By Samuel Clough
“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.
By Samuel Clough
Praying the Scripture is something that I believe is often overlooked, but has incredible value. Recently I’ve been making an intentional effort to pray the Scripture and it has really moved my heart. Just to clarify what I mean by praying the Scriptures, I am not talking about what I call “pray reading.” Pray reading is where, as you read, you turn phrases and verses into prayer and basically dialog with the Lord over the Scripture. This is much slower than just reading the passage, but also helps bring real life into the passage and helps apply it deeper to your heart. This method of devotional reading is very valuable but it not what I am talking about here. If you’re not familiar with this, just leave a comment or send me an email and I can point you to some resources.
What I mean by “Praying the Scriptures” is extracting key phrases, promises of rewards, commands, warnings, and blessings from a book of the Bible or a passage of Scripture and creating a prayer list from these verses. For example, the book of Revelation uses the phrase “ears to hear” at least seven times. From that you could create the following point on a prayer list: “God give me ears to hear. Let me hear what you are saying, both to my heart, and my generation.” Under that prayer you write out the seven verses, reading those verses as you are praying so that your heart is filled with the combination of your own personal heart cry and God’s language describing the need of the human heart.
What this does is help really drive the Scripture into your heart. It does not replace reading and studying entire passages because that is very valuable, but by taking specific action points from the Scripture and specifically praying those we take God’s direction, or His law, and plant it deep in our heart all the while using the Biblical language that God gave us. It is an incredible way to go deeper in the Word and to plant in our hearts what God says really matters. By following the study of a passage with the repeated praying of the passage’s action points over time it helps us to set our hearts to obey the Scriptures in an intentional way rather than just hoping to remember what the Scripture says.
Using this method you will also start seeing patterns in a passage of Scripture. Often God hits the same topic more than once. How often something is repeated in the Scripture is very valuable because it underscores the importance of the directive to our hearts. The sad truth is that we quickly forget much of what we read, but when we intentionally pray the action points that the Scripture gives us, we begin retaining specific things that God directed us to do, to seek for, or to avoid.
The goal is to use this type of prayer as a pattern of heart engagement with the Word and obedience to the Word that we might be found obedient and mature on that great day. Without using techniques like this, there are many promises, and warnings, in the Scriptures that will never stay in our heart.
As far as methodology goes, praying this way does not have to be a rigid type of liturgy. As you develop prayer lists from various passage or books, keep a written record of them and periodically review them in your personal prayer time. God may highlight one particular thing in your prayer list one day and, if He does, just focus on that one thing. The goal is not to follow a certain liturgy or get every prayer point covered that one day, but that over time the Scripture goes deep in our hearts and, in doing so, increases our fellowship and communion with the One who is Holy and to whom we will give account.
By Samuel Clough
Recently I was spending some time with one of my daughters and at her request, we ended up watching one of her videos. When it stopped, the television defaulted to a Christian channel and they were showing a movie of Noah and the ark. She begged to watch it, so we watched some of it. It was a great example of what I would call “Biblical film making.” The dialogue was a little humorous in that the language was so archaic that it made King James English almost seem conversational. At the same time Noah seemed to always be looking off into the distance making profound statements with an air of wisdom about him. Regardless of Noah’s depiction, their depiction of the ark was actually interesting. They had an interesting view of how the ark was laid out and what life was like inside the ark both for people and animals. However, after the initial ark scene, I was totally unprepared for what was about to happen.
After the ark was loaded, Noah and his family were secured in the ark and soon the rain began to fall. As the rains fell the ark slowly began to be lifted and drift on top of the waters. At the same time the people outside the ark were panicking and frantically climbing to the highest places they could find to escape the water that was slowly overtaking them as a steady and unstoppable force. In the midst of this, there is a scene inside the ark where you can hear the muted sounds of screaming and shrieks from from all those that are lost outside the ark and frantically trying to escape the ever encroaching waters. As you hear these sounds, Noah’s wife has a look on her face of horror. Up until now the family hasn’t fully considered their predicament, and suddenly the full realization of what is going on strikes them. Noah’s wife looks to Noah and their eyes meet. Her expression is begging the question, “am I really hearing what I think I’m hearing?” Here Noah’s family is saved in the midst of cataclysmic destruction and yet the realization is finally hitting them that everything is real. Everything Noah had been preaching had been words up until this point, but now those words were reality and the terror of the reality was more than any of them anticipated.
I was so struck with that scene that I trembled on the inside. My mind raced to the Scriptures and I considered more and more how every time I pick up the Scriptures I am seeing such a clear declaration of the coming Day of the Lord. Whether it is the historical books, the prophets, the gospels, the acts of the early church, or the apocalypse of Revelation, there is a consistent and persistent declaration of the Day of the Lord in the Scriptures. It is almost as if there is a veil causing us to miss the preeminence the Day of the Lord has in the Scriptures and when that veil begins to lift, one is astounded as just how much of the Scriptures is given over to declaring that God is coming to the planet and that coming is something so dramatic that words fail in the description of it.
The prophets saw and declared this coming day. The Jews so anticipated that day that when John Baptist declared that Messiah was coming, they were baptized in repentance to prepare themselves for the day. In fact, the primary stumbling block for the first century Jews was that they were expecting the ultimate day of the Lord and not a coming that, in kindness, made available a redemption prior to that cataclysmic day. In Paul’s writings, we find that he motivated both himself and the saints he wrote to by exhorting them that they would be found in Christ on that day.
The coming of that day and the ensuing events were the cornerstone of the apostolic proclamation and the motivation to declare the gospel to the earth that as many as possible might be saved in the great day of God that was coming. Remember that salvation Biblically is mostly presented as a future thing and what we have failed to perceive is that future salvation is not just salvation from hell, but salvation in the great Day of the Lord. This doesn’t negate the present need of an encounter with God or of being born again, but rather our present experience of redemption and the indwelling presence of the Spirit, among other things, gives us assurance of full salvation on that day.
Every temporal judgment is a warning of an ultimate day of reckoning for the earth and those who have walked upon it. While we often focus on whether current events are judgments or not we miss the fact that any present judgment event is merely an illustration that is meant to point us to that ultimate day and warn us of a judgment that far surpasses anything we have presently experienced. Even the flood, as cataclysmic as it was, was not an event in itself, but rather meant to be an prophetic picture to shock and awaken us to the nature of what’s coming when God comes to the planet.
The issue of God’s coming is not an issue merely of an angry deity, but rather the issue of what happens when the One who is truly perfect and good comes into full contact with all the evil on the earth and in man. The drama of that day is actually part of the love and kindness of God because the present evil that we tolerate is having horrific effects on creation that we don’t even recognize because we are so numb to it. Since we are part of the environment and over it we can’t even see the full effects on our environment of the evil dwelling within us. God is not content to see this destruction continue forever and so His coming brings a massive judgment that is rooted, not in anger, but in perfect love.
I have to believe that, like Noah’s family, this event may be a part of our creeds and theology, but that our hearts have not truly anticipated just how devastating and traumatic this day is going to be. The Scriptures clearly describe an event that man cannot endure and that even the earth can barely endure. Regardless of how literal your hermeneutic is, and the further I go the more convinced I am that the Scriptures are far more literal than we have imagined, as you read the prophetic scriptures concerning this day, anyone who seriously considers these events will come to the conclusion that this day is going to be beyond anything any of us have imagined.
Jesus said that the end would be “as in the days of Noah.” He chose the days of Noah as the example of the end. Just as in the days of Noah, men live totally ignorant of the impending judgment. Men scoff at the idea that God is going to judge all wickedness and restore the earth in purity and goodness just as He has promised. As in the days of Noah, God has made an ark of escape in Jesus that we might endure that terrible day when God comes to earth in holiness and in zeal to cleanse and redeem the earth. And the real terror of that day is that, as in the days of Noah, the horror of what is coming will not be fully evident until the event is fully in motion and there is nothing that can be done.
The real horror of the look on Noah’s wife’s face is that she only understood the magnitude of what was happening after it was too late to take any more action. By the time she fully understood what was going on it was too late to do anything about it. It was too late to prepare any more. It was too late to warn others, and it was too late to rescue any more souls. The door was closed and the deluge had come and there was nothing that could be done to stop it. So too the real terror of the Day of the Lord is going to be that we will only fully grasp it on that day and on that day it will be too late to prepare our hearts to face the fullness of God and too late to declare to others the need to repent that they may be saved in that day. What has been done will have been done. In that moment, the fog will lift and we will clearly see our lives and actions for what they were and the pain of regret, which for some will be an eternal terror, will be immense.
Just like Noah’s family in the movie, believers are living in intellectual assent to the idea that Jesus is coming but with virtually no understanding of just what that day is going to be like and no preparation for it. Our theology may be correct in our hearts, but in our hearts we live as though everything that day will destroy is actually permanent. That day will literally shake the earth. Men will seek the escape of death because of the appearance of a holy God on the planet. We must begin to read the Scriptures simply, taking them at face value, and see that throughout the entire book there is a consistent declaration that God is coming to physically dwell on the earth among His people, and that coming will demand a complete judgment of all that is wicked and a restoration of the earth. We must also begin to see that all other themes in Scripture are in the context of this coming day and God’s purpose for it.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; – Isaiah 61:1-2 (ESV)
We are presently living in the year of God’s favor. It is the time period when salvation is made available. God in His immense love and kindness has repeatedly, though His Word and through messengers each generation, warned us of the events to come and provided, at the cost of His own blood, an ark of escape in that great day. However, this salvation makes little sense without the context of the day of vengeance against all wickedness, no matter how minor or how subtle, that is coming. One thing is sure: Something is coming far beyond what we can imagine. We are presently blessed with a period of time to come under God’s mercy and allow Him to prepare us that we might stand on that day, but this blessing will be a curse in that day if we find, like Noah’s family, that it never was real to us.
If you are not right with God through Jesus Christ, I don’t have words that are strong enough to urge you to turn your heart to the cleansing in Jesus Christ that you might be prepared for that day. If you are already a believer, I would challenge you that you probably do not live in preparation for that day. Like Noah’s family, we have heard the message but we really haven’t anticipated exactly what that day will be. Most of us are expecting the inauguration of some sort of utopia and heavenly retirement age and this bears no resemblance to the way the Scripture describes this day. While the end result is a cleansing and a perfect dwelling with God, we have grossly estimated the trauma of that process and the full purity of our God.
The reality is that this coming day is so dramatic that none of us can fully anticipate what is coming. Even those who give their hearts to prepare will, in some measure, stand like Noah’s family trembling under the weight of it all when it actually unfolds. Saints, that day is clearly described in Scripture if we only open our eyes to read it. Let us prepare our hearts in accordance with what the Scriptures really say while allowing our hearts to take the message to all those who are unprepared for this day. Malachi perhaps has the best summary of our predicament:
But who can endure the day of His coming, and who can stand when He appears? – Malachi 3:2a (ESV)
Posted in Apostolic, Eschatology, Genesis, Judgment, Malachi, Prophecy/Prophetic, The Flood | Tagged apostolic, deception, Eschatology, flood, holiness, kingdom, noah, prophetic, salvation, theology | 3 Responses