Nearer

Sometimes I think we get things a little bit backwards in our walks with God. I was thinking about this last evening when a song came on the radio that asked God to “draw me near.” There’s one in our hymn book too– “Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer blessed Lord . . .”

This is a lovely thought. And of course it should be the desire of our hearts to draw nearer to God. I used to pray this all the time– draw me near to You, Lord God. And then one day I stumbled upon James 4:8.

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

Here is what that verse says. We have to draw near to God, and then He will draw near to us. Crazy, huh? But think about that for a minute. When I pray and ask God to draw me nearer, without doing the work of moving nearer to Him, I am trying to bypass His commandment. When I pray for Him to draw me nearer, I shouldn’t be surprised when He does so by bringing circumstances that drive me to my knees. Because THIS is God’s chosen way of drawing near to me– I am to start moving near to Him.

I’m not talking to unbelievers here. God’s Word is very clear that if God did not initiate the work of reconciling us to Himself, we would NEVER be able to come near to Him.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

This is why Christ came– to die for us, pay the penalty of our sin, and make clear the way to God. And He is the One who draws unbelievers to Himself, for if He didn’t, we are all so lost and foolish and blind and stubborn that we would never come on our own.

 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.

However. The verse in James– draw near to God, and He will draw near to you— is written to believers. And so is this one, from Hebrews 10.

Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.

Christ has opened the door, done all the work, made the way clear, and invited us in. And once we know Christ as Savior, we are daily invited nearer and nearer to the God of the universe and His throne of grace– invited to come boldly and without fear, like a child running up to his daddy. And the promise is that when we run up to our Father on that throne, He stoops down and scoops us up. He draws near.

I think that a lot of the time when I’m praying draw me nearer, what I’m really asking for is some kind of emotional confirmation. I’m asking for a sign or a feeling of special peace or bluebirds to fly out of the sky and sprinkle heart-shaped confetti on my head. But that’s not what faith is.

Faith says, “God, You have said that if I draw near to You, You will draw near to me. And so I am choosing to draw near to You today. I am choosing to open Your Book and obey what it says. I am choosing to spend time with You. I am choosing to love You and to love others, and I believe that you are near right now, even though I can’t feel it and the bluebirds are far away and in fact this feels much more like a desert in the dead of night than the glorious presence of God.”

Faith lives like God is near– knowing He is because He has said He is– even when there is no emotional confirmation, even when there are no signs, even when everything seems to point in the opposite direction. Faith presses on, eyes on Jesus.

And when I draw near in full assurance of faith, believing that I am near to God because He says He is drawing near to me, I discover that He is true to His promises. I discover that there is enough strength for every day. I discover that He does renew my strength, that He does satisfy me with good, that He does bring forth a harvest in His own perfect timing. I discover that in all this drawing near, my roots have gone deep and I am able to flourish when the hot sun beats down or the wind blows hard or the night lasts on and on and on.

God is who He says He is. But I never truly learn that until I step into nothing and discover Him there.

Oh Friend, I hope you know that these things are truths that God is just beginning to teach me, that I fail far more often than I succeed in my walk of faith. I hope you know that all the things I share here are things I am learning, that if it weren’t for the grace of God I would be so far away from this place right now. I am, in the words of my old college president, a beggar showing another beggar where to find bread.

And if you are reading this and do not know Christ as your Savior, if you are trying to draw near to God on your own steam or are running from Him entirely, please know that Jesus died to give you the privilege to draw near to God. That way was completely blocked to all humanity because of the offensiveness of our sin to the pure holiness of God. Only Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, completely holy and undeserving of death, was able to pay the penalty for the sins of mankind– for my sin and yours. And He invites you to come. This is a gift, freely given by a God who loves you. Trusting Jesus, accepting His gift opens the way to eternal life in the presence of God, and daily abundant life in that same presence. You are invited. Will you accept this invitation, this free gift?

We have all been invited to draw closer to God today. Let us draw near in full assurance of faith to this glorious God of the universe who loves us unconditionally and welcomes us with open arms.

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