“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8). 

I’ve often heard people describing the presence of God as if it is only some type of “warm and fuzzy”, mystically induced, and purely emotional experience. Using this verse as a proof text, it sounds a bit like, “If you snuggle up to God, He will snuggle up to you.” Although I agree that we can sense God’s extraordinary presence as we pursue Him, the implication here is this experience is derived in some esoteric, trance-like crescendo only. But this idea doesn’t tell me, in a practical sense, how we can experience God’s nearness on an ongoing basis. Thankfully, James helps us with this. The context of this verse explains some of the critical components of richly experiencing the presence of God consistently in our lives, something we all must desire. In James 4:1-12 we see some principles (although it is not some sort of “how-to” manual) in developing an ever-increasing experience of the nearness of our Lord. Turn to that passage and notice that to be saturated in His presence we must: 

  • Have unselfish motives (v. 1-3). We must seek to glorify Him only when desiring His presence and not “using” Him to fulfill our own or worldly desires. Do we desire His presence to seek the Giver or His gifts? Do we want His “hand” more that His “face”? His presence awaits those who are seeking after Him for His own infinite worth and not as some sort of cosmic concierge. 
  • Forsake worldliness and pursue purity (v 4–5). In other words, we must love God more than earthly pleasures and treasures. Jesus says that the “pure in heart will see God” (Matthew 5:8). When He is the Treasure that we would sell all for and our Pearl of Great Price we can encounter Him in the fullest sense (see Matthew 13:44-46). 
  • Be humble before Him (v. 6). Pride is the great barrier and humility the marvelous gateway to knowing God. Jesus indicated that to experience His Kingdom in the present we must be “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3).  Proverbs 3:34 says that “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 
  • Submit to God and make an intentional effort to flee sin (v. 7). Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6). There is no greater satisfaction than to commune with God but His holiness demands our pursuit of surrender and obedience. 
  • Confess our transgressions and repent of our sins (v. 8). “Blessed”, Jesus taught, “are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (Matthew 5:4). John tells us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:19) and Jesus makes it clear that we must repent to experience the nearness of the kingdom of God (Matthew 3:2). 
  • Have an awareness of our sin that exalts His grace (v 9-10). When we are cognizant of our sinfulness we tend to have an exalted view of His mercy and grace. This kind of spiritual neediness makes us desperate for Him, His salvation, and His kingdom (Matthew 6:33).  
  • Be at peace with others (v. 11). We will not fully experience the Prince of Peace when we do not seek to live in peace with those around us. Although following Him may cause conflict with our unregenerate environment we never seek out conflict (Matthew 5:9). In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus directs us to not even give an offering in worship until we have been reconciled with our brother (Matthew 5:23-24). 
  • Mindfully and constantly acknowledge God for who He is (v. 12). He is above us – Creator, Lawgiver and Judge – as unfathomably superior in all aspects of His being (see Isaiah 55:8-9). He is supreme and has the right to complete dominion over us as our King and Father. We invoke His presence with such a worshipful attitude.  

Given that God is always with us (Hebrews 13:5, Matthew 28:20) and His Spirit indwells us a guide to and guarantee of His relationship with us there must be a key ingredient that makes His presence most real to us. There is – obedience! This is what James is saying – obedience is the key to experiencing a sense of God’s “closeness”. Thus a marvelous, supernatural, Godward cycle is created. First, He has made Himself close to us (see Acts 17:27) that we might be obedient to Him. In our Spirit-wrought obedience we have a heightened awareness of His proximity to us and in us. And His presence enables us to be more and more obedient and, subsequently, to have “more of Him”.

But, in order for this to be a reality, we must be fixated on Jesus and Calvary, the real impetus behind His presence (walking with Him –  being raised, rooted, built up, established, and made alive in Him) with us: 

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith…having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross (see Colossians 2:6-14).

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