David: The Way Of The God Chaser — Part 1
Extracted from ‘In the Footsteps of Giants’ by Wong Kim Tok
Psalm 27:4 — One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.
Psalm 27:8 — My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek.
Psalm 37:4 — Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Psalm 29:2(NIRV) — Worship the Lord because of his beauty and holiness.
In the life stories of King David and his son King Solomon, we have two examples of powerful yet contrasting and even competing drives that God has placed in us. Each drive moves us to live in a certain way. One is the drive for impact and the other is the drive for intimacy.
The drive for impact is easily recognised when we read what King Solomon asked God for at the start of his reign. In 1 Kings 3:9, he asked God, “So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern these great people of yours?” It is a very noble, selfless prayer and he was blessed by God for so asking and serving. Notice some key words like “govern” and “great” — Solomon’s request had to do with impact.
It is obvious that most of us easily identify with this drive. When young, some would have aimed for academic excellence and studied hard for good grades; some sought to excel in sports or other non-academic achievements. In working life, most of us would seek to do well not only for monetary compensation, but also for the sense of achievement and success when we get that promotion. Recognition and the rewards that come with success feed our drive for impact and significance.
The paper chase sapped our energy when we were students. Then when we started working, the money chase for credit card, car, condo and career took over. We have simply graduated from one chase to another. But all too often this success comes at a price unless we are able to balance this drive with building up our Christian growth and relationship with God.
Still others think they can control this drive by abandoning secular work to go into full-time Christian service. It is thought that by doing so, they can devote their lives to seeking God. Sadly, the truth is that some have simply replaced secular goals with apparently spiritual goals. These “spiritual” goals are however as much linked to the drive for impact. The full-time Christian worker finds himself caught up in ministry to the lost, to helping others grow, and so on. Very soon, he becomes dry and runs out of steam. Christian work becomes a drudgery. I have been there before and I empathise with those who feel this way. We haven’t mastered the drive for impact and have allowed it to rule our lives. We chase ministry success rather than chase after God.
The other great drive is the passion for intimacy exemplified by King David. In Psalm 27:4, David has only one desire and passion: “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” Notice the key words “seek”, “dwell”, “gaze upon”, “beauty of the Lord”, “house” and “temple”. They describe David’s passion for intimacy with God even when he faced life-threatening danger from his enemies.
God’s ultimate commendation was conferred on David: “I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do” (Acts 13:22). This distinguished David all his life, from his youth to his old age. May we all be like David in having a heart to seek God and to take delight in Him.
The God Chasers
We are familiar with the term “God seeker”. He or she is one who seeks after God. However, this term can be sullied by those who think they are God seekers but in reality seek their own desires and live their own lives in the way they see fit. Perhaps, sometimes, in guilt, they realise they should really seek God then make some feeble attempts to get things right with God. I use the term “God chaser” to distinguish superficial God seekers from the genuine seekers of God.
What do we make of King Saul? If you were reading the Saul narrative for the first time, without the benefit of hindsight, you might make a case that he was a God seeker. He was “an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites—a head taller than any of the others” (1 Samuel 9:2). He appeared humble, acknowledging that his tribe and clan were the smallest in Israel (1 Samuel 9:21). When the people searched for him to anoint him, he was nowhere to be found. Later they found him hiding among the baggage. What a humble man—so it seemed. He was also seen among a band of prophets prophesying with them. He claimed to have obeyed God’s instructions but in reality, he did it his own way in disobedience (1 Samuel 15:13, 20-24). He seemed to be a seeker of God—until you scrutinise his conduct and his tragic ending. He was not a God chaser.
Some God seekers may hold positions of authority in religious circles, use the right language of spirituality and appear very “spiritual”. Jesus spoke about this group of people whose dressing, conduct, practices and public personas were very spiritual yet in their hearts they lacked spirituality and life. We know them as the Pharisees. They were also described as hypocrites, blind guides, and snakes (see the seven woes which Jesus pronounced on them in Matthew 23).
So what characteristics do God chasers have?
1. God Chasers Take Delight in God
No one personifies the God chaser’s delight in God better than David the psalmist. After his private anointing as king, when David was first introduced to the public, he had a great reputation as one “who knows how to play the lyre”. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the Lord is with him” (1 Samuel 16:18). At the end of his life writing his final words, he described himself as “the anointed by the God of Jacob, Israel’s singer of songs” (2 Samuel 23:1, NIV 1984). Above being a brave man, a warrior, a charismatic leader or even a king, David was acknowledged by others and by himself first and foremost as a psalmist, Israel’s singer of songs. He took delight in God as a shepherd boy in the fields. While facing battles and running for his life, he composed and sang psalms (e.g., Psalms 52, 54 and 57).
The symbolic icon for David is not the sword or the crown but the harp or more accurately, the lyre. The lyre is what a visitor would see on the reconstructed wall before entering the biblical city of Bethlehem, David’s city. So, hear David’s call to himself and to the hearer’s heart to be awakened to seek God and worship Him: Psalm 57:7-8:
My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music. Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn.
Psalm 57 is a psalm written to reflect the dangers which David faced in trying to evade capture by Saul. There are metaphors like “lions'' and “ravenous beasts” (v. 4). Likewise, I believe “harp” and “lyre” are metaphors for the human heart and soul (see v. 8). David is thus calling on his own heart to be awakened to God and not be deadened or distracted by the impending danger to his life. Danger and turmoil drive him to God instead of away from God. Such is the focus and desire of the God chaser.
The heart is the greatest instrument of praise, more than any harp, lute or lyre which are merely musical instruments accompanying the praise of the heart as one takes delight in God. Harps, lutes and lyres are multi-stringed instruments which make good music due to the number of strings (and a gifted musician’s ability). However even if my heart is a lowly one-stringed instrument, it would make great music to God as it comes from my heart. Over time, the one-stringed heart will have many more strings as I immerse myself in the Word of God or spend much time in prayer and praise, delighting in God.
What is delighting in God?
In Psalm 37:4, the word “delight” in Hebrew is anag, meaning to take exquisite delight. It is in the imperative, like a command. We are to really enjoy God. Jonathan Edwards writing about soul satisfaction says, “The enjoyment of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied.” Although primarily referring to the ultimate satisfaction of the soul in heaven, his words can equally apply to our soul satisfaction on earth. That was what David the God chaser intended—to enjoy God face to face in the temple as well as in the daily routines or even troubled times of normal life.
Cast your mind back to the early days of your faith in Christ. Were you not eager to read the Word of God, to pray simple prayers, to have a quiet time, albeit a short one? Over the years, has that relationship with God grown or has it gone cool? Thomas Watson, a 17th century Puritan preacher, writing in his treatise “The Saint’s Spiritual Delight”, explains that a Christian can become spiritually weary and thus not delight in God. But he also makes it clear that “this delight in God is not wholly extinct”. According to Watson, this weariness is due to indwelling sin. The implication is that by overcoming sin the Christian will revive his or her delight in God.
A further encouragement he gives is that “this spiritual faintness and weariness in a regenerate person is not habitual; it is not his constant temper (i.e., disposition). The water may ebb for a while when it is low-tide; but there is soon a high-tide again. Just so, it is sometimes low-tide in a Christian’s soul”.
The Ladder of Delights
What are the things that the saints of God delight in? There are a number of them and these could be arranged in some kind of hierarchy. Imagine a five-step ladder with the following rungs:
Salvation: Psalm 35:9 — Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord and delight (‘sus’) in his salvation.
God’s people: Psa 16:3 — I say of the holy people who are in the land, “They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight” (bepetz).
God’s Word: Psalm 119:77 — Let your compassion come to me that I may live, for your law is my delight (sa’asu’im).
God’s Will: Psalm 40:8 — I desire (hapetz) to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart. Note (hapetz) has the same meaning as delight.
God Himself: Psalm 37:4 — Take delight (anag) in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
(Note: These and other diverse Hebrew words used for delight suggest a complex understanding of what it means to delight in the things of God.)
The apex of the ladder is God Himself. This was David’s ultimate desire to dwell in the house of the Lord and to gaze upon His beauty and to seek His face. This is to me a great reminder as I can get engrossed in the means of grace and miss the delight of God’s presence. For example, I have at times pursued a truth conceptually during my quiet time or bible study rather than let the truth lead me to appreciating God Himself. At other times, I am occupied in my mind in studying the Word or in prayer but my spirit is not conscious of God’s presence. But there have also been times when I am conscious of God’s presence and have enjoyed Him through the time in studying, prayer or sermon preparation. Those experiences are worth more than all the studies done or sermons prepared. I wish I had more of them. This infrequency makes me wonder how much of a God chaser I am.
2. God Chasers Desire God and the Things of God
I have wondered why some of us experience God so intimately and so frequently. In “The pursuit of God”, A W Tozer poses this question and answers it this way:
Why do some people “find” God in a way that others do not? Why does God manifest His presence to some and let multitudes of others struggle along in the half-light of imperfect Christian experience? Of course, the will of God is the same for all. He has no favourites within His household. All He has ever done for any of His children He will do for all of His children. The difference lies not with God but with us.
As pointed out by Tozer, God is constant and the variable factor is ourselves. Apart from our lack of time for and attentiveness to Him, it is really up to us to desire as much as we want of God.
Dolly and I remember two individuals we were introduced to within a week of each other. We met with “Lee” after he prayed the sinner’s prayer to help him grow. Within the same week of Lee’s conversion, we were also introduced to another new friend, “Alice”, who needed help because of a personal problem. Alice prayed the sinner’s prayer at the end of the first meeting in our living room and we were able to meet weekly for several months until we mutually agreed to stop because of busyness.
Both became Christians at about the same time yet the difference is so stark. Lee stopped meeting with us despite us giving him regular help over several years. We did not hear from Alice until very recently, she wrote Dolly the following message on WhatsApp:
Hey, Mrs Wong, how are you? I am just back from a mission trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand. We went to a non-Christian school to conduct lessons with worship songs and bible stories. We also did home visits. It is amazing to see how their eyes light up when they hear about Jesus. Many were saved. Thank you for sharing the gospel with me 3 years ago. My life has changed since and with Jesus in my life, I know it shall never be the same. Blessed Sonday (sic)!”
“Wow!”, we said to each other as Dolly and I read her message. Mission trip? Evangelism? Life change? “Sonday”? We were amazed at what God had done!
Coming back to our thoughts on appetite, it seems that there were at least two factors which could account for the difference in outcomes. One was that we did a poor job of follow-up in Lee’s case. But if so, what accounted for Alice’s progress in the faith? We then concluded that a key factor was the difference in spiritual appetite. While there may be other factors at play, this factor surely explains the difference.
3. God Chasers Keep Hungering and Thirsting after God
God chasers do not stop desiring God once they have come to know Christ. On the contrary, their very first taste of the glories of salvation in Christ only fuels their passion for more of Christ.
Related to the idea of appetite are hunger and thirst, biblical metaphors for seeking and chasing after God as the following passages show:
Psalm 63:1 — You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.
Isaiah 55:1 — Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
John 7:37 — On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.”
A thirsting for God is an initial type of thirsting. We thirst, we drink and our thirst is quenched. This is what God seekers encounter. In physiological terms, the thirst or hunger returns. But in the realm of the soul, sometimes God seekers do not seek any more. They seem satisfied with what they have experienced. We basically starve ourselves inwardly for long periods of time.
There is another type of seeking — a seeking after God which becomes a pursuit, even a lifetime pursuit till one meets God face to face in heaven. An example of this would be the Apostle Paul’s seeking to know Christ, gain Christ and be like Christ.
God seekers emphasise their conversion experience. It had meant much to them. In fact it could have been life-changing. Their worlds had been turned right side up. They are excited about their life changes and they happily testify about that one experience to the whole world. But they stop there. It seems they have found what they had been looking for.
Some God seekers can be curious and appear to be learning. They flock to the next big conference to hear world famous speakers share their messages. Or they may subscribe to their popular blogs or podcasts. They constantly look to men to be the next great inspiration for their lives when the Holy Spirit IS our inspiration. I pause for a clarification here. These world famous speakers may have great stuff to share and we certainly need their teaching. However, if the seeker only subsists on these messages alone, he is vulnerable to being a head-knowledge Christian. It would be wiser for him to feed on the Word of God and be taught by the Lord at His feet. If we dig regularly into the Word and practise spiritual disciplines in walking with God, these world famous speakers will be real added blessings. They will add to the faith of the God seeker. The fault lies not in the world famous speakers but on the God seeker in getting into the circus of Christian entertainment.
Perhaps one of the malaises of the modern Christian is his craving for activity and stimulus. Thomas Merton in his book, “New Seeds of Contemplation”, warns us: “blinded by their desire for ceaseless motion, for a constant sense of achievement, famished with a crude hunger for results, for visible and tangible success, they work themselves into a state in which they cannot believe that they are pleasing God unless they are busy with a dozen jobs at the same time.”
For the God chaser, the conversion experience is only the first step. Their pursuit has only just begun. They had a wonderful conversion. They love Jesus. They are willing to die for him. They willingly carry the cross and keep pursuing Jesus for more and more of Him. They may be side-tracked from time to time but their passion for Christ enables them to get back to the chase. They will not be derailed. So while God seeker seeks for God, the God chaser continually seeks after God, earnestly seeking Him (see Hebrews 11:6).
The following diagram illustrates the relative pursuits in relation to Christ.
Hungering for God
Spiritual appetite is also described as hungering for God. David Brainerd (1718–1747), missionary to the American Indians and a lover of God whose diary influenced many great men and women to serve as missionaries, wrote about spiritual hunger:
“But of late, God has been pleased to keep my soul hungry, almost continually; so that I have been filled with a kind of pleasing pain. When I really enjoy God, I feel my desires of him the more insatiable, and my thirstings after holiness the more unquenchable; and the Lord will not allow me to feel as though I were fully supplied and satisfied, but keeps me still reaching forward.”
(Click here for Part 2)