[In these days of religious pluralism, let me say that by ‘GOD’ I mean the unique, Triune One who has revealed himself uniquely in the Bible and Person of Jesus Christ: see my critique of universalism in my Archives, dated 25/07/20]
In our House Church we recently unpacked the phrase ‘FOLLOWING AFTER GOD’ [A. W. Tozer] from James 4:1-10 and Psalm 63:1-8…
(1) Let’s start with the JAMES 4 PASSAGE. In the light thereof, too many followers of Jesus in today’s world are ‘following hard after their own desires!’ (of course, it was so in James’s time also). In v. 1ff and 4ff James rebukes his readers’ selling-out of their hard-won faith and surrendering to a thoroughly ‘worldly’ spirit: ‘What is the source of conflict among you? Don’t they come from your cravings that are at war in your own lives? You long for something you don’t have… You unfaithful people! Don’t you know that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God?’ (CEB). He lists their self-sins: covetousness, jealousy, selfish prayers, pride, self-aggrandizement, etc. He points out these inevitably end in conflict! He mentions their spiritual adultery with the world whose spirit is anti-Christ. It struck me how across the world today so many Christians have bought into the same sense of ‘entitlement’ found in a largely GOD-LESS world (‘I have my rights!’), without a corresponding sense of responsibility toward our neighbour. We’re very good at grabbing things but not so good at sharing them. James calls his readers to single-mindedness amid the many inevitable trials that come our way. God’s blessings are certainly not for the spineless and double-minded, as is made clear in 1:2-8, ‘Whoever doubts is like the surf of the sea, tossed and turned by the wind. People like that should never imagine that they will receive anything from the Lord. They are double-minded, unstable in all their ways.’ (1) Many believers, in life and prayer and witness, are like intermittent car indicator-lights!
The apostle calls his readers to habitually come close to God, in the words of our blog-title to ‘follow hard after God!’ ‘Doesn’t God long for our faithfulness in the life he has given to us? But he gives us more grace… Come near to God, and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts you double-minded . Cry out in sorrow, mourn and weep! Let your laughter become mourning and your joy become sadness. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up’ (v. 5b-10) (2). This coming to God and following hard after him is a serious business! I love watching track-athletes and seeing the runners being stretched to the limit by the pace-setter. They try to stick to him/her as closely as they can. When the pace-setter peels off to the right, the participants push as hard as they can for the finish line to take the prize. That’s a parable for us. We strive for perfection (Mt. 5:48), even if we don’t always attain it – it’s the intention that’s all-important.
(2) Let’s go to the PSALTER PASSAGE IN PS. 63. It’s a David Song, composed while pursued (with his motley crew) by King Saul and Israel’s army, right into the heart of the Judean desert, where the poet and his men hide in caves, in danger of their very life.
The southern Judean desert area near the Dead Sea and Masada is not named Jeshimon, i.e.’desolation,’ for nothing – some years ago my wife and I were privileged to visit there. My South African followers will know of Graaff Reinet’s towering rocky cliffs overlooking the ‘Valley of Desolation.’ Imagine the Judean desert’s summer heat, bare rocks everywhere, with caves the only shelter. In one little valley the desolation is broken by a thin green ribbon of vegetation downstream of the fountain of Engedi, with its cool stream and beautiful little waterfall in which visitors splash and keep cool, children especially. Back to David and his parched, frightened men as described in Ps. 63:1ff and climaxing in v. 8. He cries out ‘God! My God! It’s you – I search for you! My whole being thirsts for you! My body desires you in a dry and tired land, no water anywhere… My lips praise you because your faithful love is better than life itself! So I will bless you as long as I’m alive… I’m fully satisfied – as with a rich dinner… you’ve been a help to me and I shout for joy in the protection of your wings. My whole being clings to you; your strong hand upholds me…’ (CEB). In the KJV and ASV v. 8 translates, ‘My soul followeth hard after Thee…’ In the Afrikaans Bible, ‘Ek bly altyd naby U!’ NRSV, ‘My soul cleaves to you.’ MSG, ‘I hold on to you for dear life…’ Btw, in Ps. 73:28 Asaph determines, ‘It’s good for me to be near God.’ I.o.w. ‘satisfying fullness’ is found in God and in him alone! Can you testify of that, my reader? Can I??
A.W. Tozer wrote brilliantly concerning this topic in his‘The Pursuit of God,’ ‘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.’
As an example of this ‘holy desire’ Tozer quotes one of F.W. Faber’s hymns…
‘Only to sit and think of God,
O what a joy it is!
To think the thought, to breathe the Name;
Earth has no higher bliss.
Father of Jesus, love’s reward!
What rapture will it be,
Prostrate before Thy throne to lie
And gaze and gaze on Thee!’
According to Tozer, Faber’s ‘love for the Person of Christ was so intense that it threatened to consume him; it burned within him as a sweet and holy madness and flowed from his lips like molten gold.’
HOW DO WE IMPLEMENT this ‘FOLLOWING HARD AFTER GOD??’ I would suggest three things…
By grace-led obedience. The essence of sin is unbelief and disobedience – what we need to strive after are faith and obedience (cf. The Letters of James and Hebrews).
By full consecration. So many believers today are happy simply to be on the gravy-train to ‘heaven.’ If you’ve never responded to the call of Christ, I plead with you to do so today, entrusting yourself to him in child-like faith. Back-slidden believer, will following Jesus cost you? Of course, it cost Christ everything! Jam. 4:7 reminds us,‘Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will run away from you…’ Our enemy will fight us every step of the way, even to our death-bed – but with Christ within, we shall overcome! (cf. Eph. 6:10ff)
By child-like reliance. The pursuit of God is incredibly hard, yet delightfully easy! How come?? I’m reminded of Jesus’ words in Mt. 11:28-30 where, having spoken of his intimate relationship with the Father and how his wisdom is hidden from the wise and intelligent but revealed to ‘babies,’ he says ‘Come to Me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light!’ (Mt. 11:28-30/CEB).
We made a call in our House Church for folk to wholeheartedly pursue God. The result was heart-felt prayer and tears on the part of quite a few. I suggested they write the date of this new consecration in their Bibles, a constant reminder of their intent. Since then we’ve noticed a definite difference! If so moved by the Spirit of God, won’t you join us and many across the globe in this demanding but happy and satisfying pursuit of God?? If you so wish (no pressure), you may want to indicate your consecration under comments.
[PS. My geriatric computer needs to be replaced. This will involve a process. If I don’t respond to any comments immediately, I trust you’ll understand why. Thank you]
(1) Danish philosopher/theologian Soren Kierkegaard’s ‘Purity of Heart’ is well worth a read on this point of single-mindedness.
(2) Can you imagine a sermon from these verses (the weeping and penitence ones) preached from our pulpits today!? Some post-modern Western Christian teachers claim that believers only have to repent once. Cf. Andrew Farley’s ‘The Naked Gospel.’ Cf. Mt. 6:12, 1 Jn. 1, Psalm 51, etc. Small wonder the Church at large, particularly in the Western World, is so weak and ineffective in so many ways!