One phrase kept jumping out at me as I recently read 2 Chronicles again: ‘They set their hearts on seeking the LORD.’ ‘He commanded Judah to seek the LORD.’ ‘They entered into a covenant to seek the LORD.’ ‘They sought God eagerly.’

Here’s the context. This book continues the account of the kings of Judah, from Solomon to the last one, Zedekiah—twenty kings in all. It compares each one with David, the greatest king and the ‘man after God’s own heart’, and asks about each one, ‘Did he, or did he not, seek God?’ By this token, the ‘bad’ kings of Judah were those who failed to ‘seek God’. The ‘good’, David-like ones were those who did seek him—like young Josiah, who ‘in the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, began to seek the God of his father David.’[1]

This concept of ‘seeking God’ is strongest in the Old Testament, but we find echoes also in the New Testament. The writer to the Hebrews, for example, assures us that God ‘rewards those who earnestly seek him.’[2] Old and New are in harmony, so we can look back confidently to 2 Chronicles for guidance on how to do it.

There, the phrase ‘to seek God’ can vary in form: it can, for instance, be to ‘seek God’s face’. This form appears in one of the most quoted verses in the book, where God says: ‘If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.’[3] It’s a favourite in revival prayer meetings.

Many assume that ‘seek my face’ here means ‘pray’, whereas it is much broader than that. ‘Face’ in Hebrew can mean the front of something, or its outward appearance. So the ‘face’ of a person is synonymous with that person’s presence. On that basis, to seek God’s face is to seek God’s presence, which we do not by prayer alone, as we shall see.

Many also assume that ‘heal their land’ means revival. It doesn’t. It refers to the beneficial influence of godliness on the agricultural productivity of their fields. This principle goes back to Eden, where Adam’s personal sin caused God to declare, ‘Cursed is the ground because of you.’[4] Since that time there has been a built-in correlation between society’s godliness and the earth’s fertility. The curses of the law assured Israel that their spiritual waywardness would bring infertility, famine and drought, while the blessings promised the opposite for godly living. The principle holds good in world society at large. You may remember the Transformations video documenting the astonishing agricultural productivity seen in parts of Latin America where God has been honoured among the local population.

But let’s broaden our perspective from this one verse. According to 2 Chronicles in general, what does it mean to ‘seek God’? It’s important to get this straight, since some today are seeking God—or in their parlance ‘chasing’ him—using a formula aimed at producing some exotic spiritual experience. That’s not what it’s about at all.

Let’s first say what seeking God does not mean. Surprisingly, nowhere in the Bible does seeking God specifically mean praying—though prayer to God is of course commendable and may be assumed as part of seeking him. The verse we just looked at, 2 Chronicles 7:14, lists four actions that will bring God’s forgiveness and blessing. They are to (1) humble themselves; (2) pray; (3) seek God’s face; and (4) turn from their wicked ways. Here, seeking God’s face is distinguished from the other three, one of which is prayer, so seeking God clearly has a broader frame of reference.

Seeking God primarily means putting God first.

Two different Hebrew words are translated ‘seek’ in the English text and ‘to put first’ is inherent in the meaning of them both.[5] They imply that other things have been allowed to oust God from first place. For Judah’s kings those other things were foreign gods, the pursuit of sensual pleasure and political games. And what about yourself? Is God first in your life, or is he just a bolt-on appendage? He deserves to be first because, in the true order of things, he is first—just as, in a car, the engine is primary. It’s no good having a super stereo system, top of the range leather upholstery and built-in GPS navigation if the engine has been neglected and doesn’t work. Re-order your priorities as necessary, moving down the list the items that have taken God’s place. If necessary, get rid of them altogether, just as King Jehoshaphat got rid of the Asherah poles that had been in Judah’s religious top spot and set his heart on seeking God.[6]

Seeking God also means obeying God.

Another of Judah’s kings, King Asa, ‘commanded Judah to seek the LORD, the God of their ancestors, and to obey his laws and commands.’[7] These are the two sides of the one coin. To put him first and to disobey him is a contradiction in terms. It’s to be like Peter who, when Jesus spoke of his coming crucifixion, retorted, ‘Never, Lord!’[8] The word ‘Lord’ means ‘You’re the boss’ and ‘never’ means ‘but I’m not accepting what you say’. It’s either one or the other; you can’t have both.

The fundamental question about your life and direction is ‘Whom do you obey?’ As a Christian you answer, ‘Jesus is Lord’. You gladly accept Mary’s dictum: ‘Do whatever he tells you.’[9] So what is the Lord saying to you just now? Are you seeking him by being obedient? If not, you will find that he stops speaking to you, that he seems far away, that spiritual things lose their attraction, and that you start drifting into ungodly ways. Seek the Lord!

Seeking God also means worshipping God.

After the division of the kingdom, ‘those from every tribe of Israel who set their hearts on seeking the LORD, the God of Israel, followed the Levites to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices to the LORD, the God of their ancestors.’[10] They knew that putting God first and failing to worship him was a contradiction in terms. So they moved across the border from Israel to Judah because they couldn’t be satisfied with worshipping the golden calves at Dan and Bethel. They wanted to worship the LORD in the way that he himself had prescribed.

Are you a worshipper? Do you worship him in the way he has prescribed, which is ‘in spirit and in truth’?[11] Do you contribute in public worship? If not, why not? Worship, of course, is not just public. Is lifting your heart in worship to him the default mode of your private life, too?

Seeking God also means working wholeheartedly for God.

We read of King Hezekiah that ‘in everything that he undertook in the service of God’s temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered.’[12] Hezekiah’s devotion to the Lord expressed itself in hard work. He cleaned out the Temple, which had become neglected. He restarted the Temple worship, which had been discontinued. He re-established the annual Passover festival. He re-organised the financial support of the priests and Levites and their families. In short, he became fully involved in his day’s equivalent of the church and got his hands dirty.

How about you? Do you work wholeheartedly for God? That has nothing to do with being in so-called ‘full-time Christian service’. For most of us it’s more to do with whether we respond when requests for help are announced in the church: meals required for a new mum; help needed to trim an elderly person’s overgrown garden; volunteers wanted to do leafleting for a special event, to do car parking duty on Sundays or to take a turn on the coffee rota. If you were to move house tomorrow to the other end of the country would your contribution be missed?

If not, you can’t ever blame God, because he provides plenty of incentives for you to seek him. One of them is trouble.

When you hit problems—sickness, hurt, tragedy, redundancy, disappointment—you tend to cry out to the Lord more than when things are going well. The prophet Azariah reminded King Asa of this fact, saying about an earlier generation of Israelites: ‘In their distress they turned to the LORD, the God of Israel, and sought him, and he was found by them.’[13] Let your own troubles prompt you to seek him. These are filtered by his own loving hand with a view to keeping you close to him. Seek him, whether he then removes them or not.

Another incentive to seek God is godly parents.

Not all of us have this privilege. I myself did, and I’m immensely grateful for it. King Jehoshaphat, we read, ‘sought the God of his father’, King Asa.[14] Unlike some kings who rebelled against their godly predecessors and suffered accordingly, Jehoshaphat saw the blessings that stemmed from his father’s seeking of God, and determined to have the same blessings himself.

If you are a young person with Christian parents, don’t rebel against them and all they stand for. Follow them in seeking God. Take a frank look at the dodgy domestic situation of some of your non-Christian friends and be grateful for what you have. Yes, I know teenage rebellion is considered ‘cool’, but in sound Christian families it is the height of idiocy.

My wife and I were booked to do a session at a church with teenagers and their parents. We were to address them first, then field their questions. Obviously the rebellion issue would come up. So I spoke to our own daughter, Rachel, who was at that time aged about twenty. The conversation went something like this:

‘You never really went through a rebellious phase, did you, Rachel?’

‘No, Dad, I don’t suppose I did.’

‘Why was that, do you think?’

‘Well, in my class at school when I was a teenager there was only one other girl and me who came from anything like a “normal” home. The others were from homes where the parents had separated or divorced. Some had a parent with a live-in lover. Others had a step-father or step–mother they didn’t like. They hated being at home. So they’d hang around after school to delay getting back to the house. Then they’d have a bite to eat and get out of the house again to hang around on street corners away from the domestic stress. But for me it was so different. I’d come home, and Mum would be there, cheerful and encouraging. We’d have a cuppa together and talk about our day. Then you’d arrive home, Dad, and the family would eat and talk together. It was all so warm and loving. I suppose I thought, “What is there to rebel against?” So I just didn’t bother.’

If you are a young person not privileged to have godly parents, that needn’t hold you back from seeking God. Make a choice to buck the trend. Young King Josiah began seeking the Lord when he was only sixteen, even though his father, King Amon, and his grandfather, King Manasseh, were both about as ungodly as you can get.

The greatest incentive of all to seek God is one we can all enjoy in equal measure: God’s grace.

There’s an interesting incident recorded in chapter 30. King Hezekiah restarted the Passover festival after a period of neglect. News of this filtered across the border to Israel, where some godly souls decided to make the journey south to take part. They came from a society that, for the most part, had drifted far away from the LORD, so it was no surprise that they had failed to ritually ‘purify themselves’ before they came, no doubt through ignorance. Technically, because they were ceremonially unclean they were not allowed to partake of the Passover meal. But godly King Hezekiah knew something about the grace of God, and prayed, ‘May the LORD, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God…even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.’[15] God’s response was full of grace: he ‘heard Hezekiah and healed the people’—that is, he forgave them.

Mercifully, God does not require you to be perfect before he will bless you. Maybe you are conscious of your shortcomings and feel you can’t legitimately seek God because of them. Let this reminder of his wonderful grace be an incentive to come as you are and say, ‘God, I will put you first!’

Failing to seek God just isn’t an option. The result would be predictable: slipping back in your spiritual life. If you don’t give the helm of your life to him, something else will take it and steer your life into dangerous waters. You will revert to your human tendency to slide away from the Lord, like King Rehoboam who ‘did evil because he had not set his heart on seeking the LORD.’[16] Note the ‘because’. He was like a car with faulty steering that always veers to one side; if you don’t hold it on course you hit the kerb. So choose to seek God, and to keep on seeking him.

And it is indeed a choice. We have several times met the phrase ‘to set one’s heart on’ seeking God. That’s just another way of saying ‘to choose’ to seek God. As the prophet said to King Asa, ‘If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.’[17] Which way will you go?

The choice is yours. And it’s a no-brainer. Choosing not to seek him leads to painful backsliding, as we have seen, but choosing to seek him brings huge blessings. These include holding on to your earlier victories—and gaining new ones. King Asa said to Judah, ‘“Let us build up these towns…and put walls around them, with towers, gates and bars. The land is still ours, because we have sought the LORD our God; we sought him and he has given us rest on every side.” So they built and prospered.’[18]

The ‘rest’ was rest from enemy invasion and oppression. They were still enjoying victory in the promised land. Is that your own experience, or have you lost the spiritual ground you once occupied? Someone said to me recently, ‘I gave up smoking easily when I first became a Christian—then I started again.’ If you are in that sort of position you can regain the lost ground by setting your heart to seek the Lord, then hold on to it. You can enjoy ‘rest on every side’ from whatever it is that tends to invade and oppress you. You can escape sin’s tyranny and build up your heritage in the promised land—the place of victory.

Seeking the Lord brings success and prosperity, in every sense of the term. We have noted already what this book says about King Hezekiah: he ‘sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered.’[19] It was the same with God’s people in King Asa’s day who sought the Lord: ‘so they built and prospered.’[20] You can add to these the case of King Uzziah: ‘As long as he sought the LORD, God gave him success.’[21] So you know which choice to make yourself!

Let’s be practical as we wind this up. You want to start seeking God. How do you go about it?

With a decision. It comes down to ‘setting your heart’ on seeking him. For some of God’s ancient people it was a formal decision, made corporately: ‘They entered into a covenant to seek the LORD, the God of their ancestors, with all their heart and soul.’[22] Are you ready now to make a decision to ‘seek God’ as never before—to put him first, to do what he says, to worship him and to work for him wholeheartedly? Here’s a prayer of commitment that you can use:

Thank you, gracious Lord, that you invite me to seek you—to set my heart on doing it. And that’s what I’m ready for right now.

I offer myself to you with all my imperfections, trusting in your grace alone. I commit myself afresh to putting you first, doing what you tell me, worshipping you and working for you wholeheartedly.

I believe you, Lord, when you say, ‘Draw near to me, and I will draw near to you.’ I’m expecting to know your presence in a deeper way from now on, as your Holy Spirit works in me to keep me on track.

Let my whole life be for your glory. Reward me as I diligently seek you, I pray. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Copyright © David Matthew 2009




Seeking God


This is one essay in the Windows On The Word series. Click the Next and Previous buttons to move through the series, and Up to go to the list. Footnotes appear in the right-hand column. Hover over Bible references to see the text.


2 Chronicles

The gist of this article

God isn’t lost, but he always rejoices when people seek him. But what does ‘seeking God’ actually mean? Is it just a synonym for prayer? No, it’s much more than that, and 2 Chronicles gives us some helpful direction for seeking God’s face.

1. 2 Chronicles 34:3

2. Hebrews 11:6

3. 2 Chronicles 7:14

4. Genesis 3:17

5. The two words, which largely overlap, are darash (Strong 1875; TWOT 455) and baqash (Strong 1245; TWOT 276). Baqash is the more general of the two, meaning ‘to put first’ (as in (Deuteronomy 4:29). Darash means ‘to seek with care, to care about’ (as in Jeremiah 29:7) or ‘to seek direction from’.

6. 2 Chronicles 19:3

7. 2 Chronicles 14:4

8. See Matthew 16:21-22

9. Spoken at the wedding at Cana, John 2:5.

10. 2 Chronicles 11:16

11. John 4:24 NIV

12. 2 Chronicles 31:21

13. 2 Chronicles 15:4

14. 2 Chronicles 17:4

15. 2 Chronicles 30:18-20

16. 2 Chronicles 12:14

17. 2 Chronicles 15:2

18. 2 Chronicles 14:7

19. 2 Chronicles 31:21

20. 2 Chronicles 14:7

21. 2 Chronicles 26:5

22. 2 Chronicles 15:12