Saturday, May 10, 2008

Drawing Near to God

There are times in our walk with the Lord when we feel distant from God. Yet, we aren’t sure how to get back to that place of intimacy that we once knew so well. Our lives are so busy, our days jam packed with things to do and places to go, our thoughts race with worries, concerns and endless plans. We wonder how we’ll ever find our way back to closeness with God.

In this situation, one thing is for certain – we will not reconnect if we do not make an effort to do it. God is knocking at the door of our heart. He’s waiting for us to respond. He’s not waiting for us to clean up our act, quit sinning, quit being selfish, quit thinking negative thoughts. He’s just waiting for us to respond to His knock by opening the door and letting Him in. But how do we even do that?

In my experience, I have found that the most important thing I must do is find some alone time. I have to carve it out wherever it can be found. Even if it means I have to get up extra early, or escape sometime during the day with strict warnings not to interrupt me unless there is blood or fire. I must get to a place where I can quiet my mind and be still before God – for a while.

When I finally do make that effort, what I do with that time is very important. If I come into that time with no plan, I’ll probably leave just as unfulfilled as I came – maybe more so, since I tried to connect with God and didn’t. I enter into that time with a commitment to spend time in praise and prayers of praise. I often write these praises or prayers in my journal, sometimes I just open my Bible to the Psalms and begin proclaiming His praises straight from the Word. I praise the Lord even, and especially, when I don’t feel like it. This is so important because it is an effort in my being led by the Spirit, not by the flesh. If I only praise God when I feel like it, then I’m a flesh-led believer. I must praise God with my spirit, even when my flesh says, “I’m tired; I’m stressed; I don’t feel good; I’m discouraged; I’m angry and frustrated; I can’t praise God now.” I just begin praising and within a short amount of time, my flesh begins to follow after my spirit. Sometimes, I have to spend the entire time praising God just to beat my flesh into submission. But that is not time wasted. You see, the very act of praising God is probably the most significant thing we can do as followers of Christ. God is empowered to work in our spirit and lives through the avenue of our worship and praise. It’s not for Him that we praise Him – He doesn’t need our praise – it’s for us. It’s a tool that God gave us for victory and to usher us into His presence. He is so holy, so beautiful, so awesome – our small minds cannot even know how much He deserves our praise – but when we participate in praise, we benefit because we are walking out a truth we don’t even understand. We are agreeing with all of heaven and unleashing the power of God into our situation. When we praise Him with His Word, we are agreeing with God that all He says in His Word is true.

The power of praise is seen clearly in the story of King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20. When the good king learned that a mighty army composed of three kingdoms was heading his way, he sought the Lord in prayer. What the Lord inspired him to do in response defies reason. He was told he would be victorious. But, instead of warriors, he sent out a large band of worshipers into battle. When these worshipers went out, their praises to the Lord brought about an unexpected result – they confounded the enemy. In their confusion, these armies began fighting one another and were conquered without Jehoshaphat’s army lifting a finger. There is another story in 2 Kings 6, that sheds some light on this. When the prophet, Elisha, was suddenly encompassed round about by a huge band of warriors, he was unafraid. He knew that the ones that were with God’s people were more than they that are against them. He asked God to open his servant’s eyes to the real battle so that he could see the truth. The servant’s eyes were opened to what Elisha already knew – millions of mighty angels were standing guard, protecting them from their foes. Though, in the natural, it looked like it, the enemy was not just flesh and blood, it was a spiritual battle that was going to be won in the spirit realm through the mighty angels of God. Instructive for us, what was happening in the natural, was also happening in the spirit realm.

This brings more enlightenment to Jehoshaphat’s story. When the praises rang out, the demonic forces that were guiding the coming army scattered and their purposes scattered with them. Praise empowers God’s people because it empowers the spiritual forces that work on our behalf by scattering the enemy that is trying to keep the people of God from being productive and safe. The battles we, God’s children, face in the natural have a spiritual component as well. In fact, we are told in Ephesians that are battle is not against flesh and blood. That’s often hard to believe, but we’re told that our battle is against spiritual forces that would bring us down. This is why praising God is so effective. When I enter into that quiet place, I praise God whether I feel like it or not and I praise Him for as long as it takes to defeat the enemies that would cause me to stumble. Discontentment, strife, fear, loneliness, anger, stress, discouragement and despair can be defeated by the simple act of praising God.

One of my favorite Psalms to read aloud in praise to God is Psalm 103. I’ve printed it below:

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.

Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget not all of His benefits;

Who pardons all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases;

Who redeems your life from the pit, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;

Who satisfies your years with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.

The LORD performs righteous deeds and judgments for all who are oppressed.

He made known His ways to Moses, his acts to the sons of Israel.

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.

He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever.

He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.

As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.

Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.

For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.

As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes.

When the wind has passed over it, it is no more,

And its place acknowledges it no longer.

But the lovingkindness of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him,

And His righteousness to children's children,

To those who keep His covenant and remember His precepts to do them.

The LORD has established His throne in the heavens,

And His sovereignty rules over all.

Bless the LORD, you His angels, mighty in strength, who perform His word, obeying the voice of His word!

Bless the LORD, all you His hosts, you who serve Him, doing His will.

Bless the LORD, all you works of His,

In all places of His dominion; Bless the LORD, O my soul!