Finding Our Way Into the Presence of God

Want to get closer to God but sometimes feel confused by all the voices out there describing their experiences in ways that seem contradictory to your understanding and foreign to anything you’ve experienced? How can you tell what’s real, what’s imaginary, what’s possible, and what’s impossible?

Tim Anderson’s new book, Into His Presence: A Theology of Intimacy with God, comes out of more than thirty-five years of his own life experience in studying, practicing, and teaching the Bible. His book is a truly helpful resource for systematically working through the scriptures in order to understand intimacy with God as communicated in His own words (the Bible)—and as distinguished from some of the contemporary cultural ideas which may (or may not) be consistent with orthodox teaching.

If you’re anything like me, most of the time you want to just “sit and soak” in the soothing presence of God. I love to start each day by meditating on the Bible and praying, memorizing especially helpful passages and worshiping our great God. As a wise friend once said to me, “No day is wasted that’s begun with worshiping God!” Amen.

However, if you have more time to invest and are serious about developing intimacy with God, not simply soaking in the sunshine of our loving Father but in delving deeper into His glorious complexities, then Anderson’s book is definitely worth the wading. It’s very dense. Not a one-night stand! It took me weeks to study and process, and I didn’t agree with everything. (Specifically, I spent over ten years meditating my way through the Song of Solomon and am convinced that it’s a gorgeous [non-sexual, spiritual] allegory of God’s relationship with Israel and the mystery of Christ’s relationship with the Church as well as a human love song.)

That one exception aside, I found myself very much enriched and deepened as I did the hard work of pondering the scriptures focused on the various aspects of people in relationship with God. I especially appreciated Anderson’s chapters discussing intimacy with the Holy Spirit (chapter seven), the role of suffering (chapter 8), and how to assess songs (chapter 9).

Have you ever heard a worship song and said to yourself, “That doesn’t seem right to me!”? Well, it may be wrong! Tim helps the reader develop an ability to analyze music for content, which I think is very needed for our worship leaders! A great song isn’t simply about the music. We all love singable songs, written between C and shining C (at least if you can’t sing like a meadow lark). We all love catchy tunes. We all love lyrics that are fresh and have something new to say. However, if the lyrics aren’t consistent with what we know of God from the scripture, then no number of catchy hooks or riffs can justify a message that’s adrift.

Finally, and this isn’t one of the points in Tim’s book, but as a warning to those of us who’ve spent years in academic circles exercising our brains, the Bible says: “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded” (James 4:8). Talk about pulling no punches! If we want to experience intimacy with the God of the universe, who is not only love and light and life but the epitome of goodness and holiness, then we’d better be prepared to pray earnestly: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). Ultimately, to draw near to the God of Goodness, we must be willing to “abhor that which is evil” and “cleave to that which is good” (Romans 12:9). Otherwise, no amount of study will help us come into the presence of God. “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isaiah 57:15). At the end of the day—and beginning of each new day—the bottom line is: Are we trusting and obeying God? If we are, we’ll be growing in intimacy with Him.

But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works” (Psalm 73:28).

Trust and Obey
(—John H. Sammis, 1887, Public Domain)

“When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.

Refrain:
“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

“Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.

“Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share,
But our toil He doth richly repay;
Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross,
But is blessed if we trust and obey.

“But we never can prove the delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows,
Are for them who will trust and obey.

“Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet,
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way;
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey.”

Rise Up, My Love (296): Do You Feel Like God Doesn’t Speak to You?

Song of Solomon 8:13 “Cause me to hear it.” Speak to me! Sing to me! Let me hear your voice. Tell me what’s on your mind and in your heart. Tell me about your fears and worries. How can I help you if I don’t know what’s troubling you? Tell me about your joys and triumphs. Let me rejoice with you. Tell me about your loves and hatreds. I want to understand you. I want you to understand yourself. I want you to understand me. Speak to me. I want to know that you hunger and thirst for me. I am the Bread of Life and the Water of Life. If you open your mouth wide, I will fill it. Cause me to hear your voice!

Are there times in your life when you feel that God isn’t listening to you? If so, examine yourself and ask God to reveal any sin that might be separating you. “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2). If you feel that you cannot hear the Lord’s voice speaking to you, and that your voice is falling on deaf ears, then lift up your voice and “cause me to hear it!” “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7). “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).  Sometimes it’s possible to feel distant even if we’re not knowingly rebelling against God’s clear guidance from scripture or his Spirit’s still small voice in our hearts. That has happened to me. Sometimes things are going so smoothly that I just start to wander off a bit on my own, not paying attention because the way looks clear. When I realize I’m feeling empty and distant, I now understand that I’ve been drifting, and I cry out to God, “Help! I want to be close to you!” As the psalmist wrote: “Draw nigh unto my soul, and redeem it!” (Psalm 69:18).

The Lord is so good! “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry” (Psalm 34:15). A note of comfort: All believers are “righteous” by definition because we are justified by Christ. His righteousness has been imputed to us (see Romans 4:11). “I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me” (Proverbs 8:17). “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you” (James 4:8). God wants to hear our voice calling out to him.  This is his last request to us…the last thing he has asked us to do on this earth before he returns to carry us off as his eternal bride! Like the fiancé who is gone and loves to hear his beloved’s voice on the phone…our Lord longs to hear our voice! Have you ever wanted to know what God’s will is for you? Look at I Thessalonians 5:16-18. “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” Let him hear your voice. Cause him to hear it!

Rise Up, My Love (293): Paradise Lost and Found

Song of Solomon 8:13 “Thou that dwellest in the gardens…” How do we live in a spiritual paradise in a world of paradise lost? The secret is in learning to dwell in the sanctuary God has created within our hearts! He makes us his “garden enclosed” (Song 4:12). As we surrender to his care and yield to his chastening, he plows and plants, waters and weeds, prunes…and prizes his garden. The kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom, and so it is that deep within the individual believer the gardens of the king are developed.   He creates his paradise where it cannot be scorched by the sun or devastated by disaster. On the day I first wrote this, Hurricane Frances, a tropical storm as large as the state of Texas, was pounding parts Florida with one inch of rain per hour, and Hurricane “Ivan the Terrible” was coming on its heels as a second incredible category four monster. Many of Florida’s paradisal gardens could have been destroyed in a day…but not God’s gardens. His paradisal gardens, blooming in our spirits, are warmed by son-shine and watered by the wellspring of eternal life.  The Holy Spirit, the king’s master gardener, readies our hearts for communion with him, so that the king may say, “I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse,” and we may say, “My beloved is gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies.” “Thou that dwellest in the gardens…” Oh, beloved, what an amazing privilege to be known to our Lord as the one who dwells in the gardens. What a challenge!  If you feel like you are in the desert, know that this is not God’s intention. He desires that we be dwelling in the gardens that he has created for us. “Draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded” (James 4:8). “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6). God is near to us right now. Are you his? Are you dwelling in his gardens? If you are, then why not stop and thank him for his amazing grace and love!  On the other hand, if you have never given him your heart, please surrender to him this very minute and let him create a paradise found within you! If you became a Christian earlier but have since quenched the Spirit so the living water cannot flow and your garden seems withered away to nothing, or if you’ve barred the door of your heart so the master gardener cannot work, and your garden has turned into a jungle of tangled weeds, then come back! Stop running. Surrender to God and let him begin his work anew. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6, NIV).