Friday, August 26, 2011


In the movie, “The Lord of the Rings”, there is a creature named Gollum.  Gollum has become wretched, degenerated, a vile and hideous person who got to be that way because of his prolonged contact with evil.  Frodo, another character in the film, now has the task of destroying the evil that is destroying Gollum, but by his contact with this evil, it is now destroying him.  Frodo is good to Gollum, but Frodo’s friend, Sam, wants to see Gollum destroyed.  Sam asks Frodo why he takes pity on Gollum and wants to save this miserable creature. Frodo answers, “Because I have to believe he can come back.”  Frodo has to believe this because he sees the same corruption in himself that is in Gollum, and he needs to know that in the end he can be saved from evil’s effects.  Evil has damaged all of us to some greater or lesser extent and God is the only person who can bring us back and restore us to goodness.  God knows the way out better than anyone and He has the power to make it happen.  Whatever goodness we may have in ourselves is never enough to overcome our evils; without nearness to God, evil wins. 

I can think of two primary motivations for a person wanting to be close to God.  The first is simply to enjoy being with the One who loves you more than anyone has ever loved you.  Being loved draws a person to desire deeper intimacy with that One.  A heart that wants to be with God simply for who He is, rather than for what He can give, is expressed by the Psalmist:  “Whom have I in heaven but you?  And besides you, I desire nothing on earth.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For, behold, those who are far from you will perish…But as for me, the nearness of God is my good.” (Psalm 73:25-28)  This kind of desire for fellowship with God leads to the fulfillment of the second motivation, namely, to gain the benefits and life-saving helps that He grants through such a relationship.  Indeed, the Bible tells us to “draw near to God with confidence so that we may receive mercy and grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)  Drawing near to God gives us the power to overcome whatever we fear, even the loss of our life or existence, and it gives us power over whatever is threatening the good purposes of God for our lives.  Frodo, in the “Lord of the Rings” could not have gained victory over evil without his relationship with the Christ-figure of the movie, as well as with the other resources that issued from that relationship.  Unfortunately, many people want to put the benefits they receive from God as the primary reason for having God in their lives.  It is true that we need God for His blessings, the first blessing needed being His righteousness (Matthew 6:33), but it is wonderfully and astoundingly true that God Himself desires a close relationship with you and me. (John 17:3)  

The Bible says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)  In the beginning God walked with the first man and woman in their garden.  They were familiar with His presence. (Genesis 3:8) They were able to participate together in conversation. (Genesis 3:9)  I am reminded of a famous hymn of the church written by C. Austin Miles entitled, “In the Garden”.  The three verses begin this way:  “I come to the garden alone…He speaks and the sound of His voice is so sweet…I’d stay in the garden with Him…”  The chorus says, “And He walks with me and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own; and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”   Even though we may have become right with God through repentance and faith, only if there is a hunger in our heart to be with Him, will we have a tendency to draw near to God. (Mark 6:30-31)

That God wants us to be close is expressed by Jesus, whose name “Immanuel” means “God with us”.  (Matthew 1:23)  As victor over evil, He offers to meet with us and help us to overcome. (Revelation 2:7)  But, overcome what?  A phrase I learned from some of my recovering alcoholic friends is, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”  Are you tired of the negative trends in your life?  Are you tired of bothersome thoughts that plague your mind?  Are you tired of being on the go and feeling rushed much of the time?  Are you tired of busyness that offers little satisfaction or meaning?  Are you tired of having to be responsible for everything?  Are you tired of dealing with problems and troublesome situations that never go away?  Is it a tiredness that makes you feel like you will explode, or go crazy?  Are you at a point where you feel an urge to want to run away and escape from it all?  From where do quiet, peace, and relief come when we know that running away is not an option?  From where does strength come to responsibly handle life’s stresses so we can move on to life’s enjoyments?  Surely, our strength comes from God’s offer, “draw near to me and I will draw near to you”? (James 4:8)  Many tired and hurting people have yet to understand and experience the gracious invitations of Jesus, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)  And another: “I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door; I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20)  The ever-living and life-giving Jesus gives us the opportunity to sit down with him and feed on that which nourishes and strengthens us.  What we talk about together, and what we receive from Him, is what enables us to overcome the conditions that are threatening our undoing.  Christ-followers will never be free from the suffering and pain of this world because this world in not home to us, but we can find a place of peacefulness and comfort that gives us what we need to endure and overcome.  That place is time spent drawing near to God.  Is not this what Jesus invites us to do?  Can you feel a desire for Him?

It takes time to meet together with someone.  We need to decide on a time and place and meet as often as we can.  In Richard Boyd Munger’s booklet, “My Heart - Christ’s Home”, he portrays our relationship with Christ as one in which we have invited Him into our home and He now lives within us and has free reign to visit all the rooms.  Mr. Munger writes that one day he was hurrying past the living room and noticed Jesus sitting by the fireplace.  Suddenly the thought occurred to him, “He is my guest.  I invited him into my heart!  He has come as my savior and friend to live with me.  Yet, here I am neglecting him.  I stopped, turned, and with downcast glance I said, ‘Master, I’m sorry.  Have you been here every day?’  ‘Yes’, he said, ‘I told you I would be here to meet with you.  The trouble is that you have been thinking of our meeting as a time for yourself - for personal Bible study, prayer and spiritual growth.  This is true, but you have forgotten that this time also means something to me.  Remember, I love you…Whether or not you want to be with me, I want to be with you.’” Jesus wants our fellowship; he wants to be with us. (1 John 1:1-4)  What are the ways that we can draw near to God?   There are many, and each of us must discover the ways that work best for us and enrich us the most. 

One good way of drawing near to God is through meditation in the Spirit.  Even though meditation was a common practice of people we read about in the Bible, it is often misunderstood by many modern-day followers of Christ.  Some are quick to identify meditation with Eastern mystical religions or with new age cults; therefore, it is to be avoided.  Such cautions are well-advised and need to be seriously considered, but we also need to understand the differences between those forms of meditation and the form of meditation that Scripture promotes.  Scriptural meditation is entering a quiet place where we can focus on God’s revealed words and hear Him speaking to the deepest parts of our heart. (Hebrews 4:12-13)  Meditation involves reflection, thinking, analyzing, imagining, digesting, pondering, and reviewing words or concepts of God’s word over and over in our minds and hearts. (Psalm 119:15, 23, 48, 97, 148)  Some liken meditation to a cow chewing her cud – bringing up previously digest food and chewing on it some more to get every bit of nourishment possible.  Others liken meditation to mining– digging deeper to find those valuable gems that cannot be discovered on the surface.  A helpful way to meditate is to ask God questions about His words you are contemplating.  For example, What does this word mean?  Why are you saying this in this context?  What do you want me to do about this in my life?  Listen for answers from His Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:12)  It helps me to stay focused in meditation if I write God’s words in a notebook, write the questions that come to me about those words, and then write any answers God’s Spirit may give.  Apart from journaling, others may use their God-given imaginations to visualize Biblical stories and teachings, and they are best able to meditate using that method.  Once again, each needs to find what works best.  Meditation is not just for the purpose of seeing things, but it leads us to various responses to God – maybe a praise or thanks, an emotional sensing of God’s love, sharing what God showed me with others, a prayer for help, or a resolve to obey something God has pointed out to me.  Sometimes our emotions may be touched in such a way that a rare moment with God, or a healing, takes place.  Following are some of the verses in the Bible about experiences and benefits received by persons practicing meditation.  For example, Joshua meditates day and night on God’s word, so as to do what it says, with the promise of a prosperous life. (Joshua 1:8)  Meditation yields a life of Godly fruitfulness. (Psalm 1:2-3)  Meditation is a practice that pleases God. (Psalm 19:14; 104:34)  We receive wisdom and understanding and insight from meditation. (Psalm 49:3; 119:99)  A New Testament command suggesting meditation is to “let the word of Christ richly dwell within you.” (Colossians 3:16)  Another is to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2)
One hindrance to drawing near to God is an inability to enter quietness.  We must be able to rid ourselves of all the noises around us, both within and without, because they drown out God’s life-giving voice.  Elijah’s experience during his time of depression is interesting in this regard. (1 Kings 19:9-18)  Elijah did not hear God in the strong destructive wind, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire.  He heard the voice of God in a soft, mild, gentle and rustling tone.  I have seen lakes in the quiet of the evening when they were as smooth as glass.  The image of the moon shining on the lake is clear and undisturbed.  But if the lake is disturbed by ripples, the clear image of the light is interrupted.  I read somewhere that, “God’s thoughts cannot get through to a restless soul.” 

Another way to draw near to God is through prayer.  Although meditation is a form of prayer, I have a particular, very short kind of prayer in mind that is especially rewarding.  It consists of only a few words that can put us in touch with God in an instant, at any time, any place, and under any circumstances.  The words come from a personal need and from the Scriptures and they bring us into an immediate awareness of God for experiencing immediate help.  For example, a person often troubled by inner fears and unwanted anxieties might think this thought at the very moment the fear strikes, “Do not fear, I am with you.” (Isaiah 41:10)  Or, someone who senses a temptation and does not want to yield to it may in that instant pray, “Deliver me from evil.” (Matthew 6:13)  Whenever I become aware of an unusual and health-threatening bodily condition, rather than let panic overwhelm me, I have learned to be calmed and refocused by, “The Lord is my healer.” (Exodus 15:26)  Or, suppose you have difficulty loving someone when you come into contact with them; pray, “Lord, help me love as you loved me.” (1 John 4:19)  Find your own words from Scripture that apply to any problem you struggle with.  You may discover that you have to repeat your prayer a number of times in a given situation before God’s Spirit calms you or enables you to act as He wants.  This is not the vain repetition Jesus warned against (Matthew 6:7), but prayers that produce a closeness to God, a growing confidence and trust in Him, and help from His Spirit that enables you to experience inner life change, outward obedience, and victory over evil.  It is a way to instantly draw near to God in the time of your need, and there find grace to help.  The more often you use your prayer, and think about the words, and thank God for what it means, the nearer to God you will be and feel.

Besides meditation and prayer, there are other ways we can draw near to God.  We can master the way of Brother Lawrence by practicing the conscious presence of God in whatever we happen to be doing throughout our day.  We can also be drawn to God through nature.  Job came to a great self-revelation and knowledge of God through nature’s clues. (Job 38-41; 42:1-6)  Perhaps a reason some prefer to meet God out in nature is because there is less distracting noise to blot out His voice, and His grandeur is visible before us.

Here is another hindrance that prevents us from being able to experience God’s nearness.  There was a period of five years in my life when every time I tried to get near to God, I could not.  During that time my spirit was not allowed to intimately connect with God’s Spirit because every time I approached Him, He would remind me of a matter from my past that He wanted me to correct.  Although I still had a relationship with Him, I felt Him shutting me out of a close one, until I took care of the matter.  I eventually came to the point of writing a letter to confess my wrong and ask forgiveness.  As soon as the letter was in the mail, I felt a tremendous weight lifted, and God, being pleased, once again allowed me into His intimate presence.  Our relationship had been strained and I never want to lose that closeness again.  I always looked at that event as His test to see whether or not I would obey what He wanted me to do.  It took a long time to pass the test, but thankfully, by God’s patient and loving endurance, I eventually realized my relationship with God was more important to me than anything that stood in the way.  I am reminded of an Old Testament story about the prophet Azariah who brought to the Judean King, Asa, a message from God.  The message said, “The Lord is with you when you are with Him.  And if you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you.” (2 Chronicles 15:2)  I also can relate to the New Testament words of Jesus, “If you are presenting your offering at the altar, (in my case presenting myself to God), and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” (Matthew 5:23-24)  In James 4:7-10, we learn what is needed to draw near to God.  We must be in humble submission to God, recognize our need for Him, and mourn over any double-mindedness that prevents a pure heart toward God; a purity of heart that is needed to resist the devil’s temptations and be affirmed by God. 

To know someone and to be known by someone is one of our inherent and deepest needs and desires.  That is why we seek real friends.  That is why we marry.  The Bible states, “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)  We know from experience that when we are with someone a lot, something of their thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors rubs off on us so that we are changed.  When we are with God, His nature and words begin to rub off on us and we are changed, ever so slowly, from one degree of improvement to another. (2 Corinthians 3:18)  Jesus clearly implied that there are some things in this world worth having that far outweigh anything else. (Matthew 13:44-46)  Nearness to God and what we receive from it is one of those treasures.  It seems more often true than not, that we give time and energy to every facet of our lives, except the one thing most important, fellowship with the One who gives life and meaning to our existence.

Is God the center of our being to the extent that, if all else around us is shaken, we would remain unshaken? (Hebrews 12:26-28; Habakkuk 3:17-19)  Is He enough?  That is how we need to know Him.  Of course, God’s plan is not for us to have nothing but Him, like some religions imply when they intimate that our life’s goal is to become like a drop of water that loses its individuality in a vast ocean.  This is not God’s intent for His creation. (2 Peter 3:13) He created us to exist in an environment of other created objects, and therefore, our completeness is wrapped up in a satisfying relationship, not only with God, but with all of nature, including other people.  If however, our relationship with God is missing, or eschewed, we will learn that nothing else, not money, not fame, not power, not human relationships, not work; nothing else will bring us fulfillment.  

How can we grow closer to God?  He promised to never leave or forsake us and to be with us always. (Hebrews 13:5; Matthew 28:20)  We have opportunity, if we are willing it to be so, to meet with God at a designated place in our home, or wherever we choose, as often as we can get away.  And, I can also meet with Him in the depths of my heart, at any time, day or night.  These become our special places.  Whenever I go there I sense God’s presence and it becomes a place where I long to be.  Sometimes, it feels like we can hardly wait to get there.

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