Following hard after You

I’ve already gotten off to a wrong start. It feels like I’m treating the pursuit of God like just another academic exercise. But this isn’t about my head; it’s about my heart. This is between me and my God.

Dear God, I want to know you. I want to find you. In every season, in every moment, before I bring my need, I will bring my heart and seek you first.

Lord, thank you for seeking me before I sought you. You drew me to you when I was just a little girl learning about Jesus. You’ve been there for me in all the good times and in all my difficulties. You’ve never left me, even when I wandered away from you. You put the desire in me to follow you. I don’t know why you chose me but I am so grateful that you did. Even as I continue to seek you, I take comfort in knowing that I am already in your hands.

Yes, I continue to seek you even though I found you long ago. I know you but I want to know you more. I already have you but I want more of you. I feel your presence and yet I long to be even closer to you. To most of the world, my pursuit of you is a mystery. I can only say that I believe in you. I adore you. I need you. I belong to you. I am Yours and you are mine.

I want to follow hard after you, Lord but I confess that I am too easily distracted by less important things. I am spiritually lazy. I tell myself that if only I had a quiet, secluded place and more time, I would focus more on you. But that is just an excuse, Lord. You’re right here. In every moment, in every place, you are with me. Give me the discipline to make time for you.

Lord, you created my inmost being. You have searched me and you know me, inside and out. You perceive my every thought. Before a word leaves my lips, you know it. I cannot hide anything from you. All the days of my life were written in your book before one of them came to be.

God, you are everything I need all wrapped up in One. You are my reason for being. You give my life purpose. You guide me. You shelter me in the storms of life. You are my rock and my redeemer. There is no greater love than the love you have for me. Thank you, Jesus, for saving me.

Lord, I pray that your Spirit will guide me as I follow hard after you. Search me and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. Show me my offensive ways and give me the courage to face the truths about myself that only you can reveal. Amen.

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In the first chapter of The Pursuit of God, “Following Hard after God,” A.W. Tozer wrote about prevenient grace. The grace of God precedes human action. As Tozer put it, “before a man can seek God, God must first have sought the man.” God must enlighten us and put the urge in us to purse him.

Tozer wrote that all human interactions are a response of personality to personality. God created us in his image so we have the capacity to know him. Some of our social encounters are casual and others are more full and intimate. Genuine religion “is in essence the response of created personalities to the creating personality, God.” Just as it takes more than one encounter to really know a person, it takes more than one encounter to know God. I love this image of God as a multi-faceted personality who knows my emotions and desires so well.

For those of us who wish that God would speak to us audibly, Tozer has encouraging words: “God communicates with us through the avenues of our minds, our wills, and our emotions.” He goes on to say that the “continuous and unembarrassed interchange of love and thought between God and the spirit of the redeemed man is the throbbing heart of New Testament religion.” This is a perfect description of prayer – spirit speaking to Spirit with the mind and the heart. It is raw, honest, and unembarrassed, just like Psalm 139.

Tozer wrote that complacency is the enemy of spiritual growth. Some people, once they have been “saved” or have “accepted Christ,” are not hungry or thirsty for God. They are self-satisfied. They practice religion with no “jar to the moral life and without embarrassment to the Adamic ego.” This is a shame because God does not want us to be lukewarm. He is a jealous God.

Tozer wrote that to have found God and to still pursue him is a paradox of love. This pursuit is a desire scorned by the self-satisfied but it is the joy of those whose hearts burn for God. The Spirit gives birth to spirit and when we are reborn, we sense our kinship with God. Our spirit leaps in joyous recognition. I am a child of God!

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 justified in happy experience by the children of the burning heart.

A.W. Tozer

Tozer’s advice for those of us who are determined to find God is to simplify our approach to Him. Strip down all the religious teaching to the essentials of our faith. Come to God as a child, without any pretenses.

Here I am God, your little girl. Fill my longing heart.

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Photo by Richard Dorran on Unsplash

A soul thirsting for the living God

Last year I bought A.W. Tozer’s book, The Pursuit of God, published in 1948. It’s only about 100 pages so it was a quick read. I knew I would eventually want to read it again to really reflect on it. I have been preoccupied the last few months relocating to a different state. Now my husband and I are settled in our new home and I’m ready to dive back into this book.

In the preface to the book, Tozer addressed a problem he saw with conservative Christianity. Many religious leaders did not see how hungry people are for God. Then, as now, there was no shortage of people who could teach fundamentals of the Christian faith from the Bible. But too often, this teaching did not satisfy a believer’s longing to experience the presence of God.

It is a solemn thing, and no small scandal in the kingdom, to see God’s children starving while actually seated at the Father’s table.

A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

The word of God had been widely disseminated and as a result, millions of people had Biblical knowledge. But Tozer wondered if “true spiritual worship” had ever been lower. As he observed, many churches put on a program every week and people came to church to be entertained. Few people engaged in real worship.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

Psalm 42:2

Tozer said that “the Bible is not an end in itself.” It is a means to bring people into an intimate relationship with God. It takes more than words to nourish the hungry soul. A person also has to “find God in personal experience.”

As a soul thirsting for the living God, I relate to what Tozer wrote decades ago. I’ve sat in the pew many times feeling like I’m watching a program when what I really want is to worship God. I’ve heard good sermons that really touched my heart but I’ve also listened to countless sermons that left my soul unsatisfied. In group Bible studies, I have been frustrated because people seem to care more about learning historical facts than about drawing closer to the living God.

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.

John 4:23-24

The time has come to worship the Father in Spirit and in truth.

Lord, I want to seek you, I want to find you, I want to know you. In every season, in every moment, I will bring my heart and seek you first.

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First (Lauren Daigle)

Before I bring my need
I will bring my heart
Before I lift my cares
I will lift my arms
I wanna know You
I wanna find You
In every season
In every moment
Before I bring my need
I will bring my heart
And seek You

A kingdom of mercy

I am convinced that the hope of the world is found in a kingdom that is not of this world – the kingdom of heaven. I’ve been studying the kingdom parables because I believe that God’s kingdom is the perfect antidote to the troubles that plague this world. Of all the kingdom parables, I think the easiest parable to understand is also the most difficult to put into practice.

Jesus told the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant after Peter asked him, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus replied, “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Jesus then told a parable that compared sins to debts.

In the parable, a servant who was deeply in debt to the king begged the king for patience in settling his accounts. The king was more than patient; he took pity on the servant and canceled his debt in full. The servant then went out and demanded payment from a fellow servant who owed him far less than he owed the king. The servant’s debtor also begged for patience but the servant refused. Instead of being merciful, he had the man thrown into prison. When the king heard that his servant had not shown the same mercy that had been shown to him, he was angry and handed him over to the jailers.

Jesus said, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

I say this parable is easy because the message is clear. We are all so deeply indebted to God that we could never repay him. And yet, because he is merciful, he cancels our debts in full. We are to forgive others just as our Father forgives us. We are to be merciful just as our Father is merciful.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8 (NIV)

I struggle sometimes to forgive others as I have been forgiven. The Lord’s prayer presupposes that we have forgiven our debtors. “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” How can we pray this prayer if we have not forgiven those who trespass against us?

This parable is hard because many of us do not forgive easily. We hold grudges. We keep score. We are so full of pride that we take the slightest offense as a personal affront. We don’t use the same standard when judging others as we do when judging ourselves. Instead of being honest about our own transgressions, we minimize them and make excuses.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Matthew 7:1-2

How easily we forget how much we have been forgiven! God sees us at our worst and he still loves us. He sees the darkness in our hearts and still forgives us.

As I was contemplating how difficult it can be to forgive, I read a few stories of forgiveness (and unforgiveness) in The Washington Post. As the author notes, sometimes we have to choose to forgive over and over again because the wounds are so deep. And some people cannot bring themselves to forgive at all.

Forgiveness may feel unfair. It may feel like you are letting someone get away without paying the right price. But unforgiveness is an awfully heavy burden to carry. As Joyce Meyer points out, unforgiveness is a poison that hurts the person who chooses not to forgive. Forgiveness frees the forgiver.

To all those who struggle to forgive deep hurts, I pray for healing. I pray for an obedient and humble heart. And I thank the Lord for his never ending mercy and forgiveness.

My refuge and strength

Last week, my pastor asked whether any of us had ever played the game jenga. He showed us photos of a couple of buildings that resemble a stack of jenga blocks; it is amazing that they haven’t toppled over. Like an unstable stack of blocks, sometimes it doesn’t take much to unbalance us. The stresses of life can wear you down and make you feel exhausted, depleted, overwhelmed. When life gets overwhelming, what do you do? Where do you go for help?

Pastor Brad said that faith and anxiety occupy the same space in our heads. He spoke about the coping mechanisms people use to deal with stress and anxiety. Many of us cope with stress in unhealthy ways – losing our temper, withdrawing from other people, or by eating or drinking or shopping to excess.

When you have faith, you can turn to God for help. A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.

I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:1

The scripture for the sermon was Psalm 46, one of the most familiar psalms. It begins, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” When I get really stressed, I wake up in the night and worry about things. I call on God in the darkness. I call on God when I am afraid. I call on God when I am overwhelmed and don’t know what to do. I call on God when I need courage. He comforts me. He builds me up. He gives me hope. He gives me peace. God is my refuge and strength.

I especially like Psalm 46:10. When you start to feel anxious, be still. Stop trying so hard to solve your own problems. Know that God is God. He’s got this. Put your trust in Him.

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

Psalm 46:10

Pastor Brad ended the sermon with Psalm 131:2.

But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.

Psalm 131:2

Like a weaned child, David was content. He was able to calm and quiet himself because he put his hope in the Lord.

When the stresses of life are overwhelming, what should you do? Wean yourself from the coping mechanisms of the world. They don’t work. Don’t be anxious about anything. Instead, call out to God. Let Him be your refuge and your strength.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

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Photo by Bart Jaillet on Unsplash

God cares, do I?

The last lesson of the truth project was by far the best. In most of the other lessons, Dr. Tackett outlined a divisive cosmic battle between those on the side of God’s truth and those who believe the “pernicious lies” of the world. The Truth Project approaches truth from a religious right, Us versus Them worldview. In this lesson, titled “Community & Involvement: God Cares, Do I?” Tackett finally got to a central truth of Christianity – God commanded us to love one another.

The central premise of the lesson is that because God cares about the needs of the people, we need to care about others as well. When Jesus was asked, which is the greatest commandment, he responded, “‘Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

The Heart of God

Here, at last, The Truth Project zeroed in on the heart of God. Though God is exalted above all others, He especially has a heart for the needy and the lowly. God cares about those who are considered the least among us.

Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly;
    though lofty, he sees them from afar.

Psalm 138:6

We learn about the heart of God when we look at Jesus. Anyone who has seen Jesus, has seen the Father (John 14:4-9). Jesus was gentle and humble. He did not use his equality with God as something to use for his own advantage. Instead, he took the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Seeing others as God sees them

Tackett said that we should see others as God sees them and recognize that we all have eternal significance. He quoted C.S. Lewis, who wrote, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” Everyday, we interact with people who are full of incredible potential. We should take each other seriously and remember that we are all on a journey of eternal spiritual significance.

In this lesson, I finally saw what was missing in the other lessons – love. It was moving to see the tears in Tackett’s eyes when he spoke about God’s love for ordinary people. I wish that The Truth Project had made the love of God the central theme and not just the last word.

My Critique of The Truth Project

One of the discussion questions asked, “do you have any closing comments about our twelve weeks together and the ground we have covered?” I’m glad they asked. While The Truth Project includes a lot of scriptural content, for me that did not make up for the errors in their teaching.

Either/Or, Us versus Them Thinking

The purpose of The Truth Project is to contrast the truth claims of God with the lies of the world. In lesson one, Dr. Tackett presented a list of supposedly opposite words that illustrated his binary thinking about the battle for truth: Unity vs. division. Diversity vs. unification. Roles vs. jealousy. Responsibility vs. blame. Authority vs. rebellion. Delegation vs. tyranny. Freedom vs. bondage.

The truth is, not everything is black or white. Not everything is knowable. Diverse communities can be unified by common values. While submitting to authority is generally a desirable thing, when those in authority abuse their power, rebellion may be necessary.

I couldn’t help but notice that there are words in Tackett’s list that are not opposites. When he suggests that “roles” are the antithesis of “jealousy” and “responsibility” is the antithesis of “blame,” he seems to be attributing motives to people he does not know. In doing so, he does not acknowledge the complexity and diversity of human thoughts and behavior.

The Truth Project leaves no room for a both/and worldview. You either believe like Dr. Tackett or he claims that you believe lies. One of the best examples of this was the lesson on science in which Tackett made his case against evolution. The study guides says that “fallen man ignores the plain evidence of objective scientific inquiry and promotes the atheistic philosophy of evolutionary theory primarily because he is determined to do as he pleases without answering to a higher authority.” Here again, Dr. Tackett ascribes bad motives to people he does not know. Many Christians simultaneously believe that God is the Creator and believe scientific evidence.

Comparing human institutions to the Holy Trinity

In several of the lessons, Tackett spoke about social institutions that he believes reflect the divine design of God – the family, the church, the government, labor, community, and the relationship between man and God. For example, Tackett believes that families were designed by God to be triune in nature. He equates the relationships and roles of husband, wife and children to the Father, Son and Spirit, based in part on Ephesians 5:22-33, which says that wives should submit to their husbands.

I take issue with The Truth Project’s claims about the divine design of social institutions because it glosses over the sinful nature of man and the fact that God gave mankind the freedom to exercise dominion over our world. Where are the biblical examples of social institutions that reflect God’s perfect unified nature?

The Bible teaches that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). All individuals fall short of the glory of God. All families fall short of the glory of God. All governments fall short of the glory of God. All churches fall short of the glory of God.

Thinking Christians can fix the world

Finally, The Truth Project promotes the idea that if Christians just take a stand against the lies of the world, we can fix it. Tackett says that if believers want our government to be based on biblical principles, we must carry on the “experiment” of our Christian forefathers.

In The Truth Project’s worldview, I see legalism at work – the belief that we can earn salvation by obeying God’s commandments and that keeping God’s laws is an end in itself. Legalists sometimes err by making up their own rules and pretending that they are God’s.

The legalist focuses only on obeying bare rules, destroying the broader context of God’s love and redemption in which He gave His law in the first place.

3 Types of Legalism, from R.C. Sproul

Even if all families consisted of a husband, wife and children, even if the only form of government on this planet was theocratic, even if all secular schools were banished from the earth and the ten commandments were prominently posted where everyone could read them, people would still lie and cheat and steal and murder and commit adultery. And even those who outwardly appear to be righteous, law abiding citizens would still have hearts that are not right with God.

The truth is only God can transform people. God changes people from the inside out. God changes hearts.

What did I get out of The Truth Project? Not what Focus on the Family would hope, I’m sure. I choose to not look at the world as a battleground. I believe that God wants me to see the world as He see it – with grace-filled eyes.

See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

Hebrew 12:15

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