Isaiah asked, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” (Is. 55:2) His question is still lively today. How many of us spend time chasing ambitions that neither nourish nor satisfy? If, at the end of the day, we ask “So what?” Or, “Why am I doing this?” no clear answer emerges.
Isaiah went on, four verses later, to offer a sound ambition: “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.” God-seeking is an ambition that nourishes and satisfies.
This sort of ultimate-meaning calling reoccurs throughout the Bible. Jeremiah also asked on God’s behalf why his people preferred to carve out “broken cisterns that can hold no water” instead of coming to God as “the fountain of living waters” (Jeremiah 2:13). And Christ’s great call in his Sermon on the Mount was for us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).
Yet, to many readers, verses like these are pious aspirations that don’t have traction in real life.
At least a couple of obstacles stand in the way.
One is a tendency to say, “Who, me?” This can be part of our skepticism about personal worth, especially if we measure ourselves by iconic media figures whose lives are antithetical to the ethos of the Bible. The Scriptures assure us, by contrast, that we are God’s special creation, made for the good works he prepared us to enjoy. But our icons treat God as a foreign and unnecessary memory. And with this our culture loses its orientation to real purpose and value.
Another more immediate obstacle is our fear of the unfamiliar. We live in a tangible world. We touch, taste, smell, talk, and move in the course of “knowing” people and things. But God is intangible. If we pray to him we don’t hear any words in return. We don’t have any smiles, frowns, touches, or eye contact with him. So a call to seek him seems a little silly: it’s like our childhood game of hide-and-seek but with a partner who remains silent and invisible.
So what does it mean to have God as our ultimate ambition?
For one we start to acknowledge spiritual realities: our God is a Spirit. And that he made us to live by his Spirit in us. Jesus spoke of this as being born of both “flesh” and “spirit” in John 3. We were all once living in the flesh without the true Life of God in us; but now in Christ we have a Spirit-to-spirit communion with God.
The Bible, in light of this truth, regularly calls us to live as spirit-defined beings, both positively and negatively.
John warned his readers, for instance, about teachers who weren’t to be trusted: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). He was speaking of prophets whose spirits were ruled by ungodly spirits. In the context John’s contrast is made with his readers as those with God’s Spirit: “And by this we know that [Christ] abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us” (verse 3:24).
This Spirit-to-spirit portrayal of God’s participation in believers is paralleled in Paul’s writing about spirits. In Ephesians 2:1-2, Paul wrote, all humanity is or once was ruled by God’s great opponent: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” Paul’s premise that this spirit is “now at work” in unbelievers is unpalatable in a post-supernatural world, but for those of us who know Jesus it explains much of what we see in the world today.
Paul also wrote about this in 1 Corinthians 6:16-17—“Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.” This union makes Paul’s widespread language of our participation “in Christ” and of Christ’s presence “in us” even more explicit: the Holy Spirit brings a marriage-like union to believers.
So let’s return to the question of ambitions. What priorities define the church today? Paul, in 1 Corinthians 2, helps us answer this question by contrasting a “natural person” to a Spirit-to-spirit person who “judges all things” through having “the mind of Christ.” His point? Certainly this: a person who is engaged with Christ’s Spirit will have Christ’s priorities.
And that raises a question about how Jesus navigates life in our present age. We, who have this Spirit-to-spirit benefit, will have a more effective life by regularly asking, “Okay, Lord, what about this choice? Is this part of your ambition—your love—for me?”
Looking to him like this, in each moment, opens up the spiritual nourishment and real satisfaction we’re made for. He longs for us to embrace his values and fellowship.
So quit hesitating and go for it!
Thanks for setting me on this path so many years ago, 1976, when I first believed.
Thank you, Nicholas, for living with a focus that brings this theme to life. Your latest update reminded me of how both of you are still maintaining a stable course, even in an ever-changing world. You’ve encouraged me! And I’m still praying for you each morning.