The title is a condensed version of the question I was actually asked.
When pursuing God, what are the key practices to pursuit? Is there a difference between pursuit and rote obedience?
My most recent series of messages focused on our need to be people who pursued God, but never in the series did I talk about how to pursue God. There’s a reason for that. Very few places in the Bible give us any kind of recipe for how to pursue a relationship with God. But we are people of how, so how?
Christians through the centuries have tried to establish different systems for pursuing God. Here are just a few things that have come to be known as spiritual disciplines:
- go to church
- sing worship songs
- read your Bible
- give to the poor
- practice chastity
- walk in nature
- visualize / imagine God speaking to you and write it down
- produce something creative like a work of art
Each of those things has been used by some as a recipe for their own spiritual development, each one has felt beneficial to someone, but each one has also been a burden to someone else. That’s why the motivation behind the question is about the difference between pursuing God and “rote obedience.” It’s because somewhere along the line, someone got the idea that obedience and pursuit were the same thing, or someone took a thing that looked like pursuit and enforced it as a rule on themselves or on others.
Paul mentions this kind of thing in his letter to the Colossians:
Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
Colossians 2:20-23 NIV
The people in Colossae thought that there were behaviors and rules they could follow that would somehow bring “wisdom” into their lives or somehow get them closer to God, but Paul calls these rules and practices “false humility” and says they don’t have any value in “restraining sensual indulgence.”
That’s a weird way to end the paragraph. Why would Paul bring up the failure of rules and rituals in restraining indulgence? I think it’s because the bottom line war is down deep in our hearts, a war of competing desires: our desire for something in this world vs. our desire for relationship with God.
A person can pursue God by praying, but a person can pray without pursuing God. A person can pursue God by going to church, but they can also go to church without pursuing God. None of the so called spiritual disciplines do any good in and of themselves.
So, let’s go back to the question: What are the key practices? There are no practices that produce pursuit, but there are practices that historically have been embraced by those who are truly pursuing God. They are practices modeled by Jesus, David and others, and I’ll describe them this way:
- Do something that connects your mind to God. Read the Bible and study it. Memorize it. Listen to people teach it.
- Do something that connects your emotions to God. Listen to worship music, sing it, join others in singing it. Reflect meditatively on something in God’s Word while doing something that feeds your emotions like taking a walk, making art, or just resting with your eyes closed.
- Do something that connects your body to God. Fast from food to remind yourself of God’s provision. Kneel in prayer. Raise your hands in singing.
- Do something that connects your will to God. Tithe your income. Give to a Christian charity. Serve in your church.
- Do these things alone. Do them with other believers. Do them with unbelievers. Do them in the morning, the afternoon, evening, when you wake up in the middle of the night, or any other time.
- Do them because you realize every single moment in your life is a moment for you to seek God afresh, and he is ready to meet you in your mind, your feelings, your body, and your behaviors.