What do you do when you realize that your love for God is sub-par at best? How do you respond when you feel like you’ve forgotten how to pray? What steps do you take when you recognize a deficiency in your walk with the Lord, but you don’t know how to fix the problem?
I’ve been working through these questions lately. And I’ve realized that these issues can’t be improved simply by trying harder. Though I know I need to discipline myself to work out these muscles, if you will, there’s a deeper pursuit that must take place, a foundation that must be strengthened before a structure can be safely built up. And this pursuit, though all encompassing, can be stated in only three words:
Seek the Lord.
So I set out to simply seek the Lord. To seek the Lord, however, I first have to check my focus. I’m far too distracted by created things around me to really see God clearly, so my first order of business is to seek the right perspective. And, providentially, I believe, God helped me see a bit more clearly through my devotional time today.
I finished reading through Hosea this morning. Hosea might be one of my favorite Old Testament books, with its rich imagery and striking narrative pointing out the depths of wickedness in men as well as the heights of love in God. As the last chapter begins, rebellious Israel is called to return to the Lord with these words:
Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take with you words and return to the LORD; say to him, “Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips. Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy.”
Four things stand out as I consider this text. First, the people repent of their actions. Israel recognizes her sin and admits her guilt before God, seeking his cleansing (indeed, cleansing is only found in God). Second, the people pledge their devotion to the Lord. They don’t just ask for forgiveness for past wrongs; they commit to living holy lives, putting their money (sacrifices) where their mouths are, so to speak, adding action to their words and thereby confirming the change in their hearts. Third, they admit the bankruptcy of any other savior, the futility of any other god. With the words, “Assyria shall not save us,” they confess that there is no hope for them apart from God himself. Even with Assyria’s aid, they are no match for the Lord almighty, with whom they break fellowship through their running after the support and protection of other nations rather than trusting in their sovereign God. Fourth, they confess that their own works cannot save them. Neither trusting in the might of stronger nations nor hoping in idols crafted with their own hands are sufficient saving actions on the part of God’s people. Only faith and obedience to the only true God can help them. As they conclude, they recognize God as the only good Father: “In you the orphan finds mercy,” (v. 3).
Throughout this entire prayer, the people are focused on God. At least, that’s the model they were given to follow. I need to do more background study to see if Israel actually followed these instructions. But the heart of the petitioner is clear nonetheless. The people know that all other supports will fail them, but that God is always faithful. Simply put, to side with any created thing against the Lord of all will only ever end in man’s defeat. However, the opposite is also true: to side with the Lord of all against any created thing will only ever end in God’s victory, and, thus, man’s victory. This is more clearly seen when you consider Romans 8. There, Paul writes of the believer’s security, noting that,
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
No power in creation can separate us from God’s love; neither can any power in creation sustain us like God’s love. We were created for fellowship with the Lord, and we will not, indeed, cannot, be whole apart from him. Therefore, as I seek to pray better, to love better, or to walk better, my primary concern should be to grow in relationship with God. To know him and to be known by him must be the foundation for the growth of the individual disciplines, for only through him can I truly grow in the image of Christ.