Friday, February 27, 2009

Closer

Come near to God and he will come near to you.

                        James 4.8 

Getting Close

My mom recently mentioned an innocent question I once asked that taught me a lesson I’ll never forget. I was four and my younger brother and I were playing, waiting for Mom to wrap up her afternoon prayer time. Now, my mother is what Pentecostals call a “prayer warrior.” When she goes to God, she’s not leaving before she covers everything she wants to discuss with Him. She says what she feels and feels what she says. Psalm 34.18 epitomizes her prayer life: “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” It’s not at all unusual for her to weep while seeking God’s guidance for herself and those whose burdens she carries.

A four-year-old can’t understand this, which is why I asked Mom why she cried when she prayed. She replied, “I cry because it helps me get close to God.” What does “get close to God” mean? She led me to the kitchen, picked up an ice cube with a pair of tongs, and turned on our stove’s front burner. “Watch carefully,” she said. At first, she held the ice away from the fire. Nothing happened. Then she inched it forward. The closer the ice got to the flame, the quicker it melted and the less there was until it disappeared. “Getting close to God means we get smaller and smaller so He can get bigger and bigger and help us with problems we can’t fix on our own,” she explained. “Sometimes these problems make us cry. But that’s okay, because when God hears us, He pulls us closer to help us better.”

Less for More

John the Baptist explains the same principle after his disciples grumble about Jesus attracting larger crowds. In response, John compares himself to the best man at a wedding. “The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.” (John 3.29) John’s attitude shouldn’t surprise his disciples. When he baptized Jesus, he told them, “This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.” (John 1.30) Yet it apparently rankles them to see Jesus succeed so quickly and raises concerns about where they’ll land after John’s ministry fades. But, like it or not, John is eager to give Jesus full rein to fulfill His mission. “He must become greater; I must become less,” he says. Why didn’t his followers get this? Although the Bible doesn’t say, one suspects the closest they got to Jesus was witnessing His baptism from the riverbank. John looked God in the face and felt the warmth of His actual presence. With that, any preconceptions, ambitions, or expectations he had melted away. Having less of himself to contend with availed him to more of God’s wisdom and power.

A Reciprocal Arrangement

Our relationship with God is a reciprocal arrangement. In James’s words, when we come near to God, He comes near to us. How close He comes solely depends on how close we get to Him. If we want to narrow the distance between us, it’s up to us to step forward. On the other hand, if we’re content to remain where we are, we’ll remain as we are. He’ll most assuredly honor His promise to come to our aid when we need Him, but keeping God on call at a distance severely limits benefits we gain by establishing a close relationship with Him. We gain more from Him by losing more of us and we lose more of us by getting closer to Him.

It’s a mystery that’s not so hard to understand. God will always be with us. Psalm 46.1 says He’s an ever-present help in trouble. And Hebrews 13.5 reminds us He promised “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” We can leave it at that, stay aloof, and He’ll still take good care of us. In doing so, however, we take lousy care of ourselves. We all lug around more baggage than we can carry. Our backs ache. We lose things. We’d move ahead much faster if there weren’t so much of us to deal with. When we come near to God and He reciprocates, we start dropping what we don’t need and can’t use to free up space for Him. He must become greater, so we become less.

The closer we get to God, the less needless baggage we carry. 

(Tomorrow: Lifted to Draw)

7 comments:

jake - aka the comment novelist said...

Thanks Tim.

I've really benefited from reading this blog every morning, and I can feel the truth of these words in my life right now.

Annette said...

Isn't it amazing how when we "know everything", when we puff ourselves up (get bigger) with pride, we drift further away from Him. I've always been fascinated how we/I have to be humbled by circumstances out of our control to come back to Him. The wisest of us learn to (I'm still trying)humble OURSELVES and stay near Him. Thank you for the beautiful writing and the study and prayer you put in. Again, I love the reminders.

A

Oh...and I want to meet your mom! (o:

Tim said...

Jake, you bless me with this. While putting these thoughts down, I too could feel the Word stirring my spirit, calling me closer to Him.

In an earlier draft, I started a paragraph with, "We can never get too close..." I cut it because it led me off on a tangent that would have taken four more paragraphs to come out of. Still, that sentence keeps ringing in my ears. (I'm sure it will open another post in the future.) What I love about that, though, is that we keep getting closer to God and there's always more of Him to find. It's a beautiful way to live.

Thank you, my friend, for your kind words and grace. And thank you for coming by every morning. I truly appreciate that. I pray God's goodness and light for you--and all that you desire as you come nearer to Him.

Tim

Tim said...

Annette, you're so right. We need to know as much as possible. But when we think we know everything, we're farther from God than we were when we knew nothing.

How good and amazing He is to stand back and allow things to get out of control in order to draw us back to Him. It's a lesson we have to take over and over and over again until it finally sticks. (And even then we have to take refresher courses!)

I'm so grateful for Him--and for you and Jake and every other reader here. Writing every day has, without a doubt, brought me closer to God. But knowing that you all will come by, looking for each day's post has disciplined me to do the work. Long story short, I owe you much for helping me get closer.

Oh, and you never know, you may meet Mom one day. She and my dad have become daily readers as well and each morning starts with an email from them about the new post. Today's opened with, "So you made me cry again."

Much love, joy, and happiness to you, Annette. And thank you again for your comments. They always strengthen and bless me.

Tim

jake - aka the comment novelist said...

Tim,

I don't want to hijack your blog, but I wanted to express my gratitude for what you've done for me in the short time I've been reading here.

http://inkohearantbabble.blogspot.com/2009/02/pull-up-chair.html

Please feel free to delete this comment after you follow the link.

Thanks so much,

Jake

Tim said...

Jake, as I said over at your place, I'm so grateful for your gracious comments in the post (which, BTW, I won't delete in hopes that others will also click over to it it). The story you tell there is so true to what far too many alienated believers--gay and straight--go through. It deserves to be read more than once to appreciate all the fine points threaded through it.

God go with you and surround you with love and light as He leads you. Remember, He is able to do more than we could ever ask or imagine, according to His power at work in us. Expect that every moment of every day and day by day watch it happen!

Blessings, dear friend.

Tim

jake - aka the comment novelist said...

Tim,

Your comments, both here and on my blog, have left me speechless. No small feat, I might add.

Thank you so very much.

Jake

You're more than welcome to link me, and thanks for asking.