February 14, 2007

Coming Close to God

2007 1505 page22 capOW DOES ONE DEVELOP A relationship with God? How does one move from acquaintance to personal relationship? What takes one from knowing facts about God to actually knowing Him?
Ingesting facts about God is commonplace. Actually knowing God is something vastly different. It ought to be our first priority, our main objective, our singular purpose, to get near to God. The nearer we come to God, the more graciously He will reveal Himself to us. Only in an intimate relationship with God can we hear His voice, know His will, and understand His heart.
All relationships are in essence an outgrowth of communication. We best know persons through communication. It is not different here; we know God the same way. “I will meet with thee and I will commune with thee,” says the Lord (Ex. 25:22).* Communication with God involves successive steps, all of them quite natural.
Step One: Communion
This embraces an inestimable privilege. God invites us to enter into active daily communion. We might well begin by thoughtfully meditating. We should daily reserve time quietly to think of God’s surpassing grace, mercy, love, kindness, generosity, and goodness toward His creation.
2007 1505 page22“Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing” (Ps. 145:16). “In thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16:11).
Meditation upon God will awaken in us wellsprings of gratitude. Gratitude felt is gratitude expressed. Thanking God is the ideal way to initiate active communication with Him. When we thank God, it will stimulate us to “draw nigh to God.” And in His response we find His irrevocable promise that “He will draw nigh to [us]” (James 4:8).
It is spiritual law that every step you take toward God, however faltering, God takes 10 steps joyously toward you.
Step one also involves our speaking with God in prayer. Prayer is indispensable to our spiritual communication with God. It’s surprising to me that we often talk about Jesus as being our dearest friend, and yet we spend so little time in communion with Him.
Jesus often spent entire nights in prayer. He prayed aloud. Scripture records His prayers, many of these in the Gospel of John. Yet many would think it strange, if not excessive, to hear it suggested that Christians daily spend one hour in prayer, with nothing else interrupting. Have you tried it? Have you ever tried devoting one whole hour out of each day entirely to prayer?
How is it we can speak for hours with loved ones, and not with God?
I exhort you to get alone with God in such prayer; and to pray even when you do not feel like it—perhaps even because you don’t feel like it. Nothing else will fill you with a greater sense of God’s strength and presence as will extended, uninterrupted seasons of prayer. I discovered this anew in 2002 and 2003, during my long, embattled convalescence from severe nasal pharyngeal carcinoma, which had it not been caught in time, would have proved death-dealing. I found I could pray for hours. There was little else I could do. It was a wondrous blessing, this discovery.
Talk with God, in prayer.
Step Two: Study His Word
We must learn to bathe our thoughts in Scripture and in prayer. “As [one] thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7). Thus if we are to draw near to God, we must learn to take His powerful thoughts from His Word, seeding them and letting them germinate in our lives. “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” God says (Isa. 55:8).
It’s not human nature to think and to dwell on such a lofty plain. But it’s precisely this that we must learn to do. Says Ellen G. White: “The Scriptures are the great agency in the transformation of character. . . . If studied and obeyed, the Word of God works in the heart, subduing every unholy attribute” (The Faith I Live By, p. 116). “[The Christian’s] mind must be trained to think Christ’s thoughts, and enlightened to comprehend the will and way of God,” she says in another place (Letter 276, 1907, pp. 1, 2).
We must allow God’s Word to nourish and nurture our spirit. Like a mother’s breast milk, the Word contains all of the nutrients needed for spiritual growth. “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63).
Daily Bible study, like prayer, requires more than casual commitment. Definite time for Bible study should be allotted. Early mornings are ideal.
As a bountiful privilege, yet more awaits us. Next is the devotional life.
This is far more than prayer and Bible reading. Devotional life is not an activity. It is an attitude. It is an attitude—toward God. It means taking Christ into every waking activity, thereby becoming Christ-centered.
A devout or Christ-centered person is one who no longer lives according to their own calendar, charting their own way. Instead, they live increasingly attuned to the will of God. They consider God in everything. They serve God in everything. God is the center of their joy. All the constituent parts of life daily, purposefully, are consecrated to God. “Christ has provided means whereby our whole life may be an unbroken communion with Himself; [yielding] the sense of Christ’s abiding presence . . .” (Ellen G. White, In Heavenly Places, p. 56).
The devotional life, cultivated and inculcated, involves surrender of all that we are and shall be to Christ. It alone allows for righteousness by faith imputed to be joined by righteousness by faith imparted and installed within, in the soul.
This is defined as holiness. We do not find time to be holy. We must take it, thereby joining imputed righteousness and becoming instilled and installed constituent parts of godliness and godly living.
Devotional life, properly defined, is not an activity—it is an attitude. It is a purposeful mind-set. It is giving the life to God, devoting the life to God. A devotional life is the life-source for all of the needed spiritual qualities. When the life takes on such devotion, the life reflects the stamp of God. So often we try to develop Christian conduct and character without taking time to develop Christ-centered devotion. We try to please God without taking time to walk with Him and develop a relationship with Him. This is why so many fail. Devotion is the mainspring of Christian character.
2007 1505 page22This God-centered devotion is the only motivation for Christian behavior that is pleasing to God. This is what separates the godly person from the moral person, from the benevolent person.
“When we submit ourselves to Christ, the heart is united with His heart, the will is merged in His will, the mind becomes one with His mind, the thoughts are brought into captivity to Him; we live His life. This is what it means to be clothed with the garment of His righteousness” (Ellen White, The Faith I Live By, p. 113).
A mystic connection exists between being and knowing. Paul the apostle explains the key dynamic: indwelling. “My little children, of whom I travail . . . until Christ be formed in you” (Gal. 4:19). “For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (2 Cor. 6:16).
“God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory . . .” (Col. 1:27).
Using striking metaphors, Holy Scripture often speaks of the union of man and woman in marriage as a mysterious foreshowing of a soul indwelled. Love’s ardors, its romantic course, its progress toward nuptials, “the way of a man with a maid,” is one such metaphor.
The Canticles (Song of Songs) of Solomon are another. King Solomon was a matchless observer. He knew true love’s varied particulars: A male. A female. Splendid sighting occurs. Awareness of each other is gained, sometimes fortuitously, sometimes through serendipity, once in a blue moon by sheer chance. Note is taken. A meeting, a melding glance happens. Special notice ensues. Exchange of courtesies takes place. Far more than casual interest is kindled. Shared interests are discovered. Friendship blooms. Knowledge of each other is conveyed. Special attraction awakens. Interest focuses, becomes keen. Awestruck dreams take shape. Prayers go forth. Love furiously blossoms. Familial approval is given. Courtship begins. Love deepens. Plans for a future together ensue. Finally, the special day arrives. Marriage vows are exchanged, sealing their love. Happiness is everywhere. A home is established. Children arrive.
A far different scenario is possible.Paul the apostle, by contrast, swiftly cuts to the heart of things. He curtly scants romance’s overtures. For him the marriage alone matters. His primary concern is for the “they twain shall become one flesh” partnering relationship of man and woman within marriage. To Paul, the lawful union of male and female, equally yoked, is the penultimate human experience. One thing alone tops it: spiritual union of the human soul with God.
Says Paul: “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church. For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ . . .” (Eph. 5:28-31).
Regardless of the male-female scenario, the demand is one and the same: total commitment to each other’s society. A fervent relationship. Fervent exclusivity. Indwelling occurs only in the wake of such closeness.
Is your soul actively involved in spiritual courtship of God? Do you steadily seek a personal communing with God, with a goal of achieved spiritual intimacy? Church duties do not count. “Churchiness” avails nothing. It is never evidence of a true, dynamic relationship with God.
Enoch had a devotional life such as all can aspire to. Moses says in Genesis that Enoch “walked with God” (Gen. 5:22). To walk with God is to enjoy an intimately personal relationship with Him. Hebrews 11, the Christian Hall of Fame, depicts Enoch from a slightly different perspective. He is described as one who “pleased God.”
So here then are the two clues: Enoch walked with God and he pleased God. It is evident that Enoch’s life was centered in God. A person can be moral, benevolent, and not godly. The godly person who has a superb devotional life takes on a quality and an essence of the stamp of God.
Step Three: Alignment of Our Lives With His Will
This again is where surrender comes in. Surrender as in the daily practice of giving oneself over to God. It means “putting on” Jesus Christ and His godliness as intentionally as we dress ourselves in clothes. It means the imitating and emulating of Christ’s values. We put on godliness in the thoughts that we choose to think, in the words that we say, in the actions we take, and in the deeds we do. Conduct produces character. What we do, we become.
Since conduct determines character, it is vitally important that we practice godliness every day. That is why Peter says in 2 Peter 1:5, 6 (NIV): “Make every effort to add to your faith . . . godliness.”
There is no shortcut to godliness. Concert hall and Olympic skills are day-by-day processes. If we want to be godly Christians, we must practice godliness day by day, as well. We are Christians in practice. “Not that I have obtained,” Paul says triumphantly, “but I press toward the mark of the high calling . . .” (see Phil. 3:12).
To align our lives with His plans and purposes is to validate what pleases God. “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good . . .” (Micah 6:8).
*Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references in this article are from the King James Version.

Alvin M. Kibble is a vice president of the North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Silver Spring, Maryland.