The sign of God's covenant with man
Image: Somewhere Over The Rainbow by Barb Ver Sluis
The Bible claims that there is really only one God and only one way to find Him. Jesus (who rose from the dead, is alive, and is coming back to earth) said:
"I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father (the one true God) except through Me." (John 14.6)
If you have not yet asked Jesus to lead you to God, then please see coming to Christ. But if you have already made this step, then please read on.
Question: If you are a believer in Jesus Christ and accept Him as Lord and Saviour, then you have eternal life (Jn 3.16). But what is the purpose of eternal life?
Answer: To know the only true God - our Father in heaven - and to know Jesus Christ:
"This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." (Jn 17.3)
We can learn about God, and be accepted by God through the words and work of Jesus. But, clearly, this is not the same as knowing God!
So how do we really get to know someone? We seek them out and spend time with them. We converse with them. We learn to trust what they say and to rely upon them. In time we feel able to pour our heart out to them, and to listen to their heart and what they want and need. In time we learn to love them, help them and simply want to be with them. And note that we are not the only one's doing the seeking! God wants us to seek Him, whilst He seeks out people to worship Him:
"The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God." (Ps 14.2)
"... the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers." (Jn 4.23)
It seems David the psalmist had got the point:
"O God, You are my God; I shall seek You early; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh yearns for You ..." (Ps 63.1)
"As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God." (Ps 42.1)
Question: So how many believers really seek God in this sense? Do we take time out from busy lives to spend time with Him - that is - spend hours at a time with Him? Do we want to spend time with Him? Does our inner being 'pant' and 'thirst' for God; have we cried through the night searching for Him (Ps 42.1-3)? Do we rise early and seek Him like David? It seems not; according to Barna and other research groups the average Christian spends just 5 minutes a day in prayer!
Seeking is not an optional extra. It is actually a command to the believer:
"Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near." (Isa 55.6)
And when we do this we will be blessed:
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness ..." (Mat 5.6)
This is well illustrated in the life of King Asa of Judah; "He did what was good and right in the eyes of the LORD his God" (2 Chron 14.2). He told Judah:
"... because we have sought the LORD our God .... He has given us rest on every side" (2 Chron 14.7)
And the land prospered. But then Ethiopia attacked Judah with 1 million men. With army facing army, Asa cried out to the God he knew and said:
"LORD, it is nothing for You to help ... we rest on You ... in Your name we go against this multitude." (2 Chron 14.11)
The Ethiopians fled. In 2 Chron 15 we see that Asa was encouraged by the prophet Azariah, who said to him:
"The LORD is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you." (2 Chron 15.2)
Question: Why do we see low and generally declining church attendance (in the UK it is just 6% of the population)? Why does the church often seem weak and powerless? Why are so few people 'born again' in the Jn 3.7 sense? Why don't we see God healing people as in Acts? Why are church prayer meetings poorly attended? Of course this is a generalisation and there are exceptions; God is working in some churches and some churches are growing. But generally, at least in the UK, there is a major problem with the church. Why?
Answer: One reason churches decline is because they are not 'moving in the Spirit' in the Acts 2 and 1 Cor 12 sense. And, like the church at Ephesus, they are often full of 'good works' but have 'left their first love' - their zeal and love for God (Rev 2.1-7). Does today's church readily 'seek the Lord and praise Him' (Ps 22.26)? How many in today's church say:
"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 ..." (Ps 27.4)
Pray that God will move upon individuals to seek God and cry out to Him for an out-pouring of His Spirit to revive the church. Pray that preaching will bring conviction and changed lives. Pray that individuals will be 'filled with the Spirit' and so speak and pray with boldness:
"... be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord ..." (Eph 5.18,19)
In 1949, on the Hebridean island of Lewis, two old women were greatly burdened because of the appalling state of their parish. Not a single young man or young woman went to the church. They spent their day perhaps reading or walking but the church was left out of the picture. These two women were greatly concerned and made it a special matter of prayer. A verse gripped them:
"I will pour out water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground." (Isa 44.3).
The results of their seeking were astonishing! See the videos:
King Asa gathered all Judah together at Jerusalem. Here they
"... entered into a covenant to seek the LORD God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul ... and He was found by them and the LORD gave them rest all around." (2 Chron 15.12-15)
As the people sought God, the nation was protected by Him. The LORD said the same to Solomon:
"If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." (2 Chron 7.14)
But later King Asa left his reliance on the LORD and made a treaty with his enemies to appease them (2 Chron 16). Then one of Judah's prophets came to him and said "... you have relied on the king of Syria, and have not relied upon the LORD your God ... in this you have done foolishly; therefore, from now on you shall have wars" (2 Chron 16.7-9).
When Israel (the northern kingdom) was in moral decline, with the upper classes doing well at the expense of the poor, God sent the prophet Hosea to warn them:
"... it is time to seek the Lord until He comes to rain righteousness on you." (Hos 10.12)
Question: Does this apply to Britain today - a nation which has left her reliance upon God and now relies upon her own strength and treaties with the EU? Will God heal the land even if just a remnant (a Christian minority) humble themselves and pray and seek His mercy for the sinful state in which we find ourselves - widespread teenage promiscuity, promotion of abortion, social and family breakdown, promotion of homosexuality, promotion of other faiths, rejection of biblical teaching, increasing national debt, corrupt leaders, weak church ...? God watches nations (Jer 18.7-10). See Is Britain being judged?
"Jesus Christ never taught His disciples how to preach, but only how to pray." [D. L. Moody]
Jesus went off to the mountain to pray
Image Visual Bible Alive
Our best model is of course Jesus. Usually He wanted to be alone when He spent time with His Father in prayer, and that should be our model too:
"He went off to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God" (Lk 6.12)
Do we feel the need to spend long periods of time alone in prayer to our Father in heaven? What would happen if we did? If we live to be 70 years old, we will have lived over 25,000 days. Surely we can spend some of these seeking God?
Martin Luther was quoted as saying, "If I fail to spend two hours in prayer each morning, the devil gets the victory through the day. I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer."
John & Charles Wesley and George Whitefield were present at the beginning of Evangelical Revival. "It was a Pentecostal season indeed" said Whitefield. Sometimes whole nights were spent in prayer. John Wesley would rise up at 4 am every day to seek God for the first four hours of the day. In his later years Wesley was known to spend up to 8 hours in prayer. Wesley once said: "God does nothing except in response to believing prayer". Subsequently around 25% of the population gave their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ.
John Nelson was a contemporary of John Wesley and was one of the foremost pioneer circuit pastors of early Methodism in England. He once said: 'If you spend several hours in prayer daily, you will see great things'. John made a rule to rise from bed about twelve midnight and sit up till two for prayer and converse with God. Then he slept till four, at which time he always rose.
Charles Finney, a preacher in the 1850's with amazing gifting, 'struggled and groaned and agonised' before God for the lost. One day he proposed that people around him should pray in private for revival at sunrise, at noon, and at sunset for one week. No other means was used. The Spirit was poured out and before the week ended all the meetings were packed!
David Brainerd yearned in the 1740's for the salvation of Native Americans scattered along the colonial trails and farther west. He said: 'I wrestled for my friends, for the ingathering of souls, for multitudes of poor souls, and for many that I thought were children of God. I was in such agony from sun half an hour high, till near dark, that I was all wet with sweat'.
John Smith was among the earliest gospel preachers in Oregon. It is said that 'Where the result that he desired did not attend his own ministry, he would spend days and nights almost constantly on his knees, weeping and pleading before God - travailing for precious souls till he saw Christ magnified in their salvation'. Someone said 'I have seen him come downstairs in the morning after spending several hours in prayer, with his eyes swollen with weeping'.
Evan Roberts received an overwhelming burden for the soul of his nation - Wales. After seeking God 13 years for revival, he prayed: "Lord, the altar is built, the sacrifice is laid upon. We await the fire from heaven to ignite the flames of revival." During the Spring of 1904 he was repeatedly awakened at 1:00 am and he met with God in prayer until 5:00 am. He began asking God for 100,000 people to be saved. Subsequently, during the 1904-05 Welsh Revival, over 150,000 people were converted and added to churches and chapels in Wales. "You must put yourself entirely at the Holy Spirit's disposal" he once said.
So to seek and thirst for God means many things: it means a determined, diligent searching for Him at the expense of other activities. It means wrestling and struggling and groaning, perhaps with tears, for those outside the Kingdom or who are in great need. It means learning to hear the Spirit speaking.
In practice many of us cannot achieve or are not called to such a deep, time-consuming, intercessory prayer life; we may be called to other ministries. But God still wants us all to deepen our knowledge of Him, as in Jn 17.3. Otherwise, the preaching, study, plans and schemes of the church will be largely ineffective. In the words of Rev. David Stoner,
"Study, books, eloquence and fine sermons are all nothing without prayer."
Bible quotations are from the New American Standard Bible