"If you seek the Lord, you will find Him" seems to be a true and Biblical statement, but reading through the Proverbs has taught me to be careful to blindly claim promises backed only by conventional wisdom. There are statements, like this one, which are so commonplace that it is easy to blindly accept them, and so it is important to take special notice of scriptures which challenge conventional wisdom. Especially conventional Christian wisdom.
Proverbs 1:28 is such a "non-conforming" verse, and I have been blessed to consider how it sheds light on God's true ways: "Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but they will not find me." (Prov 1:28, NASB)
This is a very different message from the conventional promise, "If you seek the Lord, you will find Him." It's important to consider why the Holy Spirit inspired this verse to be written so that we can protect ourselves from being deceived by claiming an empty promise.
Looking at the next two verses, I see why even those who seek the Lord diligently will not find Him:
"Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord. They would not accept my counsel, they spurned all my reproof." Prov 1:29-30, NASB
What this says to me is not to be deceived: none who refuse to heed the Lord's reproof (correction, discipline, guidance) can claim the promise, "If I seek God, I will find Him." Rather, that promise can only be claimed by those who in obedience repent at the sound of His voice and His correction.
Does that offend your sense of conventional wisdom? It did mine! But just to show that this isn't merely an "outlier" verse consider:
Hosea 5:6: "They will go with their flocks and herds to seek the Lord, but they will not find Him; He has withdrawn from them." The explanation for His withdrawal given in Hosea ch 4 is strikingly similar to the explanation given in Proverbs 1, and is best summed up in verses 6&10: "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because (they) have rejected knowledge…because they stopped giving heed to the Lord."
John 7:33-34: "For a little while longer I am with you, then I go to Him who sent Me. You will seek Me, and will not find Me; and where I am, you cannot come." Just like those in Proverbs and Hosea, the audience Jesus spoke to was excluded from claiming they could seek and find Him because of their unwillingness to accept and respond to His instruction.
For me, this verse has enabled me to see a new way in which I must renew my own mind and refresh my pattern of thinking. It is so tempting to believe that anytime I want to seek the Lord, I can find Him, without any qualification. But what these verses say to me is that if there is something that God is asking of me, it is a waste of time to "seek Him" (quotes used intentionally) if I meanwhile ignore His reproof. I cannot expect to find Him while ignoring Him in some area of my life where I know He is speaking to me and trying to correct me.
This just shows how different God's ways are than ours! I have to be honest and admit that there have been many times in my life when I felt God *might* be saying something to me, but because I didn't want to deal with it, or wasn't sure it was Him, I would move on to seeking Him elsewhere, convinced "I can ignore this, but surely He'll still reveal Himself in other ways." No! How sadly I have fallen because ignoring Him in any known area completely stunts my own spiritual growth and progress.
Proverbs 1:23 gives me a much better sense for the Lord's ways, and offers a pattern for a heavenly order of how God seeks to work with me: "Turn to my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you."
The sequence of actions is straightforward enough -- first we must turn based on the Lord’s correction, then God will pour out His Spirit on us, and then He will give us knowledge. Yet what a stark contrast it is with my own fleshly preferences and expectations of how things should be. So often, I want first to be given perfect understanding where I understand exactly why I am being asked to do something, then I want God to do His part and fill me with the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit, and then finally, I'll comply by obeying. It’s all based on my REALLY understanding why first.
There is a quote made by a famous philosopher that says, “I think, therefore I am.” This statement implies that my life flows from what my mind understands, and this indeed seems to be the reality within: I want to fully understand before I will act. But this is not God’s way. A need to first fully understand leaves no room for faith, and leaves no room for a God whose thoughts are as higher from mine as the heaven is from the earth. Faith is definitely not blind and illogical, but to limit our Christian lives to only what we understand is limiting God.
God's ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:10). We must renew our minds to a healthy view of how He operates and what He expects of us if we are to experience the joy of a life filled with His nearness and comfort. A willingness to listen and to obey first -- even when I don’t understand the why behind the instruction -- is critical to being able to claim the promise of Jeremiah 29:13, "You will seek me and find me when you search for Me with all your heart." Based on my understanding of Proverbs 1, the way I prove I am searching with "all my heart" is actually through a willingness to listen and obey without understanding, and especially in the areas where God is trying to correct (reprove) me.
And what a difference this willingness to respond to His reproof makes. I can see how the passage would read for those who are eager to respond to every word of the Lord: (Adaptation of Proverbs 1:24-29)
I called and you responded,
I stretched out My hand and you watched closely;
And you cherished all My counsel
And longed for My reproof;
So I will also provide in the midst of your calamity;
I will be near when your dread comes,
When your dread comes like a storm
And your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
When distress and anguish come upon you.
Then you will call on Me, and I will answer;
You will seek Me diligently and you will find Me,
Because you proved you loved knowledge
And you chose the fear of the Lord.
May God help this love of knowledge -- proved by heeding His every reproof, regardless of understanding -- be a greater reality in my life.