Do we really desire God?
In the last five years I have struggled on and off with something in particular in my personal walk: a declining desire to seek God. I have had several notable seasons of lethargy, discouragement, and what some would call (but I wouldn't) depression. I remember several years ago that when my wife and I were in a bible study at the church we were attending that the person teaching had every couple write down what they believed their spouse struggled with most. My wife wrote "discouragement" for me. You may not see the connection between me saying that I have struggled with a declining desire to seek God and discouragement, spiritual lethargy, and what I would call "spiritual depression", but they are absolutely connected.
You see...there is this period of time when you first come to Christ that I and those who I know refer to as the "honeymoon with Jesus" phase. The simple facts of the gospel and the person of Christ enamor you and all that you can think about is God and His Word. It's all amazing and captivating! Then...over time, for various reasons, many believers lose this sense of wonder and affection for Christ. Sometimes it's because they get distracted by the necessary things of this world and the word of God is choked in their lives. Other times its because they slowly forget the basics of the daily Christian life. Even yet still other times it is because they are taught false doctrine or no doctrine at all that results in this decline of affection for Christ.
For myself, I distinctly remember an event that shook my personal walk and it greatly disillusioned me for a long season. It was the issue of the baptism in/with the Holy Spirit. I was initially discipled as an Independent Fundamental "I-love-the-1611-KJV-only" Baptist. Gratefully, I was corrected after several years in this dangerous movement. But when your doctrinal views are corrected you enter into a fragile time where you begin searching for where to plant your feet. "Is this true?" "What about this doctrine?" "What about that doctrine?" All sorts of questions and uncertainties flood your mind and the enemy comes in to sow confusion. For me, I was corrected about several very important doctrines (which I can discuss at another time) but the most deeply affecting to me was the error of cessationism.
Cessationism is the arbitrary belief that the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit of God (with the exception of discernment of course) have ceased to be practiced by the Church. In other words, God just stopped doing certain things. Without lingering on that...it is false. I wasn't corrected by some spiritual experience, I have never once spoken in tongues, and I have never once been "slain in the spirit" (which is not a work from the Spirit of God). But the realization that I had greatly, and dangerously, grieved and quenched the Spirit of God deeply affected me. I was weeping constantly for several days almost inconsolably. I remember walking into work one day and someone greeted me. I immediately just started weeping. This person pulled me aside somewhere private and just asked, "WHAT is wrong with you!" This went on for a period until I believe the Lord Himself had to comfort me.
After this I naturally had to ask the question of "what now?" I spent some months just seeking out testimonies of revivalists like Charles Finney, John Wesley, and D.L. Moody, whose experiences were constantly talked about outside of Cessationist circles. I began longing to be filled with the Spirit of God and see manifestations of the Spirit in my life. Then another thing happened...I was confused again. How were these things supposed to happen? How was one to be "baptized in/with the Holy Spirit"? I did an episode on this topic some time last year. But, suffice it to say that when you begin reading revivalist testimonies and Church history on these matters you only see diversity of opinions. Some say that unless you speak in tongues you're not saved (false, by the way). Others say that tongues has nothing to do with being baptized in/with the Holy Spirit at all. Separability and subsequence, sanctification and second or third works of grace, the only thing that non-cessationists seem to agree on is that they're not cessationists.
Torrey's teachings differed from Finney's, and Murray's teachings differed from Chuck Smith's. Who was correct? Confusion settled in and I didn't know WHAT I was supposed to seek, not to mention HOW to seek it. It is very easy to say in retrospect, "seek the giver and not the gifts", but I would've even said that at this time. When you make an experience, which can even be as simple as the experience of joy or of "being used", as the measurement of closeness to God you will inevitably shipwreck your faith.
I began praying, more like begging, for the experience of the baptism of/with the Holy Spirit, not because I desired to speak with tongues or to see people healed, but to reassure myself that I had a relationship with God at all. This is what happens to many believers. We are told that certain experiences are normative for the Christian life and then when they aren't normative for us we naturally begin questioning whether or not we have the Christian life. There are many problems with that idea too numerous to talk about here. What happened to me though was that I began to doubt many things. I never doubted the existence of God, the gospel, or anything like that. I was greatly disillusioned over the issue of prayer and its effectiveness, and I'm still recovering from this even today. I sought God for something that He didn't give me, that I believed I was "owed" because the scriptures supposedly taught it was promised to me, and God didn't give it to me.
I remember the night before I was to get married that I just spent a long season thanking God for all that He had done, all that He had brought me through to bring me to this point, and how He had done exceeding abundantly above all that I could ask or think. I was still up at four in the morning before I had to wake up at seven to get to the church to get ready. I remember not wanting to have to stop praying. There was fulness of joy there with just me and God fellowshipping together. Now cut to several years later where I can barely even lift my voice to God for anything because I'm not sure if He will even hear it, nevertheless answer it. What a contrast. What happened?
In retrospect, I can tell you several things that had happened. I believe the most notable thing that happened, albeit unintentionally, was that I began to be focused on me instead of on God. I wanted something from God and He needed to give it to me. I came to almost believe that it was owed to me because I thought it was promised. When God didn't give me what I wanted I got confused, angry, and disgruntled in a way. Now, there are many who seek to be filled with the Spirit of God to whom this never happens. It happened for me though, and I know others to whom it has happened under different circumstances. But if I was to summarize the overall problem it was that I got away from desiring God. When I first got converted I was enamored with GOD. I was amazed at HIM and what HE was like. I simply wanted to know HIM. I was not obsessed with getting something FROM Him.
Now pay attention to what the apostle Paul said:
""I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. "If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned." (John 15:1-6)
Christ is our True Vine and we, as believers, are branches in Him. The picture is very clear. All of our sustenance comes from Him. He says, "without me," or, "apart from me", "you can do nothing". We cannot "bear fruit" unless we abide in Him. The result of not abiding in Him is that we wither spiritually. We slowly die by quenching the Spirit of God until we are nothing more than a dead stick. Sadly, this description fits many professing believers (I stress "professing") and many churches. There is no life there. The branch(es) have withered.
This abiding is not simply keeping the commandments with a focus on works, though that is part of it (John 15:10; 14:21, 23). It is a constant reliance and dependence on God. It's a single-minded devotion to Him...like a branch relies on the vine . In all of our deep theology and focus on experiences and promises we cannot forget the simplicity of the greatest commandment: Love Him. And there is confusion sometimes about this because of passages like John 14:21 and 23. We obey Him because we love Him, we do not obey Him to convince or prove to ourselves (or Him) that we love Him. The difference is that the focus is on Him and not ourselves. There are many trying to obey God because they want to prove something about themselves instead of obeying God to prove to others that He is worthy to be obeyed.
King David said, "One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD And to meditate in His temple." (Psa 27:4) He was enamored with God. When we lose our desire to seek God, to simply want to be near to HIM, then the rest of our spiritual lives becomes a mess inevitably. Why do we tell others about Him? Because we love Him. Why do we deny ourselves? Because we love Him. Why do we seek Him? Because we love Him. When we get away from the simplicity of loving Him we will inevitable find it is because we have loved something else more than Him.
Jude said, "But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life." (Jude 1:20-21) We must keep ourselves in the love of God. The fact that it is a commandment shows that there is a burden on our own initiative to do this. We must choose to put Him above other things. It's in this that I believe I stumbled. I got away from desiring to seek Him because I got disillusioned seeking God for something that I wanted that didn't come. It didn't come for one reason (among several others): I was seeking God for myself and not because I loved Him. We're told by Paul that love does not seek its own (1 Cor. 13:5). Nevertheless, many times we seek God, or something from God, from a place of selfishness instead of love. He naturally cannot give us our request in this state because it would only reinforce a wrong mindset.
Now, I can hear people saying, "Are you saying its wrong to seek God for something we desire?" No, I'm not saying that it's wrong to seek something from God for the right reasons. The difference is very clear in my mind that when I was seeking an experience previously it was not because I loved Him. It was because I wanted validation of my own spiritual life. This is a strong temptation to those who are not cessationist. We want to "hear God" for reassurance of our own spirituality, or to validate our ministry, or even to convince us that He is actually there. We seek God for manifestations (per se) to prove something about ourselves, or for ourselves, instead of seeking for God to give glory to His own name. Instead of chiefly desiring God, or glory for God, I primarily desired something from God for my own selfish reason. It is a subtle deception. When God didn't do what I wanted I became confused and disillusioned. I even became angry and embittered at God sometimes. I had been seeking God for myself for selfish reasons, which is not really seeking God at all.
The solution to this is to reacquaint ourselves with the reality of God. We must become enamored with God again. Yes, we can seek spiritual gifts and manifestations of the Spirit (1 Cor. 14:1), but such things are a result of the will of God matching intimacy with God on the part of God's people. Hudson Taylor said, "If we would be much used of God then we must spend much time with Him." I know for myself that when I have recognized a lack of desire to seek God in my heart that after self-examination I find that it is because I have gotten away from keeping God in the first place of affection in my heart. Your desire will match what you seek. If I desire God, then I will seek Him; and He has promised that if I seek Him, with ALL my heart, that I would find Him. I would have the intimacy with Him that I desire.
The question that I remind myself of now, and ask you: are you really seeking God with ALL of your heart or is there competition?
"Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name. "He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. "With a long life I will satisfy him And let him see My salvation." (Psa 91:14-16)
"And those who know Your name will put their trust in You, For You, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You." (Psa 9:10) "When You said, "Seek My face," my heart said to You, "Your face, O LORD, I shall seek." " (Psa 27:8) "So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened." (Luke 11:9-10)
"How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, Who seek Him with all their heart." (Psa 119:2)