And without faith, it is impossible to please him, because anyone who comes to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
These words, from Hebrews 11:6, tell us exactly what makes God happy. Since creation, he has delighted in those who think about him and want to know him, be near him, and please him. It’s that simple.
We see clear evidence of his power and divinity in creation, whether it’s the staggering scope of the universe, the variety and splendor of animal life, the majesty of oceans and continents, the mystery of quantum physics, the perfection of a baby, the intricate ways our bodies function, the way things fit and feed and complement each other… and the list goes on. Everywhere around us is proof of divine creativity and wisdom (See Romans 1:20).
That’s “Believing in God 101”, which should move us to seek deeper knowledge of our Creator. Belief in his existence isn’t enough: Even the demons believe there is one God, and shudder, according to James 2:18-19. It’s the next step—seeking to know who God is and what he wants from us—that separates those who merely acknowledge God’s existence from those who actively come to know him. And, contrary to the Calvinist position that we can do nothing to kick-start this search for truth and meaning, I believe the onus falls on us to earnestly seek him. That’s what set apart the faith heroes in Chapter 11 from those around them, men and women who had equal opportunity to seek God’s favor, but didn’t.
I also believe God is active in this process, doing crazy and creative stuff to get our attention. He can use anything—bereavement, success, failure, blessings, conversations, dreams, the example and testimony of others—to prompt our hearts to seek him. That’s why I never tire of hearing conversion stories; each person’s journey to knowing God is a unique mix of yearning and divinely appointed circumstances.
I wrote my first memoir to share my own journey, which started with profound loss and ended with salvation. I don’t credit myself for seeking: God put the hunger in my heart which led me to him. But I did “earnestly seek him”. I wrestled with the Scriptures and put my life on hold while I searched for truth. I prayed a lot, inspired by Jesus’ promise: Ask, seek, and knock, and the door will be opened. Once I started examining the Bible, I searched for a community with others who valued truth. And the decision I made to make Jesus my Lord had an impact on every major life decision going forward. The road hasn’t always been easy and I’ve been far from perfect, but I’ve stayed the course.
Paul refers to this Ultimate Search in Romans 2:6-7:
God will give to each person according to what he has done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, he will give eternal life.
So the question, as I see it, is What are you seeking?
And secondly, Are you willing to accept God’s view of sin, righteousness, and judgement?
With this in mind, we examine our first faith hero: Abel. Here’s the passage from Hebrews:
By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead. (Heb.11:4)
This story, which leads to the second major sin recorded in the Bible—murder—is lean on details and somewhat puzzling. Abel kept sheep, and offered fat portions from his firstborn animals. Cain worked the soil, and offered vegetables. Why was one act more pleasing than the other?
I can think of a couple of explanations. Perhaps God specified that he wanted a sacrificial offering, and Cain decided to go an easier, less costly route, putting his own thinking ahead of God’s words. Or perhaps God hadn’t specified, but knew what lay in each man’s heart. Abel’s sacrifice took effort—earnestly seeking—while Cain’s offering was casual, possibly even begrudging. God based his judgement on the attitude of each man’s heart. And it wasn’t Cain’s inferior offering that led to his banishment, but rather his jealousy of God’s favor with Abel’s gift. He even had opportunity to repent of his resentment before it led to murder; God was gracious enough to warn and entreat him. (See Gen. 4: 6-7)
The gap is wide between begrudging and willing, and speaks volumes about our relationship with God. A begrudging heart does the minimum to get by, while the willing heart seeks to please. I’m reminded of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with an alabaster jar of expensive perfume. Jesus called her act a “beautiful thing”, while spectators were indignant at the ‘waste’ of money it displayed. I’m embarrassed to admit I might have been among her detractors had I been in the same room; my heart has a long way to go to match her ‘reckless’ devotion. She understood that Jesus is worthy of EVERYTHING, and was willing to look foolish in her devotion.
God delights in those rare individuals who grasp that we can never out-give God, and who demonstrate their faith by outrageous personal sacrifice. That’s one of the qualities that drew me to Henry (my husband) when I first met him. At the tender age of 21, he’d given up everything to move into downtown Toronto and start a street ministry. His support came from random Christians who heard what he was doing and contributed random amounts. He lived by faith and ate a lot of noodles. He opened the doors of his cheap studio apartment and let whoever needed a bed crash for the night. He tried whatever he could imagine to share the gospel with as many as possible, with no thought to his own future, safety, or reputation.
In all my searching for a good church/ministry to join, I hadn’t met anyone like him, someone who absolutely trusted God to meet his needs, and who consistently put the needs of others ahead of his own. Above all, he loved God, talked about God, and pursued God with all his heart. That’s the person I fell in love with.
Henry would’ve offered the very best fat portions. He would’ve broken the alabaster jar and poured it all out. He wouldn’t have minded the critics.
Which leads me to examine my own heart, my own spirit towards God. Am I a reckless giver? At this point in my life, I have a ways to go.
What about you?