I've been a Christian for 41 years. Through those four plus decades, I like many folks who've "walked" with him for a while have alternated more than I'd like to admit between substantial periods of vital spiritual intimacy with Jesus, and long stretches of spiritually-tepid sleep-walking, or a distracted auto-pilot spirituality. In other words, I've moved close to seek him earnestly, and I've drifted away absorbed with other things while maintaining my "religious habits." There was no heart in the latter. I know, I lived it.
My recent return to the spiritual disciplines I spent years immersed in has got me thinking about how Christ-followers persevere in a "seeking" posture with God throughout the whole of their lives. By seeking, I mean pressing in to God; doing the work of intimacy; looking for and discerning the present activity of God in one's daily experience; being able to see all of reality saturated with his presence.
As Paul Simon once sang of a man who's: "got a short-little attention span." I'd say most, if not all of us, might have a "short-little spiritual attention span" more often than we'd care to admit. It seems our spiritual lives get compartmentalized into buckets of time where we read the Bible, have our devotions with prayer, go to church on Sunday for worship, go to a Bible study or a small group for fellowship, volunteer, etc. We maintain our spiritual habits, in part, because those activities are what Christians do. It's our culture and way of life. And much good can come from all of those activities. But factor in the "faster I go, the behinder I get" pace many of us tend to labor under these days, we're doing well to even crack open a Bible, or get to church, much less pray and listen with depth.
Fortunately, over the years I've known Christians who just seemed to have an abiding connection to Jesus. They talked of him as if he were accessible; for them, there was a daily presentness to him different from what I observed in other Christians. Each person sought him regularly even though they had been long in the fold. In fact, seeking him was a core spiritual value, and they found great life in so doing. He was there when they sought him. They put in effort for sure, but it was worth the effort evidenced by the fact they persisted in seeking because they sojourned with God.
I realize it's all about passion and desire. The motivation to continue seeking him is fueled by passion to know all about him, to draw near, and to experience his presence even in the ordinary. Relational intimacy and personal transformation are the goals. Love inspires the sought after relationship; love between God and the person. God loves him or her and the person loves God. Love draws both toward the Beloved. If not it becomes some other kind of relationship, if a relationship at all.
So as I've thought about it, I'm reminded of certain residing spiritual practices of "found seekers" I've been around:
1. Some of them are people who love to worship. By worship I refer to the evocative and expressive practices of Christians to gather (or worship alone), sing, praise and exalt God. Worship is a language of love well-suited to these folks. As they seek him in worshiping, they don't need a church service or prayer gathering, although you will find them there and eagerly so. They love immersing deeply into praise, sung or spoken or danced. Exalting God alone and with others seems to be a natural expression of affinity for them. They will worship in the privacy of prayer, or gather with many to lift up and lovingly extol the Name of the Most High. They can worship at work, at home or in a formal setting. They look forward to singing about God and for God. Getting absorbed in his Presence as they focus heart and mind on him feels like home. Worship is not a second language or an "acquired taste" for them. It is the song of another country for which they long.
2. Some of them are people who love to listen in prayer. I've been one of them. Such folks grow to repeatedly and regularly spend time in solitude and silence where they can talk to God plus listen for his response. They've learned that prayer is dialogic rather than primarily monologic. They've learned to hear the subtle sonorities of the "still, small voice." Through practice they can discern the Spirit's "voice of a gentle whisper." In so doing, intimacy with Christ has become a way of life. When God talks to you there is a closeness which undergirds the way you live your Christian life. While everyone experiences times of feeling distant from God, these seekers and followers of Jesus persist in pursuing him because they have known rich times of being near and knowing his desire for them. I believe a persisting seeking of Jesus when you've been found by him is best realized in learning to listen and recognize to him in the quiet; not exclusively so, but practically so.
3. Some of them are people who love to pray. Such folks seek God fervently through intercession, petition, confession, and supplication. They feel nearest to God when they are in their prayer closets praying for all they have on their hearts. For them, prayer is deep connecting; it's engaging the living God with important matters they must ask him for and tell him about. They have a strong and abiding sense of responsibility to pray and to pray often; unceasing prayer is a call on their lives. In fact, praying is the normal Christian life for them. They notice all that is needed in and around and they carry the burden to lift it before the throne of grace to a God who cares and listens. Sometimes for these folk, seeking is wrestling and wrestling some more with God about stuff that can't wait. I've noticed intercessors never seem to tire when it comes to prayer, even if answers in some things don't come easily, or perhaps never at all . They faithfully "man" their posts and seek Jesus day-in and day-out. It's the high point of seeking him in the day. People of persisting prayer are most alive in the praying.
4. Some of them are people who love to study. I've had the fortune to be around a number of these Christ-followers. For them, the frequent and deep study of the Scriptures is a primary mode of seeking Jesus. These are the men and women who examine the Word closely. They might have dictionaries, commentaries and word studies to get to the heart of what God is saying and who he is. They may perhaps learn Greek and Hebrew -- even if they are not seminary-trained -- to seek the heart and mind of the Lord with skill and care proper for giving due respect to his revealed word. As they seek him deeper and deeper into the text, their devotion to its Author strengthens and matures. For them, such study is a life-blood; it's a delight. They see the beauty and majesty of Christ by what is written in the Book of all books. Their passion is equal to the other folks above. Theirs is an errand of love and deep devotion leading to what is right, good, and true in service of the One they seek and follow.
5. Some of them are people who love to serve. Any of us who've been in the church for a while know people who seem to unself-consciously exude a servant heart. They're the ones who regularly volunteer for workday, or seem to have a knack for finding what's needed in a given situation and then meeting it. These men and women both have a "how can I help/what can I do?" perspective. They seek God by serving him and his people wherever someone should take initiative to get things done. As they do, they feel in touch with him. Being of service is a joy and a practical devotion. They don't serve for kudos, they serve for relationship and intimacy with the Most High. These people relate to Jesus the Servant and want to emulate him; to be a Christ-follower is to be a servant at heart. I think they like the tangibility of helping meet real needs in a real world full of need, both big and small. Serving is an act of gratitude for what Jesus has given them and an act of love for people. They extend grace in service because grace has met their deepest need and they are set free.
I know there are other ways believers seek Jesus wholeheartedly, but I've been marked and shaped by observing and living near the kinds of folks I mention above. My seeking the Lord and my Friend has come from what I've seen in such other found seekers, and what they taught me as a result. I've come to realize the Christian way of life is seeking so as to give and serve because we have been "found" by the gracious Servant of all. Seeking more of Jesus, then, becomes more of being freed to give one's self away; to "leave it all on the field" as the saying goes, before our eyes close and our breath ceases on this brief leg of eternity. Our being found means we've have a standing invitation to give it all away. In some way such seeking is emptying.