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When you search with all your heart

Seeking

by Dennis Pollock

The Bible has much to say about seeking the Lord. In Psalm 34 we read: "The young lions lack and suffer hunger; but those who seek the LORD shall not lack any good thing." And Hebrews 11 tells us: "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him."

One of my favorite "seek the Lord" verses is found in Jeremiah: "And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13). In this devotional we will look at the context of those words, and see how one man took them to heart, and brought a wonderful blessing to an entire nation.

This story begins with a false prophet named Hananiah. Israel was being devoured by the mighty armies of Babylon, and many Jews had already been taken captive to Babylon. This was a major humiliation for the people who proclaimed themselves servants of the one true God. Those left in Jerusalem wondered if this was a temporary situation. Perhaps the God of Israel was going to come through with a last minute miracle to restore His people to their homeland and make this nightmare go away. There were plenty of false prophets trying to encourage this idea, but Jeremiah was not one of them. He had consistently told the Jews to surrender to Babylon, and cooperate with the invading army. This was God's punishment for their unfaithfulness, and they would gain nothing by resisting. He even took to wearing a wooden yoke around his neck to demonstrate that God was placing the yoke of captivity upon Israel by means of Babylon, and there was no stopping it.

All this was too much for Hananiah, who was making a name for himself by prophesying that all this misery was merely a temporary setback. God would soon step in and reverse the situation. Seeing Jeremiah as a grumpy "doom and gloom" kind of a guy, he indignantly removed the wooden yoke off Jeremiah's neck and broke it. He announced before the startled onlookers, "Thus says the LORD: 'Even so I will break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon from the neck of all nations within the space of two full years.' " Jeremiah said nothing at the time, but later God gave him a prophecy for Hananiah: this false prophet would be dead inside of a year. In ancient Israel, you didn't mess with God's servants, the prophets. Hananiah's days were numbered.

God's Word to His Captive People

Shortly after that God gave Jeremiah a letter for the Jewish captives in Babylon, which forecast the true situation of their captivity. The captives were encouraged to settle down for a good long stay in their new country. They were to build houses, plant gardens, have weddings and produce children. They were going to be there for the next seventy years, so they must not listen to these optimistic, positive-thinking, cheerful prognosticators who were telling them they would soon be home.

There is a lesson for all of us in this story. There are times in our lives when we need to make peace with less than ideal situations. To fight against our circumstances in such cases is to fight against the will of God. God had determined that the Jewish captivity in Babylon would last seventy years, and all the prophesying and pep talks and soothing words by scores of false prophets would not change that fact. The promises of the Scriptures of God answering our prayers are wonderful and they are true, but they do not turn our mighty and awesome Creator into our own personal bellboy, running every time we ring a bell, and saying, "Yes sir – right away," every time we make a demand. One of the simplest rules to remember in relating to God is this: "There is only one God, and you aren't Him!" And timing is something God insists upon keeping under His own sovereign control.

Included in this letter to the Jewish captives in Babylon is one of the most popular verses in the Bible: "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11). "You have a future" is something every one of us need to hear and believe. It is the essence of hope, and God understands our need of hope very well. He was not about to allow His people to accept the idea of perpetual captivity. Yes, their stay would be long, so long in fact that almost all the adults would never live to see the end of it, but there was a day coming when God would reveal His mighty hand, and the chosen people would be back in the holy land. Again we see a definite correspondence to the way God deals with us today. He may require us to go through some pretty dry places, He may lead us into some fearful and painful circumstances, but He will never allow us to think that this is the end of the story. No matter how terrifying our wilderness, how parched our desert, or how depressing our prison, we will hear that still, small voice assuring us: "I love you. Hang in there – there is hope for you."

After saying all this, God then gives the formula for the Jews' eventual deliverance from captivity: "Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:12,13). This verse which has been often quoted and preached in sermons the world over, started out as a promise by God to the Jewish captives in Babylon. It was to be the key to their eventual deliverance and restoration.

From Jeremiah to Daniel

Daniel prayingNow fast forward nearly seventy years. Jeremiah is dead but his writings are still speaking to the people of God. Another prophet, a godly Jew who served as an administrator in Babylon runs across these verses as he reads Jeremiah's prophecies. This man's name was Daniel, and he quickly began to do some figuring. Recognizing that the seventy years of captivity were nearly complete, and seeing no evidence that the Jews' deliverance was at hand, Daniel decided it was time to seek the Lord.

We read of Daniel's intercession for the people of Israel in the ninth chapter of Daniel. It is one of the most beautiful and poignant prayers of the Bible. Time does not permit us to go into the details of this magnificent prayer, but we will notice the prophet's opening words, as he describes his manner of seeking the Lord: "Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes" (Daniel 9:3). He was determined to follow the rules laid down in Jeremiah's prophecy: to seek the Lord with all his heart. Let us break down this description of whole-hearted intercession.

First, he "set his face toward the Lord." This is an expression that indicates total commitment. To set your face is to determine to let nothing stop you. The Bible says this about Jesus "Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51). Our Lord was making all possible haste to keep his appointment with a cross, and no one could talk Him out of it. In the same manner Daniel set his face for a concentrated time of prayer and supplication with God on behalf of the Jewish people. It was time for the Jews to return to their homeland, and no casual, half-hearted, wimpy little prayers would do.

Distractions

Implied in the idea of setting your face toward God is the removal of all distractions. If you are praying, while keeping one eye on the latest celebrity gossip being discussed on television, while reading a text from a friend all at the same time, you are not really setting your face. Believers today have more Bible resources than every before. We also have far more distractions than ever before. In many cases, the distractions are winning out over the resources. We pray for short periods, but how quickly do we allow our prayers to be interrupted at the first sound of a text message, or the beckoning call of something fascinating from our never-turned-off television. And then there are those important emails that require us to frantically check our inbox every ten minutes, and who knows if someone else has liked our latest Facebook post, or maybe even shared it?

And so we pray our little feeble, oft-interrupted prayers that spring from divided attention, with zero anointing, zero faith, and our thoughts running in a dozen different directions. We have allowed distractions to drain the life out of our prayers. We have not set our face toward the Lord.

Daniel "made request by prayer and supplications." It's a simple thought, yet so very powerful. To do what he did requires the belief that calling out to an invisible God while hidden in a room by yourself will result in a dramatic change of circumstances in this physical world. It is an act of faith, something extraordinarily powerful in the sight of God. This is more than merely the idea that prayer makes one a nicer person. It will do that, but prayer is more than an exercise to improve your personality. Daniel was convinced that prayer brings tangible and very real results. It truly changes the courses of lives and nations. In Daniel's case, a nation of captives would soon experience liberation because an old man prayed.

Daniel included the practice of fasting during this time of prayer. He would eat no food. Fasting has always been a partner to serious prayer. It is one of the weapons of spiritual warfare in our arsenal, and it is potent! Prayer combined with fasting smashes obstacles, pulls down enemy strongholds, obliterates demonic schemes that were years in the planning, and brings confusion and fear to Satan's minions. The demons do not fear our self-confidence; they do not dismay at our clever plans to outwit them; they laugh at our pop-psychology, sneer at our confident platitudes, and mock our positive thinking, but when the people of God begin to fast and pray in the irresistible name of Jesus Christ, the evil spirits must begin to give way. It is interesting that in the book of Esther prayer is not mentioned in the entire book. When Esther is told by Mordecai of Haman's plans to kill all the Jews, she sends him a message: "Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise" (Esther 4:16). In a sense, fasting is a prayer all by itself. It is a calling on God with such intensity that even the act of eating is seen as a distraction. It is a seeking of our invisible Creator with our whole heart.

The seeking of God is so incredibly important, each believer should give themselves to diligently study of this subject. Biologists are experts in the study of living things; archeologists study ancient artifacts and peoples. We need to become "seekologists" – those who are highly proficient in the seeking of God. It will pay rich dividends. Each of us will need to develop our own type of seeking. It probably will not involve sackcloth and ashes, as with Daniel, but it certainly will involve concentrated prayer, with distractions put aside, and in many cases it will require some form of fasting. This is our heavy artillery. This is when we bring in the most potent weapons available for the most critical spiritual needs.

What an incredible privilege Christ has purchased for us through His cross and resurrection! We do not come sniveling and whining; we come boldly in the name of our Savior, who is our Righteousness, declaring His name, confessing His promises, and daring to believe that our great and holy Creator, Owner and Master of the universe, will hear us and grant our petitions. When it comes to prayer and seeking God's face, the power of justification through the blood of Jesus cannot be overemphasized. Paul writes, "according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him" (Ephesians 3:11,12). How sweet the sound of those words: "boldness and access with confidence through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord."

For a full listing of all devos (written and audio) go to our Devos Catalog Page.

     

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