In 1622, a Spanish ship, “Our Lady of Atocha”, sailed from the Spanish colonies in the New World back towards Spain. The Atocha was laden down with so much gold from the mines in the Americas that it had taken two months to load all of it into the ship! But just off of what we now call the Florida Keys, a hurricane struck, and the Atocha sunk. For centuries, that vast treasure had been hidden somewhere underwater, and a American named Mel Fisher was determined to find it. He outfitted a ship; he recruited divers; he used modern technology to search under the ocean. Fisher crisscrossed the waters off the Florida Keys, beginning in 1969, but after a year of searching, he found nothing. He was determined to continue, but two years went by, and still they did not find it. Five years later, no success. Ten years; nothing. Fifteen years and countless thousands of dollars later, no Atocha. But on the 16th year of crisscrossing, searching, diving, and after much disappointment, 16 years later, they finally found a large portion of the Atocha, in 1985, with its amazing treasure worth multiplied millions of dollars. In fact, just one of the rings recovered from the Atocha was valued at $500,000!
Mel Fisher is a great example of what it means to really “seek” for something. But there is a treasure greater than silver or gold to be found. The Bible tells us in Isaiah 55:6-7
“Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way an and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.”
The Bible says the greatest treasure to be found is not silver or gold, but the Lord. Silver and gold, rings and other treasures, will never truly satisfy us, and they will all one day perish. But the treasure we have in God will truly meet the deepest needs of our souls, and it is eternal. So it is GOD whom we should seek. Maybe you are here this morning because you would say, “I am seeking the Lord”, and you are hoping that you could find Him, or find the way to Him, at church. And a church should be a good place to seek God.
But what does it really mean to “seek the Lord”? This verse tells us something about that. The Hebrew word here for “seek” is “darash”, it means to “seek”, or to read something repeatedly and study. A related word in the ancient world means to “beat a path” around something, because you are repeatedly going to it. That tells us something about what it means to “seek the Lord.” To really “seek” God means more than just going to church once or twice. It means you “beat a path” there, seeking Him. It also means that you “study” His word — not flipping open your Bible once or twice, but really “wearing a path” in it. In other words, if you aren’t “beating a path” to church, and if your Bible is not getting worn out, you are not really “seeking God”! When we really “seek” something or someone, we put a lot of time and effort into it — just like Mel Fisher did with seeking for the Atocha. And that is what we should do with the Lord as well. We should “beat a path” to church, and “beat a path” to His word, as we seek Him, year after year if need be. If Fisher was willing to spend 16 years seeking for a treasure that he couldn’t take with him when he died in 1998 — he left it all behind! — how much more should we be willing to seek for the Treasure that we can keep for eternity? We need to “seek” the Lord as fervently, or more so, than Fisher did his sunken ship.
We find some more help here in Isaiah 55:6-7 about what it means to “seek the Lord”:
I. Seeking God In Prayer
Right after the Bible says “Seek the Lord while He may be found” in the first part of :6, it then adds, “call upon Him while He is near.” Those of you who are in our Prayer & Psalms study on Wednesday nights may recognize this as “parallelism”, which is the Hebrew form of poetry. Hebrew poetry does not rhyme, instead their poetry consists of joining two sentences or phrases together; by saying something twice, just a little differently. This is an example of that. It is what Hebrew scholars call “synonymous parallelism” — repeating something in just a little different way. So what this verse tells us when it puts those phrases “seek the Lord” and “call upon Him” together is that they are similar things. It tells us that one way to “seek the Lord” is to “call upon Him.”
To “call upon the Lord” means to pray.
— The Hebrew word for “call” here (“qarah”) means to call out with your voice. When we “call out” with our voice to God, we call that “praying.” To “call upon the Lord” means to “pray” to God. And that is the way we see it used throughout the Old Testament:
— in Psalm 18:6 David says: “In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried to my God for help.” Here is another of those Hebrew “parallel” expressions, and we see that “calling upon the Lord” is “crying to God for help” — in other words, praying!
— Psalm 105:1 says “O give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name.” Here is another parallel expression, where “calling upon” God’s name is compared to “giving thanks” to Him, which, again, is praying.
So one way of “seeking the Lord” is through prayer. This means a couple of things for us:
1) First, it means we should pray for salvation. We see several examples of that in scripture:
— In Genesis 4:26, after Adam & Eve had sinned, and had children, it says that men “first began to call upon the name of the Lord.” In other words they began to pray and seek salvation from Him.
— In Joel 2:32 the prophet declared that one day: “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be delivered.”
— And Paul quotes that verse in the famous salvation passage in Romans 10:13, “Whoever shall call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
So to “call on the Lord” means first, to call on Him for salvation. When you first begin to seek the Lord, you need to understand that the reason that you are not close to Him now is because of your sin. Adam & Eve had walked with God in close fellowship in the Garden of Eden, but then they chose to disobey God, by taking the forbidden fruit. This sin, this disobedience, separated them from Holy God.
And every one of us since that time has done the same thing: we are born with a sin nature, and whenever we get to an age where we can choose right from wrong, we purposefully choose to sin. So we are all separated from God. Unless God had done something for us, we would have remained separated from Him forever. But God loves us, and He DID do something about it. He came to earth the Person of Jesus Christ, died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, and rose again to prove that He really was God, and the way to heaven.
So now the message of salvation has gone out into the world, that “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved”, as Romans 10:13 says. So if you realize that you have rebelled against God by breaking His commandments, and you are willing to turn back to God and receive forgiveness through Jesus Christ, you can “call on Him” — ask Him to forgive your sins, and come into your life through His Holy Spirit, and save you, and give you a place in heaven with Him when you die.
This is what some of you are looking for today: you are “seeking the Lord”, and what you need to do is to “call on His name” and be saved. If you need some help understanding that, I hope you will come forward at the end of this message and let me get you with a counselor who will help you to “call on the name of the Lord.”
So first of all, “calling on the His name” means to call on God to save you, to forgive your sins and make you right with Him. But there is another meaning:
2) It also means to seek God by continuing to call out to Him in prayer. There are many examples of this kind of “calling on the Lord” in the Bible:
— In Psalm 18:3 David says; “I call on the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.
— Psalm 120:1 “In my trouble I cried to the LORD and He answered me.”
— Jeremiah 33:3 says “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things which you did not know.”
All of these verses, and more, show us that after we have “called on the name of the Lord” to be saved, we are to continue to “call out to Him” for answers, and for help all through our life.
Right now in our MasterLife class, we are learning the presentation of “The Disciple’s Cross”. One thing we are learning is that in our personal daily time with God, He speaks to us in His word, and we speak to Him in prayer. This is a picture of what is to happen in our lives EVERY DAY as we seek Him. Really “seeking God” means that you do that every day: you spend time in God’s word & prayer, seeking Him.
So “calling on His name” means first of all, making sure that you have called out to God for salvation. Then, once you have done that, it means that you continue to seek Him in prayer. So if you are really serious about “seeking God”, then you will be serious about prayer. You can say, “Oh, I really want to seek God” — but the truth is, you SHOW how much you are really seeking God, by the way that you pray. Are you doing that?
— Are you praying every day? Every morning on a regular basis are you seeking Him in a morning prayer — can you say like David in Psalm 5:3, “In the morning, O LORD, You WILL hear my voice” because every morning you are seeking Him in prayer?
— And then do you not just leave it there in morning prayer, but do you continue to seek God in prayer all through the day? David said in Psalm 119:164, “Seven times a day I praise You”. So he was talking to God all through the day. Can you say that you are seeking God repeatedly through the day like that?
— Just how MUCH are you really seeking God in prayer? Let me ask you this: if you added up all the time that you spent in prayer in a week together, how much would it really add up to? A few minutes? An hour? Several hours? Would your seeking God in prayer be equal to, say … the amount of time you spent watching ONE basketball game last Monday night? Would it be more than that? Less? Listen: just sheer “quantity” of time in prayer is not everything in itself, but surely if all the time we spent in prayer in a week was not even equal to what we would spend in watching one sporting event, of other people running up & down the court, can it really be said of us that we are “seeking God” in any kind of serious way? It kind of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it? To “seek God” means to spend some serious time calling out to Him in prayer.
II. Seeking God In Repentance
The very next verse, :7, says: “Let the wicked forsake his way.” That teaches us that turning from sin is also a vital part of seeking the Lord. THIS IS IMPORTANT: if you are serious about “seeking the Lord”, you will not “just pray” — although prayer is a vital part of seeking Him — but you will also “turn from your wicked ways” as well. In fact, just praying without turning from sin shows that you are not really serious about finding God like you say you are. If you are serious about seeking God you will purify your life from known sin.
And this forsaking of sin is not just a surface thing; it goes very deep: this passage goes on to say “and the unrighteous man his thoughts.” So if you are seeking God you will not only forsake your wicked “ways”, but also also your wicked “thoughts.” There won’t be any area of your life — not even the hidden corners of your mind — where you are allowing sin to run free.
What this passage teaches us is that when you are really seeking God, part of that “seeking” experience will include repentance of sin — forsaking your wicked “ways” and “thoughts” like this verse talks about. If you do not make an effort to cleanse yourself from ungodly thoughts and ways, then you are not really seeking God.
And again: like “calling on the Lord”, this is true both of initial salvation, and of continuing to seek God.
1) If you are really seeking God for salvation, then you must repent of your wicked ways. There is no salvation without repentance.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who was murdered by the Nazis at the end of World War II wrote in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our church … Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjack’s wares … The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing … Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner … Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession … . Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
What Bonhoeffer prophesied about in the 1940’s is exactly what has taken over much of the American church the past couple of generations; this idea of “cheap grace”: that you can have “forgiveness without repentance” — that somehow you can be saved while continuing in your same sin. Folks, that is impossible. Sin is what separates us from God in the first place. You must turn back from sin, and turn to follow Jesus as your Savior & Lord, in order to be saved. If you have not turned back from your sin; if you are still living in the same sins, then you have never been forgiven and saved.
We sent a brave young man off to the armed services this week, as our Greg Adams left for the Navy. We had prayer for him in our service last Sunday; I have been praying for him this week, and I hope you have been as well. Greg signed up for the service some time ago, but now has come to the time when he has left his home, and his friends, and his old habits and way of life, to join the military, where he will serve our country, and this commitment will involve, as many of you know, a whole new way of life.
But suppose there was some young person who saw us gather around Greg last week, and they heard stories of the braveries of those who are in the military, and suppose they said, “I want that kind of attention and acclaim. I am going to sign up for the military too!” And so they go and sign up. But then they never go off. They never leave home; they stay with their same family and friends; they keep their same schedule and routine, and nothing ever changes in their life. And then they go around saying, “I am in the Navy!” What would you say to them? Maybe something like: “I don’t what kind of dream world you are living in, but you are not in the Navy!” They might say, “But I am; I signed up for the Navy!” But you’d laugh at them and say, “You never left home; you never left your friends; you never changed your schedule; you never did anything differently. You are not in the Navy except in your own imagination!”
And what we need to understand is that this is the way it is with salvation too. There is no salvation without repentance of sin. A person may say to themselves: “Why, I want to go to heaven; I want to be called a Christian like some great saints of those I hear about.” So they may go to a church, and walk down front, and fill out a card, and join a church, and maybe get baptized. But nothing changes. They don’t stop living in the immorality that is explicitly condemned in scripture; they keep hanging out with their same lost friends, they keep doing the same drinking and drugs and immorality, and living like the world that they have always done. There is no sign of real repentance, of change, in their lives. Folks, we can rightly say of this person, just like that one who wanted to be in the Navy, “I don’t know what kind of of dream world you are living in, but you are not a Christian if there has been no repentance and no change”. There is no salvation without repentance of sin!
So, as the Bible says in II Corinthians, “Examine yourself. Test yourself to see whether you be in the faith.” Have you ever forsaken your wicked ways, and repented, and turned to Jesus in genuine repentance — or have you just filled out a card and continued to live like you always have? There’s a huge difference: the one has repented is saved; and the one who has not forsaken his wicked ways has never been truly saved.
2) Just like calling on the Lord, forsaking your wicked ways is something that will continue throughout your life if you are really seeking God. Repentance is not just a “one-time thing”; it is to continue throughout our Christian life. Our whole Christian life is to be a continuing experience of repentance, as every day God shows us more actions, habits, thoughts, and attitudes that we need to repent of.
Remember II Chronicles 7:14, where God said, “IF MY PEOPLE, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek My face, and — TURN FROM THEIR WICKED WAYS …”? That verse tells us that when God’s people are serious about seeking Him, they will “turn from their wicked ways.” Turning from sinful ways is an important part of really seeking God.
Again, just like in our initial salvation, our sins even as Christians separate us from God — not for eternity, but they put a “cloud” between us and our fellowship with God here on earth. Just like Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear.”
So if we sense that we are not as close to God as we should be, and we want to “seek” Him in a special way, one of the things that needs to happen is that we must “forsake our evil ways.” We must repent of specific sins in our lives.
Listen: you cannot say that you are “seeking God” any meaningful way in your life if you are not cleansing your life from known sin. And I believe this is exactly where many Christians are in fact falling short in our seeking of God. You may say, pastor, I am really seeking God: I am praying several times a day; I am reading God’s word; I am going to church and listening, but I am just not getting any closer to Him. But listen: if you are living with known sin in your life, and you have not changed any of the habits that you know are displeasing to God, you don’t need to look any further for what’s wrong. YOU WILL NEVER FIND GOD UNLESS YOU REPENT OF KNOWN SIN IN YOUR LIFE. PERIOD. End of sentence. End of seeking God. “Let the wicked forsake His way” the Bible says here, if you are really seeking God.
III. Seeking God’s FACE
The last part of :7 says, “and let him return TO THE LORD … and to our God.” Twice here it talks about returning to God personally: “to the LORD … to our God.” The word “LORD” there is in all caps, which as we have studied means that in the Hebrew text, this is the personal name of God, YHWH. So God is telling us here that if we really want to seek Him, then we need to seek HIM, the God of the Bible, personally.
God’s call to revival throughout the Bible is to return to HIM personally:
— He said in Nehemiah 1:9, “Return to ME”
— He said in Isaiah 44:22, “Return to ME”
— He said in Jeremiah 4:1, “Return to ME”
— He said in Joel 2:12, “Return to ME with all your heart”!
Throughout scripture, God commands His people who are seeking Him to return to HIM, personally: not just to “church”, not just to “religion”, not just to “good habits”, but to HIM personally!
So when you are seeking God, make sure that what you are really seeking is HIM personally, and not other substitutes for Him
The other day, we got on my iPad to Skype with our kids and grandkids. As some of you know, one of our grandbabies lives in Wake Forest with her parents who are in seminary there, about 3 hours east of here, but the other set of two are in New Mexico, where our son-in-law is a minister. So we are grateful to be able to communicate with them by Facetime or Skype. But let’s make it clear: when we get on there, it is not about just “being on the computer” or “talking on the iPad.” Those machines are “good” things, but they are just tools to help us to communicate with the ones we love. It’s getting to talk with them, personally, that it is really all about.
And what we need to understand is that is like what prayer and Bible reading are too. Folks, as odd as it may sound, our lives as Christians are not just about “prayer” and “the Bible.” Prayer and the Bible are good things, but the Christian life is not about them per se; prayer and the Bible are just “tools”, if you will, to help us to communicate with God. Our focus should not be just on “prayer” and “the Bible”; our focus is to be on GOD HIMSELF! It is all about meeting HIM! Seeking God is all about seeking God HIMSELF!
— It is not about seeking “religion”, but seeking God.
— It is not just seeking “an answer to prayer”, but seeking God Himself.
— It is not just seeking health, but seeking God.
— It is not seeking money or provision, but seeking God
— It is not seeking “feelings”, but seeking God Himself!
Be sure that when you are “seeking God” that that is really what you are doing: that you are seeking GOD Himself, not any substitutes for Him.
But the Bible tells us here that if we will do these things: if we will call upon God in prayer, and repent of known sin, and seek HIM personally — then we will be successful. Verse 7 says “He WILL have compassion of us”; “He WILL abundantly pardon”!
BUT NOTICE something very important here before we close. There are a couple of important phrases here:
— it says seek the Lord “while He may be found”;
— it says call upon Him “while He is near.”
In other words, you can’t just “pick” when you want to come back to God, at your “leisure.” If God is speaking to your heart today, and calling you to return to Him, and seek Him, then you need to respond now. That kind of conviction is a mark of God’s grace and working in your life, and you must never take that for granted. You can’t be sure it will continue if you put Him off. That’s why II Corinthians 6:2 says “NOW is the acceptable time; NOW is the day of salvation.” That’s why Hebrews 3:15 says: “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart.”
WOULD YOU BOW YOUR HEADS, AND JUST LISTEN TO THE WORD OF THE LORD:
“Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD; and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.”
“Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near.”
God has brought some of us here today to meet Him — and you need to respond:
— Some of you need to respond to God for the first time by repenting of your sin and following Jesus as your Savior. If you are ready to turn to Him today, ask Him to forgive your sins, and come into your life, and help you to follow Him. If you are doing that, or if you have questions about it, come and share that with me — I’ll get you with a counselor who will pray with you and help you to nail that down today.
— Or maybe you’d say, I am a Christian, but I need to seek God in a special way right now. If you need Him in a special way, then DO what this passage says: call out to Him in prayer: humble yourself and seek Him during this invitation, make a commitment to seek Him in prayer early every morning; pray throughout the day; really seek Him in quality and quantity of prayer — seek Him more than your watching television.
— And be sure to seek Him by turning from sin in your life. You WILL NOT get any closer to Holy God if you don’t get serious about turning from sin. Some of you know what specifically needs to change in your life. Ask God to forgive you for that specific sin — AND for His power to turn away from today, as you seek Him.
— And others of us would say, I really need to seek GOD HIMSELF: not just my “religious” acts of reading the Bible & praying, not just doing good things; I need to seek GOD — just meeting HIM, loving HIM, spending time with HIM. Talk to Him about that this morning.
If you need to visit with someone about some of these things, or you need to be baptized, or want information about how to join the church, I’ll be here, and we have other counselors who can pray with you as well. You respond and seek God this morning, as He has spoken to your heart.