"I've called the hot lines, I've visited different churches, and I've explored several religions, but I can't seem to find God. How can someone find God?"
The quest to find God is a historical journey that has led people to churches, temples, and shrines. It has caused seekers to consult gurus, monks, mystics, and sages. God has been sought virtually everywhere but as often as not, God seems to be as elusive as quicksilver in our fingers.
So, how can we find God? Unfortunately, I don't have the definitive answer. However, scripture promises that those who seek God will find God. But how do we do that?
Though I don't have the answer, from my experience and from those to whom I've spoken, I have found some help for those seeking God. The first thing I've learned is that an experience with God is a faith matter. In past columns I've been asked to "prove" God exists, as if it were in my power to empirically show God's reality. The whole experience of God is a mystery. In fact, that's what makes the realm of the spiritual so fulfilling -- the fact that it's a matter of the heart, not the intellect. In any event, we're not going to find God if we don't have at least some faith that (1) God exists; and (2) God can be found. Jesus once said that if we had the faith of a mustard seed we could move mountains (Matthew 17.20). Often the mountains that need to be moved are the ones between us and God. But with just a tiny bit of faith, it becomes possible to find God. Hebrews 11.6 puts it this way: "Anyone who comes to God must believe that he is real and that he rewards those who truly want to find him." To find God, we must first have faith that there is a God.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when they begin their journey to find God is that they look for God in all the wrong places. I've heard from people who have gone to churches, temples, shrines, forests, mountains, and sea-sides trying to find God. These folks seem to think that just because they show up somewhere looking for God that God will be sitting there waiting for them. When I probe further, most expect an experience with God to be an external experience. But nothing could be further from the truth. As I said above, an experience with God is a faith matter, it's a matter of the heart. People who look for God outside themselves will simply never find God. Jesus addressed this issue with his disciples when he said, "This is the Spirit, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you" (John 14.17). In other words, we only find God by looking within ourselves.
Now, if finding God is a faith matter and if it's a matter of inward reflection, this means God can be found in a church, temple, shrine, in the mountains, etc., because if we are there then God is there. It simply becomes an issue of connecting with God.
One way or connecting with God is through an experience of worship. Throughout scripture it is clear God is best experienced in community -- God is experienced most often in groups. Though it is true the scriptures tell of God visiting individuals now and again, most people in the Bible experienced God in community worship experiences. God's Spirit was experienced by the Israelites in the tabernacle in Exodus. God was experienced at the temple in Jerusalem in 2nd Chronicles. In the New Testament God was experienced at a community baptismal service in Luke 3 and when the disciples together met in prayer in Acts 2. Each of these times God was experienced by many during acts of worship.
Isaiah wrote, "Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near" (55.6). Although God is perhaps most readily experienced in worship, Isaiah reminds us there is another way. Prayer. Talking to God and listening with our whole being is an effective way God can be found. But again, if we wait for loud booming voices from outside ourselves, we will be disappointed. Once when Elijah was listening for God, he expected to hear God quite loudly. But instead, after listening intently he finally heard God "in a still, small, voice" (1 Kings 19.12).
Finding God is a personal matter, since God is a personal God. I believe Jeremiah probably said it best when he wrote, "When you search for God with all your heart, you will find God!" (Jeremiah 29.13).