Despite the thousands of miles that separate them, doting parents laugh with their children and a faithful aunt blows kisses to her niece and nephew. A tiny screen makes a way for connections to happen–a way for families to see, hear, and love from afar. But at some point, they’ll be reunited, drawing close for in-person hugs and hand-holding.
While there’s gratitude for the digital dialogues, nothing beats being with the people we love more than sharing a meal, telling stories, and snuggling under a cozy blanket on a cold night with them. It’s why we see tears flow when soldiers return from deployment or college students from school–they’re back with us. Up close. And in person.
I’ve begun to see my relationship with God in a similar way. While I’m so thankful for the ability to send Him my “popcorn prayers” throughout the day, there’s nothing like alone time with Him where I can draw near to Him–if not in body (yet), then in mind and in spirit.
James says that when we draw near to God, He’ll draw near to us (4:8), but I’m beginning to think I have only ever heard that and nodded in agreement–not really thinking about what James is saying. What does it mean, actually, to draw near to God? It’s not like we can pull up a chair next to His and start chatting. Ah, but then, perhaps that’s exactly what we’re meant to do.
Maybe we–and by ‘we’ I mean you and me–need to have this picture in our minds as we think about remaining with God: dragging our chair over so we can sit with Him, looking Him in the eye. Maybe we say something. Maybe He does. Or maybe we sit in enjoyable silence, trusting that something of significance is happening between Him and us–and within us.
For too many of us, ‘time with God’ has either come to mean going to church on a Sunday or a time of prayer in which we rattle off all our worries and wants, our fears and hopes. And these are times well spent–not to be neglected or thought less of. But. What if ‘time with God’ expands as our hearts stretch with the filling of His love? What if ‘time with God’ takes on new shapes as we mature in our faith?
What if ‘time with God’ looks more like those evenings I spent with my grandma in assisted living those last few months of her life–hours that I intentionally kept free so that I could sit with the one I loved. Hours in which words were exchanged, some that helped us navigate our relationship, others that helped me learn how to rest in her presence–not actually doing anything except being with her.
Even in the hours that I was not physically present with Grammy, she remained where she was. But the moment she spied me entering her room, her smile welcomed me, her eyes full of expectancy. She was there all along, but when I drew near, she leaned in closer.
In so many ways, God is not like my grandma, but as I contemplate why I would want to draw near to God, I can see God developing in me wisdom that I can apply: it is simply presence. That resting in the being. That giving space for Him to live and move in me. That sharing of myself in the fullest, most intimate way. That receiving whatever He might have for me. And being okay when it’s ‘nothing more’ than His love. Or peace.
But, there is another reason why we would choose to draw near to God and remain in His presence, and it’s what so many great authors and teachers call spiritual formation–a process of change that happens within us as we consistently spend time with our Father.
Ruth Chou Simons, author of Gracelaced and host of a podcast by the same title, helps me grasp that getting still before the Lord is more than relaxation. It’s much more intentional–with an end in mind. Daily disciplines–aka: habits or rhythms–done with the heart of going deeper with God, of strengthening the relationship with God, of being changed by God become formational. In other words, we do them knowing we may not have immediate results, knowing the process of growth and transformation happens a little everyday. It happens in the day-in, day-out drawing near.
The Psalmist understands this process:
“But as for me, how good it is to be near God! I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do.”Psalms 73:28 NLT
If we read all of Psalm 73, we see the psalmist doubt the practices needed to be in right standing with God (v.13), but as he wrestles with God through all his frustrations, he lands in the place of grace. He sees God as the strength of his heart (v.23), and he celebrates the victory of recognizing how good it is to draw near to God (v.28).
He takes it a step further, however, when he describes God as his shelter (v.28)–a word we recognize from last week–because he uses a form of the word machaseh that implies trust. Entering into God’s shelter, to be near God, is to put his trust in God.
Similarly, the writer of Hebrews encourages us to draw near to the throne of God with confidence (4:16). This is our invitation to pull up our chair alongside His–everyday we’re able–with the purpose of going deeper in His presence. And it’s in this space of surrender and rest that we’re able to receive mercy and grace (also Hebrews 4:16).
Trust. We can trust God to always be there when we draw near to Him. We can also trust Him with the outcomes of our times together.
Confidence. We can step into His throne room boldly because of Christ’s sacrifices–not because of anything we’ve done or said.
Desire and Duty
And as we draw near to God, it’s imperative we do so with our motives in check. We should hesitate to enter into the throne room if our hearts desire to manipulate God or to appear holy. If it’s our intent to get something from our Father or to look good to others, we need to stop and reevaluate:
Yet they act so pious!Isaiah 58:2, NLT
They come to the Temple every day
and seem delighted to learn all about me.
They act like a righteous nation
that would never abandon the laws of its God.
They ask me to take action on their behalf,
pretending they want to be near me.
The Israelites in Isaiah’s day no longer approached God with humility or honor or even honesty. At best they were going through the motions. At worst they desired to appear a holy nation–but they were far from it. God could see through their fictional faith. No longer did their prayers come from a desire to love God or know Him better, but only a means by which to get something from God.
By the time Jesus comes on the scene, the Pharisees continue to look the part but fail to truly love God or His people (Matthew 23:23, 25, 27). It’s why the writer of Hebrews exhorts believers to “draw near to God with a sincere heart” (Hebrews 10:22)–not only because God knows the state of our hearts but because He longs for us to desire Him genuinely.
Spiritual disciplines such as silence, solitude, and contemplative prayer often feel like duty, so a sense of drudgery can overwhelm us when we think of them as something we’re ‘supposed’ to do. While Jesus commanded us to love God with all our hearts and souls and minds (Matthew 22:37), truly loving God feels less like duty and more like desire. When we want to love God, we can step into our ‘duties’ from a place of devotion then watch those spiritual practices come from a desire for closeness with our Father.
In my own experience, there’s a surrendering of will that must happen as I sit still with God. I intentionally choose to set aside all my to do’s. I specifically ask the Holy Spirit to help stop my racing thoughts. I might even turn on a worship song to help me focus on who God is. Over the last few months I’ve been discovering that the more I engage in these formational disciplines, the easier it becomes to settle in with the Spirit. And, what could feel like a ‘have to’ shifts into ‘want to.’
There is so much more to be said on all of this, so I’ve decided a summer series about the ways we can do this drawing near and remaining and dwelling with God might help all of us in practical ways. So, on the chance that you’re nodding your head and “amen’ing” along with me because this is exactly what you desire but you don’t know how to do this, hang tight. In the meantime, let’s agree to cultivate within ourselves deeper desires to dwell with God.
Because as we draw near to God and He to us, we’ll feel something like a ‘divine embrace’* envelop us. Our Father’s arms wrap around us, giving us the biggest hug we’ve ever received, anchoring our souls to His. Renewing our minds to be more like Christ’s. Strengthening our hearts with the power of His Spirit.
As I’ve been learning this practice of being still before the Lord–with the motive of just being with Him, with the hope of receiving His love and peace, with the joy of feeling His presence with me–I’ve also been growing in my desire to do so more often. So, it is my prayer, friends, that as we seek God with our hearts and souls and minds, we’ll find ourselves leaning in for that divine embrace. Every day. Until eternity. And it’ll make all the difference.
- This week, peruse Psalm 73 to see what jumps out at you. The idea that God is the strength of my heart has resonated with me for over a year now. Perhaps, I should journal about it to see what God might be trying to teach me. I encourage you to do the same with whatever the Spirit points you to.
- I added the song “Draw Near” by New Heart MSC to our Dwell Playlist this week. Both song and artist are new to me, but the lyrics ring true to everything God has been showing me. So, I hope the song will meet you in your drawing near to God!
- *The term “divine embrace” comes from Lauren Daigle’s song, “Tremble” — the opening song on our Dwell playlist.
- I’d love your prayers. Rebuilding my social media platform is a slow process, and I haven’t even begun Facebook yet. I’d love prayers for God’s leading–for His goodness to guide me in all the what’s and why’s and how’s. You can find me on Instagram @shelleylinnjohnson. I’d love to meet you there if that’s where you are. XOXO
Featured Photo by Jarritos Mexican Soda on Unsplash