Usually, when we think of our relationship with God, we view ourselves as the pursuers. We are the ones chasing after God, trying to get Him to be with us and to bless us. We hear message after message and read book after book telling us how to be successful at pursing God, whether it is by certain disciplines, having more faith, or just by being better people. Yet, in the New Testament, God becomes the pursuer. Jesus came to seek and to save us, and his quest led Him all the way to the cross.
This revelation presents a different way of looking at ourselves and at God. It is a whole new paradigm. Have you ever viewed yourself this way? Have you ever gotten up in the morning and said, “Today, God is pursing me! How can I let Him catch me?” If you have never thought of yourself in this way, I am going to attempt to change your mind on this matter. If we begin to see ourselves as the pursued, we will become conscious of God in new ways, even in places and times we formerly thought He was not present. We will see God is always wonderfully near and active in our lives.
If we desire to perceive God’s pursuit, we must first understand its nature. In other words, why is Jesus knocking at the door? What does He want? Some would say that He knocks at the door of our heart, because He wants to give us a job to do. We have all heard of that mystical call to service. Jesus said to His disciples, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers for men.”( Matthew 4:19) I have felt this call myself, and it is a deep one. God has something for you and Him to do together, but this mission is merely part of a much deeper purpose. This higher calling is usually much quieter, and sometimes we only understand it after years of walking with the Lord, but when we see it, we realize that God is orchestrating all things to His magnificent purpose. We suddenly see His hand in every place. We will explore this highest of callings shortly.
Some say that Jesus knocks at the door, because He has presents to give us. Perhaps we could picture Jesus at the door with a huge sack slung over His shoulder filled with all sorts of blessings, both material and spiritual. Maybe He has an empty sack, too. This He fills with all the things we don’t want in our lives, our problems, our lacking, our loneliness, and failings. He takes away all of these things when His visit is complete. Our life is left more to our liking, our reward for trusting Him. The Lord certainly brings good things into our lives when He arrives. His provision is a good one, even though it rarely looks quite like we expect.
But, what happens when God does not give us what we want? What happens if He does not remove the things we dread, even though we beg Him to do so? At these times we can grow disillusioned with the Lord, maybe even mad at Him. We can compare ourselves to others and wonder why we didn’t get what they got. Such times are pivotal in our relationship with God. We can turn our back, or we can dig deeper, and cry out for understanding. Blessed are those who do not give up on the goodness of God, for to them God reveals the depths of what His goodness really is.
Revelation 3:20 reveals the heart of the matter. Jesus knocks, because He wants to come in. He wants our company. Yet, His fellowship far exceeds any human fellowship. He does indeed have a gift to give us, and that gift is Himself. That is what love does; it gives itself away. Yet, God gives Himself in such a way that we actually participate in who He is, and the two become one. Togetherness, even union, is at the heart of God.
In the Old Testament, a temple was more than just a meeting place or a place of worship; it was a house, the place where God dwelt. Paul was saying that our lives are containers, made through Christ, to be filled with God, Himself. This idea presents an astonishing way to look at our lives. Our lives are the habitation of God, the place He prefers to dwell. Of course, no life can contain God, so the Spirit must overflow. This wondrous image reveals the nature and the goal of the one who pursues us. His nature is love, and His gift is Himself. No other end will do, and there is no greater calling. All other purposes no matter how noble or good must bow to this one. When we understand what drives the heart of God, we see what drives His pursuit. It is also becomes very clear that virtually everything that happens to us in life bears the fingerprints of the God who is at work to give Himself to us.
Yet, there are things that can keep us oblivious to God’s dealings in our lives. One of the most ironic is our own efforts to pursue God! In the Gospels there are certain people we meet often in the various stories and encounters. One is the Pharisees. This is no accident. In them we see people who thought they were seeking God, but they were really running from Him. The Pharisees believed they had a heart after God. Their efforts to win God’s approval included fasting two days a week, paying tithes, purity rituals, circumcision, and Sabbath keeping. These were the fellows who added details to God’s commandments. For example, the Torah says not to work on the Sabbath, but how do you define what is work and what is not? The Pharisees had it covered. They had 39 categories to define what was prohibited on God’s day of rest.
With all this zeal, you would think the Pharisees would have been Jesus’s best friends, but they were among His worst enemies. They saw the Son of God with their eyes, but they were completely blind to the kingdom of God. They thought they were on God’s side, but they were actually fighting God. This is a mind boggling irony that we would do well to ponder. Why was the Pharisee’s zealous pursuit of God actually running form God, and why did it make them blind to God’s presence?
Jesus came to give us God. That was the heart of His mission. He did the work so we could live in God’s presence and enjoy His immeasurable kindness. The old measure of how much God we could have was self, but that measure died with Christ. A new measure broke forth when Jesus rose from the grave. That measure is no longer self but Christ. Therefore, our great endeavor in the New Covenant is not to pursue and catch God, but to live in the fact that He has caught us.
The early Celtic Christians had a name for the Holy Spirit, “Geadh Glas,” which translated is “Wild Goose.” Ever been on a wild goose chase? Though the image goes back even further, William Shakespeare cemented it in our vernacular in his play Romeo and Juliet written in 1592. It represents a pointless or impossible endeavor. I have never chased an actual wild goose myself, but I understand they are very hard to catch. Just when you think you have captured the elusive bird, it escapes, and the pursuit continues.
If we are honest, we must admit that Celtic Christians understood what our relationship with God can be like. We work so hard to get close to the Lord. We pray, we study, we change our ways, we go to church a lot, and we may even throw in a little fasting, if we think it will help. At times we might think we are almost there. We have finally gotten close to God, but then our efforts slip, and God is gone once again.
Why is God like that? If you have been on the wild goose chase long enough, you begin to get a revelation. God does not want us to catch Him! In fact, if we try, He will be the wild goose in our lives…deliberately. Our pursuit of God is meant to fail, and it must if we are ever to live in grace. Reaching the end of your quest for God is part of reaching the end of self, but at the end, sometimes in the midst of despair, God catches us.
When I was younger, I got sick, not just a cold or flu, but really sick. It started one night with what I thought was a stomach bug. I thought it would be over in the morning, but it didn’t let up. For days eating was excruciating, and sleep became elusive, because I was nauseous most of the time. I started going to doctors, but no one could figure out what was wrong. One even called me crazy. I lost about 35 pounds. When I went to work, my coworkers told me I looked awful. Just for future reference, if someone is sick, and they look bad, don’t tell them! Tell them they look great, anything but awful! It got so I didn’t want to look in the mirror.
Finally, a bright young gastroenterologist figured it out. I had what could be described as a spastic gallbladder. I don’t remember the medical name, but your gallbladder spasms, and it makes you feel nauseous. It was really something very simple, and they removed the offending organ shortly after that. It was all over I thought. Finally, God had delivered me! But, it wasn’t. For whatever reason, my colon started acting up, and I was diagnosed with colitis. I was sick for two more years.
Near the end of my ordeal, I was tired… tried of holding onto God. I lost my grip. I even told Him how I felt. I went to my place of prayer, got down on my knees, and told the Lord I that I couldn’t believe Him anymore. What do you think God would do to a preacher who lost his faith? Maybe a lightning bolt?
There are times in our lives when God’s presence is so powerful, it is almost overwhelming. This was one of those times, and He was not mad at all. In fact, He spoke something to my heart that would change the course of my life. He opened my eyes to what faith really is. Faith is not holding onto God. It is seeing that God holds onto us, and He does not let go, even when we let go of Him. I was very familiar with the concept of grace. I preached about it often, but that day I began to live in it. Sometimes God pursues us by letting our efforts to catch him fail. If we do not understand this, God can look invisible in our lives, but He is really very present, wrestling with us, longing for the day we let go of our self-righteousness and take our first steps in His astonishing grace.
This passage may come to mind when we are thinking of God’s pursuit. Don’t we have to pursue God, too? Don’t we have to seek Him with our whole heart? Yes, of course, we should. However, seeking God has a different framework in the New Covenant. We seek not so much to become but to know. God’s presence is a revelation not an accomplishment.
Hebrews chapter four speaks of God’s rest, and it says we are to strive to enter into it. Strive to rest? This seems like a contradiction, but it describes New Testament seeking perfectly. We strive to enter into what is done, the finished works of Christ. This does not mean that we gain more and more righteousness, becoming more and more acceptable to God. Quite the opposite, it means that we increasingly lose our own righteousness, even coming to despise it. We suffer this loss that we might come to complete rest in the righteousness of Christ. That rest means there is no work left for us to do. God’s presence simply is, and we cannot change that. If we still believe that we can somehow make God go away, we still wear the veil of self-righteousness, and we must seek for God to remove it.
The scriptures tell us that God is love. How do you pursue love? You pursue it by letting it catch you! You come to know that you cannot make God love you more, and you cannot make God love you less. His love, like His presence, simply is. It only needs to be seen. This is why a great deal of our seeking is merely asking God to open our eyes to His divine love. When we see, we rest.
Seeing God’s love for ourselves is very much tied to seeing it for others. Again, we can look to the Pharisees for our example. They thought God was so interested in them, because of who they were and what they did. Certainly, they were God’s best friends, and the evil Torah breakers were God’s worst enemies. Yet, as many of the Pharisees sat smug in their own importance, Jesus was across the way having dinner with the tax collectors. Let that sink in for a moment. Who had God’s interest? Who did He pursue?
Often we glory in our pursuit of God, when our glory should be in His pursuit of us. We do the running. God does the catching, and it seems like the harder we run, the harder He pursues. This is a matter of God’s glory, yet we cannot see that glory if we cannot see it for our neighbor. If we measure our efforts to catch God against our neighbor’s, we become blind. We trap ourselves in the wild goose chase, never catching God, yet condemning others for our very condition! Somehow we feel our failure is better than theirs.
Once we understand what God is after, we begin to recognize His pursuit. Sometimes we think the Devil is knocking at our door, but it is really Christ. Have you ever asked for more of God, and suddenly your worst enemy showed up on your doorstep? Have you ever made an oath to God to be better at the chase, but immediately you failed to keep your promises, even falling to your most shameful weakness? Or after seeking God, have you suffered loss, great lacking, or trial? You might think these things are the Devil trying to steal from you, but sometimes we get so focused on the Devil that we fail to see that God, Himself, is in the midst of these things.
We have an offering box at the back of Thorncrown Chapel. We depend heavily on the small offerings that fill that little box. One day we got robbed. It was the oldest trick in the book. Someone distracted our host at the door, and her partner cleaned out the offering box. It was not a huge amount of money, but we felt violated. I don’t know about women, but when such things happen, we men think about all we would like to do to those who wronged us. We sometimes play it over and over in our minds. I was bothered about this for about two days.
Then God caught me. He showed me that this finite loss was actually an opportunity to gain something infinite. The Sermon on the Mount is a picture of the life lived from above, the life in God’s presence. God called my heart to come live there, to forgive, to turn the other cheek, and to give a blessing instead of a curse. He didn’t ask me to do these things alone, but to do them together with Him. This evil deed was an invitation to participate in God! What an opportunity!
Sometimes when we seek God, we come face to face with our weaknesses and failure far more than with our desired victory. It may seem that way, but this is also God’s pursuit! We don’t see the depths of God’s grace when we are at our best. We see it, and it overwhelms us when we are at our worst. We don’t expect God in the midst of our weakness, but when we meet Him there, His love conquers us. When God gives Himself to you when you have absolutely nothing to offer Him, your fear ends. Love begins. Union replaces separateness, which is what God wanted all along. He never wanted you to become someone He could stand to be around. He just wanted you.
Likewise, we think when trials come, God couldn’t possibly in the midst of them. It is like watching a terrible storm approaching. God couldn’t possibly be in there, could He? Could He meet with me in such a place? One of the great revelations of God’s pursuit is that He is indeed in the storm, and in the storm He has come to give you a gift, not a trouble free life, but Himself. The storm can only shake the finite, and when God shakes the finite, it is always to give us the infinite. We are so afraid of losing the things we can see with our eyes. Yet, sometimes God takes them away so we can see God. He blows away the earthly, so He can give us the heavenly. So, the next time a storm approaches looking as terrible as a tornado…relax. In biblical terms, don’t fret. Instead, say to yourself, “I know who is in there, and He has come to give Himself to me!”
God is always inviting us to change our minds, and when we do, everything is different. When we know God is the great Pursuer, our ears will become attune to His knocking, and when we hear it, we will race to open the door. In fact, we will recognize that God is always knocking, always seeing to give. He gives Himself in success and failure, having and not having, in times of trial and in times of peace. To give is always His purpose, and our purpose is always to receive and to be given in return. (2)
In this article I will quote from the World English Bible. The folks who created this modern translation have made it completely copyright free. In other words, they spent countless hours on this project then donated it to humanity. I find that idea immensely appealing. For more information, visit http://ebible.org/web/.
If you want to read more on this subject, I highly recommend a book called Furious Pursuit by Tim King and Frank Martin. Available at Amazon.com.