When I was 23 years old, I decided it was time to move out of my parent’s house and go it alone. Well, almost alone. I did take my exceptionally loyal cocker spaniel with me. Ginger was the definition of a companion dog. She loved being as near as possible to me, so she was always curled up under my feet, lying next to me on the couch, or snuggled down under the covers with me at night. She would even jump up on the closed lid of the toilet to be right beside me while I put on my make-up and fixed my hair in the mornings. Sometimes when I would catch her napping, I would play our version of “Hide & Seek.” I’d disappear behind a door or conceal myself behind a piece of furniture, and it wouldn’t take long until I would hear her dog tags start to jingle as she began to look for me. No matter how well I’d hide, she’d eventually sniff me out and I would reward her with an excited “You found me!” greeting and a doggie treat!
For a long time when I would read the many verses in scripture about seeking the Lord, I couldn’t help but think about the game I used to play with Ginger. I wondered if these passages were veiled invitations to an exercise where my perseverance or spiritual sleuth skills were being tested. Was I supposed to search behind this principle or ferret out that verse until God would finally say “You found Me!” and give me a reward for my diligent pursuit?
Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always. ~ 1 Chronicle 16:11
When you read a verse like this, it’s easy to focus mostly on the words ‘seek’ and ‘look’ and end up confused and frustrated because you don’t know how to go on such a quest. When you think about it, how would one search for a God “who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:6) anyway? I mean, if He’s everywhere, then He should be pretty easy to find, right? Except, of course, that He’s also invisible! So it’s obvious that if we’re to follow these instructions that David spoke, what he’s saying must be somehow different than looking for something that’s lost or hidden.
I heard a pastor once say to the men in the congregation that being married meant listening to your wife with your face. Everyone listening roared with laughter because they knew exactly what the preacher was saying. He meant that it isn’t enough for a man to just be in the room when his wife is talking. Really listening (and communicating love) means he must stop what he’s doing and direct full attention –face and all- to what his wife is saying. Besides being good relational advice, this also gave me a pretty good understanding of how we can seek the Lord’s face as well.
Remove physical distractions – I remember an incident from my days as a newlywed. I was sitting on the couch talking to Clif about my day at work while he was lying prone on the floor looking at a news magazine that had just come in the mail. As I went on and on with my stories and he didn’t respond much, I hypothesized that he was more focused on the article in front of him than he was to what I was saying. I tested my theory by stringing together random stream of words ending by saying “and who knows what pickles know. Right, dear?” As if on cue, he said, “That’s right.” Busted! Obviously, he hadn’t heard anything that I had just said.
If we want to seek the Lord’s face and know His will, one of the first (and easiest) things we need to do is to set aside things in our everyday world that clamor for our attention. It’s essentially impossible to turn your attention fully to Him when your cell phone chirps every five minutes. You can’t find Him while the commercials between your favorite programs drone on in the background, and you can’t meet Him between posts while you’re chatting on-line. Serious desire for God means we have to change our habits and eliminate distractions to make Him our priority.
Remove emotional distractions – Did you know that how you think can impact what you hear from the Lord? If you expect God to be harsh and judgmental, then the messages you hear from Him will be interpreted that way. If you carry guilt from past mistakes, you’ll consistently feel condemnation as you try to hear from Him, and if you expect justification for behavior that’s outside the commands of God, you’ll look for loopholes around His clear commands.
When we seek the Lord’s face, we have to be careful not to interpret what He says through our own preconceptions. That can be difficult because we’re usually blind to our own ingrained programming, so this is why we need to be under the regular teaching of God’s Word. As we open ourselves to the mirror of God’s truth, we can trust the Holy Spirit to expose attitudes that need to be corrected. As we shape our thinking and retrain our mind with Scripture, God will reveal Himself in deeper and more intimate ways.
Pause – I’ve taught a lot of English lessons in my years as a homeschool mom, and I think one of the most difficult punctuation rules to convey are those relating to the comma. I tell the kids that most of the time, it’s pretty easy. Just read the sentence out loud in a normal speaking voice. Commas go where the natural pauses occur.
We need to learn to insert some “commas” in our pursuit of God as well. The mistake we often make in trying to know the Lord is to simply read the Bible like we might read a textbook or novel. We pick it up and read one day, then put it down. The next day we pick it up again, read it some more. Our reading then becomes more about achieving some arbitrary goal than it does about understanding and applying what it says. Because we move too quickly, we never pause to let God reveal Himself.
If you’ve ever tried to refinish an old piece of furniture, you know stripper is a valuable chemical that helps remove the old coat of paint, but you can’t just wipe it on and seconds later expect the paint to peel off. In order for the solvent to work, it has to be given enough time to penetrate the surface. The same is true of God’s Word. When you brush quickly over the surface, you don’t give the powerful words time to penetrate deeply into your heart. To really let scripture do its work, we have to take time and effort to slow down and absorb what He may want to say. Remember there is no hurry to read through your Bible in a year, and there are no ribbons waiting for those who finish the chapter first. If you want to understand spiritual things on a richer and more meaningful level, it’s imperative that you get in the habit of pausing while you read the passages. It will allow scripture to lead you and in the process, you’ll discover that the precious treasure you discover is God Himself.