The Fourth Law: What You Seek, You Find
March 17, 2002
In this sermon series we are looking at the Seven Laws of the Spiritual Life. These “laws” are not exactly doctrines, not exactly duties,not exactly promises and not exactly rules. Each one represents a major truth that Christians need to know. They are like pillars that hold up a large building. Here are the first three:
The First Law: He’s God and We’re Not.
The Second Law: God Doesn’t Need Us But We Desperately Need Him.
The Third Law: What God Demands, He Supplies.
These three laws lay a theological foundation that prepares us for everything that follows. They lead us to three words of response: submitting, admitting, receiving. We submit because “he’s God and we’re not.” We admit that “we desperately need him.” And we gratefully receive what God supplies in order that his righteous demands might be fully met. The Third Law summarizes the entire gospel. We are so lost, so sinful, so desperate, that if God doesn’t intervene, we’re sunk. But he does. And he gives us whatever we need for salvation, freedom from guilt, forgiveness of our sins, abundant life on earth, and a home in heaven when we die. Since grace is a gift, our most basic response is to gladly receive the gift God offers us.
Now we’re turning a corner in our journey. The Fourth Law takes us into the realm of practical Christian living. It tells us that “What you seek, you find.” Those five simple words challenge us at the level of personal motivation. As I prepared this message, I was struck by how much the Bible has to say about seeking and finding, especially seeking and finding the Lord. These are just a few examples:
“But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29 NKJV).
“As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a loyal heart and with a willing mind; for the LORD searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will cast you off forever” (I Chronicles 28:9 NKJV).
“He sought God in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding in the visions of God; and as long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper” (II Chronicles 26:5 NKJV).
“When You said, ‘Seek My face,’ My heart said to You, ‘Your face, LORD, I will seek.’” (Psalms 27:8 NKJV).
“Seek the LORD while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near” (Isaiah 55:6).
“You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:11-13 NKJV).
“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33 NKJV).
“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 NKJV).
“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6 NKJV).
And this list is just the tip of the iceberg. The whole concept of “seeking God” is an enormous biblical concept that touches our motivation, our priorities, how we spend our time, the goals we set in life, and our spiritual growth (or the lack thereof).
I. Clarifying the Issue
I’d like to summarize what these verses are saying in several simple statements:
A. Everyone seeks something.
We are all by nature seeking people. Some people seek for money, others for fame, others for pleasure, others for self-validation, others for sexual fulfillment, and others for worldly power. We may seek a husband or a wife or we may seek children or a new job or a better education or a new home or new friends or a new church. The tragedy of our time is that so many people are wasting their lives chasing after three things that can never satisfy—money, sex and power. We want money, so we sacrifice our families to get it. We want sex so we sacrifice our morals to get it. We want power so we sacrifice our friends to get it.
And when we finally get it, it doesn’t satisfy.
Duane Thomas, star running back for the Dallas Cowboys in the 1970s, had it right. He kept hearing writers refer to the Super Bowl as the Ultimate Game, so he asked the obvious question. “If this is Ultimate Game, why do they play it again next year?”
That’s the way things are in the world. You climb to the top of the heap only to discover that next year you’ve got to start all over again. Nothing in this life satisfies forever.
B. There is an easy test to find out what you seek in life.
Here’s a simple test to help you discover what you truly seek in life. This test is absolutely foolproof. You tell me how you spend your time and your money and I’ll tell you what you are seeking. You can say anything you like, you can come to church and look very religious, but your time and your money don’t lie. Time is life and money is nothing but the time it takes to make the money. Show me your calendar and your checkbook and I’ll know the truth about your priorities.
This week I read about a man who looked at his life and concluded that he was just like the Professor on Gilligan’s Island. “The Professor knew how to turn banana peels into diesel fuel and he could take algae and make chocolate fudge, but he never got around to fixing that hole in the boat so he could get off the island. Same as me. I spent my life learning to do amazing things that didn’t matter, and I ignored the hole in my boat. And that’s why I’m stuck where I am.”
C. Whatever righteous thing you seek in the spiritual realm, you can have it, if you want it badly enough.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6). This is one of the most stupendous promises in the Word of God. If you are hungry and thirsty for the righteousness that God provides, you will be filled.
If you want righteousness, you can have it. Let me go out on a limb and make a bold statement. Whatever righteous thing you desire in the spiritual realm, you can have if you want it badly enough. I don’t think we appreciate the importance of that truth. Most of us are about as close to God now as we want to be. We have about as much joy as we want, about as much peace as we want. Abraham Lincoln said that “most people are about as happy as they want to be.” Totally true. We are the way we are because that’s the way we want to be. Either we’re happy that way or we’ve accepted that this is who we are and we’re not going to change. For the most part, you are where you are right now because that’s where you want to be. If you were hungry for something better from God, you could have it.
If you want it, you can have a close walk with God.
If you want it, you can have a better marriage.
If you want to, you can do God’s will.
If you want to, you can witness for Christ.
If you want to, you can learn to pray.
If you want to, you can grow spiritually.
If you want to, you can walk in the Spirit.
If you want to, you can become a man of God or a woman of God.
If you want to, you can change deeply ingrained habits.
If you want to, you can break destructive patterns of behavior.
What we seek, we find. This is true in every area and realm of life. Unless we seek, we will not find. And what we seek, for good or for ill, we eventually find.
II. Removing the Excuses
Our primary problem stems from the excuses we make. We don’t change and we don’t grow and we don’t seek God and we stay the way we are because that’s pretty much the way we want to be. We’ve learned to live with mediocrity and either we think things will never change or we’re happy the way we are.
I can think of three excuses that keep us trapped in that terrible condition. The first is the excuse of self-pity. A man I had never met sent me an e-mail and then came to see me. At one time he had attained a position of importance and influence in his profession and was widely respected by those who knew him. But he lost it all through a series of serious moral failures. When the truth became known, he lost his job, his reputation, his profession, and his means of supporting his family. Now he is trying to put the pieces back together. He told me he had joined a support group of men struggling with the same sort of moral failures he had experienced. “It’s a rigorous group,” he said. They have one rule: No self-pity. No whining or complaining or moaning about what happened or how hard life is or how bad you have it or how if your wife had treated you better, you wouldn’t be in this mess. “I’ve discovered that self-pity is the enemy of spiritual growth,” he told me. He’s right. As long as we mope around feeling sorry for ourselves, we can’t get better. And we’ll be stuck right where we are.
The second excuse is the “I’m trying” excuse. Not long ago I dropped by an Oak Park business and chatted with the owner who happens to be a good friend. He is a Christian who has seen his share of hard times and has learned a great deal from his experiences. When I mentioned that I had been on the road and told him my schedule, he said, “You’ve been busy.” “Yes, but I’m trying to slow down,” I replied. He looked at me and said, “No, you’re not. You’re just failing at slowing down.” Talk about a punch in the gut. That got my attention. He told me that whenever we say, “I’m trying,” that’s just an excuse for not doing what we say we want to do. We can excuse any sort of non-performance by saying, “I’m trying.” After I preached this, a friend told me we all know that lying is wrong. “But do you know what an excuse is? It’s just a protected lie.” She’s right.
In one of the Star Wars movies, Yoda tells Luke Skywalker to use his powers to do something that seemed impossible. “I’ll try,” said Luke Skywalker. “No!” said Yoda. “Do or do not. There is no try.”
You’re either drinking or you’re not drinking.
You’re either reading through the Bible or you’re not.
You’re either paying off your credit cards or you’re not.
You’re either passing geometry or you’re not.
You’re either losing weight or you’re not.
You’re either swearing or you’re not.
You’re either using drugs or you’re not.
You’re either being faithful or you’re not.
You’re either forgiving that person who hurt you or you’re not.
You’re either getting married or you’re not.
Saying “I’m trying” is just a weak excuse to take the pressure off yourself. You get credit for doing something that you’re not really doing. In the end, it’s a way of deceiving yourself into thinking you’ve changed when nothing has changed.
A friend put it to me this way in an e-mail:
When you used the example of people who are “trying to” quit smoking … lose weight … work out … read God’s Word, etc. and that there really are no excuses and no self-pity for me if I am willing to accept responsibility for my condition, I am reminded of a principle I learned early in my AA career. It was the answer to people (me and others) who said that they were “trying to quit drinking.” We were told that: “Trying is Lying.” It is lying both to myself and to anyone else who heard it. Further, if I wanted to lie to myself that was one thing, but I was told that I should really have the decency not to waste the time of the group with that.
That little bit of truth had no varnish on it. It was really tough talk to hear and I didn’t like it when it was directed at me. But I learned that the real answer was to “admit I was powerless to change myself,” but that God “could and would if He were sought.” He would relieve me of my compulsion to drink, drug or whatever and He did … Just like that … in the blink of an eye.
The third excuse is simply saying, “I’ll never change” or “I can’t change” or “I don’t want to change.” If that’s your bottom line, then I really don’t have anything else to say to you. Until you want to change, you are doomed to stay exactly the way you are right now.
III. Applying the Truth
Let’s wrap up this sermon with a simple question of application: Are you a God-seeking person? How would you answer that? What evidence in your life points in a positive direction? It is not enough to be religious or simply busy going to church events. As good as that may be, it’s not the same thing as seeking God with all your heart. I ask each reader of this sermon to do something that might be a bit difficult. Go to someone who knows you well and ask this question: “Am I a God-seeking person? When you look at my life, do you see the qualities in me of a person who truly seeks God?” If you’d like a fascinating test, go to an unsaved friend or relative and ask them that question. You may be surprised at how readily they answer. Unsaved people may not understand the intricacies of our faith, but they know the difference between someone who seeks God and someone who doesn’t. In some cases I think unbelievers can be less easily fooled than believers. Since they don’t focus on the outward trappings as much as we might, they can spot a God-seeking heart, even if that’s not what they would call it. People who don’t know the Lord instinctively recognize a person who truly knows God and seeks him passionately. This is a question a Buddhist can answer, or a Hindu, or a Muslim, or a Jewish co-worker, or someone who isn’t religious at all. Go ahead. Ask them, “Am I a God-seeking person?” They will tell you the truth as they see it. Or ask your husband or your wife (if you dare!). You certainly can’t fool them. Or your children. (After preaching this sermon, a woman wrote and said that she had asked her children and they unanimously told her that she was indeed a God-seeker. That’s a wonderful affirmation.)
And I remind you again of the words of Isaiah 55:6, “Seek the Lord while he may be found.” Life is so uncertain for all of us. No one knows what a day may bring forth. In January, during my week of teaching at Word of Life Bible Institute in New York, I ate lunch with Mike Calhoun, head of the Bible club ministry for Word of Life. We talked about our children, and Mike spoke with great joy about his daughter Misty and her husband Bryan who had recently settled in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They both had excellent jobs and were active in a local church there. You may have heard in the news last Thursday morning about a massive 125-car pileup on Interstate 75 near the Georgia-Tennessee border. Dozens of people were injured and five people were killed. I learned yesterday that Misty Calhoun Corley was among those killed. She was 24 years old. Speaking of her daughter’s faith, her mother Betsi remarked that she lived so much for eternity that it’s not surprising that she slipped away so soon.
“While he may be found.” I speak now to those who don’t know Jesus. Do not say, “Tomorrow or the day after I will come to Christ.” Come now. Believe now. Be saved today. You can’t be certain about tomorrow. And to those who know the Lord, do not say, “Tomorrow or the day after I will serve the Lord.” No! Serve the Lord today. Seek him today. Honor him today. You don’t know if you will live to see tomorrow come.
A Place to Begin
What should we do with the truth we have learned? If you want a God-seeking heart, where should you begin? I have five suggestions: First, admit your need. You cannot change until you admit that you need to change. If you are happy the way you are, then I have nothing to do say to you. But if you are tired of turning banana peels into diesel fuel while there’s a hole in your boat, then pay attention because your life could be radically changed.
Second, cry out to God for help. Early on Sunday morning I met a man who said, “It happened 16 years ago today.” What happened? “Sixteen years ago my life hit rock bottom. Alcohol had destroyed me. My marriage was gone, my career was ruined, and my life was a wreck. I had tried everything the world had to offer and nothing seemed to make a difference. When I finally had nowhere else to turn, I cried out to Jesus. Sixteen years ago today, he heard my cry and changed my life.” That man was in our early worship service on Sunday. He is living proof of the life-changing power of Jesus Christ. He cried out and the Lord heard him and saved him from the pit of destruction. If you need the Lord, cry out to him today. Seek him with all your heart and you will find him.
Third, surround yourself with God-seeking people. You know who they are. God-seekers aren’t hard to spot. Find some friends who truly seek the Lord and glue yourself to them. Go where they go, do what they do. Follow their example. Eventually one of two things will happen. Either they will drive you nuts and you will leave them or they will rub off on you and you will become a God-seeker too.
Fourth, wait on the Lord. This is a hard discipline for most of us to practice. Our message to God is, “Give me patience, and give it to me right now!” We want spiritual maturity and we want it by 11:30 a.m. We’re not accustomed to waiting patiently on the Lord. But waiting has many positive benefits. The very act of waiting purifies our hearts and increases our longing to know the Lord intimately. As we wait and as we pray, we become like the deer panting for the water. Our souls grow hungry to know the Lord.
Fifth, spend time in fasting. I believe there is a direct connection between biblical fasting and seeking the Lord. For some, that might mean going without a meal once a week in order to wait on God. For others, it might mean going a day without a meal. The ancient discipline of biblical fasting can be practiced many different ways. I have found it beneficial to take a day a week and fast from sunrise to sundown. And on occasion I have fasted for several days at a time. Fasting slows us down, reorients our perspective, weans us away from our love of the world, and puts us in a spiritual position where we can seek God with fewer distractions. (If you would like instruction in this area, I highly recommend the book A Hunger for God by John Piper from Crossway Books.)
The great mystic Thomas a Kempis (who wrote The Imitation of Christ) said, “Seek God, not happiness.” We have it all backwards. We seek happiness and hope to have God thrown in as a bonus. But we end up with neither. The paradox of the gospel is that when we truly seek God, we find him, and we get happiness (deep fulfillment, lasting joy, the abundant life) too. But it takes years for many of us to figure that out, and some of us never get it straight. To the very end, we pursue earthly happiness and our own agendas and we wonder why life leaves us frustrated and disillusioned.
“Come Unto Me”
I close with this final thought. Jesus’ appeal is always personal. He never says, “Come and join the church” or “Come and be baptized” or “Come and give money.” He simply says, “Come unto me.” When Jesus says, “You will be filled,” he means, “You will be filled with Jesus himself!”
If you are hungry, come and eat of the Bread of Life.
If you are thirsty, come and drink of the Water of Life.
If you are weary, come and find rest.
If you are guilty, come and be forgiven.
If you are far from God, come back home again.
The French philosopher Pascal said that there is a “God-shaped vacuum” inside every human heart. Since nature abhors a vacuum, if we don’t fill it with God, we will fill it with something else. So many of us have filled our hearts with the junk food of the world. No wonder we are so unhappy. No wonder we jump from one job to another and from one relationship to another. We’re like little children who won’t let go of the marble in order to receive a diamond. “No, I won’t give up my weekend affair for eternal joy” … “Trade a broken marriage and a failed career for peace and forgiveness? Forget it.” … “Give up my drug addiction and be forgiven for all my sins? No way, man.” … “You say I can replace my anger and bitterness with peace and contentment? I can’t take the chance. Sorry.”
No wonder we stay the way we are. We’re trapped in the pit of a thousand excuses. We’d rather have misery and pain than risk it all on Jesus.
Where Salvation Begins
Many centuries ago Augustine explained both the problem and the solution: “O God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.” You will never be happy until you put God first in your life. And you can never do that until you surrender your life to Jesus Christ once and for all.
Let me give you some good news. In the kingdom of God, everything begins with a seeking heart! Salvation begins with a hungry heart. If you are tired of the life you’ve been living, you can make a new start.
In the spiritual realm, what you seek is what you find. This is the Fourth Law of the Spiritual Life. Amen.