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Cecil Murphey: The God Who Pursues
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The God Who Pursues: Encountering a Relentless God

By Cecil Murphey
Guest Columnist

CBN.comThe Divine Pursuit

Throughout my life, God has pursued me—relentlessly. I don’t mean that God chased me until I surrendered and became a Christian. In fact, the initial awareness of that unmitigating pursuit began five years after my conversion. It was also the first time I became angry at God.

My experience began during my second year of college on a Monday, a day when I didn’t have classes. I had sacrificed by not working full time so that I could study hard and serve God in ministry. On Tuesday, I faced a major final exam with two more finals later in the week; I had to spend the day preparing for those tests.

Shirley, my wife, woke up ill Monday morning and went back to bed. Our two preschool daughters weren’t sick but were extremely fussy. As soon as I tried to focus on my studies, one or the other whimpered or commanded attention. If I stopped to take care of Wanda, Cecile demanded her share of time.

The mail arrived in the middle of the morning. Among the letters, I found our heating bill, for which we didn’t have the money and wouldn’t have it before it was due. We barely had enough groceries, and just enough gas in the car for me to drive to and from college the rest of the week. My car would soon need new brakes, and I had no idea how I could afford to have them replaced.

No matter what I did that morning to find study time, nothing improved. At least a dozen times I pleaded with God for help, adding, “I’m doing this so I can serve you better.”

Despite my prayers, nothing changed at our house, other than that the girls fussed even more. By noon I had not studied more than three or four minutes at any one time. A headache came upon me suddenly, and I’m one of those people who rarely suffers such an affliction. It felt as if someone had stretched a heavy band around the top of my head and continued to tighten it.

Despite their crankiness, I fed Wanda and Cecile their lunch and put them down for a nap. My head ached so badly that I gave in and lay down on the sofa.

As quietness filled our house, I felt anything but peaceful. As I lay there, I reviewed my situation. I had grown tired of scraping money together every month and never having anything left over. Saving for bad days ahead was a joke; we were living in the bad days. My good friends at church were serving God while pursuing lucrative careers.

The tension had been building for weeks. No matter how carefully we managed our finances, unexpected expenses sneaked in. I thought, I’m in debt because I’m studying to serve a God who won’t provide money to pay my bills. For perhaps ten minutes I grumbled about all of heaven’s mistreatment. Why am I serving God anyway? Others don’t have these problems. None of my friends has to pray for money just to pay the bills.

As my reasoning intensified, so did my anger. Then rage erupted: “I’m through with you, God!” I said aloud. “If you’re all-powerful and all-loving, why don’t you do something good for me? Why do you make it so hard to serve you?”

Instead of feeling better, the bitterness spewed out. “I don’t believe in you any longer. What have I gotten from you except poverty and sacrifice? Besides, as a Christian I always have to seek guidance. Before my conversion, I just decided what I wanted and did it. That’s the way I want to live from now on.”

The more I thought of the freedom from checking in with God and waiting for guidance that didn’t always come, the more I liked the idea.

“I’m through with Christianity.”

Almost immediately, peace flooded me. I was free from God. I had made the decision; now I could divorce myself from any connection with the church or Jesus Christ. I would take my final exam the next day and the other two I had later in the week. After that, I would drop out of college and get a full-time job, perhaps continuing my education part time. I didn’t want to serve God; I was finished with all of that religious business. I had tried it and it hadn’t worked. It was time to enjoy my life and do what I wanted to do. I would never attend another church activity or read the Bible again.

But what about Wanda and Cecile?

That question burst from inside me. It was all right for me to choose not to follow God, but what about them?

“Shirley can take them to church if she wants to,” I decided.

She’s supposed to take over all the spiritual guidance?

Yes, I decided, she could do it. She would have to do it, because I was through with God. For five years I had sought God, and what good had it done me? I didn’t want to think about God ever again. From now on I would focus on what I wanted. If the Bible should turn out to be true and I ended up in eternal torment, I didn’t care. I just wanted to be free now.

What about your daughters? Do you have the right to treat them this way?

Then I exploded. If Shirley and the girls hadn’t been asleep upstairs, I would have screamed at God so loudly that neighbors would have heard my roar.

“That isn’t fair!”

God had smacked me with a sharp left hook. I didn’t care about myself, but I couldn’t gamble on the salvation of my girls. My anger intensified, and I told God so.

Just then I remembered an ad I had seen years earlier in a Christian magazine; an organization that reached out to alcoholics wanted financial support. The picture showed a man trapped inside a whiskey bottle. The agonized expression on his face, along with his outstretched hands, showed that he couldn’t extricate himself from the bottle.

Yes, I thought, that’s just like me. I’m trapped. Penned in. God won’t let me go no matter what I want.

“What kind of God are you? I don’t love you. I don’t believe in you. I just want you out of my life! Why won’t you let me alone?”

I don’t know how long the railing continued, but for several minutes at least. Finally exhausted from all of my angry accusations, I stopped, too weary to fight any longer. “Okay, you’ve got me. I don’t like it and I don’t want you, but I can’t turn away. Are you satisfied now?”

Of course, I heard no response.

“Even when I want to get away from you, you won’t let me go, will you?”

As I listened to my own words, something clicked inside my head. Tears filled my eyes, and an overpowering sense of gratitude engulfed me. God would not let me go.

Even when I didn’t want to follow, God still loved me and wanted me. I lay quietly, my eyes closed, and silently gave thanks for the unrelenting love that refused to let me run away.

As I continued to lie there, I heard a song, one that I was not aware of ever having heard before. A baritone sang, “O Jesus, I have promised to serve Thee to the end;/ Be Thou forever near me, my Master and my Friend./ I shall not fear the battle if Thou art by my side,/ Nor wander from the pathway if Thou wilt be my Guide.” (John E. Bode, 1868, “O Jesus, I Have Promised,” The Hymnbook, Presbyterian Church in the United States, 1965, 307.)

Then the tears flooded, and I begged for forgiveness. God wanted me so much that I could never pry loose the divine arms that hugged me tightly.

The end of the story is that both girls awakened alert, happy, and begged me, “Daddy, can we go outside and play?” I let them out into the front yard where I could see them enjoying themselves. For the next three hours—an unbelievably long time for them—they never came into the house. My headache disappeared as quickly as it had come. Shirley awakened in the middle of the afternoon and felt well enough to take over the girls’ care. I studied for three solid hours. The next day I took the test and ended up with the highest grade in the class.

Finances still troubled us, but a few church friends, unaware of our needs, gave us money. Opportunities to speak in churches opened up, and each time I left with a handshake and an envelope with a check enclosed. We also paid the fuel bill a week before it was due.

My reason for sharing this story is that this was when I began to face the God Who Pursues—and pursues and pursues. One hymn captures this idea well: “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go ...”

* * *

The best way I can explain these divine pursuits is to begin with these words: God is holy. When we refer to God by that term, many of us immediately think of purity and righteousness. Or we cringe at words like holy by relegating them to old-fashioned, legalistic faith that prevents us from enjoying life. That’s not the biblical concept.

In Scripture, holy means “totally different, separated, set apart for sacred use.” In practical terms, it means that the Holy—the One who is completely other-than-human—tears the heavens apart, taps us on the shoulder, and whispers, “This is what I want you to see about yourself.”

Church leaders used to call this process sanctification, meaning that God slowly molds us into the likeness of Jesus Christ by setting us aside, shaping us, affirming us, and even rebuking us. They used words such as holiness, but today we prefer terms like “growth” and “spiritual maturity.”

Some of us have envisioned holiness (or spiritual maturity) as continuous acts of self-cleansing. We have to keep embracing rituals, behaving in specific ways to make ourselves good enough for divine acceptance, especially by doing more, more, more. If we pray more, serve more, give more, or add more charitable service to our overly crowded lives, we might make ourselves good enough. Thus, we become holy ... in our own minds.

Instead of thinking of the Christian life as what we do, isn’t it time to emphasize once again what God does? That’s really the biblical perspective; Scripture provides hundreds of examples of the Holy breaking into human existence, chasing us, wooing us, reaching out toward us, embracing us, and changing us.

Let’s think of the divine pursuit this way: For many Christians, the awareness begins when the Holy bursts into our lives and disrupts us, and we don’t joyously welcome that disruption. Initially we resist, even though we know God wants only good for us.

Many times throughout the years, I’ve cried out to God (in my rebellious moods) and asked why I was the object of such a divine quest. I never heard a voice from heaven, but I have learned this much: I’m not unique. This “stalking” goes on in all our lives, because God has called each of us “according to his purpose.... For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son” (Romans 8:28–29 nlt).

As we become aware of this constant wooing from heaven, we also realize that we can’t compare ourselves to others, because God doesn’t speak to all of us with the same voice. The Pursuing One places a strict obedience upon us so that we can’t measure our lives or compare ourselves to other believers. At times it seems as if some of the “good” Christians—even the great leaders of the church—can do things that we’re not allowed to do.

To make it worse, we find it difficult to talk about the Relentless Spirit that pursues us. If we do speak up, we assume others will call us proud for being so “humble,” think us strange for having such off-center ideas, or raise an indifferent eyebrow to our naïveté.

For instance, long after I became a published writer, I found it hard to understand how other authors could push themselves into the public eye, unabashedly promote themselves and their books, and become famous for barely mediocre writing. “Oh, Lord, I know I’m a better writer,” I moaned. (I’m not very objective about myself, so they may actually be better writers than I am.)

When I tried to follow their example, I felt such deep mortification that I despised my actions and backed away. I decided I’d rather sit in an obscure corner than receive applause that I had generated for myself.

I’ve heard others boast of their successes, especially of the copies their books have sold or of the large advance they received for their next one. I can’t do that. I don’t despise those who do, but I remind myself that One-Who-Loves-Me-and-Will-Not-Let-Me-Go has grabbed my hand and holds it firmly. When I try to pull away or to go out on my own, the divine fingers tighten their grip. Instead of singing to the world about my ability, my song is of the amazing grace that saved (and continues to save) a wretch like me.

I’m not trying to present myself as a humble, self-effacing servant. What I am trying to make clear is that God just doesn’t let up on us until the completion of the process of sanctification, which doesn’t come in this life. The process differs in each of us; the result is the same.

God won’t let me go. Even though I haven’t always rejoiced in that fact, sometimes arguing and screaming, I’m thankful that God hasn’t stopped the divine quest for me. I also know that as long as I live, God will relentlessly pursue me to complete sanctification.

This is true for each of us, and it means that if we pause and listen, we’ll hear the divine whisper, the love call, the sweet promises, the tender voice that beckons us onward. It’s the Unyielding Savior who accepts us as we are, yet never allows us to remain as we are.

That’s the God I write about in this book—not only the Holy Chaser in my own life, but the one of so many relentless pursuits in the Bible.

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Excerpted from The God Who Pursure: Encountering a Relentless God by Cecil Murphey
Copyright Cecil Murphey ISBN 0764225863. Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.

Cecil MurpheyCecil Murphey has authored or co-authored over seventy books including 90 Minutes in Heaven and Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story. He has masters degrees in theology and education, taught school, mentored other writers, and served as a missionary in Africa. He and his family live in Atlanta, Georgia.

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