There are few moments I love more than coming home after work and having my son rush at me, leap into the air and give me a giant hug. Or when my middle daughter surprises me with kisses on the cheek. Or when my oldest looks at me quizzically and says, “Grown-ups… are strange.” (More correctly, her dad is.) Or when Emily and I sit on the couch, doing our own thing or chatting, and she touches me with her feet just so there’s a physical connection.
I love those moments, but they’re not the ones that stick out as defining in a lot of ways. I keep running back to the darker moments. The times when we’ve experienced loss or extreme challenge. The moments when I’ve felt so overwhelmed I didn’t know what to do. The reason I think about these moments is not because I’m entirely morbid or fashionably sad, but because it’s those moments that continually remind me of the One to whom I can turn in times of trouble—and that I not only have the ability, but I need to turn to him.
That word “need” is important—by that, I mean something other than the gut reaction of turning to God. After all, all who trust in Christ are made his children—and as we develop our relationship with the Father through the Son, we come to instinctively know that we can turn to him in times of difficulty.1 But this is not unique to us, as Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote in Seeking the Face of God. In desperation, he reminded us, even the godless and irreligious tend to offer a prayer or good vibes or positive thoughts to whatever gods may be. But, he said, “they do not know what they are doing; they are at their wits’ end, just hoping against hope and crying out, not knowing what else they can do.”2
But as Christians, we don’t turn to him merely instinctively, and we certainly (should) never come to him as though he were some vague, disengaged deity. If we know God, if we are in Christ, that means we really do know God. We know what he is like. We know his character. We know his goodness and his love for us because of what he has done for us in Christ, redeeming us through his death and adopting us as his sons and daughters.
And so we move from instinct to need because, as Lloyd-Jones said of David, we know he is going to listen. Commenting on Psalm 63:1, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you,” he wrote,
…this is not expressive of a vague desire. No; it is about the profoundest feeling of which one is ever capable. This man does not approach God in the sense that he decides as a last resort to turn to God—“let’s try prayer”—having done everything else that he can. Nor does he have to persuade himself to do so. He does not have to take himself to task, as it were, and work up to it and arrive at a decision. He does so not only instinctively as we have seen, but he does so with the whole longing of his being.
That is the heart of it—a child of God instinctively turns to God in times of trial, yes. But he or she does so much more than that: the Christian longs for the Father’s presence and aid, because we know he is a good Father, one who loves us beyond our imagining. No matter what, he is good. No matter what, he loves me. No matter what, he knows what is best for me. And because of that, my desire to run to him grows.