Psa. 9:9 – The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble, and those who know Your name put their trust in You. For you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You. See, I segued from the trust right into the seeking today, right? There’s a reason we do it this way. It’s in the Bible.
So, in our search to learn how to love God with our whole being, we also look at Hebrews 11:6, which says:
Heb. 11:6 – And without faith, it is impossible to please Him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and He rewards those who seek Him.
So today we’re going to think about how to seek God. You’ve probably never heard a sermon about that, have you? But it is important stuff, so we’re going to talk about it. And, of course, because I learned that one of my spiritual gifts is to be an exhorter, we’re going to get down to practical reality today. Right? That’s what they do.
We’re talking about how to have a relationship with God. So let’s get practical.
Genesis 1:27 – It says here:
Gen. 1:27 – God created man in His own image. Male and female He created them. The part I want to focus on is that first phrase – He created man in His own image. What does that mean? Well, in Genesis 5:3 that same word is used:
Gen. 5:3 – When Adam had lived a hundred and thirty years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image. And he named him Seth. So, it’s the same word, only applied to humans.
So what was Seth like? Well, he was like Adam, wasn’t he? How was he like Adam? Was he exactly like Adam? Well, not exactly. He was his own person, but he was a human child, because he had human parents. In nature, and genetics, and species, if we can call it that, he was like Adam. He was a human – not a dog or a cat. He was the same as Adam.
Hebrews 1:3. Let’s go there.
Heb. 1:3 – He is the radiance of the glory of God – talking about Jesus – and the exact imprint of His nature. He upholds the universe by the word of His power. After making purifications for sin, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on High.
So this is the same kind of idea. This scripture is linked with Genesis 1:27 in some of the commentaries. It’s telling us, the same way Seth was to Adam, Jesus is to God – in nature and likeness. They’re the same. The point I want to make from that is, that Jesus is the firstborn among many brethren. So they’re going to be like God in the same way, too – just like it says there in Genesis 1:27. We all have the same likeness of God. I like the way JFB said it – implying identity of nature and essence. He who desires to see the glory of God may see it in the face of Jesus Christ. Christ is the image of God, into which same image we, looking on it in the mirror of the gospel, are changed by the Spirit.
So what point am I making from all this similarity? Well, most people, who come to my therapy office, have suffered severe relational problems. That’s why they’re there. They all want to be able to connect, either with parents, or kids, or friends, or coworkers. And they’re not able to do that very well because of the things that have happened to them in their life. And that is a situation that is intolerable. We are relational, social beings. And we are that way because God is. That’s how we’re like Him – one of the ways. God is troubled by relationship problems just like we are. He did not like, for example, what Lucifer did – when he severed his relationship from God. And He is longing for something better with us. He doesn’t like what happened there. And He wants things to be better between Himself and us.
Let’s look in John 17, verse 20. This is Jesus’ prayer just before He died. And He says to the Father:
Jn. 17:20 – I do not ask for these only, but also for those who believe in Me through their word, that they may be one just as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they may also be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. The glory that You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, even as We are one. I in them, and You in Me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know You sent Me and loved them, even as You loved Me. That’s what God wants. He wants us all to be one – to be related, connected, and to get along, and to enjoy each other’s company. And He wants to be one with us and to enjoy our company and to have us with Him.
So what does that look like? That kind of oneness? Well, I suppose you could talk for a long time about that, but I thought of a few things that, to me, seem relevant and important. Let’s go to Proverbs 8, and verse 17. This is a statement that comes from God. It says:
Prov. 8:17 – I love those who love Me. And those who seek Me diligently find Me.
We often think about the love of God and we kind of extrapolate that out so far that it becomes kind of airy-fairy, right? But it’s not. It’s real stuff. It’s very helpful to think about the way God loves us – like a parent loves a child or like one human loves another. It’s not something that is so spiritual we can’t sink our teeth into it, because He’s like us in many respects.
So what is He saying? I love those who love Me? Well, He doesn’t say that He only loves those who love Him, but He says, “I love those who love Me.” I think what He is explaining is, that He wants us to have a mutual relationship of love, where it’s equally intense. Of course, we can’t accomplish that yet, but we will later. He loves us with His whole being and He wants us to love Him the same way. Why? Well, the next verse explains why.
V-18 – Riches and honor are with Me, enduring wealth and righteousness. So this isn’t talking about money or status of this life, is it? The key word there is enduring. This is about spiritual connection with God. It’s about spiritual riches and honor. The Bible talks about wealth and privilege as fleeting and temporary. So this, obviously, is not that. So He’s saying that, if we love Him the way He loves us, then we will become like Him – a bit now, and much more so later in the Kingdom. He has all the riches and the honor, doesn’t He? And we’re going to have that. We’re going to be like Him in that way.
What else is the love of God like? Let’s go to Luke 19:10. You remember the story of Zacchaeus – the miserable tax collector that nobody liked, and he was crook? He took advantage of people. Well, he heard Jesus was coming to town. He lived in Jericho. He was short, I guess, and he climbed up in a tree so he could see Jesus coming. And when Jesus got to the tree, He called him down, and said, “I’m going to have dinner at your house tonight.” And Zacchaeus was overjoyed, but everybody else that hated Zacchaeus was upset. And Jesus explained to the people that were upset, in verse 10, of Luke 19:
Lk. 19:10 – The Son of Man came to seek to save the lost. So God seeks us. And He wants us to seek Him. It’s mutuality again. It’s interesting to note, too, that Zacchaeus, at that very moment, was seeking Jesus. He was trying to get a glimpse of Him. So that’s one way that God loves us. And we’re to become like Him in that, eventually.
I was working with a young teen one day, who said, “You shouldn’t take offense at this, but you listen to me because you’re getting paid to.” Which is true, isn’t it? But, where that was coming from was from a deep-seated place of woundedness. He had suffered severe rupture in his relationship with both his parents – his mother at one year of age, and his father every day. He had, pretty much, disconnected from everybody, to some degree – very guarded. And that’s what he was telling me. I just said to him, “Your experience with people is that they don’t care about you. And you’re wondering if I’m going to be like all the rest – if I’ll hurt you – if you allow yourself to get close to me.” He kind of looked at me – kind of like…boing…between the eyes with a ballpine hammer, you know? He was thinking, “How did he know that?” So, his therapy was to practice relationship with me – to get over being guarded and to give back what he was getting from me. It was hard for him to do that, because of what happened to him. It was hard to seek me – to go toward me. So what’s the solution for the therapist there? Well, I go toward him everyday – everyday he comes in the room. And I let him know that he can be understood and, I do think, to let him know that I care about him. I seek him. And then, as he’s able, he begins to reciprocate. It becomes more mutual. And as he develops the ability to love back, he gets better – because that’s the problem. He’s been so wounded he can’t do that. So he feels isolated and cut off. So he has to learn how to connect.
What would mutuality with God look like in real life? Well, I think praying to God – talking to Him, sharing our life with Him – Peter said, “Casting our cares – our anxieties – upon Him” – thanking and praising God, doing the work He’s given us to do with Him, giving our substance to Him – tithing – giving back a little bit. He doesn’t ask us to give it all back. He’s got everything already. When He gives us something, He wants us to give a tenth back to Him. If we do it the right way, it’s a way to do God’s work and reach other people – to be engaged with Him in His work. So, one of the ways that we can seek God with our whole being is to love Him as much as He loves us. It’s impossible, but God appreciates even our feeble efforts. He knows we’re not fully mature yet.
What else could we talk about, besides mutuality? Well, we mentioned it a little bit already, and that’s working together with God to do His work. This is true of everybody, but I especially focus on it with teenagers. When they come to my office the first time, they’re anxious about what’s it going to be like. Am I going to take a screwdriver, and take the top of their head off, and fix the problem? Am I going to judge them? Am I going to psychologize them, or analyze them, or whatever they think? Well, the way I start talking to them is, that we have a job to do. I get that we word in there right away. We have to figure out what the problem is and what to do about it. So we’re going to have to work together as a team to figure all this out. And their job is to help me understand them. So right away I’m attempting to put the two of us together – to work on the same project. We’re a team. Then, if I can get that to happen, then all the good stuff starts to fall into place right away. The relationship begins to grow. The anxiety goes away. They don’t feel like they need to be fixed – try to normalize everything so they feel less defective. And all the relationship stuff can develop from that – where they can practice, on the therapist, how to connect.
There is a great similarity in that, because God does the same thing with us, doesn’t He? Right in the door, He gives us a job to do. Who knows what that job is? What’s the job? Make disciples. That’s the job. So we’re all involved with God in that job. And it also puts us into involvement and engagement with other people, doesn’t it – both fellow workers and the people that we’re trying to turn into disciples. We know He gives us the tools to do that, doesn’t He? Do you know what the tools are? Gifts. He gives us gifts for the edification of the church – right? – so that we have the tools we need to do our job – Ephesians 4.
I think about our little group here. We have a new little Web site. We’re hoping that it will draw people to our group and, through that group, to Jesus Christ. Kelly created the site on wordpress, and Page blogging, and Kim is updating, and the resident curmudgeon has now become a contributor and written two articles so far. So we’re all engaged. So, how does that affect all of us? We have a way to seek God together and to help participate in God’s work together. We find ourselves all interested in the same things that He’s interested in. So that tends to push us toward Him. It helps us seek Him. It is a way to seek Him.
There are things that we can do that draw us closer to God. If we’d just understand that it’s a lot like relating to people, it’s very helpful.
Another way to think about relating to God is through attachment theory. That sounds weird, doesn’t it? But it’s true, because we’re in the likeness and image of God. So we connect to God the same way we connect to parents, actually. We know that we all begin developing a style of attachment based on how our parents attached to us. And we know that this style of attaching that we develop is also the way that we attach to and relate to God.
I was in discussion with a small group of people some time ago and some of them were lamenting ill treatment from another person. We all understood that the person who was not treating some of us properly had been in the habit of treating others badly for quite some time, but now this person was under incredible stress, making it even worse for those close by. Among the group, the general consensus was to stay away. Why allow yourself to be mistreated? But one of the people in the group mentioned that they had been talking to someone else, who was a mutual friend with the person that was causing the problem, and this other person had said that there were ways to work with this person, even though it was more difficult than ever. It was suggested that the group should ask for help from this person so that everybody could learn how to help the one who was being difficult.
You don’t hear that kind of talk that often. And yet that’s the kind of thing that we need to do more often. There are some people that know how to manage difficult people. I think most of us could stand to learn more of those skills – make the effort to help, even though it might be hard. Does God ever do that with us? Oh yeah! He does. We’re all difficult for Him, aren’t we? So He knows how to go toward relationship and not away from it. And that’s, I think, what we should do.
I knew a lady once whose attachment was one of the three insecure types. I learned that because she told me. She’d figured all that out. She was what is called somebody who is avoidantly attached. And that means that when she was in the first year of her life, she learned that her mother, who was a drug addict, was not going to meet her emotional needs, so she disconnected from her mother, in order to prevent further disappointment. When that kind of person, with that kind of attachment style, grows up, they call that the dismissing adult. At the first sign of trouble, they cut and run or they blow you off. And they’re saying, as they leave, “See, I knew that you were going to let me down,” because that’s been their experience. That was their early experience, but they recreate that over and over again through their life.
She explained all this to me and then asked me what she could do about being on-again, off-again about God. She, honestly, did not make the connection between what happened in her early life and why she was cutting and running every time things got tough with God. By the way, when things get tough with God, that means that we have done something wrong, and we feel guilty, and we’ve built a wall between ourselves and God. He doesn’t run away from us. He’s the one that goes toward us. We’re the ones that leave. She also mentioned that, earlier in the discussion, she had been trying to root out the tendency to cut and run out of her mind.
So she had an attachment problem. People who are securely attached, when there is a relationship problem, keep their arms out and the doors open, and, if possible, even go toward the problem to try to resolve it, instead of cutting and running.
So we had a discussion where I brought to mind that she was doing the same thing with God that she did with her mother. And I quoted Piaget, the Swiss psychologist who said, “Eventually, all our relationship stuff gets transferred to God.” She was such a clear-cut case of that happening. And she knew what she was doing, but she’d never really connected it to her relationship with God. She didn’t learn how to trust in her first year of life. So having faith in God was very difficult. And staying in relationship with God, when she’d done something that she felt guilty about, was practically impossible for her. We know where it came from.
As long as we’re fleshly human beings, there are going to be ruptures in our human relationships and, also, in our relationship with God. We’re going to feel like we’re in the dog house, because we do things to cause ourselves to feel that way.
Let’s read something God says. It’s in Isaiah 65:1. God says:
Isa. 65:1 – I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for Me. I didn’t run away. I was ready to be found by those who did not seek Me. I’m standing there with My arms out. I said, “Here I am, here I am” to a nation that was not called by My name. I spread out My hands all day to a rebellious people…. Are they a problem to Him? Are they being disrespectful? Are they dismissing? Oh yeah! …who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices – a people who provoke Me to My face continually, sacrificing in gardens and making offerings on bricks – this is pagan idolatry, is what He is talking about – who sit in tombs and spend the night in secret places, who eat pigs’ flesh and broth of tainted meat is in their vessels, who say, “Keep to Yourself! Don’t come near me. I am too holy for You.” So, do we provoke God? Do we say some of the most ridiculous things to Him? God says: These are a smoke in My nostrils – a fire that burns all day. Do you know what it’s like around here when we have forest fires? It gives you a headache and makes your nose burn. That’s what He’s talking about. “You people are just a constant irritation.” Relational rupture? Oh yeah! But remember where God was? He was right there.
Matthew 23, verse 37. Let’s look at something else. This is where Jesus was looking out over Jerusalem just before His death. He said:
Mt. 23:37 – Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem – the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it – how often I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not. He wanted to pull them in, but they wouldn’t.
Let’s look in Jeremiah 29:13. He says here:
Jer. 29:13 – You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart. Oh, that’s what we’re talking about today, isn’t it? What do you know. I knew there was a reason for this scripture being in here. “I will be found by you,” declares the Lord. “And I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all nations and all the places where I have driven you,” declares the Lord. “And I will bring you back from the place from which I sent you into exile.” So, even though God punished Israel because of their rebelliousness, when the punishment was up, He was pulling them back – back into relationship again. Even when we wander far off, God is always seeking to restore relationship. And if He punishes us, the end result, and the end goal, and the purpose for the punishment is always to draw us close. And we ought to do the same. We ought to go toward God, rather than away. We ought to seek His face.
How do we do that? Well, in human relationships, when there’s been a rupture, the person that caused the problem has to go apologize. That’s the first step. Same with God. It’s no different. We call it repentance, when we’re apologizing to God. We admit wrong. So, if we’re seeking God with our whole heart, we will acknowledge what we’ve done and be forgiven and being restored to relationship with Him. That’s how it works.
Now, let’s skip ahead a little bit to the second greatest commandment. What was that one? Love your neighbor as yourself. Right? Why are we skipping ahead to that? We have a whole series of sermons about that coming up. Well, I want to focus on the interrelated nature of God’s ways. Since we’re like God – relational – and since all human relationships get transferred to God at some point, if we work on our relationships with other people, we are also learning how to strengthen our relationship with God.
If the lady we spoke of earlier can learn how to stay in relationship with people, how to work through problems, trust that there’s a way to solve relational problems, then, eventually, she will also feel that way about God more. Isn’t that interesting – how it all fits together? You can’t separate the one from the other.
I had a young teen in my office some time ago. And she had some deep scratches on the inside of her arm. I wouldn’t call them cuts. They had little scabs over them, but they were more like scratches. She read a poem to me that was explaining to her father how his alcoholic neglect made her so angry with him that she couldn’t stand the feelings. She hated to be angry with him. She wanted to love him. To get away from the terrible ambivalence that she was caught in, she would cut herself. In the poem, she lamented that it was starting to feel like an addiction – something that she couldn’t stop. After she read this poem, she explained to me that, at first she used to write to get relief from those feelings, and that didn’t work after awhile. So she tried stuffing them, as she called it, but that was not working anymore. So now she was cutting. She saw this as a progression – a terrible progression – down into something really dangerous. Quite aware for somebody that was thirteen years old. There was a sense of fear and hopelessness that just dripped out of that poem.
So I said, “You don’t want to do it, but it feels like you can’t help it, no matter how hard you try. And you want to feel better, but you are afraid it’s getting worse.” When she heard her own feelings put into words and given back to her, a tear rolled down her cheek. I handed her a tissue and she looked up at me, kind of surprised, and said, “Thank you.” But I could tell it wasn’t for the tissue. So she’s starting to learn that she can be understood and that it was going to help her to be understood. She couldn’t help but feel something from that. So, as she learns how to trust, and how to feel again, and how to unburden herself as she connects, she’s going to find herself feeling better – feeling better about herself, feeling like she’s stronger. And she’s going to figure out what to do with those feelings – and what to do with her dad, too. I believe, in my work, that, eventually, even if it’s in the day of visitation that Peter talked about, that new found trust and connection, that she’s building with me – and I think she’ll learn how to build that with other people, too – but that sense of trust and connection, eventually, is going to get transferred to God in her life. So I actually get to help people, and do God’s work, and get paid for it.
When we engage people with that in mind, we can know that we’re doing God’s work with others and, also, with ourselves. It helps me, too! So we can seek God for ourselves and, also, for others in that kind of activity.
So those are some of the ways that I’ve thought about, that we can seek God in the way He wants us to. And seeking God is one way that He wants us to love Him with our whole being. Is that important stuff? Well, in Amos 5:4 it says:
Amos 5:4 – For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel, “Seek Me and live.”