“For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? – Deuteronomy 4:7 (ESV)
This phrase “a god so near” should cause us all to fall down in worship before the God who would utter such a great phrase. The word itself has the literal meaning of “near kinsman.” Truly do we grasp that God describes Himself, in relation to those who follow His statutes, as a “near kinsman?” How can we fail to encounter the God that draws near? How faithless must we be that we are content with the concept of an absent God rather than gazing upward, crying out to Him out of a heart in pain that He might remove everything in our hearts that obstructs the experience of God as a near kinsman? How much more, at this time, is God a near kinsman than when Moses penned these words?
At that time God was in close proximity to the people but it was a nearness that also created distance and separation due to the requirement of God’s holiness and the condition of the people. Truly God was near, but the people were terrified of that nearness as it caused death and separation. Truly His nearness was a fascination to Moses, Joshua, and other but a terror to the nation at large. Sadly, this condition has not changed and today there is still a minority few who find God’s declaration of His nearness as an invitation to the pursuit of the gloriously terrifying God, while most of the people demonstrate the coldness of their hearts by being content with a distant God, even having the audacity to accuse God of causing the issue.
The children of Israel struggled with this nearness and In Deuteronomy 18:17 God declares that the people are correct in their expression of the need for a human intermediary, or intercessor, to properly relate to God. God affirms their need and promises a prophet who will arise as that mediator. The people then expected another man like Moses, but God had a shocking move in store. His desire for nearness to His people was so great and so strong that He Himself had chosen to become that mediator.
He would become the One that at the same time was God among the people and also the mediator preparing and introducing people to the uncreated God. He did not just send us another Moses, He Himself became a better Moses. We should be bursting with amazement and joy at the mystery of the incarnation. If we just had an accurate perspective, we would realize how truly radical it is that the transcendent God put on human flesh and how unfathomably near He now is.
Have we allowed the incarnation to show us how deeply God’s heart yearns for nearness to His people? Jesus is God’s plainly spoken declaration of His desire for nearness. First, He declared that He was God among us. It was a thought that was blasphemy to the Jewish mind, so rightfully lofty was their concept of the divine, and yet Jesus was clear that He was God actually living among us, speaking face to face with us.
Not content with this, Jesus then poured out God’s Spirit on us that we might have the living God indwelling us. How radical was that? God had become one of us but He was not content with interacting with us only externally as that limited His nearness to us to those who could come into close physical proximity. In God’s heart a nearness limited to physical proximity was unacceptable and therefore He poured out His Spirit into our very hearts. Who among us has considered this fully?
How can God even place Himself in fallen man? How is it that your frame and mine can actually carry the living God? God has come to dwell inside, not just in one man, but in every redeemed man (Note that we still must maintain the proper division between Jesus’ divinity and our non-divinity). Saints, if we could only perceive the majesty and mystery of this thing! I fear our language and our doctrinal statements have numbed our hearts to the glorious reality of the indwelling God and the implications to our experience of Him.
Our pursuit of “power by the Spirit” has obscured the very real indwelling of God which has power as its side effect and the revelation of God to the human heart as its primary effect. He desires to be our near kinsman, and too often we are taking that gift and trying to manipulate it for a more powerful ministry or to solve the problem of our boredom with Christianity.
Finally, as though all this nearness was not enough, God closes out Scripture with the very clear promise in Revelation 21 and 22 that when Jesus takes the throne in Jerusalem, leading the earth in the millennial reign, His express purpose will be to prepare us for face to face interaction with the Father. He will draw us near to the One whom the Israelites in the desert found unbearable. Can we not see how intense God’s pursuit of being a near kinsman to us has been? God agreed in the desert with the people that His nearness was unbearable, so He gave us Himself as an intermediary and having become the ultimate near kinsman, He continues to pursue nearness with us until He gets the nearness that He Himself desires.
Can we not see that history is the very story of a God doing all that He might be near to us? How can we be content with a distant concept of God when God has so invested Himself in us? Is the radical passion in God’s heart for nearness, illustrated by His ongoing pursuit of nearness with us, not brilliantly clear, or are our hearts too blind to see? If it is not clear to us, we must ask, “Why is my heart so blind to God’s desire?” If God’s desire for nearness is clear to our hearts and yet we are content with distance, we must ask, “Why am I so dull in heart that I am content to remain apart from the glorious God?”
Saints, God wants a people that are near and He will get that people. The question for you and me is whether or not we will be part of that company. God has done all that He can. He has clearly demonstrated and declared His intentions to us, and yet we remain distant. To address the question of “why do we remain distant?” is to put our heart on full display. It is to uncover the hidden things and expose what is truly there, seeing just why it is that we avoid God.
We place the blame on the God who is distant, but He, with eyes of fire, looks directly into our hearts melting all our excuses exposing our lack of desire for His nearness. It is one of the greatest tragedies that we as believers in the 21st century consider God aloof and distant. We must allow the Spirit to expose and search our hearts that it may be clear to us just why we have settled for the distant God when the story of history clearly shows God’s increasingly radical steps to draw near to us. Why then do we do not believe that He is near to us? Perhaps there are many reasons, but there are two that stand out clearly.
For one, we do not have ears to hear the invitation. Jesus often cried out to them that have “ears to hear.” There are two common reasons that we do not have ears. For one there are few trumpets declaring to God’s people that they must ascend the hill. Sadly, often instead ministers protect their ministry by unconsciously promoting a model where they ascend rather than the people. This breaks God’s heart and yet it is a pattern that we continue to follow even though we’ve broken the tyranny of Roman theology and all nod our heads in assent to the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. Those who love God deepest and are given a place to minister must, like Moses, call the people to the mountain of nearness with God, not be content to be an intermediary.
God Himself alone is the intermediary now. For a minister to place himself in that place is a dangerous place and, even when accidental, is in active opposition to God’s desire for His people. This does not invalidate ministerial gifts, but rather sets the standard for them. Valid ministerial gifts do not serve as an intermediary between God and the people but rather function as a friend of the bridegroom (John 3:29), exhorting and leading the people to face to face communion with the living God with no intermediary other than the man Jesus. For those that minister, there is safety in ministering as though you were trying to work yourself out of a job, freely giving all you have to those under your ministry and actively calling and empowering them to the place where you are in God.
The second issue with regard to “ears to hear” is that our ears are so dull and continually filled with other voices and amusements that we do not have ears to hear the voice of God inviting us up the hill. We spend precious little time meditating on the Word of God and hearing the Spirit breathe on it until we know the heart of God for us. We turn our imagination lesser things, becoming satisfied by cheap, empty thrills rather than allowing our ears and appetites to change until only a word from God will satisfy the longings of our hearts. We must cut off lesser voices that we might hear the voice of reality from the throne beckoning us to come near.
The second primary obstacle with God’s nearness is that we do not ascend the hill due to the issue of cost. Like the Israelites of old, we are afraid of what it will cost us to draw near to the place where the fire burns and the voice speaks. We are content to remain with dark, dull hearts because it might be costly to draw near to God. Deep within we know that what we are is painfully short of what we are made for, but like a madman we continue to resist the radical change necessary that our hearts may be fully alive. Can we imagine what an affront this is to God? He has provided the intercessor that was necessary, freely places the fire of the mountain in us by the Spirit, and concludes Scripture with the promise of face to face interaction, yet we remain unresponsive.
Our God promises to be near to our call. His promises it not be be near our whim, but our call. Our call contains within it a cry and desire for Him that offers up all of our being. It holds nothing back but invites the fire of God to purge everything in our heart that we might be near Him. It is this sort of cry that brings His nearness. A lesser cry will not suffice. It is the lack of a cry of this kind that causes us to remain distant from the One who is ever near.
We must call out and cry to Him with a longing heart. We must cry, with the Spirit and the bride (Revelation 22:17) that He come, no matter what the cost to us or, ultimately, the cost to the planet in the day of the Lord. When He comes the mountain quakes and our heart is filled with fear, but if we have a proper cry in our heart none of this matters so long as He comes. A valid cry is one that says, “even if I die, I must have Him near. Let Him come near and my being be burnt up, let every other thing I love be shattered, but just let Him come because I cannot remain living so long as He is distant.”
He has left us with a promise to respond to a cry and with no obstacle to drawing near, but our response, typically not in words but in lifestyle, is to remain distant in our own hearts while blaming God for how distant He is. The demands of nearness have caused us, like the children of Israel, to stand back content to ask others to go to God for us. Again, have we really comprehended what a rejection of God this is?
He has called us near and provided the one and only intercessor and still we continue to look to others to ascend the hill for us. He has paid an awful price to enable us to ascend the hill and yet we spurn His invitation content to fill our lives with much lesser pleasures. This is heresy in a day and age when all men have been given access to the living God. Whatever the cost may be to live in the manifest nearness of God, it is truly far less than the cost of living a dull life in bondage to lesser things.
Saints, have we considered how deeply this must hurt His heart? Our God is near. Let anyone who doubts that fact be silenced. It is us who are distant. Let us set our hearts to pay the cost and draw near to the heart of the living One. Let us be those that fill His heart with joy. Man’s consistent rejection of the God that is in pursuit has already caused our God more pain than a human frame can comprehend. Our God has promised to be near when we call. Seeing as our God cannot lie, the issue must remain in our lack of calling rather than in His lack of nearness
As a final note, there are those desperately longing for God who are enduring seasons of wilderness. For those dry and lonely and yet longing for God with every fiber of your being, willing to obey any call for Him to be near, do not feel condemned, but rather encouraged that the God who holds your days in His hand longs for nearness greater than you do and is, in truth, much nearer than you perceive Him to be. Remain steady. He is near. Your perception of His nearness will change if you remain faithful.