Larry Crabb writes about a good friend of his who was dying of cancer. God had chosen not to answer this man’s prayer for healing. God didn’t even relieve the pain that he was feeling. The man didn’t feel God’s presence. He became angry.
One day several of the sick man’s friends came to pray with him. They prayed for peace, healing, a sense of God’s presence, comfort and that God’s glory would be witnessed. The sick man interrupted them. He spoke honestly. ‘God, right now I hate you. I wish I had a deep love for you and deep gratitude for what for what you are doing. But I don’t. I am really upset and mad. I don’t know of any way to come to you anymore but honestly. I’m through playing games. I just can’t do it. I am coming as I am. I know it’s awful.’ Then he stood up painfully with the help of his friends. ‘I’m going to bed now. I’m tired.’
A few weeks later as that man lay within minutes of death, he asked a friend, ‘will I love Jesus more when I see him than I do now?’ His friend said that he thought so. To which the dying man replied, ‘I don’t see how that is possible!’
So how did this miracle happen? How did someone go from honest anger to peaceful praise? How did someone hang on when God said ‘no’ to his prayers? How did he love God in the midst of his sickness and pain? Let’s think about our passion for God.
Do we have as much of God as we want (1-5)?
In his book ‘The Pursuit of God’ Tozer writes, ‘Come near to the holy men and women of the past and you will soon feel the heat of their desire after God. They mourned for Him, they prayed and wrestled and sought for Him day and night, in season and out, and when they had found Him the finding was all the sweeter for the long seeking.’
Right throughout the Psalms we see a passion for God. ‘Let the light of your face shine upon us’ (4:6). ‘Apart from you I have no good thing’ (16:2). ‘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 upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple (27:4). ‘You are my God, earnestly I seek you, I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you’ (63:1).
Are we actually seeking more of God? Maybe we have as much of God as we want. We’re comfortable, and would rather not be challenged! But we don’t really believe that apart from him, this world has nothing to offer. We haven’t yet realised that compared to him all pleasures are bland and all entertainment is dull.
In Psalm eighty-four, the Sons of Korah are a part of a pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem. They sing, ‘How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord, my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God’ (84:1-2).
Why are they so excited about going to the temple? It’s not the architectural beauty of the place that enthrals them. Rather it is because at that time the temple was associated with the presence of God. The psalmists want to be with God’s people, in God’s place, enjoying God’s presence.
The Sons of Korah see the temple as a welcoming place. Even the humble sparrow and swallow find a home there. How much more welcome are those who place the trust in God? Elsewhere in the Psalms we read that ‘a humble and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise’ (51:17b). God bids you to come to him. ‘Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing … Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name’ (Psalm 100:2-4). ‘The Lord is near to all who call upon him—to all who call upon Him in truth’ (145:18).
In John’s gospel Jesus teaches us that the temple points to him (John 2:21). He is the focus of God’s presence. We no longer go to a building to meet with God, we go to a person. There is no other way to God but by Jesus (John 14:6). And Jesus promises that he will in no way cast out anyone who comes to him (John 6:37). In Jesus we are to approach the throne of God’s grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:16).
Would it be worth suffering to know him more (6-8)?
However, on their way to the temple in Jerusalem the pilgrims pass through the Valley of Baka. The location of this valley is uncertain. It seems to have been a dry place. But they make it a place of springs—which may mean that they delight in the valley, even though it is dry. Tim Keller says that times of dryness and difficulty are crucial for progress on the Christian pilgrimage.
So often we are more concerned about being made comfortable than being made holy. We want God to rescue us from our pains rather than our sins. Jesus knew his father’s good gift of grief. He was a man of sorrows who was familiar with suffering (Isaiah 53:3). The writer to the Hebrews said that even Jesus learned obedience through suffering (Hebrews 5:8). Like Jesus, do we want to grow through suffering? Would it be worth the pain to experience more of God? Do we want to learn how to rejoice while in the Valley of Baka? Is it God’s face that we seek, or are we simply looking for the gifts that he might be carrying in his hands?
One Sunday morning Caroline told me that she longed to know God the way she did when she lived in Belarus. She was also struck that Belarus was also one of the most difficult experiences of her life. Often it is pain that we know God most intimately. He is close to those who are crushed and broken in heart (34:18). Anne Graham Lotz talked of passing through a hard time in her life and them said, ‘don’t give me sympathy, don’t give me advice, don’t even give me a miracle, just give me Jesus.’ Are we willing to ask God to do anything that it takes to help us know him more?
Do we value God more than anything else (9-12)?
So often we approach God like a child approaches Santa at Christmas time. Could you imagine a child sitting on the lap of Father Christmas and upon being asked what he wants, replying ‘all I want for Christmas is you’? That is exactly what the psalmists say to God! God is the psalmist’s ultimate treasure. Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of God than dwell in the tents of the wicked (10),
It is not wrong to ask for good gifts from our Heavenly Father. God is kind beyond measure. ‘The Lord bestows favour and honour; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless’ (11). The apostle Paul explains that having given us his Son, ‘how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things’ (Romans 8:32). Although look at the life of the only one whose walk was truly blameless. Jesus was not wealthy—he had no home to lay his head (Matthew 8:20). He was not always accepted and popular (John 15:18). He died an excruciating death and tells us to take up our cross (Matthew 16:24).
I have told you before about a woman that was fondly known as Auntie Emma. Dementia had stripped away Auntie Emma’s short term memory. She could only hold a conversation for a minute or two before she was unaware of what you had said. But what was left in the core of her mind was sheer joy. Jesus satisfied Emma. She would always quote a song of her youth. ‘I would rather have Jesus than silver or gold; I’d rather be his than have riches untold.’ Emma had nothing, and yet I have hardly met anyone who was richer.
Conclusion: How do we develop a passion for God?
Do you remember that dying friend of Larry Crabb? In the midst of his pain he could not imagine loving God more. There was a man ready for heaven. ‘Who have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth I desire besides you’ (73:25). But how did he get to that point of loving God in the midst of pain?
He began with a raw honesty. That is one of the first things we notice as we read the book of Psalms. The Psalmists are happy to bring their ‘whys’ and ‘how longs’ to God (e.g. Psalm 13). God graciously instructs us to put these questions on our lips. Tell God how you feel! Bring your cold heart to him. Remember that the desire to love God is love for God. Ask him to stir up your passion. Allow the Holy Spirit blow upon the smouldering embers of your heart.
Secondly, confess that often you have wanted the gifts rather than the giver. We have wanted to be saved from suffering more than being saved from sin. Tozer prays, ‘I want to know Thee, but my cowardly heart fears to give up its toys.’ What do you call a child that is given everything they ask for? We call them spoiled! Spoiled children don’t grow. It isn’t a loving thing to spoil your child.
Ask God to help you value him more than even the best things you want from him. Ask God to help you believe that he knows best when he says ‘no’. Ask him to become your greatest treasure. That may be a struggle in this life, but we are on a pilgrimage to a New Jerusalem where there will be no temple because God ‘for its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb’ (Rev. 21:22).
Larry Crabb writes, ‘we cannot count on God to protect us from suffering of any kind or measure. The worst evil can happen to the best Christian. But we can count on God to enable us to draw near to him whatever happens and eventually, to experience deep joy when we do.’
The following prayer is taken from A.W. Tozer's, The Pursuit of God'. "O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still."