♣ Yearning For the Living God
“My soul thirsts for God, for the living God…” – Psalm 42:2
THERE IS EVERYTHING commendable in frequently reminding ourselves that the God Whom we claim to love and serve is a living God and not some deity confined to the pages of history. Intellectually, we are ‘well’ informed that God is an eternal living Being, but realising that in every domain of our lives is another matter, and God will ensure that we are consciously aware of what it really implies to live, move and have our being in Him.
Great classical writings of the spiritual giants that have lit up the corridors of church history have their God given place; we are thankful for them, very much warmed by them, and it is without dispute that God continues to stir the hearts of many who will take the time to muse on the pages of history that remain to echo the oracles of God. I thank God there is still the demand – all though little in number – for the theological masterpieces of well known Puritans, for example, that enrich many a professions pilgrimage. It goes without saying that none of what we find on the market of Christian literature today is deemed worthy to be on par with the writings of two to four-hundred years ago. However, there is the precarious subtlety of substituting God with an activity that stimulates our intellect, even as far as to move one’s heart while failing to restore the soul; great literary pieces – whether Plato or Shakespeare – have often stirred the human soul; many souls have been awakened in great revivals but live on to die unregenerate. We can assimilate sound doctrine, read the world’s most loved devotions, attend profound church meetings, witness awe-inspiring events on the mission field, among other sound Christian pursuits without knowing the restoration of our souls. Tranquillity ought never to be substituted for the peace of God, and peace of mind must never take the place of the God of peace, Who Himself assures that all is well.
Meeting with the living God is what breathes His restoring life into us. “You restore my soul”, the Psalmist wisely declared. “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink…” are the words of the Great Shepherd Himself. Our coming to Him in our wearied state and finding rest for our souls is not a once-off encounter but a recurrence that will last throughout the duration of our lives. It is an active – not passive – coming to Him as well as a conscious communion with Him, and God will be as real to us as much as our need for Him.
“My soul thirsts for the living God” – David in his 63rd Psalm elaborates on this: “My soul thirsts for You; my flesh faints for You, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water”; nothing else matters, no amount of treasure will slake or ease desperate thirst. There is only one thing that consumes a weary wanderer in the desert, and no price is too high to pay to end such agony. “My soul yearns for You in the night; my spirit within me earnestly seeks You” (Isaiah 26:9); there is no rest for the aching heart until it finds its rest in God. This is not to be confined to the desperate sinner seeking reconciliation with God, but to the mourning believer whose communion has broken with the silence, distance and delays of God; once tasting of the living waters, then nothing else will satisfy; once tasting the salvation of the Lord, nothing else restores a bruised soul until God sees fit to reveal His smiling providence. The stubborn that forsake the fountain of living waters will drink from other cisterns but never to slake their perpetual and insatiable thirst.
The living God is not contained in and confined to history books; we say we know it and declare that God is alive, but we don’t act as if we know it. If all our Biblical studying, theological studying, the surveying of the greatest epochs in church history, and all the Christian biographical reading does not compel us to be history makers ourselves – no matter how small or insignificant it may seem – it has failed, and we have done nothing but to waste our time. A.W. Tozer warns of biblical studying that just ends in and of itself: “We do have much theology, much Bible teaching and many Bible conferences which begin and end in themselves. They circle fully around themselves and after the benediction everyone goes home – but no one is any better than he was before. That is the woe and the terror of these things, my brethren. I plead for something more than textualism which begins and ends with itself – and sees nothing beyond.” Leonard Ravenhill commented on how spiritually poor America is despite the nation being ‘blessed’ with the plethora of Christian literature and study aids: “We’ve all the equipment, we’ve more Bibles, we’ve more interpretations of the Bible, we’ve more tracts, we’ve more books on the Holy Ghost than any generation ever, but we’ve never had less power; it’s all in print on book shelves – in fact, most of our praying is.”
There is an acute subtlety of losing sight of God during our devotions – or ‘quiet times’ as some prefer to call them, no matter how pious we may feel. We may have the greatest daily devotional classics and the most sound theological commentaries, recite a section of the catechism of faith for the day, run through our list of praying and accomplish all that we set out to do in our ‘time alone with God’ and still not enter into communion with God. It becomes a duty and a dry rugged discipline until we start to feel dry. The important aspect is not that we put time aside ‘to be with God’ but that we actually meet with the living God. We can be remarkably disciplined in making room for our devotional times, but even in that there can be a snare as Oswald Chambers warned: “Devotion and piety are apt to be the greatest opponents of Jesus Christ, because we devote ourselves to devotion instead of to Him.”
I vividly remember years ago, when living in Wales (the land that is filled with breathtaking beauty), on one particular day I had my usual pile of books to get through, before ‘feeling’ that I had attained ‘good’ quality time with God. It became a burden, something that was unnatural and forced (on top of the distress I was already encountering), despite being disciplined in regularly setting time aside to seek God. It was impossible to concentrate, no matter how hard I tried. If anything, it wasn’t producing the atmosphere of a ‘quiet time’ but caused increasing frustration. ‘Perseverance’ was not the applicable word for the moment to say the least, and I sensed God whispering into my heart, “Put the books down and go for a walk.” At first, I thought such a suggestion was ludicrous, believing that such an activity lacked spirituality! It’s ridiculous how religiously rigid we can be! How God has to educate some of us, and have us to unlearn all the sanctimonious humbug we pick up and develop over the years until we get to grips with reality. Just a third of a mile from the house was a canal surrounded by a wall of almost bare trees (almost stripped by the Fall winds) either side. The air was crisp and cool (notorious for late autumn weather in Wales). The rolling hills in the background were unusually and warmly characterised by the golden-red setting sun, accompanied by a gentle mist preparing to settle for the night. No one was around to be seen, no voices to be heard, apart from the singing of the blackbird (in my opinion the most beautiful sounding winged creature on the face of the planet). It took no amount of time before I sensed I was in the presence of God. It was there, as I observed the gentle canal waters reflecting the autumn eve sky, the meaning of: “He leads me beside the still waters.” It wasn’t so much the beauty of my surroundings that calmed me – although, no doubt, it certainly played a part – but knowing He was with me, along with having the awareness of His Fatherly care for me that was, in those moments, intensely real. Everyone can gain a measure of tranquillity from nature, but not soul restoration, where all fears, doubts, and turmoil are calmed, which isn’t the result of any amount of positive thinking, but the nearness of God that transforms things in an instant. Looking at nature through the eyes of God takes you to another realm, which reminds me of a verse in George Wade Robinson’s hymn, ‘Loved with Everlasting Love’
‘Heaven above is softer blue,
Earth around is sweeter green;
Something lives in every hue
Christless eyes have never seen.’
It transcended a mere refreshing walk that just helps to clear the head; it was being with Him and seeing the things He wanted me to see that I couldn’t have had I stayed at home, fighting to accomplish my ‘quiet time’ routine. Another facet of Psalm 23 was added to the many I’ve seen over the years that revealed another aspect of the Shepherds heart. Not many words were spoken but what was seen and felt conveyed what a thousand words could never express.
Many stop at knowing about “God”; few pass onto knowing the Living God. Books will eventually fail you; they will not sustain you, as much as they help – and I love books (soundly theological in nature) more than any other material thing on this earth (secondary to ‘flesh and blood’, of course) – but they will not impart life to you as much as they may greatly stir you. If they induce a yearning for more of God, then all well and good, they have served their purpose, but don’t ever slack until you meet with the living God, and never substitute anyone else’s inspiring biography for meeting with Him; avoid living off of anyone’s faith, or even use church fellowship as an alternative for communing with Him, but take hold of the living God with your own faith and walk with Him – to be expressed through the body of Christ, not to be an individualist. The children of Israel knew the acts of God, but Moses knew His ways (Psalm 103:7) – there’s the difference.
Are the days of meeting with the living God over, and are we to confine such special times to the pages of history? Are we to begin and then give up our pursuit of knowing His presence because He does not answer us straight away, or do we believe that He is found of those who seek him with all their hearts? Men of old found Him by yearning for Him above everything else, and are we to think that we can casually strut around thinking we’re right with God because we ‘know’ all about Him in our heads, and therefore are content to know nothing of the presence of the living God?! Tozer said, “You can have as much of God as you want to.” Do we believe that, or has some book, pastor, church or seminary stifled that yearning and desire? Is it any wonder why as to all the spiritual fatigue and lack of interest for the things of God Himself exist in the church today?!
No amount of reading, no amount of fellowship and attendance of church meetings and conferences – however spiritual – will restore your soul; they may fire you up which can be nothing more than mere intellectualism and emotionalism that soon fades. No way am I decrying the fact that God has ordained such things in their right and appropriate place, but that rather we can mistake the ‘sacraments’ (the vehicle by which God does and often ministers to us) for God Himself, which in essence is nothing less than idolatry.
It is the Source we go unto and not the streams; God and not man, as much as He uses man as an instrument for His purposes. “For with You is the fountain of life…”(Psalm 36:9), and don’t forget that David had many fountains to go unto, many that could content him, but none that could restore and satisfy His soul as only the Great Shepherd does.
Do our hearts yearn for Him as we read the Scriptures and as we give ourselves to serious study of the great doctrines, or do we ‘miss the wood for the trees’ and fail to see God altogether? God have mercy upon any one of us who pursue theology with dry eyes. The problem with many bible institutions today is its pursuit in becoming more academic which has produced an epidemic in making many spiritually anaemic. I remember reading through Louis Berkhoff’s, ‘Systematic Theology’ and having to stop ‘studying’ and start praying, with tears running down my face, overwhelmed over the knowledge of our Great High Priest. “God” I prayed, “Never let me study with dry eyes!” Do we think that these verses in John 5:39-40 only applied to the Jewish religious authorities when the Messiah physically walked Jerusalem? “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me that you may have life.”
May God keep us from hardening our hearts through our blindness and pride, but instil within us a heart that yearns constantly for Him, a heart that often comes to Him, the One Who alone restores the innermost depths of our souls.
Posted on July 10, 2012, in ♣ Devotional and tagged A.W. Tozer, beyond textualism, books, Christian pursuits, church history, communion with God, desperate thirst, devotional, devotions, emotionalism, finding rest in God, George Wade Robinson, God being real to us, God the fountain of life, Great classical writings, Great High Priest, great Shepherd, Heavenly Fatherly care, insatiable thirst, intellectualism, Isaiah 26:9, John 5:39-40, Leonard Ravenhill, Louis Berkhoff, Loved With Everlasting Love, Mark Anthony Williams, meeting with the living God, nearness of God, Oswald Chambers, our need for God, Psalm 103:7, Psalm 23, Psalm 36:9, Psalm 42:2, Psalm 63, Puritans, quiet times, soul restoration, stirring the human soul, substituting God, the living God, the peace of God, the presence of God, thirsting for God, Tranquillity, yearning for God, Yearning For the Living God. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.