Let me warn you now that this is a much longer post than usual. If you have a short attention span, you may want to just stop now. Last night I had the honor of addressing our Baptist Association Annual Meeting by brining the annual sermon. The theme for the meeting was Seeking God’s Face, based on 2 Chronicles 7:14. Here’s a somewhat shortened version of what I offered on that text:
Now before we think about these familiar words and the idea of seeking God’s face, let me just say something briefly about the dangers of that familiarity and the issue of context. Sometimes things become a little too familiar and we run the risk of missing the real point. We’ve heard this verse, we’ve read it, we’ve heard countless sermons on it. And unfortunately, at least it seems to me, our problem is that we’ve come to take the verse out of its context. We read about this idea of humbling ourselves and praying and seeking God’s face and turning from our wicked ways so that God will hear and heal our land; and we most often think in terms like this. If America will just get its act together, then God will bless us. Right?
However, America isn’t even in the thought process here when this verse was written. Look here in 2 Chronicles 7. Solomon has just finished building the temple of God. They’re having a nice prayer service to dedicate the new building, much like we would at the end of a long building project. Here they slaughter 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep, whereas most of us would only slaughter a couple cows and a pig or two for the fellowship dinner after the service, but still; very similar.
And then beginning in verse 11, Solomon is visited by the Lord in a dream in response to the prayers the king has offered. And in essence, God says, “I’ve heard your prayers and will indeed bless this place with my presence. But here’s the deal. When the people sin and I bring suffering on them; when the heavens are closed up with no rain, or locust come along and eat everything up; that sort of thing. When that happens, not if, but when that happens, here’s what I’ll do. If my people who are called by my name…. “
That’s the context of this promise. It’s in the context of the disobedience of the people of God. It has nothing to do with American politics. It’s addressed to God’s people. It’s addressed to the church of God. If we will get our act together, if we will get on our knees and pray, if we will turn from our wicked ways.
Woah, now wait a minute? You mean it’s not about all the immorality in Hollywood; it’s not about all the liberal politicians; it’s not about abortion and homosexual marriage and all those other issues that those pagans out there are dragging us into? Well, rest assured God’s pleasure rests on none of those things.
But in its context, this issue of seeking the face of God here is directed at the people of God. It’s talking about our failure to live faithfully in His presence, and the need to restore that relationship to where it needs to be. The call here to seek the face of God implies that we have somehow lost sight of it. We have wandered and are in need of returning, specifically in these areas.
I. Number one, we need to RETURN TO HIS WORD. We need to return to the Scripture as the primary focus in our lives; the dominant authority; the governing authority. Because it is here that the face of God is revealed. This is how we will know Him. This is where we should seek Him.
Our problem is that when we speak of God, too many, even in the church, have their own ideas of who God is. In this text we are being called to seek the God of Scripture, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the God of Moses; the God of David; the God of Paul and Peter. Yahweh, I am, revealed to us most fully in the person of Jesus Christ. But again, too many have set Scripture aside and decided that we’ll just created God in our own image, rather than the other way around.
Paul Washer, who is one my favorite contemporary preachers, put it like this: “Sunday morning is the greatest hour of idolatry in the entire week of America. Because people are not worshipping the one true God, the great mass at least, but are worshipping a god formed out of their own heart and their own flesh. They’ve made a god just like themselves and he looks more like Santa Claus than he does Yahweh.”
One of our greatest problems is that we don’t know God. We haven’t spent enough time in His Word to see how God has revealed Himself in Scripture. We’re like the people spoken of in Psalm 50 who think God is somehow like us; we’ve made God in our own image.
The church of God needs to return to an understanding that the truth of God’s Word should be central to all we do; not the latest self help craze; not the latest best selling fiction book; not the latest ear-tickling fad; we need to return to the Word.
II. Number two, we need to RETURN TO HIS WORK. I’m not talking about just getting back to working for God, though we certainly need to do that. We need to be about the Lord’s business. But to truly seek the face of God is to focus on His Work, what He has done.
Again, the text says, if My people who are called by My name. So who are His people who have been called by His name? Obviously, His people are those who have been redeemed by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. Those who have been purchased, saved, forgiven, justified by the finished work of Christ on the cross.
Apart from that saving work, we have nothing, are nothing, have hope in nothing. It’s not about our efforts, it’s about His sovereign work in Christ. We are the recipients of His grace and by His grace are then the proclaimers of His work. We need to get back to talking more about His work.
The Apostle Paul wrote that he resolved to preach nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified; a focus on His work on the cross. Sadly, there is a lack of “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” in our churches today. We’re more concerned about drawing crowds and not offending and being popular and having things to brag about on our annual church profile than we are about proclaiming the truth of Christ’s sacrifice and seeing lives genuinely redeemed and changed by the sovereign hand of God.
We’ve got to get our priorities straight. We are called to proclaim the gospel; the truth of substitutionary atonement; the truth that all men are dead in their sin; not just a little sick and need of a Jesus balm to make them feel better; dead. Men are lost and bound for hell apart from the saving work of Christ. It may be offensive. In fact, Scripture calls it foolishness and a stumbling block in the world’s eyes. But it’s also the only truth that we have to offer; the only truth that can set men free from their sin and rescue them from the pit of hell.
We need to return to His work, faithfully proclaiming Christ and His finished work on the cross, that reality which allows us to be called His people in the first place.
III. Number three, we need see a RETURN TO HIS WORSHIP. God’s people need to seek His face, and then fall down in humble adoration. We need a return to genuine, biblical, Christ centered worship. And I’m not talking about this or that style of music, or this or that order of service, or this or that kind of instrumentation. All of those things, all of those externals, are just that: externals. Worship is a matter of the heart.
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray. Humble themselves and pray. Humble themselves. There is a severe lack of humility when we come together for worship. The biggest majority of people walk into church on Sunday morning and their minds are more fully focused on themselves than God. They’re hearts are in the wrong place. We’ve been living for the world all week long; living for ourselves and our own glory right up ‘till Saturday night, and then we think we can flip a switch on Sunday morning and suddenly be focused on God and His glory. It doesn’t work.
You see, most of us have a wrong concept of what corporate worship even is. When we think of worship, we think of a service on Sunday morning; the formal activity we call worship; and we focus on the form and style of it rather than the content. Worship is a matter of the heart. Worship comes out of a life that has been lived in light of God’s grace and mercy all week long; living for His glory; seeking His face day in and day out. And then we gather together with others who have been doing the same, and worship occurs out of the overflow of those hearts who are humbled before God.
Forget all the fads and fashions. Forget all the polls and personal preferences. If you want to be Purpose Driven then understand that our purpose it to glorify and honor Him; not please and satisfy ourselves. If you want to be Seeker Sensitive, then understand that there is only one true seeker and we ought to be sensitive to Him. It’s all about God. It’s all about Christ. It’s all about His glory; His honor; His praise; His will and His purposes.
IV. Finally, if we are going to truly seek God, we need to RETURN TO HIS WAY. Once we have truly sought God in His Word; once we have truly been reminded of His work on our behalf, purchasing our salvation; once we have humbly allowed all of that knowledge to lead us into true worship; we will have a burning desire in our hearts to follow Him and be obedient in all things.
And here’s the heart of that obedience. Being obedient doesn’t mean sort of doing what God asks us, but doing it the way we want. It doesn’t mean taking our own ideas and putting Christian sounding words on it to make it seem more holy. Obedience means doing God’s will in God’s way for God’s glory alone.
For too long the church has paid more attention to marketing strategies and entertainment strategies and opinion polls and all sorts of other worldly means when it comes to doing church. And our reasoning is: well, it works. We’ve been blinded by the god of pragmatism. It draws crowds, it increases revenue, it grows our popularity and reputation in the community, it makes people happy.
But is that what we’ve been called to? Jesus said to go and make disciples; teaching them to obey everything I’ve commanded you. Obedient, Christ exalting disciples. That’s what we’re called to produce, not marginally obedient professlings who like to come to the popular “in” place on Sundays but still live like the world the rest of the week.
God has told us how to live, how to witness, how to preach, how to worship, how to love one another, how to live in holiness, how to help those in need. We need to turn from our worldly wicked ways and seek the face of God. Seek His way. Seek His will. Seek His glory. Seek His pleasure. Seek His Face.
It’s all about Him. It’s all about God. It’s not about you and your own selfish desires. It’s about God’s plans and purposes in all things. And to truly seek God’s face is a recognition of that truth. Seeking His Word, exalting His Work, focusing on His Worship, and being committed to His ways.
And when we do that, Church; when that happens, then we find ourselves in the kind of blessed church Pastor Spurgeon described.
“If we are walking aright with him, he is in the midst of the church, dwelling there, and revealing himself to his people. His presence makes our worship to be full of spirituality and life; he meets his servants at the table, and there spreads them a feast upon his body and his blood; it is he who puts power and energy into all our church-action, and causes the word to sound out from our midst. True saints abide in Jesus and he in them. Oh, brethren, when the Lord is in a church, it is a happy church, a holy church, a mighty church, and a triumphant church.”
I pray that the people of God, called by His name, would humble themselves and pray and seek His face and turn from our wicked ways; and the result would be a happy, holy, mighty, triumphant church that would impact this nation and the world for the Kingdom of God and for His glory.