Sometimes you don’t feel close to God. I know because you’re a human. I’m also a human and sometimes I don’t feel close to God. It is a common human experience.
I say ugly things to my wife, I hold onto resentment, I lose my patience with my kids over the dumbest stuff. These are not the actions of a man close to God.
And when I step back I realize that when this is happening it’s been days (probably weeks) since I’ve practiced my usual disciplines. The less disciplined I am in my spiritual practice, the less disciplined I become in life.
And so it seems like those things make me better, like if I just read my bible, or pray, or meditate, or fast, or whatever it is I’ll be better. I won’t say ugly things, I’ll forgive, I’ll have more patience. These are the actions of a man close to God.
So I put it together. If I act a certain way I am close to God. If I practice my disciplines I act that way. The disciplines make me close to God.
I mean, that’s like math, so you know it’s true.
Except it isn’t true at all.
God is everywhere
Nothing could be more un-true. It is anti-gospel to say that anything you do, no matter how good it might be, can actually make you closer to God.
In one of my favorite stories from the New Testament, Paul addresses a group of Greek intellectuals and arm chair philosophers telling them that God does not dwell in temples and does not need to be served by men. He tells them
He is actually not far from each one of us, for in him we live and move and have our being.
God does not live in temples (or churches) he does not need us to offer him sacrifice (or practice our quiet time).
We do not have to get close to him, because he is not that far from each of us. He is everywhere.
In fact, you can’t NOT be close to God, according to the Psalms.
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
(Psalm 139:6-12 ESV)
If God is close to us, and we can’t get away from him, why does he feel so distant sometimes? Why do we feel like when we read/pray/meditate we are closer to him?
Walking in the dark
God is everywhere and in everything. Our whole life and being come from him. We’re just blind to it. We are, to borrow a phrase, walking in darkness.
Paige goes to bed before me and she doesn’t like being woken up in the middle of the night. Sometimes I try to find my way to the bed in the dark to avoid waking her up. I walk by the bed a dozen times a day and I still find myself groping around in the dark to avoid running into it.
The bed is still there; It hasn’t moved. It is my perception that has changed.
I eventually figured out I could turn the closet light on and see by that, and turn it off right before I got into bed. That closet light seeped into the bedroom.
The spiritual disciplines are about turning on that closet light. If we turn on the light in one part of our life it will seep into other parts. When we intentionally look for God in the morning, we’ll see him more easily in the afternoon.
“We know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”
1 John 3:2
Here’s what John didn’t say. “When we are like him he shall appear.”
John doesn’t imply that being like Jesus is a prerequisite for knowing Jesus.
It is the exact opposite. When you know Jesus, when you look at him more and more, when you see him everywhere you look, in everyone you meet, you will begin to be like him.
Practicing your quiet time, or praying, contemplation, church attendance, tithing, bible study, devotional reading, and meditation are practices in seeing Jesus. When you can see Jesus you realize that you aren’t close to him. He is close to you.
And that closeness is transformational.