Text: Jeremiah 29
EX: the back side of embroidery, needlepoint…messy and tangled, but the front side is a beautiful picture…
There have been many times in my life when my life has looked like the underside of embroidery. Just a lot of tangled threads, different colors, no pattern…a lot of things going on in my life that seem to make no sense.
You try to fit them together and you say, “Lord, I don’t know why this is happening…this doesn’t make sense. And especially since I’m a Christian why are you letting these things happen? It’s all like a tangled mess of threads going nowhere yet going everywhere, making no sense, no pattern whatsoever…” And that’s the way our lives look sometimes because we’re looking at it from the bottom side. If we could see it from the top side as God sees it, we would see that God is weaving and making a beautiful picture…that He does have plans.
It’s always interesting to me that here are the Chaldeans, the Babylonians, who are carrying off these people into captivity and they’re going through their houses and they’re taking away all their possessions and these Israelites are standing there watching all this and God says, “I know the plans I have for you…they are plans of welfare…” I don’t believe a single Jew believed that!
They thought that God didn’t have a single thought of peace toward them, it looked like that all the thoughts God had toward them were thoughts of evil, thoughts of catastrophe…God had it in for them…and He is punishing them in some way. But God says, “I know what I’m doing! I know the plans that I have for you and they are plans to bring you a future and a hope! I know it looks to you like My thoughts toward you are thoughts of calamity, but I know what I’m doing! And everything I’m doing is to bring you a future and a hope!”
What God was trying to say to you is this… Verse 12 begins with the word “then”…it may not appear that way in your translation, but that’s what it is in the text… “THEN when you’re in captivity and you don’t understand what’s going on with your life, THEN when you call upon Me and you shall pray to Me and I will listen to you and you will seek Me with all your heart.”
What God is saying to His people is, “The reason that I’m bringing about this captivity, the reason that I’m doing all these things in your life is to bring you to a place where you will seek Me.” See, they had become so satisfied and settled in their “religion” that they began to seek after other gods…and they were giving their affection and their attention to other gods, and so God says, “What I’m going to do is I’ve to capture your attention and I’ve got to get to the place where you will turn to Me and seek Me, so all of this that is happening, all of this captivity that is coming up on you is so that you will come to the place THEN, THEN, THEN one of these days you will turn to Me and you will seek Me with all your heart.”
And that’s what I want to talk to you about tonight…seeking the Lord.
As I sat here a moment ago and thought about this in one sense this is a difficult concept…seeking the Lord. But, I’ve already got the Lord…you know, I’m saved…I’ve known the Lord for forty years… Well, Paul said the same thing to the Philippians. He said he knew Him. He said he counted all things loss that he might know Him and he said that he continued to count all things loss that I might know Him. What did Paul mean? Well, there’s knowing Him and then there’s knowing Him.
There is being married and there is having a real marriage. I remember back in the 70’s we started traveling quite a bit to Europe and we flew one time to Switzerland by way of the DeGaulle Airport. And that’s all we ever saw of Paris…the DeGaulle Airport. And someone could ask me today, “Have you ever been to France?” And I would say, “Oh, yes, I’ve been to France. I’ve been to Paris…” Now, I couldn’t tell you about the Eiffel Tower or the Arche de Triumphe…but I’ve been to Paris!
But, I’ve also been to Switzerland! Would you like to see about 1,500 slides? Geneva, Zurich…other places! See, I’ve been to Paris, but I was confined to the airport. But, I have been to Switzerland and I’ve traveled all over the country and seen the majestic mountains there. See, there’s a difference, isn’t there?
Some people could say, “Oh yes, I’m saved…” “Well, tell me about it.” “Well, He’s my Savior.” “Describe Him to me.” “Uh, well….” “Tell me some of the things He’s done for you.” “Uh, well, He saved me…” “Yes, but tell me something else.”
You know sometimes when you fly abroad you will get a little sticker that says “Please do not disturb” and when they served a meal they didn’t disturb you. Well, we had a friend who would always go to the doctor before a trip and get some sleeping pills and the minute he would take a few of those pills and put that little sign on his forehead and go to sleep and wake up when we landed on the other side of the ocean. I said, “I have church member just like this.” They got on board and they took a bunch of sleeping pills and they put a sign saying “do not disturb me until we get to heaven.”
See there’s a difference in knowing the Lord and knowing Him. There’s a difference in being in a country and being in a country and knowing all about it.
There were two hippies on a ship in the ocean and one of them said, “Dig all that crazy water…” And the other one said, “Yes, and that’s only the top.” And that’s the way it is with some Christians…We look at Jesus but we look at salvation and we say we have it…there’s far more to it…we’re just looking at the top!
And so, God is saying, “What I want for you is for you to seek Me.” “Lord, we already know You…” “Yes, but you only know the top. You’ve only been in the airport…you don’t know all the glories that I have for you. You don’t know all the beauty that is in the Christian life. You don’t know all the strength and the resources that are there. I want you to know Me!”
I had a young man who came to me the other day and he asked me how he could know the Lord better. Now, I could have told him to have a quiet time every day…read his Bible every day…share your faith with others every day…and all that is good, but what I said, “I’ll give you the best advice I know to give you…seek the Lord. Just seek Him with all of your heart. And having sought Him with all of your heart, all these other things will fall into place.”
So, I want to share three things with you about seeking the Lord with all your heart.
Jeremiah says that we’re to seek the Lord exclusively.
“…when you shall search for Me with all your heart…” I’ll tell you what is striking to me about that. He doesn’t tell these captives to seek freedom. If I were in captivity, that’s what I would be seeking. I would be seeking release and freedom from my captivity. I’d be seeking some miracle. I’d be seeking some sign. I’d be seeking something other…but God said, “I want you to seek Me…exclusively.”
I really believe one of the problems we’re having in contemporary Christianity is that we’re seeking everything in the name of the Lord, but we’re seeking everything but the Lord. We’re seeking His blessings. We’re seeking His gifts. We’re seeking His miracles. But are we seeking Him?
When He says we’re to seek Him exclusively, I think He means two things…that we’re to seeking for nothing else. Why should we seek for anything else because all things are in Jesus, aren’t they? I don’t know how you’re made to feel from time to time, but sometimes I’m made to feel sort of a second-class citizen of the kingdom because all I have is Jesus.
Let me give you an illustration. Let’s suppose that at the end of the service tonight we gave an altar call…an invitation. Let’s suppose that a nine-year-old boy came and gave his heart and life to Christ. That would be wonderful wouldn’t it? But, let’s suppose also that there was a man who had been in a wheelchair for forty years…and he came and God miraculously cured him.
Let me ask you a question. Which incident would we go out and talk about? Which one would make the headlines? I think it would be the man who was healed. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I think that would be wonderful! But, let me point out something. What God did for this little boy was an eternal work. What God did for this man was a temporary work. What God did for this boy was spiritual. What God did for this man was physical.
What God did for this boy required the blood of His Son. What God did for this man He could have done with a word.
See that man is eventually going to die. Here’s a little boy who has given his life to Jesus and been saved for eternity. But, we will hardly notice that in the light of something spectacular and sensational. Don’t get me wrong…I love to see God work in spectacular ways and I have seen that, but there is a great danger of being caught up so much in the spectacular activities of God that after awhile we find ourselves seeking only those manifestations rather than God Himself.
When I first started traveling, my children were little. And I would bring them a gift from everywhere I’d go. They knew when they got to the airport to pick me up I would have them something for them in my suitcase! And Kaye told me that she would have to question the children about why they wanted to see me. See, they got where they weren’t interested in me, they were interested in my suitcase! I remember on more than one occasion I had to open my suitcase right there in that airport so they could get their gift because that’s what they were interested in…that’s what they were looking for!
But, I noticed something as they grew older. They still appreciated the gifts, but they appreciated me a little bit more. Sometimes we love God for what He can do for us than just for Himself!
So, we’re to seek God exclusively. We’re not to seek for anything beyond Him because there is nothing beyond Him. Having Him you have everything, don’t you? What more could you have?
Colossians 2:9-10: “For in Him all the fullness of Deity
dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been
made complete, and He is the head over all rule
What more can you ask for? You should not want anything more. But this also means that you should settle for nothing less. One of my favorite stories in the Bible is Elijah and the Shunnamite woman who was barren and she prepared the prophet’s room and as a reward, Elijah promised her that God would give her a son. And when the son was older he was out working in the fields with his father and he suffered a sunstroke, basically, and died. And everybody was saying, “Oh, the boy is dead.” But, the mother said, “Well, he may be dead, but Elijah told me that God was going to give me a son and I’m going to Elijah and tell him to do something about this…to make this right.”
So, she got on her donkey and she began riding, headed for Elijah’s home, and when she got in sight of it, Elijah’s servant, Gehazi, saw her and he said to his master, “That Shunnamite woman’s coming.” And Elijah said, “Go down and see what she wants.” And so he went down and said, “Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband, and with your son?” What he was doing basically was saying, “What are you doing where? Do you have an appointment?”
And she said, “Oh, my son is dead, and I’ve come to Elijah.” So, Gehazi went back and told Elijah. And Elijah told Gehazi to take his staff and go back with the woman and take care of the problem. But, the woman wouldn’t have any of that. She wasn’t going to settle for Gehazi. She went to Elijah and I can just see her as she fell at his feet and wrapped her arms around them and said, “As the lord liveth and as your soul liveth, I will not go without you.”
So, Elijah went and when they got to the Shunnamite woman’s home Elijah was still operating on Plan A. And he said to Gehazi to take his staff and go upstairs and try to raise the boy. And of course he was not able to do it. So, Elijah said, “Well, I guess I’ll have to do this.” So, I guess he went and gave the first CPR that was ever given…artificial respiration, you know, he laid down on the boy with his mouth on his mouth and breathed on him and the boy came to life!
Now, the point is this…if that woman had settled for Gehazi that boy would never been raised. She was on the way to Elijah and had she settled for Gehazi along the way for less…the boy would never have been healed. And I’m thinking that many times we’re seeking the Lord and we want to know Him and all of His fullness and along the way we meet a gift or a blessing and we settle for that, and we begin to emphasize the gift or the blessing…we begin to advertise the manifestation. We stop short of the goal. We’re to seek the Lord exclusively because having Him you have all that there really is!
Not only are we to seek the Lord exclusively, we’re to seek the Lord earnestly.
“You shall find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” The word search is important. It’s not a casual looking about. It is an intense investigation, an intense search. And when you search you shall search with all your heart. That’s important! It’s a Hebrew phrase that means “with determination…with desperation.” It means willing to do whatever is required to find Him. It reminds me of the verse in Hebrews 11…I think it’s verse 4 or verse 6… “God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
Oh, we get inspired once in awhile. We come to a service and we get inspired to pray more, but it’s a half-hearted search. I tell you this thirst and hunger for God will not be satisfied by a little mid-morning snack. It is something that will be satisfied only in the finding of the Lord and you see, we do this out of desperation. Desperation that whatever God wants me to do I will do…whatever it takes to know Him as much as it is possible for me to know Him I will do. I will do whatever it takes to find Him. Sometimes we seek the Lord out of desperation because we’re in captivity.
I think one reason…I believe the Bible will bear this out…for the captivity was that the people had the idea, and by the way, I believe this is why God allowed the temple of Solomon to be destroyed, because the people came to believe they could only worship God in one place. You remember what the psalmist said, “How could we sing the song of the Lord in a strange land?”
Well, the fact of the matter is you can! But, they didn’t think they could! They thought they had to have the temple! And so they sought the temple more than they sought the Lord! They valued the temple more than they valued the Lord! That’s why the Lord had the temple destroyed!
And one of the reasons for the captivity was to teach the people that you can sing the song of the Lord in a strange land. I tell you sometimes we get to thinking that the only way we can actually serve God is if everything is just right and just perfect. You know what I’m saying?
I have a Swiss army knife. I didn’t bring it with me but in the states I carry this Swiss army knife and it has twenty-six features. I really do wish I could show it to you. It has eyebrow tweezers. It has a toothpick. It has a magnifying glass. It has scissors. It has a corkscrew. It has a fish scaler. It has a nail file. It has a metal file. It has a fish hook de-gorger. It has a ruler. It has twenty-six things. It has a Phillips screwdriver. It has a regular screwdriver. It has a bottle-opener. It just has everything!
I carry that with me wherever I go because I feel that there is no situation that I could get into that my Swiss army knife can’t get me out of! I feel safe and secure when I have my Swiss army knife!
Now, in a way, the Christian life is like that Swiss army knife. I mean there is no condition in which it will not work. I remember when in 1983 that the Challenger blew up because of a faulty O ring. Whoever heard of an O ring? We were down there just a few weeks ago and we saw a shuttle land. But, if the weather and temperature conditions aren’t just right these things don’t work! I mean, a billion dollar piece of equipment won’t work if it’s a degree too cold! I had an old Ford that worked better than that!
I want to tell you that the Christian life works best under adverse circumstances. That’s when its power is really manifested! Folks, even the lost can praise God when everything is going swell! God says, “You think you can’t sing the Lord’s song in a strange land, I’ll show you you can. You think everything has to be perfect? I want to show you something. There will come a day when you will give up seeking the perfect environment and you will discover the Lord even in the midst of adversity.”
We seek Him earnestly…out of desperation. If you get desperate enough you’ll call upon the Lord. “…you will seek Me…”
We are seek the Lord expectantly…
“I will be found of you, I will restore your fortunes and I will gather you from all the nations and I will bring you back…” “I will, I will, I will.” If you determine in your heart, “I want to know Him in all of His fullness….” Thank God for His fullness…thank God for His blessings…thank God for His miracles…thank God for the spectacular things that He does…but those are not the reality, those are simply the manifestations. I want to know Him! I want to know Him!
When I’m traveling I always carry pictures of Kaye with me. When I’m alone I take them out and I look at them as a reminder to behave myself, you know. These pictures were taken at special times in our lives and I take great joy when I’m in a lonely motel thousands of miles from home to have those pictures there. I don’t have them out now because I’ve got her. It would be kind of foolish to kiss a photograph when I have her to kiss. That’s like going into a restaurant and eating the menu.
I thank God for His manifestations, but what I want more than anything is to know Him! And He tells us we can seek Him and He will allow us to find Him…we can expect to find Him!
Psalm 130 tells us that those who wait upon the Lord are like those who wait for the sun or the morning. They won’t be disappointed. The sun does rise. He who waits for the sunrise does not do it in vain. And he who waits for the Lord does not do it in vain. He’s not wasting time. He says, “I will be found by you and I will restore all the things that the captivity has taken away and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you…”
You can sing the song of the Lord in a strange land. And we must find in Him our all, and when we do that we will not be disappointed!
“Father, it is one of the frailties of the flesh that we have a
tendency to seek for lesser things and to settle for lesser
things. While we would never despise your gifts nor belittle
your blessings, we know that there is something more than
that…something beyond that. Allow the Holy Spirit to do
His work of illumination in our lives and hearts and wills.”
© Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2005