Closeness to God isn’t measured in proximity that increases or decreases depending on spiritual activity.
In my early years as a Jesus-follower, I operated under the notion that closeness to God was based on my actions. It wasn’t an altogether faulty notion. James 4:16 says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” I reasoned that if I engaged in daily devotions, if I read my Bible, prayed fervently, avoided sin and carbs I would then be close to God.
My unspoken illusion played out something like this: If I got close enough to God He would let me do stuff for Him and onlookers might say, “Wow, she must be super close to God.” (Smelling a stinky motive?)
A few women in my family laugh about it now, but for us being close to God involved ritual and paraphernalia. When we felt close to God there was always equipment involved: a new Bible, cool Bible cover, highlighters, bookmarks, a few devotionals and a journal written in uniform handwriting. These items sat smartly in a chic basket next to our quiet time chairs where we faithfully met Jesus each morning—and make no mistake, it had to be morning or it wasn’t quite as effective! It also didn’t hurt that visitors would notice the basket and the devotion and our closeness to God.
If our rituals lost momentum, became intermittent or even abandoned for a season, we no longer felt close to God and acted like defeated minions, hanging our heads like kids avoiding an angry parent.
I’ll never forget when a 20s something beach-tanned Jesus Freak walked into our little community church back in the 70s. He was literally barefoot, his long hair held back by strips of leather. He packed a Bible encased in a well-worn leather cover. Hand tooled on the front was the now iconic Maranatha Dove. His Bible had notes scribbled in the margins and verses underlined throughout.
I had no idea we were allowed to write in our Bibles!
I also had no idea how much my observation of Mr. Maranatha’s Bible influenced some ridiculous behaviors and notions. I emulated other indicators of what identified a person walking closely to God. Most of it was a bunch of soulish activity that only served to make me feel good about my closeness to Jesus.
You guessed it. I got a Bible and began underlining and marking. Beginning with John 3:16 I indiscriminately underlined verses and added incredibly meaningful marginal notes like Very Cool! Sooo Good! I love Jesus! (The exclamation points marked with hearts of course.) It suddenly seems important that I mention I was thirteen-years-old at the time.
Years passed and things were great when I felt close to God but when I didn’t, I sheepishly retreated, distancing myself from Him. My closeness ebbed and flowed as I rallied and retreated, rallied and retreated. The rallies were preceded by fervent prayers asking Him to draw me closer. My routines were often self-fueled. My retreats were sojourns in sheepish defeat propelled by an underlying belief that God was upset with me.
The thing is, I really wanted to be used by Him.
I wanted to serve Him and the only ones who were chosen to serve were really, really close to Him— evidenced by the things people close to God say and do. Think part nun, part wild honey and locust eater.
What I didn’t know in those early years was my desire to serve God was impacted by brokenness and motivated out of the need to remain in good stead with Him rather than by love for Him. My heart seemed to be saying See how faithful I’m being? Are you pleased with me?
The Lord has been so patient with me. He’s led me gently down a healing path which has enabled me to better understand and trust His love for me. I have since come to know that He didn’t just love me because He was obligated by some rash public declaration or because of an assignment His father gave Him.
He loves me willingly and completely.
(Even as I write this, the joy of that realization overwhelms me to tears.)
In John 14 Jesus is preparing His followers for his death and departure. In verse 10 He asks, “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?”
It was imperative that they understood this because Jesus urges again in verse 11, “Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”
He goes on to encourage and explain. Look, I have to go away or you can’t be with me and you can’t be in me and I can’t be in you.
When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.
Did you get that?
When I realized that Jesus didn’t come just to atone for sins and to reveal the Father but that His life, death and resurrection made available to me the same union that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit share…
Not only is He my dwelling place but I am His. I’d say that’s pretty close, wouldn’t you?
What is true of my marriage union applies to my union with Christ. You see, I’m no less united to my husband in marriage when we’ve had a disagreement or if we are separated by miles. The reality is:
These things don’t prove I have union with my husband, they are a result of that union.
Our union with God is a union of love and we love God because He first loved us. Love is what drives the union of the Godhead and love is what drives my union with God—His for me and mine for Him.
For reasons beyond my comprehension, God does not move away if I mess up or fail to reach the bar—whatever that is.
My friends, God is not far off. He makes His home in us!