What core practices should every Christian live out? Find out if you’re living the Seeking-God Lifestyle.
It is the honor and privilege of every Christian to know God and to walk with Him on a daily basis. He is the one true and glorious God who has created us and redeemed us so that we may walk with Him in this life and the next.
Though some Christians have known God through the forgiveness of Jesus Christ for years, they may not be aware of what it means to seek God and what He expects of those called by His name. To be a Christian is to be a follower, an imitator, of Jesus Christ. We must pursue God, love Him, and serve Him the way our Lord and Savior has modeled for us.
Seeking after God isn’t something to be primarily undertaken by non-Christians, but Christians. It’s common to call an interested non-Christian a “seeker,” which isn’t wrong. However, in ninety percent of occurrences in the Scriptures, the concept of seeking after God is characteristic of Christians, not non-Christians. It is an ongoing mindset and lifestyle of those who desire to know, love, and follow God. Becoming a Christian is a step in the process of seeking God, but only the first step, and the rest of one’s life is to be spent drawing closer to Him.
Another way to think about seeking God is the concept of attracting the presence of God. These are two different ways of saying the same thing. As we draw near to God, He draws near to us. As the prophet Azariah told King Asa in 2 Chronicles 15:2: “The LORD is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.” God’s presence comes in the person of the Holy Spirit. When we seek Him, He pours out His Holy Spirit into our lives individually and corporately. In one sense, God is everywhere. He is omnipresent, but we see in the Scriptures that He also inhabits certain people or groups of people in special ways at discrete times. This is what we are to seek after – the very presence of God in our lives and communities. We want the presence of God to be on earth as it is in heaven.
The following are seven principles that describe what it means to seek after God. They are activities on our part that attract His supernatural presence. God’s specific sovereignty over all people and events does not nullify the reality and responsibility of humanity to seek after Him. God is sovereign over all who become Christians, but a person must repent of his sins and believe the good news to become a Christian. God ordains the ends, but He also ordains the means. The following are the means that attract His supernatural presence in outpourings of the Holy Spirit. Understanding and practicing the following seven principles will make you a seeker after God. It is what you were designed for and is what the Lord expects of you.
Principle 1: Humility and Fasting
The very essence of following Christ is to imitate Him in His humility. Though He was God Himself, He set aside his power and glory to become part of the creation. He went still further and became willing to be treated like a criminal and die on the cross for humanity’s sins. Jesus exemplified a humble life, which every Christian is to emulate. Moreover, pride is the opposite of humility, and we know from the Scriptures that God judges and actively opposes the proud (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5). It’s an awesome reality to be opposed by the God of the Universe, yet that is where many stand. Not just non-Christians, but proud Christians can expect the opposition of the God of heaven and earth. The admonitions to be humble in Philippians, James and 1 Peter are all written to a Christian audience, not non-Christians.
God has made plain that He loves to support and dwell with the humble in heart. Isaiah 57:15 says, “For this is what the high and lofty One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.’” Additionally, Isaiah 66:2 says, “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.”
God commands us numerous times in the Scriptures to “humble ourselves.” It is our own responsibility to humble ourselves, and not something we should passively wait for and hope happens at some point. It’s a command that we must obey, and God has given us a tool to help us: fasting. Fasting is not the only tool to help humble ourselves: there is also confession of sins, meditating on the life and example of Christ, and other ways to develop humility. However, fasting is an important tool and one that has been neglected in the Western church. It is important not to take fasting too far in thinking that it is the sin qua non of the Christian life. The Pharisees in the New Testament showed that a person can be a regular faster and still be self-righteous, proud and greedy. It is not the answer to all spiritual problems in a person’s life, but the practice is in the Scriptures for a reason. It is indeed important, and should be practiced regularly. It is not a spiritual panacea, but neglecting one of the most potent tools for humility was never God’s intention.
After all, Jesus said to his disciples, “When you fast…”. It was always assumed that fasting would be part of the Christian life after Jesus died and rose from the dead. There was no need to fast when Christ was present, because there was no need to mourn over the absence of God, but once He ascended, the era of fasting returned to the people of God. We know from early church documents like the Didache that it was the practice of Christians in the first century to fast every Wednesday and Friday until 3pm. They would have a meal in the evening, which would be all the food they took in for the day. There would be special times of extended fasting just as there were before Christ came, but regular fasting is also important.
Fasting isn’t something that was developed during the first century; it had existed for centuries. Moses fasted, Elijah fasted, Nehemiah fasted, Mordecai fasted, David fasted, and Daniel fasted. The list goes on and on. Sometimes people fasted for a day and sometimes for as long as 70 days (Mordecai and all the Jews in the Persian Empire) or 120 days (Nehemiah, chapter 1). Different circumstances require different lengths of fasting. For the Christian seeking to humble himself before God, fasting must be a regular part of his or her life.
- The Christian must continually cultivate humility, making use of the discipline of fasting regularly as well as episodically. The first century church fasted every Wednesday and Friday until 3pm.
Principle 2: Fervent and Frequent Prayer
The typical prayer life of the first-century Christian and the average Christian in Asia or Africa is markedly different from that of the Christian in America and Europe. Of course, there are exceptions, but by and large, there is little to no dedication to regular prayer among Christians in the West. Epaphras (Colossians 4:12, 13) shows us that without consistent, dedicated prayer you can count on significantly less happening in the lives of your loved ones and in the world at large. The Scriptures admonish us to pray on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.
According to Professor of Liturgy at Notre Dame, Paul F. Bradshaw, the pattern for first-century pious Jews and Christians was to pray two or three set times per day, in addition to praying continuously throughout the day. Many Christians lift up prayers during the day as they go about their business, which is a good thing and is modeled in the Scriptures (e.g., Nehemiah); however, the Biblical pattern is to do more than that. The pattern is to pray two or three set times per day like Daniel (Daniel 6:10). Repeatedly, we are told to pray night and day in the Scriptures. Luke 18 shows that we are to pray night and day. We see in 1 Timothy 5 that widows who did not pray day and night were considered lovers of pleasure and were not to be given financial help. Hebrews 13:5 show that the twice daily burnt offerings at the temple were a type of the twice or more daily prayer offerings that Christians are to have before the Lord. In the Scriptures, some of these set times of prayer are described as the “hour of prayer” (e.g., Acts 3:1), which gives us a sense of their length. Combined with Bible reading, the Christian should be praying two or three set times every day totaling a couple of hours. This is to be done on one’s own or gathered with other Christians.
- Pray fervently two or three set times per day (worship and praise are a type of prayer).
- Pray continuously throughout the day.
Principle 3: Taking in the Word
Similar to the discipline of prayer two or three times a day is the discipline of taking in the Word of God. The Scriptures need to be meditated upon, read, or heard two or more times per day (Deut 6:4-9, Josh 1:8) so that we can know and do the will of God. Every day, pious Jews in the first century would recite from memory a few passages from Deuteronomy and Numbers (called the Shema). They would also read the Scriptures to each other, recite from memory various passages, and mediate on the word of God. This became the practice of Christians as well.
In the Bible, “word of God” refers to the Scriptures, but not exclusively to the Scriptures. The word of God also comes in other ways. If God speaks to you through a prophetic message, dream, angelic visitation or any other means, then it is the word of God and you must obey and follow the Lord. Of course, these revelations need to be weighed against the Scriptures and talked over with godly friends, so that you can accurately sense what God has said, but if God has spoken to you, then you must obey Him. Unfortunately, this is a means of receiving God’s revelation that is not practiced or known among most Western educated Christians. Some wrongly believe that believing and practicing the spiritual gifts like prophecy and word of knowledge take away from the authority of the Scriptures, but it is the Scriptures themselves that authenticate the legitimacy of hearing from God in these ways. We must have the courage to obey the Scriptures in these ways even if it does not match our prior experience. As with anything else, there is much to learn and there will be many growing pains, but by actively cultivating the art of hearing God you will be able to know His will and able to seek Him much more specifically and wholeheartedly.
- Pray and read the Bible on your own or with others two or three set times per day. This should total about 2 hours per day, and includes weekly church service, Bible studies, daily devotions, prayer meetings, Wednesday night church meetings, accountability groups and whatever else.
- Cultivate your ability to hear the word of God through words of knowledge, dreams, and prophecies.
Principle 4: Repentance
The Lord loves and draws near to all who repent of their sins, because repentance delights God’s heart like little else. Luke tells us that there is extraordinary joy in heaven when sinners repent and turn to God (Luke 15:10). God yearns and deeply desires to show mercy and give blessing, but often He will only do so when He sees genuine repentance in people’s lives. Ezekiel 18:31, 32 says, “Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!”
There is an extraordinary story of King Ahab who was an exceedingly wicked king of Israel. He murdered in cold blood and rebelled against God repeatedly. God sent Elijah to pronounce judgment on him, warning him of the impending disaster. Yet, Ahab humbled himself and repented of his sins, moving God to relent in sending punishment. God said to Elijah in 1 Kings 21:29, “Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son.”
At another time in Israel’s history, the people were faithful to keep regular times of prayer and fasting, yet were rebellious against God. This hypocrisy angered God who rebuked them in Joel 2:12, 13: “‘Even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.’” The people were hypocrites for going through the motions of fasting and rending their garments, when they were not genuinely repenting (“rending their hearts”) before God for the evil they had done.
- Repent if you have not been seeking God fervently and wholeheartedly.
- Repent of any and every area of your life that has not been consistent with God’s will.
- Put away anything in your life that is doubtful and that may be displeasing to God.
Principle 5: Obedience
The flip side to repentance is obedience, and authentic repentance always leads to obedience. Repentance is looking to the past concerning sins and acknowledging what needs to be brought before God. Obedience is daily walking in holiness and surrender to Jesus Christ as Lord. God delights and draws close to those who live righteous lives.
Every culture has characteristics that reinforce and commend the eternal commands of God and yet also has values that are contrary to the will of God, which need to be brought into alignment with Him. American culture in the 21st century has much going for it, including a strong value on racial tolerance, faithful stewardship of the environment, and caring for the poor. It doesn’t mean that all of these social conditions are as they should be, but in general, society values what God values in these areas. On the other hand, there are current American values that stand in stark contrast to the ways of God, and it is the duty of Christians to faithfully reject cultural norms and adopt God’s values. Faithfully walking with God even when this brings one in conflict with the surrounding culture exemplifies a righteous and holy life, and God loves the righteous and draws close to them.
In the category of sexual integrity, American culture has strayed far away from the Biblical norms it once embraced. Fornication, pornography, homosexuality, adultery, and divorce are all common in Christian as well as non-Christian culture in the United States, greatly grieving the heart of God. Much of this sexual immorality results in abortion, which has claimed tens of millions of lives in the last 50 years amounting to a holocaust much worse than the holocaust of World War II and even worse than the era of slavery in the United States. God forgives when there is genuine repentance, and America and American Christians have much to repent over in this area.
Another American cultural norm that grieves the heart of God is materialism and greed. Although America is the richest country in the history of the world, the average American only gives away 2% of his income, and Christians are only slightly better at about 3.5%. Giving away 10% of income was the norm for pious Jews and Christians in the first century, such that a person was considered generous only if he gave considerably more than 10%. Now it is considered remarkable if Christians give away just 10%. How has our thinking been so altered that we are so wealthy yet so stingy at the same time? Every Christian must break free from this demonic stronghold and learn to live generously.
- Obey all the Lord’s commands including the command to love Him with your whole heart and to love others as well. Resolve to live a righteous life.
- Maintain sexual integrity, and work to reduce and end the evil of abortion.
- Give away at least 10% of income.
- Obey the Spirit promptly.
Principle 6: Perseverance
Seeking God is a way of life and not something solely to be done in times of desperate need. God’s presence and favor is definitely worth pursuing diligently year in and year out. American society thinks nothing of pursuing education ten hours a day in classroom and homework time for many years, and American society thinks nothing of pursuing athletic excellence through many hours of practice every day year after year. The same diligence we show toward these other worthy causes should be shown in our single-minded pursuit of pleasing and following the one true God. As the Scriptures say in 1 Timothy 4:8, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”
It is extraordinary to notice the hard work and diligence that some apply to various aspects of their lives, be it education, athletics or a hobby. In season and out of season, many Christians faithfully and diligently work hard to be better educated or skilled in athletics or a musical instrument. However, many of these same Christians exhibit extraordinarily low prioritization of their walk with Jesus Christ, and then wonder why they do not have the Lord’s presence and power in their lives. Those who are out of shape physically usually know why they are out of shape: they don’t exercise enough. Those who do not perform well on their tests know that often the reason is that they have not studied. Yet, many Christians have little victory and power in their lives and they honestly have no idea why. They have not been praying and reading the Scriptures diligently, fasting, humbling themselves, repenting of their sins, and practicing consistent obedience to God. God is displeased with them and perhaps even opposing them, and yet they are completely ignorant of it.
Notice the single-minded zeal of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 3:12-14:
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
It is this perspective that must be the mindset of every person who seeks after God diligently. We must hunt after God, never being satisfied with anything less than His divine blessing and presence in our lives.
- Be focused and diligent in your seeking after God.
- Persevere in your hunt for God, month after month, year after year.
Principle 7: Gathering of/with Others
Seeking after God isn’t just an individual pursuit, but a corporate one as well. Jonathan Edwards, perhaps the most respected theologian on the subject of revival, wrote that the best Biblical passage on the topic is Zechariah 8:20-23, which states:
This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Many peoples and the inhabitants of many cities will yet come, and the inhabitants of one city will go to another and say, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the LORD and seek the LORD Almighty. I myself am going.’ And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the LORD Almighty and to entreat him.”
This is what the LORD Almighty says: “In those days ten men from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’”
Notice the zeal of those seeking after the Lord. It was not enough that they themselves were seeking after God, but they were compelled to encourage others to seek God as well.
Not only is the gathering of others important in seeking God, but gathering with others is critical. It is important that Christians gather with others on a weekly if not daily basis to encourage each other in the faith to remain strong in the Lord and to minister to each other, building up the body of Christ. Christians should be regular participants in churches, small groups, and other large and small group gatherings to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.
Moreover, it is important that Christians follow the Biblical example of gathering for several multi-day Christian conferences per year in order to deepen their love and devotion to God. The ancient Israelites were told to keep three feasts per year: the Feast of Unleavened Bread for one week, the Feast of Pentecost for a weekend, and the Feast of Tabernacles for one week. During these times, there was celebration, public reading of the Bible, teaching, praise and worship, and confession of sin (see Exodus 23:14-19; Nehemiah 8; and 2 Chronicles 30). All families as part of the nation of Israel were required to keep these three annual feasts so that they would be strengthened in their love for God, ready and able to serve Him and walk with Him all year long. Unfortunately, the Israelites did not always keep these feasts and their hearts strayed away from the Lord. However, periodically during the years, they would repent, return to God, and hold these feasts with spectacular results. As examples, read Nehemiah 8 and 2 Chronicles 30 to notice the extraordinary joy and zeal for God that would develop during these feasts.
The same pattern should be true of those who seek after God in our current age. A person remains strong and devoted to God when he has regular multi-day experiences of teaching, encouragement, worship, confession and prayer. For the Christian seeking after God the question should not be whether he or she will attend a few multi-day Christian conferences in the upcoming year, but rather, when and which ones he or she will attend.
- Call others to join with you in seeking God fervently (both non-Christians and Christians).
- Gather with others regularly for church and relational encouragement and accountability.
- Attend three multi-day Christian conferences per year for strengthening and devotion.
Obstacles to Seeking God
There are two significant obstacles to adopting a seeking-God lifestyle that need to be briefly addressed. They consist of a wrong theological understanding of legalism, and the notion of “busyness.”
There are few concepts more misunderstood in American Christian culture than legalism. To the average American Christian, legalism refers to having to do something in the Christian life that they do not want to do. This is very different from the Biblical principles from which the concept probably originates. The word itself only appears once in the Bible in Philippians 3:6 in the form of “legalistic,” referring to the Apostle Paul’s standing in Judaism before becoming a Christian. All of the principles in the foregoing essay on seeking God have nothing to do with legalism and everything to do with fulfilling God’s commands and living as a Christian. Legalism, rightly understood, refers to three possibilities:
1) First of all, legalism is believing that a person has to perform a work in order to be saved instead of relying on God’s grace through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. For example, if a person believes you must attend church service a certain number of times before you can become a Christian, that is an inaccurate and legalistic understanding of the gospel. A requirement in addition to the gospel has been added, which is unacceptable.
2) Secondly, the Pharisees could be considered legalistic because they specified and added requirements to what it meant to live a God-fearing life. For example, they decided that it was a violation of the Sabbath for Jesus or anyone else to perform a healing on the Sabbath. Jesus rebuked them, pointing out that every single one of them would rescue one of their prized animals if it fell into a pit on a Sabbath, so how could it be impermissible to heal a person on the Sabbath? The Pharisees added requirements to God’s command, depending on their own traditions instead of God’s desires. For example, to tell someone that they must pray at 6 am every single day or otherwise they are disobedient to God is an example of this kind of legalism. The Scriptures do indeed teach us to pray and read the Bible two or three times per day, but never is it stated at exactly what time that should be done. Nor is it wrong to set a time of prayer at 6 am and gather others to attend, just as long as it’s clear that you’re not suggesting that people are disobedient to God if they don’t do it at that time.
3) Thirdly, the Pharisees could also be considered legalistic because they were hypocritically emphasizing less important commands of God while neglecting the more important ones. Matthew 23:23 exemplifies this with Jesus’ rebuke to the Pharisees: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” It is helpful to notice that Jesus explicitly stated that they indeed should not have neglected tithing. The problem was that they were extremely fastidious about their tithing, even making sure they tithed the increase in their plants, yet they neglected even more important commands including justice, mercy and faithfulness. A parallel example today would be for a person to pray and read the Bible regularly three times per day, yet commit sexual immorality and not think anything of it. The solution is not to neglect the daily prayer, but to remember to be faithful to God in all matters. It would be much better to miss prayer once in a while and have sexual integrity, than to be extremely fastidious about set prayer times while living in sexual immorality.
A wrong understanding of legalism has kept many from following God with the diligence and wholeheartedness that He is owed. The seven principles listed in the foregoing essay are not legalistic but an explanation of what the Scriptures teach about how to seek after God. Take a close look yourself and become convinced about what the Scriptures are teaching on what it means to seek God and then be faithful to those principles.
A second common obstacle is that of “busyness.” Many Christians do not want to spend the time that seeking after God requires because they are too busy. Their love for God has grown so cold that even when it becomes clear to them from the Scriptures how they ought to spend their time, they will not make God the priority that He demands. They will rarely state it so starkly, but instead will point to their responsibilities at work, at church, in studying, in driving their kids to events, and the list goes on and on. When a student decides he wants to play sports at the college level, it means that now he needs to spend time getting in shape and practicing, which means that other priorities will be left behind. By necessity, the student athlete will not have as much time for other organized campus events or entertainments, including movies, TV, video games, and surfing the internet. The college athlete knows that his time must be prioritized if he is going to succeed.
Similarly, to adopt the Christian lifestyle as described in the Bible will mean sacrifices in other areas. What can be difficult is that some Christians have lived for years not making God a priority and when confronted with the explicit expectations of God in the Bible do not want to change their priorities. Other activities, as good as they may be, have become idols and occupy the Christian’s first love instead of Jesus Himself. Righting oneself and making changes to one’s schedule and priorities is a difficult and sometimes even a grieving process. We grieve when we lose things that we love, and unfortunately, for many Christians their first love is for many other pursuits in their lives instead of pleasing and serving God Himself.
As you put these seven principles into regular practice, you will notice significant changes in your life. Your decision-making will be more consistent with God’s plans, you will have greater power over sin, you will hear the voice of God more often, and you will experience fillings of the Holy Spirit. It’s the life that God has planned for you, and doing any less will mean that you may miss out on God’s specific plan and call on your life.
Editor: This article was first published January 15, 2017.