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Always Near: 10 Ways to Delight in the Closeness of God

Always Near: 10 Ways to Delight in the Closeness of God

by Robert Morgan


Learn More | Meet Robert Morgan

CHAPTER 1

part one delight in Jesus

Just a Closer Walk

The town of Elizabethton occupies a lovely valley in the Appalachian Mountains of northeast Tennessee. It was a simple place in the 1950s, when I was growing up. My parents were schoolteachers, apple growers, and the kind of people who read their Bibles every day. I recall my mother singing hymns while doing housework. There was a chair factory downtown, and a loud whistle blew each night at ten o 'clock to signal the shift change. The ten o 'clock whistle also signaled my bedtime. My room was across the hall from my parents, and I often heard them praying before falling asleep.

We attended church each week, and I don 't recall a time when I was not trusting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Some people can remember the exact date when they became Christians, but I cannot.

My elementary school was two blocks from home, and I was in the same class with the same children for six years. They were extended family. We opened each day with Bible reading and prayer.

I rode my bicycle to school and everywhere else. I was happiest when riding my bike up and down the hills in our neighborhood and all over town. My little dog, Tippy, rode in the basket with his nose to the wind, like a sea captain.

One week a preacher came to town, spoke of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and urged the congregation to make sure we had truly received Christ as Savior. He invited us to come forward for prayer at the end of the service. I was too shy for that, but later that evening I locked myself in the bathroom and prayed something like this: "Dear God, I believe I am a Christian. But if not, I want to become one right now." I kept that experience to myself for years, but inwardly I felt a sense of assurance.

I kept a lot of things to myself. I didn 't know the word introvert, but as I entered adolescence, I experienced introversion full force, especially in junior high, where, somehow, I never again saw my old friends. We were all dumped into the system. If the make many friends and, except for working in the library, disliked school.

My high school experience was better, because I went to a rural school where both my parents taught. They were popular with students, and that provided me some social leverage.

Upon graduation, I moved in with an aunt who lived near the college I wanted to attend, but she suffered dementia and no longer knew me. Because I lived off campus and was withdrawn, I didn 't make a single friend during my freshman year. On one occasion I asked a girl for a date, which took all my courage. We went to see Love Story, the most depressing movie ever made. I asked her out again, but she said no. She was too depressed. As far as I remember, that was one of the very few dates I had before meeting and marrying my wife, Katrina.

I got a job at radio station WOPI in Bristol, where Tennessee Ernie Ford had gotten his start. I thought I 'd like radio because I could talk to people without seeing them. But my career ended one day when everything went wrong in the studio. I was left alone without enough training. I missed commercials, messed up the ball game, played the wrong records, and butchered the word appendectomy while reading headlines from the teletype. The owner chewed me out, and I was so humiliated I simply never returned to work.

I felt significant loneliness that year, but looking back, I see it was God 's way of preparing me for a closer walk with Him. Once, for example, I happened to tune in to a broadcast and heard a preacher say God wanted to use us as Jesus had used the donkey on Palm Sunday. On another broadcast, I heard about the presence of the Holy Spirit within us. I can still quote parts of those sermons. I longed for more than I had.

One evening, while propped up in bed and reading, I had a distinct impression that I should enroll at Columbia International University in South Carolina. On September 2, 1971, I walked into my dormitory room.

Presently, two roommates showed up, Don Morgan and Bill McCoy. We had been placed in our rooms alphabetically. Bill, full of zeal, wasted no time in challenging me to offer God every part of my life as best I could. He told me God had a plan for me and wanted me to delight in His nearness every day. The Holy Spirit, Bill said, longed to flow through me. Bill picked up his guitar and starting singing. There were no air conditioners in the dorms back then, and it was a sweltering night. Bill sat shirtless on his bunk, legs crossed, strumming his guitar, and singing, "Just a closer walk with Thee, grant it, Jesus, is my plea."

Something clicked that night, and I knew that was what I wanted — a closer walk with God. The next evening I knelt by an old sofa and asked the Lord to take control of my life. Whatever He wanted. Wherever He sent me. That night God flipped a switch of adrenaline inside me that has never shut off. I began learning how to live in God 's presence, to enjoy His company, and with His help, to walk with Him.

In the half century since, I 've had ups and downs. Life has been harder and heavier than I expected, and I 've had ongoing battles with anxiety. I 'm appalled at mistakes I 've made along the way. But that "closer walk with Thee" is my lifeline.

As in a friendship or a marriage, we 're either drawing nearer to God or drifting from Him all the time. Relationships aren 't static. They grow richer or leaner with the passing years. It helps to remember how God longs to be near us, to walk with us, and to enjoy our company. In the Bible, He was always coming down from heaven to be with His people — with Adam and Eve in the Garden; with the children of Israel in a column of cloud and fire; with the nation of Israel in the temple; with the disciples along the lonely trails of Galilee; in the fiery descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost; and with the apostle John on the island of Patmos.

I was nineteen when I knelt by the sofa in the dormitory stairwell and yielded my life to Christ. Shortly afterward I found two Bible verses that became foundational to my relationship with God. The first was Psalm 139:16 in The Living Bible:"You saw me before I was born and scheduled each day of my life before I began to breathe. Every day was recorded in your book!" The Lord had planned every detail of my life, I realized, down to each day 's schedule. My part was to say each morning, "Lord, what do You want me to do today?"

The second foundational Bible verse was Philippians 3:10: "[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly]" (AMPC). The greatest purpose in life, I learned, is getting to know the Lord more deeply and intimately. I didn 't have to be perfect, I realized, just growing in a daily walk with Him, even when it feels I 'm taking two steps forward and one step backward.

While my story is unique to me, its general outline is familiar to everyone who longs to delight in God 's closeness. At some point: (1) We establish a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, as I did, thankfully, in childhood. It 's never too late to turn from our failures and receive God 's grace. (2) We develop the inner assurance that we are children of God, and the Bible promises such security. Perhaps you need to pray, "Lord, I think I am a Christian, but if not, I want to become one now." (3) We understand that requires a total-life commitment to Him: "Lord, whatever You want of me, I 'm Yours. Fulfill Your plan for me." (4) We then embark on a lifelong experience of "just a closer walk" with Him, progressively coming to know Him more deeply and intimately.

Where are you in this process? Maybe your life is idyllic. Maybe you 're lonely. Perhaps God is moving you toward a richer spiritual experience. Wherever you are, remember: every step begins with Jesus, whose name is Immanuel — God with us.

Just when I need Him, Jesus is near, Just when I falter, just when I fear; Ready to help me, ready to cheer,
Just when I need Him most.

William C. Poole, "Just When I Need Him"

The Rabid Dog

Just when you need Him, Jesus is near. According to E. Stanley Jones, that 's why we can relax in His presence. "His power cannot get across to you unless you learn to relax," Jones wrote. "Fear and worry tighten you up. Faith relaxes you. Often fear and worry keep the motor running even after you are parked. You are worn out even when sitting still. ... You cannot repeat to yourself too frequently the oft-repeated, and yet always healing, statement: 'Let go; let God. '"

Sometimes I 'm as tense as a box of coils about to burst, but two Bible passages have shown me what to do on every occasion. The first is Hebrews 10:22: "Draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings."

The original recipients of the book of Hebrews were veteran Christ-followers who, earlier in their experience, had been zealous. Over time they had grown settled and complacent. A new wave of persecution seemed headed their way, and some were thinking of abandoning their faith and reverting to their original Jewish religion. The writer — we don 't know his name — told them to draw near to God (10:22), for Christ, he said, is superior to everything in the Old Testament. Jesus is superior to the angels (1:4). He is superior to Moses and the law (3:3–6), to the sacrifices and priests (10:1–14). The writer went on to say:

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence. ... You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Hebrews 10:32–36)

Don 't throw away your confidence. You need to persevere by leaning into God 's presence. "Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings. ... Because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. ' So we say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid '" (Hebrews 10:22; 13:5–6).

Life, even when it 's wonderful, is challenging; every day has its own burdens. But whatever happens, draw near to God with sincere faith, for He has promised to never leave you. He is your helper, "an ever-present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1).

The second passage is similar: "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you" (James 4:7–8). Here we find an additional fact. Drawing near to God requires resisting the devil. According to the Bible, Satan is a genuine personality of evil seeking to discourage us (Ephesians 6:11–12). But God will never forsake His children, so we must constantly flee our enemy and run to our Lord.

This passage reminds me of my friend Harold Adolph, who grew up in China just before World War II. His father was a physician, and their city was under Japanese occupation.

"One morning when I was about seven years old and heading out the door to school," Harold told me, "I heard my father mention the city was out of rabies vaccine and whoever was bitten by a rabid dog would die." He continued:

That afternoon I was walking home after school with my books. I had gone a block when I heard a fellow, very tall, coming behind me, running like the devil. When I turned to look, he said, "Run for your life. There 's a dog coming." I thought he might have put me in a tree or on a wall, but, no, he just ran past, and now the rabid dog wasn 't chasing him. It was chasing me. I threw down my books and ran as fast as my legs could move.

I got to the corner and had to go up a steep incline for a block, and then another block to the house. The dog was getting closer, snarling and foaming. I was nearing the point of collapse when I finally made it to our house. I literally flew over the gate and fell in a heap on the other side. Gasping, I lifted my head and looked back. The dog was lying a few feet away, his front paws on the ground as if praying and his head resting on them. I thought he was getting ready to pounce. But he was dead. God made sure he died before he got me.

What a picture! The devil is a rabid dog, pursuing us, wanting to harm us. But Jesus said, "I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved" (John 10:9). Furthermore, Satan is defeated, conquered by Christ through the cross and the tomb. How urgently we must flee the devil and draw near to God!

If worries dominate your thoughts, you 'll be troubled. If Christ gets your attention, He will prevail over your mood and morale. Whatever you 're facing, let go and let God. Learn to relax in His presence. Don 't remain discouraged, but as Hebrews 10:22 says, "Draw near to God with a sincere heart." And as James puts it, "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you" (4:7–8).

That 's the doggone best advice you 'll ever find on this subject.

God 's Two Addresses

Years ago, Sophie Lichtenfels, a German-born maid in New York City, heard a sermon by Dr. A. B. Simpson and decided to follow Christ. Sophie lived in a tenement house on West Forty-Fourth Street, and much of her time was spent on hands and knees with a washtub and a scrub brush. She spoke with a heavy accent and wore a large bonnet with flowers. Her enthusiasm was contagious.

"God called me to scrub and preach," she said. "I was born a preacher, but since I was poor, I had to work. My work is good, and I can be trusted, so they want me. But if they have me, they must hear me preach. ... I scrub as unto the Lord and I preach to all in the house."

Sophie had gone through a bad marriage with a man who had robbed her and vanished. But when asked about loneliness, she said, "How many in my family? Four — Father, Son, Holy Ghost, and me."

She continued:

For twelve years, I prayed the Lord to make me a foreign missionary. One day my Father said, "Sophie. Where were you born?" "In Germany," I replied. "And where you are now?" "In America." Then He said to me, "Who lives on the floor above you?" "A family of Swedes." "And above them?" "Some Swiss." "Yes, and in back are Italians, and a block away Chinese. You have never spoken to them about My Son. Do you think I 'll send you a thou- sand miles away when you 've got foreigners, even heathen, all around you?"

Sophie had God 's presence around her and His purpose within her. Her exuberant story showed up in newspapers, and God. Her cure for loneliness was her three roommates — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — and doing the bidding of God.

Sophie must have known Isaiah 57:15, which reveals God 's two addresses:

This is what the high and exalted One says —
he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
"I live in a high and holy place,
but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite."

This verse reveals two beautiful things about God 's presence.

God 's presence is pervasive; that is, He is everywhere. He dwells in a high and holy place, and His Being permeates the universe.

• " 'Do not I fill heaven and earth? ' declares the Lord." (Jeremiah 23:24)

• "The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you." (1 Kings 8:27)

• "Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me." (Psalm 139:7–10)

Fourteenth-century scholar Meister Eckhart said, "God is an infinite circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere." Hildebert of Lavardin wrote, "God is over all things, under all things; outside all; within but not enclosed; without but not excluded ... wholly above, presiding; wholly beneath, sustaining; wholly within, filling."

This is mind-boggling, but isn 't that what we would expect from an infinite God? His greatness is unfathomable (Psalm 145:3). Some people don 't believe in God because they can 't understand Him, but my faith is strengthened by having a God who transcends comprehension. The nature of the definition of God implies boundless, bottomless infinity. We might as well try to catch a hurricane in a hat as try to grasp the immensity of God with our finite minds.

God 's presence is also personal. He isn 't simply a force infusing the universe. He is a Person to know, a Friend to enjoy, a Lord to worship, and a Father who cares.

• "The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything."


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