O Lord, why do you stand far off? Why do you hide in times of trouble?

(Psalm 10:1)

 

We’ve all wrestled with it: the feeling that God is far off, that the heavens are made of brass, that the room, the church, and the world itself are destitute of his comforting presence.

Here are two thoughts, anchored in the New Testament, that have helped me cope with it.

First, in Old Testament times, God really was far off. I do not mean to deny that his Spirit was omnipresent, or that he took a constant and active interest in his covenant children, or that he occasionally graced his saints with mighty demonstrations of his Spirit’s presence, power and gifts. But I certainly do mean to deny that God’s Old Covenant people were privileged to live as we do under the New Covenant: In constant spiritual union with the Holy Trinity.

That brings me to my second point: In NT times, not only is God not far off, he is so near that he couldn’t possibly be any nearer! The NT bends over backwards to make this point, using rich, diverse, and highly comforting words and images, so the saints will never forget it.

For example, when Gabriel came to Joseph, he said of the coming One, “And they shall call his name Immanuel, which means ‘God with us’”. Sounds pretty near, does it not?

When our Lord promised his disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit, he said, “I will petition the Father, and he will give you another Helper, so that he may be with you forever.” How is it that we so often ask God to come to us, when Jesus tells us here that he already has, and that he plans to stay forever!

In this same discourse, the Lord went on to reveal a stupendous implication of the gift of the Spirit: Henceforth there will be a “mutual indwelling” of God and his people, a mutual indwelling much like that of the Persons of the Holy Trinity itself. He said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you . . . On that day you will realize I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you . . . Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (John 14)

And in his high priestly prayer the Lord again speaks of this same thing: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity . . . I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known, in order that the love you have for me may be in them, and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17)

Now, can we honestly think of God as far off when Christ says that he is in us, and we in him, with the result that we are now at home forever in the Holy Trinity?

But there is more.

Paul, for example, tells us that because the saints are now sealed with the Holy Spirit, they are also seated with Christ in the heavenly places. It’s pretty hard to think of God as far off when you’re sitting with him in heaven! (Ephesians 1, 2)

Finally, and in some ways best of all, we have the NT letter to the Hebrew Christians. There we learn that while our OT brothers and sisters had no access to the Holiest Place of the tabernacle, we do, since Christ, our High Priest, has entered it once and for all in our behalf. Here is a miscellany of texts, revolving around this crucial point:

The Holy Spirit was showing by this (i.e., by limited access to God’s presence in OT times) that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed so long as the first tabernacle was still standing. But when Christ appeared as the high priest of the good things that now have come, he entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, a tabernacle not made with human hands (that is, not belonging to this creation). He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; rather, by means of his own blood he entered the Most Holy Place once for all, thus obtaining eternal redemption . . . We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, our forerunner, has entered on our behalf, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek . . . Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven—Jesus, the Son of God—let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, and yet did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4, 6, 9)

Do you see the thrust of these rich texts? It is really quite astounding: On the basis of his righteous life and atoning death, Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, has entered the (heavenly) presence of God once and for all—and he has brought us in with him once and for all!

So then, how do we handle “that far off feeling” when it comes? Here’s my best thought: We handle it by meeting it with a strong, determined NT faith. Unlike our OT predecessors, we refuse to allow ourselves to think of God—or to speak to God—as though he were far off. No, clinging to NT truth, and averting our eyes from every contrary feeling (or lack of feeling), we boldly say, “Lord, you are here. You are nearer than hands and feet. Like all your kids, I live and move have my being in you. I am in you, and you are in me. Together, even now, we are seated in heavenly places. My new and eternal home is right here with you, in the Holy Trinity, in the Holiest Place of All!”

Will such affirmations shake off all your spiritual doldrums? Will they ignite a mighty stirring of the Spirit in your emotions? Will your days of spiritual longing and struggle be over forever?

How I wish I could answer yes to all of the above! But from my own experience I can honestly say this: The Spirit of Truth likes it very much when God’s kids persistently affirm the truth that their triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is not a God far off, but a God who is near. And I can further say that those who boldly do so will surely grow in the assurance and joy that he really is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bible says God is a God of deliverances. Many times this wonderful article by A. W. Tozer has delivered me from unwitting entanglement in fear, guilt, compulsion, and more. Positively, it faithfully calls me back to the one true place of rest: the presence of our loving Heavenly Father.

May it be a blessing to you.

God Is Easy To Live With

By A. W. Tozer

Satan’s first attack upon the human race was his sly effort to destroy Eve’s confidence in the kindness of God. Unfortunately for her and for us, he succeeded all too well. From that day on, men have had a false conception of God, and it is exactly this that has cut out from under them the ground of righteousness, and driven them to reckless and destructive living.

Nothing twists and deforms the soul more than a low or unworthy conception of God. Certain sects, such as the Pharisees, while they held that God was stern and austere, managed to maintain a fairly high level of external morality; but their righteousness was only outward. Inwardly they were “white sepulchres,” as our Lord Himself told them. Their wrong conception of God resulted in a wrong idea of worship. To a Pharisee, the service of God was a bondage that he did not love but from which he could not escape without a loss too great to bear. The God of the Pharisee was not an easy God to live with, so his religion became grim and hard and loveless. It had to be so, for our notion of God must always determine the quality of our religion.

Much Christianity since the days of Christ’s flesh has also been grim and severe. And the cause has been the same – an unworthy or an inadequate view of God. Instinctively we try to be like our God, and if He is conceived to be stern and exacting, so will we ourselves be.

From a failure to properly understand God comes a world of unhappiness among good Christians even today. The Christian life is thought to be a glum, unrelieved cross-carrying under the eye of a stern Father who expects much and excuses nothing. He is austere, peevish, highly temperamental, and extremely hard to please. The kind of life which springs out of such libelous notions must of necessity be but a parody on the true life in Christ.

It is most important to our spiritual welfare that we hold in our minds always a right conception of God. If we think of Him as cold and exacting, we shall find it impossible to love Him, and our lives will be ridden with servile fear. If, again, we hold Him to be kind and understanding our whole inner life will mirror that idea.

He Is All Love

The truth is that God is the most winsome of all beings, and His service is one of unspeakable pleasure. He is all love, and those who trust Him need never know anything but that love. He is just, indeed, and He will not condone sin; but through the blood of the everlasting covenant He is able to act toward us exactly as if we had never sinned. Toward the trusting sons of men His mercy will always triumph over justice.

Fellowship with God is delightful beyond all telling. He communes with His redeemed ones in an easy, uninhibited fellowship that is restful and healing to the soul. He is not sensitive or selfish or temperamental. What He is today we shall find Him tomorrow and the next day and the next year. He is not hard to please, though He may be hard to satisfy. He expects of us only what He has Himself first supplied. He is quick to mark every simple effort to please Him, and just as quick to overlook imperfections when He knows we meant to do His will. He loves us for ourselves and values our love more than galaxies of newly created worlds.

Unfortunately, many Christians cannot get free from their perverted notions of God, and these notions poison their hearts and destroy their inward freedom. These friends serve God grimly, as the elder brother did, doing what is right without enthusiasm and without joy, and seem altogether unable to understand the buoyant, spirited celebration when the prodigal comes home. Their idea of God rules out the possibility of His being happy in His people, and they attribute the singing and shouting to sheer fanaticism. Unhappy souls, these, doomed to go heavily on their melancholy way, grimly determined to do right if the heavens fall, and to be in the winning side in the day of judgment.

He Remembers Our Frame

How good it would be if we could learn that God is easy to live with. He remembers our frame and knows that we are dust. He may sometimes chasten us, it is true, but even this He does with a smile: the proud, tender smile of a Father who is bursting with pleasure over an imperfect but promising son or daughter who is coming every day to look more and more like the One whose child he is.

Some of us are religiously jumpy and self-conscious because we know that God sees our every thought and is acquainted with all our ways. We need not be. God is the sum of all patience and the essence of kindly good will. We please Him most, not by frantically trying to make ourselves good, but by throwing ourselves into His arms with all our imperfections, and believing that He understands everything and loves us still.

A. W. Tozer was a man known for his personal intimacy with God and for inspiring in others that same intimacy. He authored over a dozen books, and is probably best known for The Pursuit Of God and Knowledge Of The Holy. Born in Pennsylvania in 1897, he became a pastor at the age of 22. Tozer pastored a Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in Chicago for 31 years, and later served a congregation in Toronto, Canada, where he died in 1963.

 

 

Then Elkanah her husband said to her,

“Hannah, why do you weep, why aren’t you eating, and why is your heart sad?

Am I not better to you than ten sons?”

1 Samuel 1:8

 

Hannah really, really wanted babies. She was a woman, she lived in a culture that exalted motherhood, and she had an adversary who tormented her with gloating and scorn, for her adversary had many babies, whereas Hannah had none.

Elkanah, Hannah’s loving husband, sought to comfort her with the words found in the text above. But, like Rachel of old, she refused to be comforted.

Perhaps she should have been. For as close as motherhood is to the heart woman, closer still is wife-hood. For a woman, no relationship, apart from the one with God, should take higher priority. And as a rule, no relationship does. This is how things are, and this how they ought to be.

In all this, I hear a message to the Church. All Christians, and Christian leaders in particular, would love to see babies born into the Kingdom. The Church is the Mother of the Living, so she always yearns to see her children coming into the world.

But in the providence of God, she does not always see what she longs for. There are obstacles, delays, missteps. And sometimes there are impure motives as well. Sometimes we see souls and megachurches as little planets, orbiting around our own egos and ambitions. In such cases, purification and patience will be required as the the Spirit of Holiness works his way in the circumstances of life.

At such times we must ever keep before us the good words of Elkanah— but we must hear our Heavenly Husband speaking them:

“Am I not better than ten sons? Am I not better than hundreds of decisions? Am I not better than a dozen satellite campuses? If not, there is a problem. If not, we must work together on our marriage. For when I am better than ten sons in your sight, then our love will bear much fruit, and so you will prove to be my disciples.”

 

“I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.”

(John 14:6)

In the upper room, just prior to Jesus’ passion, Thomas had said to his master, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Verse 6, cited above, gives us the Lord’s famous answer to that all-important question: The destination is God the Father, and Jesus Christ himself is the way into his presence, now and forever.

But notice something special: Jesus not only told Thomas that he was the way, but also that he was the truth and the life. Why did he add these extra words?

Speaking as one who studied and practiced eastern religion for many years, my thought is that Jesus was no longer speaking just to Thomas, but to the whole wide world, and in particular to seekers everywhere who are longing to experience the ultimate spiritual reality for themselves.

Here in northern California where I live, such folks are legion. Some practice Zen, others yoga, others Wicca, others Tai Chi, and so on. Though their practices differ, they all are seeking the same thing. Jesus tells us what that is:

The way: the door through which they might enter into an abiding experience of the ultimate spiritual reality.

The truth: the one true worldview, by which they might come to see all reality as it really is, do what it requires, and so be reconciled to it once and for all.

The life: the divine life, come to live within them once and for all, so that death itself becomes but a doorway to further life, eternal life, life to the full.

The way, the truth, the life. What big big words these are, so big they can overshadow the whole wide world, giving hope to all who seek!

Now then, give me this hill country about which the LORD spoke on that day, for you heard on that day that the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities; perhaps the LORD will be with me, and I shall drive them out, as the LORD has spoken.

Joshua 14:12

 

These are the words of Caleb to Joshua. Caleb is now 85 years old. He has journeyed through the wilderness with the Israelites for 45 years. The rebels, who refused to take the land when God first offered it to them, have died off. Their children, however, have now entered it, destroyed many (though not yet all) of the Canaanite kings and peoples, and taken their cities. And now Joshua is bestowing upon each tribe and each family its allotment of territory in the Promised Land. Joshua’s friend Caleb knows exactly the parcel he desires.

“Give me this hill country,” he cries. Why? Presumably because he had caught a glimpse of it 45 years earlier, when he and the other eleven spies had done reconnaissance in the land, and marveled at the majestic city of Hebron. Yes, he had seen the Anakim there—the giant forefathers of Goliath. Yes, he had seen their great cities and fortifications, seemingly rising up to heaven itself. And yes, for a moment at least, he may have felt like a grasshopper in the face of such mighty warriors, cities, and fortifications.

But none of that stopped Caleb then, and none of it would stop him now. For he had also seen the goodness of that hill country, how it flowed with milk and honey, how it dripped with beauty, how it beckoned to be sown and cultivated, how it whispered soul-stirring promises of massive crops thirty, sixty, and a hundred fold. Oh yes, Caleb had seen all that as well, and he had not forgotten. The vision still burned in his heart. He wanted to seize and occupy forever the hill country of the Amorites—and if God was pleased with him, he would.

Brothers and sisters, do you hear the Spirit of Promise speaking to you through this text? I think you do, for if you have been born again you have already caught a glimpse of what the hill country represents. It is not just heaven, the Land and City above, though it is indeed that. Rather, it is the One who created the Land and City above, the One who lives there, seated at the right hand of the Father. John writes, “And we beheld his glory, glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” You have glimpsed the grace and truth, for you have glimpsed the Holy One in whom they reside.

But like Caleb of old, you and I have not yet fully occupied the heavenly Hebron; we have not yet fully come to know the Lord who calls us to the deep spiritual knowledge of himself (John 17:3). And yet, also like Caleb of old, we are intent on doing so. Indeed, what choice do we have? God’s Calebs cannot possibly be content with the lowlands. Moreover, they know this good hill country is theirs for the taking, for through the Spirit they know the LORD is with them, pleased with them, and (no matter what their age) eager to give them strength to fight, prevail, and enter in.

If you doubt all this, please listen to the voice of an outstanding New Testament Caleb: Not that I have already obtained these things, or already reached perfection; but I eagerly pursue them, so that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself as having attained. But this one thing I do: forgetting the things that are behind, and reaching forward to the things up ahead, I race towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:12f) Where does such a spirit come from? Surely it comes from God himself, who is at work within us, both to will and to do according to his good pleasure. Surely it is God himself who offers us the hill country of the Amorites.

At the close of our text it is written that Hebron was formerly called Kiriath-arba, for Arba—the greatest man among the Anakim—once lived there. He still does. Your adversary the devil did not create the hill country, nor does he own it. As a matter of fact, he altogether hates it. And yet, in a mystery, he surrounds it and has a measure of power to keep people from it.

But not the Caleb’s of God. By God’s purpose and grace, they WILL take it and keep it. For as their strength was in the day when they caught their first glimpse of Christ, so it is now, only more. More than ever, the fire burns. More than ever they are eager and ready for war with every enemy of their sanctification. More than ever they go out and come in, joyful and victorious after the fight.

Yes, more than ever they are indeed occupying the hill country for which they pleaded with their dear friend and comrade, Joshua. And more than ever he thoroughly delights to give it to them.