Have you ever felt distant from God? I have. I have vacillated between times of intense closeness to God, times of faith with little fervor, and times of feeling removed and disconnected.
When I’ve felt distant I’ve wondered, ‘What is the key to being connected to God? Is it obedience to God’s commands? Is it regular fellowship and accountability with other believers? Is it suffering?’
While all those things can draw us close to God, I have discovered that the fundamental requirement is very simple.
Closeness to God requires that I seek him. That is all. Seeking God means looking to the Lord for all my needs, repenting of sin, and desiring to be close to him.
King Asa provides a vivid example. In his early life, he was faced with a huge battle against the Ethiopian army. With limited resources and no human chance of success, Asa turned to God. He sought God for this huge endeavor because God was his only hope. And God delivered him in a phenomenal way.
But later in his life, Asa became more self-confident. In a much smaller battle, Asa didn’t seek God but sought an alliance with another king instead. He won the battle, but God sent a prophet to rebuke Asa for not seeking God first. Rather than repent, Asa punished the prophet. Several years later, Asa came down with a terrible disease in his feet. Yet he refused to seek the Lord and just sought doctors. And Asa died, without Scripture recording he ever sought God again. (2 Chronicles 14-16).
Asa sought God when his circumstances were overwhelming. That’s exactly when I seek God. When I feel powerless and fearful. When I am suffering and desperate and know nothing can be humanly done. When I realize I can’t fix it myself. I lean on God because there is nothing else to lean on.
But like Asa, in the lesser things of my life, I often don’t call on God. I rely on myself. I think that I can handle it because the problem doesn’t seem overwhelming. I don’t ask God for wisdom because I think I can figure it out with my own resources.
For me, my twenties were characterized by self-sufficiency. Everything was going well and I didn’t think about God very much. I read the Bible occasionally but not regularly, I prayed sporadically but not fervently, and I obeyed God but not wholeheartedly. I trusted myself, relied on my own judgment, managed life as I wanted.
If someone had confronted me as they did Asa, I might have responded similarly. I would have been angry. Defensive. Dismissive. Asa had been obedient. He took down the high places. He even deposed his mother for making an idol. It seemed preposterous for someone to question him just because he didn’t ask God before going into a battle. A battle which he won.
Because Asa didn’t repent for not relying on the Lord, his life drifted farther from God. So God sent another trial to Asa. But in his pride, Asa still didn’t repent or seek God.
In my pride and independence, I did as I pleased without asking God. And when I did, I drifted farther and farther from him. Rather than seeking God, I sought answers in the world. And they seemed to satisfy me.
But then God brought such intense suffering into my life that I ran to him for relief. I couldn’t handle it on my own. And the world had no more answers.
When I ran to him, I experienced the joy of God’s closeness. His presence was unmistakable and his comfort so tender that I wanted to stay near him. Seeking God was easy and instinctive. It didn’t take effort or intentionality to cry out to him. He was my only hope.
As Deuteronomy 4: 29-30 says, “But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the Lord your God and obey his voice.”
We will find God when we seek him. And he knows that tribulation often drives us to return to him, which is a great mercy. It has been for me. Suffering was God’s invitation to lean into him. It forged my faith, which I see in retrospect was a tremendous gift.
But that is not true for everyone. Suffering doesn’t drive everyone to God. At the end of his life, Asa was suffering terribly physically. But he died in his agony without knowing the comfort of God because he didn’t seek God.
The key to a deep walk with God and a sense of his presence is not trials. It is simply seeking God. That is all.
Seeking God involves intentionally setting aside time to spend with him. Reading the Bible and praying. Drawing near to him and crying out to him. Listening to his voice and repenting of my sin.
I have found that I can have that deep communion with God, even when I’m not in despair. It takes more effort, but the rewards are the same. When I open my Bible and ask God to teach me, he does. When I cry out to him for help, he responds. When I listen for his voice, he speaks.
When I seek God, I find him. Jesus promises that I will.
As Jeremiah 29:12-13 says, “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”