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Seeking God Diligently
by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Lord's Prayer stained glass window, Nampa College Church [Nazarene], Nampa, Idaho.
It seems like I'm always losing something. Then I spend time looking again and again in the same places, until suddenly my eye spots it. Why didn't I see it before? Jesus told a parable about a woman who lost a silver coin. She lights a lamp, then sweeps and scours every inch of her house until she finds it (Luke 15:8-10). I can relate to that -- seeking diligently something lost, something missing.
Seek the Lord While He May Be Found (Isaiah 55:6)
A passage in Isaiah talks about seeking.
"Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near." (Isaiah 55:6)
What does it mean to "seek the Lord"? The verb means "to seek with care, with diligence." Here it seems also to have the sense of "worship."
People in our secular world don't "seek the Lord." But sadly, neither do many Christians. We might go to church a couple times a month and hum along with the songs. But are we seeking diligently?
I sometimes ask Christians: What does your daily time with God look like? The answers I get are discouraging. Many believers don't have any time in their day set apart to draw close to Jesus, to worship him, to seek his guidance, to spend time in his Word. Maybe, if you're honest, this describes you.
David, the Earnest Seeker
David's psalms give us a glimpse into his spiritual life.
"You have said, 'Seek my face.'
My heart says to you,
'Your face, LORD, do I seek.'" (Psalm 27:8)
Notice that David talks about seeking the Lord's face, an Hebraic way of saying that he longs to talk to the Lord face to face, like Moses (Exodus 33:11). He is looking for an intimate encounter with the Lord, not just a rote prayer.
When David is being chased by King Saul in the parched Judean desert, he calls out with desperation.
"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." (Psalm 63:1)
"Earnestly" (ESV, NIV) is an extension of the idea of "early" (KJV), "Early will I seek thee." First thing in the morning David is out seeking the Lord -- seeking a word, seeking comfort, seeking direction, seeking to know him better.
Jesus himself follows the same pattern.
"Rising very early in the morning,
while it was still dark,
he departed and went out to a desolate place,
and there he prayed." (Mark 1:35)
"Early will I seek thee."
My friend, do you seek the Lord with this kind of determination? If not, why not?
Don't Wait for Another Time
Look again at our text from Isaiah.
"Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near." (Isaiah 55:6)
It's dangerous to put off seeking God to a more opportune time. I've talked to many people who wished they could redo whole seasons of their lives, but it's too late now. There is a time to seek him, and that time is now. Tomorrow you may not feel that same hunger and intensity. Whole years may be lost to intimate communion with the Lord. Don't put it off; do it now!
There was a time -- only two years into their sojourn in the Sinai desert -- when the Israelites could have gone into Canaan and conquered the land. But they rebelled, refused, and spent the next 38 years in the desert. There was a short window of time during which they could obey, but it was fleeting, and they chose wrong (Numbers 13-14). "Today, if you hear his voice..." -- respond (Hebrews 3:7; Psalm 95:7).
"Behold, now is the favorable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation." (2 Corinthians 6:2)
When I was pastoring in Los Angeles, I remember encouraging a man, pleading with him, to surrender his life to Christ before he went in the operating room for open heart surgery. He put me off. "After I get out of the hospital, then...." His heart stopped on the table. I'll never forget watching through the windows the doctors performing CPR on him trying to get his heart going again. They couldn't. It was too late for him to make his peace with God.
The Lord tells his people:
"You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:13)
Repenting of Both Deeds and Thoughts (Isaiah 55:7-9)
Back to Isaiah 55. Now, Isaiah describes what is necessary for his people to seek the Lord with whole hearts.
"Let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the LORD...." (Isaiah 55:7a)
People are called on to forsake their way, their path, the lifestyle that they are pursuing. "Forsake" is a strong word. We prefer half-way measures, but the Lord calls for full repentance. We must leave the wrong or sinful pathway, and start walking on the right and righteous one. Repentance requires a lifestyle change.
But not just right actions are required to be able to commune closely with Lord. Right thoughts are necessary too.
Our thoughts are the precursors and motivators of our actions. We can burn with anger inwardly, and try to be nice on the outside, but people aren't usually fooled. The Pharisees were proud of their keeping of the letter of the law, but Jesus nailed them for their adulterous and murderous thoughts (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28).
God invites us to think like he thinks. To think his thoughts.
"For my thoughts are not your
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Yahweh asks us to become like he himself is. The world laughs at people who try to keep their thoughts pure and right. "They're so heavenly minded that they're no earthly good," they say. But that's a smoke-screen to hide rebellion against God. We know that seeking God involves "a whole heart and a willing mind" (1 Chronicles 28:9).
We purify out thoughts by letting them be cleansed by constant attention to the Scriptures, which is a way to think God's thoughts after him.
"You are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you." (John 15:3)
"... Having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word." (Ephesians 5:26)
At the same time, we train ourselves to turn away from and reject thoughts that are wrong so they don't take root in us. We can't prevent thought temptations, but we don't have to embrace them. Martin Luther said, "You can't keep a bird from flying over your head, but you can keep him from making a nest in your hair."
"Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Philippians 4:8)
My brothers, my sisters, God wants to purify both our thoughts and our actions. And as we submit to him, he will do this.
Abundant Pardon and Clear Vision (Isaiah 55:7)
And as we are gradually purified, we'll be able to see his face more and more clearly.
"Let the wicked
forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the LORD,
that he may have compassion on him, and to our God,
for he will abundantly pardon." (Isaiah 55:7)
When I evaluate my actions and thoughts -- especially my thoughts -- I fall way short. I am ashamed. God knows us and our weaknesses and imperfections, but in spite of them he calls us to himself.
We are called to "return to the Lord." The Hebrew verb used here, "better than any other verb, combines in itself the two requisites of repentance: to turn from evil and to turn to the good."
God calls us to himself so that we might experience his compassion and his love afresh and anew. Compassion is God's mercy for his children who love him, while they still flounder with getting it right. And he doesn't just forgive us a bit, conditionally. Rather he pardons us abundantly! Hallelujah.
How about Now?
Where are you, my sister, my brother? Jesus calls you today to leave behind the ways and thoughts that have injured you and left you helpless. That have clouded your vision of him. He calls you to come to him. He wants you to seek him, to see his face and be changed by it. And come close so you can feel his love, compassion, and pardon, so you can know in your innermost being that it is good between you and your God. That is your inheritance as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Knowing God intimately and walking with him is the greatest blessing we can know this side of heaven. Won't you return to him now and seek him afresh?
 "Seek" in verse 8a is the Qal imperative of dārash, "to seek with care, inquire, require." It is a frequent parallel and equivalent of bāqash, "to seek, require, desire" (Piel and Pual). To seek God can also connote an inquiry after knowledge, advice, insight, into a particular problem. Inquiry could be made through a prophet or priest. In the Old Testament, it often refers to praying to the Lord (Genesis 25:22), sometimes seeking a word from the Lord -- advice, direction, knowledge (Leonard J. Coppes, dārash, in R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament ("TWOT"; Moody Press, 1980)#455). William L. Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, based on the Lexical work of Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans / Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1988), p. 75 sees in dārash, the meanings of "worship," "turn in petition to" used 75 times in the OT, and occasionally "seek a word from," among others.
 Both occurrences of "seek" use the Piel stem of bāqash, "to seek, require, desire" (Leonard J. Coppes, TWOT #276).
 When the expression "seek the face of" refers to a human ruler it means "to seek an audience with." When the subject is God, it means to seek his presence, that is, to be face to face with him. Penê, "face," is used here in the sense of presence. With a preposition, the word signifies "in the presence of, before" (Victor P. Hamilton, pānā, TWOT #1782a). The expression is used eight times in the Old Testament, always with the verb bāqash. (Psalm 24:6; 27:8 (twice); 105:4 = 1 Chronicles 16:11; Proverbs 29:26; Hosea 5:1; 2 Chronicles 7:14; 20:3.
 "Found" is the infinitive construct of māṣāʾ, "find," here in the Niphal stem, the passive, "to be found," but also possible are translations such as be "overpowered," "captured," and "apprehended" (Victor P. Hamilton, TWOT #1231). "Near" is qārôb, "near," from the verb qārab, "come near, approach." It can indicate nearness in space, time, family ties, interest, or an epistemological nearness (Deuteronomy 30:14) (TWOT #2065).
 "Way" is derek, "way, path."
 ʿAzab, "leave, forsake, loose," TWOT #1594.
 "Thoughts" is the noun maḥashābâ, "thought, plan, invention," from the verb ḥāshab, "think, plan, make a judgment, imagine" (Leon J. Wood, TWOT #767d).
 "Compassion" (ESV), "mercy" (NIV, NRSV, KJV) is the Piel stem of rāḥam, to "love deeply; have mercy, be compassionate." "In the Piel it is used for the deep inward feeling we know variously as compassion, pity, mercy" (Leonard J. Coppes, TWOT #2146).
 "Abundantly" (ESV, KJV, NRSV), "freely" (NIV) is the Hiphil stem of the verb rābâ, "be(come) great, many, much, numerous" (William White, TWOT #2103). "Pardon" is the Qal infinitive construct of the verb sālaḥ, "forgive, pardon." The word is used of God's offer of pardon and forgiveness to the sinner, but never to people forgiving each other. The Akkadian salāh̠u means "sprinkle" in cultic and medical contexts (Walter C. Kaiser, TWOT #1503).
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