Close to Thee

Does God seem far away? We teach the truths of Divine omnipresence and immanence. God is everywhere present in the universe. This is not to teach that nature is god and god is nature. He must always be other than His creation and independent of it.

Adam tried in vain to hide from God. Jonah tried in vain to run from the presence of God. In Psalm 139, David acknowledges the all-seeing, all-knowing and everywhere-present God. He sees us when we rise up and sit down. He knows everyone of our thoughts. There is nowhere in the universe that you might go to escape from His presence. This is the universal presence of God. 

Do you remember when Jacob was running scared half to death from his brother, Esau? Exhausted he crashed out underneath the stars using a rock for a pillow. That night, he had his “Jacob’s ladder’s dream” where God revealed Himself to Jacob. Jacob awoke with these words: “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not.” This is the manifest presence of God.

When we pray, “Lord, meet with us in our service tonight,” we are not asking for God to move from one location to another. When we sing, “Holy Spirit, Thou art welcome in this place,” we are not suggesting that God was previously absent from our little congregation.

The longing of our hearts for God to come close is a matter of relationship. When we sing Just a closer walk with Thee we are thinking in relational terms not spatial terms.

My sister and I got closer as I grew up. She had a room in the basement and then moved across the hall. No, not really. I mean, our relationship developed. I stopped pulling her hair. I didn’t get upset because she wanted to read when I wanted her to play basketball with me. We started spending time together–playing duets on the piano, going to town together and even talking. Now we live farther apart than ever, but in many ways we are closer than ever. It’s a matter of relationship.

Perhaps you are one of many who feels far from God and likely needs to do some serious repair work on your relationship with God. You’ve wandered far from God following your own selfish desires. Like the prodigal son, you are in a country far from the Father’s House either in a party town where you are “wasting your substance in riotous living” or stuck in the muck at the hog farm where you are so desperately hungry you want to eat the pig slop. You know it’s time to come home to the Father’s house.

I should think enjoying the presence of God is also a matter of spiritual awareness and response. Consider several great heroes of the faith or saints you have known that seemed especially near to God. No matter what differences of nationality and background, gifts and talents, strengths and weaknesses, A. W. Tozer would say that each must have possessed one common vital characteristic–spiritual receptivity. He would write, “They differed from the average person in that when they felt the inward longing, they did something about it. They acquired the life-long habit of spiritual response.”

This tender observation from Kenny Stetler (@Kenny_Stetler) seems to tie both thoughts about relationship and spiritual response together: “I love hearing an older saint pray. It carries all the beauty of a long, well-tended relationship.”

I love what Psalm 27:8 has to say about this: When Thou saidst, “Seek my face;” my heart said unto Thee, “Thy face, Lord, will I seek.” The gift of God’s presence may be cultivated or it may be destroyed by neglect. When God places a longing for Him in your heart–act on it, cultivate it. Respond to Him. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”

As a pastor/missionary serving a Native American community, I often think of the Great Commission. And often, I feel overwhelmed at the responsibilities placed on my shoulders. I love the assurance of Jesus’ words, “Lo, I am with you alway (everyday!) even to the end of the world.” Sometimes still, God feels distant, and I realize I need to stir myself to seek God’s face and draw near to Him. The presence of God, known and felt, means more than anything else in the world.

Lord, I want to stay close to Thee. 

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