“He did evil because he had not set his heart on seeking the LORD.” (2 Chronicles 12:14)
Today I’ll talk a little bit about this whole “persistence seeking” thing which I mention periodically: what it means, why it matters. If Celtic Christianity is the why of my life, then persistence seeking is the how.
I draw the name primarily from persistence hunting, an ancient practice in which early humans — a natural running animal and an apex predator, according to some biologists — would capture their prey by forcing the prey to keep running until it collapsed of exhaustion. Humans played to their incredible powers of endurance and thus overcame significant disadvantages of size and speed. Our ancestors would trot along, keeping the prey in sight. When the animal would attempt to rest, Fred Flintstone would put on a burst of speed to push the animal back into a run until it could no longer run. A human who simply chased the animal and tried to capture it would be unsuccessful, but a human who hung in the chase at a moderate pace would have food that night.
Many new Christians take off at a sprint in pursuit of Christ, and this is good. But eventually, nearly everyone must slow down. Everyone will hit a spiritual dry spell. What do you do when this happens? I admit that sometimes I’ve simply sat down and quit. At times in the chase, I’ve seen a patch of tasty-looking but poisonous berries, and stopped to enjoy something that seemed easier and more pleasant (only to receive a rude surprise). Of course, the berries have a residual effect that keeps me from getting back on the trail despite my best efforts, and I am compelled to heal. Sometimes this has kept me off the trail of the White Stag well past the point where I was fit to continue. Naturally, once I continued the pursuit, I found that the Stag had not gone nearly as far as I’d feared and that getting back onto the trail was the hardest part.
Dallas Willard, in The Divine Conspiracy (an incredible book which changed my whole outlook on life and faith), wrote about how not sinning often replaced knowing God as the goal of Christian life. Willard points out that not sinning does not guarantee knowing God any more than not going to Rome guarantees arriving in Paris. But if you go to Paris, that implies not ending up in Rome. So by continuing to strive to know God — by continually pursuing the Stag — we end up not sinning. (Or at least, sinning less.) Neat!
So the race is not always to the swift; rather, we must simply stay in it. This is why I use the metaphor of persistence hunting. I refer to seeking in the same sense that we normally do in the church: constantly pursuing the heart of God and trying to know him better. In a broader sense of the word, an attitude of seeking will help us to realize that we’ve never reached the destination until we’ve gone on to Elysium. Whether you’re the Pope or the chief of sinners (or both), you will have to seek for your whole life. Sometimes great bursts of speed and effort will be necessary, but mostly you will simply have to hang in. Remember Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)
I anticipate an obvious question: what does it even mean to seek after God? How do we do this? Of course, even in a regenerate state we will never truly catch the Stag, but we can continually draw closer. Time and again, I find value in participation in a Christian community of like-minded seekers who are not merely resting on their redeemed laurels but instead are continuing to pursue greater intimacy with His Highest. Wherever two or three gather in his name, there he is with them. Seek out things which, for you, make you reflect on his majesty. For me, this is spending time in nature — a reminder of the spectacular power of God which cannot help but drive me to my knees. Learn the things he has tried to tell you: through the Bible, through the words of other Christians (spoken or written), through the words and actions of other people. Finally, seek the presence of God in prayer. As Moses only saw the presence of God once in his whole life, so you may not directly know God’s presence. But some day you will: this side or the other.