinary treasures may be denied him, or if he is allowed to have them, the enjoyment of them will be so tempered that they will never be necessary to his happiness. Or if he must see them go, one after one, he will scarcely feel a sense of loss, for having the Source of all things he has in One all satisfaction, all pleasure, all delight. Whatever he may lose he has actually lost nothing, for he now has it all in One, and he has it purely, legitimately and forever.

O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need of further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, that so I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, “Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.” Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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