Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” We exist to pursue God. And we pursue God if and only because he has put that urge in our hearts. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” What does it mean to pursue? Interesting first definition in the Oxford American Dictionary for “pursue:” “to chase in order to catch or kill.” We certainly want to have that measure of intentionality and energy in our pursuit of God. Good news, we don’t have to catch him, though, because he has already caught us. We are his and he is ours. But as AW Tozer said, “To have found God and still to pursue him is the soul’s paradox of love.” In other words, our relationship with God is not a static or completed experience but a dynamic, lifelong relationship. The pursuit of God involves a deepening understanding, a growing intimacy, and a continuous commitment to spiritual growth. We do run after him in our desire to know him, hear him, learn from him, walk with him, and be fully his. The Psalmist said it like this: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Our hearts are restless and our souls are thirsty because we were made for God, to know him and to be like him, to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Jesus invited any who would be his disciples to “deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.” To pursue Christ, then we must first stop pursuing ourselves. The Greek word here for deny means ‘refuse, repudiate, disown someone or something.’ It is the same word used by Jesus when he said to Peter, “you will deny me three times.” How can the same disciple who said, “You are the Christ,” call down curses on himself at Jesus’ trial and swear, “I never knew the man!” Because the heart is easily given to self-protection. We don’t want to take up our cross. Oswald Chambers said, “All heaven is interested in the cross of Christ, all hell is terribly afraid of it, while men and women are the only beings who more or less ignore its meaning.” The call to take up our cross indicates an absolute claim on the allegiance of the disciple to Jesus, and an absolute surrender of all that one is and all that one has, all of our resources, given gladly to the Lord. We often think of that in metaphorical terms and sing “All to Jesus, I surrender” without blinking. But not the people who first heard this call. The people living in the first century would understand, as James Edwards writes, “that their adversity under Nero was not a sign of abandonment but rather of their identification with and faithfulness to the way of Jesus himself.” When they sang, “All to Jesus, I surrender,” they meant all. Life, limb, reputation, property…all. Billy Graham used to say, “Salvation is free, but discipleship will cost you everything.” But as Jesus said, the one who tries to save his life will lose it but the one who takes up his cross, dies to his self-will and his agenda will find the life he was made for!
Jesus also said to those who would follow him, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Why would Jesus say this? Because he knows that one of the greatest temptations we face is to substitute a pursuit of material gain, stuff, money and status for the pursuit of God. I pray through part of a list of prayers for pastors and church leaders written by Tim Challies every morning as part of my prayer time. This list is good for anyone to use and pray through. One day a week this one comes up under the heading, “Not a lover of money,” which comes from the list of qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy 3. The prayer goes like this: “I pray……that I would not make material possessions the ambition of my life. … that I would refuse to pursue financial gain above eternal things, preferring to store up treasure in heaven than on earth.… that I would not sacrifice my family or my spiritual health on the “altar” of my job.… that I would not be greedy or covetous, but instead be generous and quick to give to those in need.… that I would give a generous portion of my income to the church and rejoice when doing so.”
Jesus said we cannot serve God and money.
We cannot pursue God if our heart’s greatest treasure is material gain. Or anything or anyone else.