Millions of people have experienced the value of a rich and healthy spirituality. Yet everyone knows someone whose religion has not only not helped him, but has made him worse. How is it that one person finds treasure in religious belief when another does not?
Religion is like a house with many rooms, some opulent and others dingy. The treasure does not lie in the structure itself, but in finding the riches within it – but especially in meeting the owner.
Consider the following scenario: You’ve purchased a farm and have heard from people in the neighborhood that the old man who lived there before you kept all his money in hiding places around the farm. He died in a car accident, and no one was ever able to find his money. Rumor has it that hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonds and cash are hidden in metal-lock boxes somewhere on the property. Now if you wanted to search for that, what tools would you use?
A metal detector? Probably. A shovel? Sure – and maybe even a backhoe. Perhaps you would want a surveyor’s map of the property, and a deed that showed where all the out-buildings once stood. You’d surely want a flashlight. You would want the best tools for the job.
Now let’s say that you’ve been going to church for a while and you have heard that it is possible to find an even better treasure in a relationship with God: his favor, his guidance and a continual sense of his presence. You can search for these things and find them, but what kind of tools will you need for that search? What are the most important tools of the trade?
The first essential tool is prayer. The Bible repeatedly links the idea of searching for God to the practice of prayer. People who are serious about the search for God pray, and they pray a lot. Those who neglect this tool will be unsuccessful in the search.
But like any tool, if you don’t use it as it was designed to be used you won’t get the results it was intended to provide. I was once in possession of a tool that looked like a miniature vise, but I never found out where it came from or what it was used for. I’m sure it served a meaningful purpose, but it never served it for me because I didn’t understand how it worked.
So with prayer. It is the essential tool in the searcher’s toolbox, but it is not much good if we don’t know how to use it. The Bible contains plenty of practical advice on how to pray, and every searcher would be wise to begin with Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 6. St. Paul gives helpful instruction in Romans 8. The Psalms are a prayer book worth pondering, and helpful examples of prayer can be found in Ephesians 1:15-9 and 3:16-19, Philippians 1:1-11, Colossians 1:9-12.
Prayer works best when used with the other indispensable tool for the search, the scriptures. One of the great searchers, the prophet Daniel, modeled the use of prayer in conjunction with scripture. He says that it was while reading the prophet Jeremiah that he turned to the Lord and sought him by prayer.
Not only did meditation on the Book of Jeremiah lead Daniel to seek God, his prayer was filled with scriptural ideas and images. The “covenant of love” language he used came straight from the Book of Deuteronomy. Passages from the Law of Moses are evident. In fact, nearly every sentence in his prayer grows right out of some biblical passage. It is clear that Daniel had immersed himself in biblical revelation. Prayer and Scripture go together like a hammer and nail.
Fasting is another search tool. It is not a spiritual pry-bar used to move God, as often thought, but a means of humbling oneself. Humility is a pre-condition of the search. God avoids the proud and, no matter how hard you search, if he is avoiding you, you’ll never find him.
Seeking God is a lifelong pursuit. Even when you possess the best tools, and know how to use them, you must persist with determination. The casual searcher will not succeed. The committed searcher will not fail.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 7/5/14