A Heart for God

Dr. Brian Allison

If you are a real Christian, I know that you have made a credible profession of faith. You, no doubt, profess to know God. Most likely, you have made a personal sacrifice and commitment to live for God and to serve Him. However, do you have a heart for God? You may be a long-standing member of a Bible-believing church; you may be a regular attendant at church services; you may be a faithful giver of a weekly tithe; you may be devoting many hours each week to Christian service; you may even maintain a consistent Bible reading and prayer-time schedule; and yet not have a heart for God.

A.W. Tozer (1897-1963), the Christian and Missionary Alliance minister, author, and mystic, was converted at the age of 18. Subsequently, he designated a dingy corner of the basement of the family home as his chamber of prayer. Huddled in that corner, Tozer learned what it was to seek God. In that unpretentious refuge, he learned the life long practice of waiting upon God. In his book, The Pursuit of God, which addresses the deep need of the human heart, he 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. Moses used the fact that He knew God as an argument for knowing Him better. 'Now, therefore, I pray Thee, if I have found grace in Thy sight, show me now Thy way, that I may know Thee, that I may find grace in Thy sight"; and from there he rose to make the daring request, 'I beseech Thee, show me Thy glory.' God was frankly pleased by this display of ardour, and the next day called Moses into the mount, and there in solemn procession made all His glory pass before him." Moses had a heart for God.

The essence of a heart for God

Can you identify with Moses' experience? Do you have a similar desire to know God and see His glory? Again, do you have a heart for God? Psalm 84:1-4 highlights this particular sentiment. It reads, "How lovely are Thy dwelling places, O LORD of Hosts! My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. The bird also has found a house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even Thy altars, O LORD of Hosts, my King and my God. How blessed are those who dwell in Thy house! They are ever praising Thee." What does it mean to have a heart for God? First, to have a heart for God is to desire, and to be enamoured with, the special place in which God dwells – "How lovely are Thy dwelling places, O Lord of Hosts!" The psalmist loved the residence of God, the place in which God was pleased to manifest His presence and glory in a special way. The residence of God is not necessarily a physical building or a particular geographical location, yet God is pleased to identify Himself with certain localities and with visible entities (e.g. God appointed the temple in Jerusalem to be His residence in the Old Testament). Now I am not suggesting a kind of external kind of religion, a Pharisaic kind of religion, but God does reveal His glory within an identifiable (and even observable) context (e.g. heaven itself).

The psalmist desired the dwelling places of God because he had a desire for the very presence of God. God's residence is synonymous with God's presence. The psalmist's heart burned to be in the residence of God because that is where he would find fellowship with God. A heart for God is a heart that longs after the very presence of God. Do you have a heart for God? Recently, I came across an excerpt from an old Toronto Globe newspaper. The newswriter (unknown, but a Christian) wrote that one day he saw an Irish peddler selling his wares from door to door. After offering greetings, this newswriter announced to the peddler, "It's a grand thing to be saved." The peddler apparently replied, "It is, but I know something better than that." In astonishment, the newswriter asked, "Better than being saved? What can you possibly know better than that?" The peddler said, "The companionship of the Man who saved me." He had experienced the presence of God.

Now the marvelous fact is that the presence of God is indeed identified with certain places. What are the dwelling places of God for the Christian believer? One place is the gathered community of worshippers. For instance, the psalmist says, "Come before Him with joyful singing" (Ps. 100:2b). God is pleased to dwell in the midst of His gathered people. Jesus said, "For where two or three have gathered together in My name [that is, recognizing His authority and power, and that He represents them before the Father], there I am in the midst" (Mt. 18:20). When believers gather as the church in Christ's name, we have formed a dwelling place of God. The Scriptures read, "So than you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit" (Eph. 2:19-22).

There are other, more private, dwelling places of God. The spiritual meditation of the Scriptures and the peaceful haven of prayer are spiritual dwelling places of God. So, for example, we read, "'Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. And I will be found by you,' declares the LORD" (Jer. 29:12-14a). How often have you found God in the abode of prayer? How often has His gracious presence met you in quiet meditation? The humble, contrite heart is also a spiritual dwelling place of God. We read, "For thus says the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy, I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite" (Is. 57:15).

Do you find the dwelling places that I have just enumerated lovely, I mean really lovely? Do you find that it is good and pleasant to be there, not simply going through the religious motions, but being involved in the experience with your inner most being? The psalmist professes, "Thou wilt make known to me the path of life; in Thy presence is fulness of joy; in Thy right hand there are pleasures forever" (Ps. 16:11). The psalmist was enamoured with the dwelling places of God, and thus he desired or thirsted for them. Believers should love the spiritual places of worship, meditation, and prayer, and desire them.

So the psalmist thirsted for more of God – "My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the Lord [where God dwells, where His glory is manifested]." Does your heart ache for the dwelling places of God? Do you find that the divine dwelling places are attractive and inviting or do you find that they are dull and boring? God's dwelling place should be our dwelling place. Do you long to live where God lives? If you really love Him, you will want to be with Him.

Second, to have a heart for God is to delight in the joyous praise of God. If you really have a heart for God, you not only will seek (and be preoccupied with) the 'place' of worship, meditation, and prayer, but you will also delight in the essential core of that worship, meditation, and prayer, namely, praise. In a particular way, God spiritually dwells in the praises of His people. The psalmist declares, "Yet Thou art holy, O Thou who art enthroned upon the praises of Israel" (Ps. 22:3). The Christian should have an inner compulsion to extol the God in whose presence he or she stands – "How blessed are those who dwell in Thy house! They are ever praising Thee." If your abode is God's abode, then your constant endeavour and exercise will be the praise of His name. The experience of the very presence of God graciously constrains one to truly praise Him. Praise is the natural, spontaneous response to an encounter with God. To 'see' God as He is, to experience Him in His beauty and power, is to feel compelled to give Him the glory due to His name.

Acquiring a heart for God

So, a heart for God means at least two things: a thirst for His presence and a delight in His praise. A heart for God is simply a passion for the divine. If you have a heart for God, not simply a profession of God, or a commitment to God, or an allegiance to God (though these things are good and important), then you simultaneously will have a passion for the divine.

Now you may say, "I don't have this passion for God, but I wish I did. For a long time I have wanted this passion, but I don't know how to find it." Passion is not something we can merely will to be. It is either present or it is not. Passion is the response of deep affection, strong desire, that a certain object or person naturally evokes from us. There is a quality of beauty or wonder in the object or the person that stirs our feelings and feeds our desire for it or him/her. We have a passion for that which is attractive and appealing to us; that which we anticipate will bring deep satisfaction to us in the securing of it or him/her. You who lack a holy passion for God, have you truly seen His beauty and gazed upon His majesty? You will behold such sights in the 'place' of worship, meditation, and prayer. Though at present you may not desire the dwelling places of God, you must discipline yourself to seek these places. Out of a sense of duty and discipline, you may still enter the spiritual places of worship, meditation, and prayer. Accordingly, being found in these places, God will be pleased to reveal Himself to you; and in 'seeing' God, you will then desire Him; and in that desire you will delight in both Him and His dwelling place, and thus will seek Him and them all the more. You will acquire a heart for God by disciplining yourself to be in the spiritual dwelling places of God, and in acquiring such a heart, you will indeed desire those places.

The story is told of minister who was speaking at a camp meeting. In the course of his talk, he advised his listeners to slip away and be alone with God for fifteen minutes when the meeting ended. One young man decided to follow the instruction. The result is that this young man apparently had a most delightful experience with the Lord. Christ's glory broke in upon his soul. He became ravished with Christ. A fifteen minute experience revolutionized a life for time and eternity. A human heart was set aflame. God can break in and reveal Himself at any time He chooses. As someone has said, "If you want to be let down into eternal mysteries, into the Godhead's deepest sea, be alone with God. If you want to feel as never before the strength of the 'power that worketh in us,' be alone with God. Fifteen minutes in such secret fellowship is worth an age of blustering outdoor noise about religion" (P.H. Advocate). If you are feeling spiritually dry and cold, then get alone with God; cry out to Him for reviving mercy; wrestle with Him in prayer until He blesses you. Plead with God to fan into a flame a holy desire for Him that will consume your heart in holy devotion and that will burn away all complacency and indifference.

Let me again refer to Tozer's The Pursuit of God. He writes, "I want deliberately to encourage this mighty longing after God. The lack of it has brought us to our present low estate. The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is the result of our lack of a holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long, in vain. Every age has its own characteristics. Right now we are in an age of religious complexity. The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship, and that servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we, in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God, scarcely at all."

May God be pleased to revive our hearts that we might find our greatest delight in following hard after Him.