As a youth pastor I sometimes have teenagers come up to me and say something like, "You know Lance, I just don't feel as close to God as I thought I would. I got saved a few months back (or a few years back) and I just don't feel any closer to God." Generally, I respond by asking the student if he is spending regular time with the Lord. Is he reading his Bible and praying everyday? Almost always the answer is no.
Scripture gives us a very clear teaching on this matter. If we come near (approach, draw near, pursue) God, then He will draw near to us as well. I don't know why this is so difficult for us to grasp. It isn't just teenagers that struggle with this; many adults, including myself, continue to struggle to have regular quiet times and then wonder why we aren't closer to God. Somehow we think that a close relationship with God just happens without any hard work. We don't expect this to happen in any other area of life. We don't expect relationships to just blossom without ever spending time with the person. We don't expect to have increased knowledge of math without studying. We don't expect to suddenly acquire better basketball skills without practicing. And yet, once we become a Christian we somehow think that we are going to experience a deep relationship with God, knowledge of God, and skill at discerning His will without ever investing any time or energy developing them. It is absurd and frankly angering.
There are some parts of the Christian life that are automatic. The Bible tells us that when we become a Christian we become a new creation (II Corinthians 5:17). The Holy Spirit comes to reside in us (Ephesians 1:13) and we are given a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26-27). Most new Christians sense a greater intimacy with the Lord at this time. But as Christians we have a responsibility to develop this new relationship with the Lord, our knowledge of Him, and our skill at handling His Word over time. In fact, when we stop to think of just how much God has pursued us, it is embarrassing that we should struggle so much to simply spend time with Him.
Scripture tells us that before the foundation of the world God was working out His plan to pursue and save us from our sin (Ephesians 1:4-5). He took on flesh and suffered and died the worst imaginable death for us, even when we were opposed to Him. Over the course of thousands of years He carefully revealed His nature and His will to His prophets and apostles and had them write this revelation down. Then He raised up scribes to painstakingly copy and preserve this revelation for future generations. The Bible was copied by hand for thousands of years before the printing press was invented. Because this process was so slow and costly, it was very rare for individuals to personally own any of the books of the Bible. Churches had Bibles, but generally individuals didn't. Then when the Roman emperor Diocletian decided to wipe out Christianity by destroying all the Bibles in the whole world, many Christians chose imprisonment, torture and even death rather than reveal where Bibles were hidden. Much later, more Christians were martyred for translating the Bible into English. The Roman Catholic church didn't want the Bible to be translated into the common language but men like John Wycliffe and William Tyndale wanted every poor farmer in England to be able to read the Bible in their own language.
Today, we have this precious book, this love letter, that God has so providentially worked through the lives and deaths of His saints to put into our hands. Most of us have two or three or more, and we completely ignore the great privilege we have to read it on our own. We don't read it every day or even every week. Instead, we wait for Sunday so the preacher can tell us what it says. We take God's self-revelation for granted. We take the blood of His saints for granted. We ignore the amazing right we have to approach the throne of grace in prayer won for us by Christ on His cross, and then we dare to question why we don't feel closer to God.
The answer is simple. You don't feel close to God, because you aren't. You aren't close to God because you aren't pursuing Him. And it seems pretty clear to me why we aren't doing these things...it's because we don't want to. I think it can be said that according to the above verse, you are as close to God as you want to be. The truth is that we would rather watch TV, and listen to music, go on Facebook, and do whatever else we spend all of our time doing, than spend time with God. No wonder we don't know Him. No wonder we aren't close to Him. This isn't rocket science. God has promised that if you draw near to Him, He will reciprocate. It isn't always easy. You can't do it for five minutes and expect earth shattering results. You have to persevere and spend time with God even when it doesn't feel like He is there. Trust His promise. Keep at it. Read your Bible, pray, study with other Christians, and sing His praises. Come near to God and He will come near to you.
For further reading...
- Spend 10 minutes alone with God. Just you, Him, and your Bible. If you don't know where to start reading. Try Psalms or any of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John).