“Draw nigh to God and He will draw nigh to you.” (James 4:8)
Dwight Munn, a member of the ministerial staff of the great First Baptist Church of West Monroe, Louisiana, pastored a church across the river from New Orleans some years back. He told me this story.
The television network was running a made-for-TV movie on the life of Noah, one covering two hours each night for several evenings. People who know their Bibles flocked to watch it, then grew disillusioned when the story took some strange turns and gave up on it. But on this particular Sunday night, Dwight and Lissa hurried home from church with their two small daughters to catch the story. On the way home, they picked up fast food and ate it in the living room while the movie ran.
Dwight said, “Lissa and I were on the couch, and 6-year-old Marissa was sitting on the floor halfway between us and the television. At one point, as Noah and God are conversing, we became aware that our little girl was sniffing. I said, ‘Honey, are you all right?'”
“Marissa turned her face around and I could see the big tears in her eyes. She said, ‘How come God never talks to me like that?'”
Dwight told the story, then said, “McKeever, how long has it been since you have shed tears because you’ve not been hearing from God?”
That must have been 8 or 9 years ago, but the question still haunts me. Why don’t I long for the nearness of God the way that child did?
Someone has said, “If God seems far away, guess who moved?”
Likewise, coming back to Him is up to us.
In salvation, God took the initiative. “For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son.” In the matter of daily nearness to God, however, the initiative is with us. We decide if we wish to be close to the Lord.
“Draw nigh to God and He will draw nigh to you.” James, half-brother of our Lord, knew what the Psalmist had said a thousand years earlier: “The Lord is nigh to all who call on Him.” (Psalm 145:18)
Now, let’s state the obvious here: there is a very real sense in which everything begins with God. All prayer is a response to what He has done. Blaise Pascal said, “I would not have searched for thee, had Thou not already found me.”
But that’s about salvation and our relationship to God. He most definitely took the initiative in that. “We love Him because He first loved us.” (I John 4:19)
But here, we’re talking not about relationship, but fellowship. My three children will always have an unchanging relationship with me, but the condition of the fellowship–our love and closeness–may vary depending on circumstances.
The nearness of my fellowship with the Father is up to me in the sense that the Lord has done everything necessary for us to be close, for His presence to be a real force in my life, and His power working in all I do. “What more can He do than for you He hath done?” a hymn asks, with the implication being, “Absolutely nothing.”
The question then becomes: Do I want to be near the Lord? Do I long to hear Him the way Marissa did? Is there a longing for Him in my soul? How much does He matter to me?
You and I get to choose. In fact, we have to choose.
“If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land,” God told Israel. Then, He added, “But if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” (Isaiah 1:18-19)
My son Neil probably doesn’t remember, but I quoted that verse to him more than once when he was a teenager and, as we say on the farm, kicking at the traces. The point was to say simply, it’s up to you. You can obey and things will go great, or you can disobey and have nothing but trouble. Your call.
Every day of our lives, Christians choose whether we will be close to God.
We choose when we get up in the morning and read our Bible and pray, or hurry out the door without a thought about the Lord.
We choose when we decide whether to turn on the car radio and fill our drive time with senseless chatter and meaningless talk or use the time for higher thoughts, for listening to the Lord, and talking with Him.
We choose whether we want to be close to God by our efforts to serve Him throughout the day, our fleeting prayers on behalf of this person or that need, and our constant reliance on His presence in everything we do.
When Jesus wept over Jerusalem–He was all too aware of the awful fate in store for God’s favorite city in a few short years–He said something that ought to haunt every believer. “How often would I have gathered you together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you would not.” (Matthew 23:37)
“I would have…but you would not.” How devastating. What a needless loss.
I heard an old preacher put it like this. “I can just see you now. You’ve arrived in Heaven and are being shown around the city. The impressive sights overwhelm you. On every hand, there are blessings untold. Then, you’re shown into a treasure room that has your name on it. Inside are every kind of special blessing and wonderful experience for your lifetime on earth. You turn to your Heavenly Guide and say, ‘There must be some mistake. These have my name on them, but I never received them when I was on earth.'”
“The angel will say, ‘That’s right. They were being held in store for you, but you were never available. These are the blessings you missed out on.”
Scripture puts it like this: “You have not because you ask not.” (James 4:2)
Want the blessings of God in your life, Christian? Then go to Him and say so. Then, make yourself available every day. If you desire the blessings of Heaven, put yourself in the place of blessing. It’s your choice.
“He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)
God is willing, friend. But He will not force His blessings upon you.
You get to choose.