What does it mean to long for God?
One reader asked, “What does it mean to long for God - what does this look like in my everyday life? Is it praying for His return? Is it the empty feeling that only feels full when I'm in the Word?”
There are a plethora of different ways that I think you could answer this question, but what comes to mind immediately are the words of Jesus when he summarized the law of God in Mark 12:29-31: Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
I think longing for God is part of this idea. The broader, deeper question is “what does it mean to love God?” To try and answer that bigger question, I want to look at what it means to love God with your heart, your soul, your mind, and your strength, though not in that order.
To begin, what does it mean to love God with all of your soul? When the Bible talks about your soul, it is talking about the eternal parts of you. The question, “How do I love God with my eternal parts?” is extremely complicated. I’m not even sure I understand the question or how to tap into my soul let alone how to convince it to do something tangible like love God! To make a complicated concept simple - this is exactly why Jesus came to die. It is impossible for you or I to love God with our ‘eternal parts’ which are, since Genesis 3, separated from God.
Jesus Christ - God in the flesh - came to earth, lived a sinless life, died a criminal’s death on the cross as your substitute, and then conquered the grave by being resurrected to eternal life after three days IN ORDER THAT, by faith, your soul could love God. Without trusting in Jesus’ sacrifice, your soul cannot love God. Trusting in Jesus, having faith in what he accomplished and who he is, is how your soul loves God. This is the foundation of loving God.
To continue, then, what does it mean to love God with your heart? I think this is the essence of longing and I do, indeed, think that the person who asked the question is on the right path. I think that the Bible teaches that to long for God is to, ultimately, be more satisfied in him than in anything else in the world. Author John Piper puts it this way, “God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.” The Apostle Paul wrote, “I also consider everything to be of loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). John the Baptist said, “He must become greater and I must become less” (John 3:30).
To love God with your heart, to long for God, means to desire God more than other things. To hunger for him more than food. To thirst for him more than drink. The great strength in the discipline of fasting (whether it is sustenance or facebook) is that it deadens our affections to the things of the world and it ignites them towards the true sustainer of all things - God.
Moving on, what does it mean to love God with your mind? This is inseparable from a great consumption of the scriptures. Our minds are to be molded around the truth found within God’s Word, the Bible. We are called to take all thoughts captive and compare them against the truth of God’s Word (2 Corinthians 10:5). The Psalmist exhorts us to memorize God’s Word that we might meditate upon it and not sin against God (Psalm 119:9). God’s Word is a light to our path, showing us where we should walk (Psalm 119:105). The Bible is useful for showing us the wrong way and the right way (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We love God with our mind by engaging with God’s truth, submitting ourselves to his leadership and his authority on all things rather than our own supposed intelligence.
Finally, what does it mean to love God with your strength? This, in my view, is loving God with your actions. The scriptures are quite clear. If you love God, you will obey him. If you don’t obey God, you have no grounds on which to claim that you love him (John 14:15-31). We love God with our strength by tangibly, practically doing what he says. If we see someone in need, we help them. If we come across someone who needs to hear the truth of God, we tell them. This is, practically, how we love God.
Pulling this all together, if we are engaging in, and walking towards, the things we discussed above, I believe that we will long for God all the more. He will become increasingly more precious to us and the things of this world will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.