Drawing Near #3
Lessons from the New Testament
SCRIPTURE READING: James 4:7-10
An anonymous theologian wrote these wise words: “God is great, and therefore He will be sought: He is good, and therefore He will be found.”
This is the third week I’ve been talking about DRAWING NEAR to God. We can see a beautiful truth all through the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments: God is passionately seeking those who are passionately seeking Him.
In Jeremiah 29:13-14, God promises, “If anyone seeks Me with all his heart, I will be found by him.”
James 4:8 says, Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. We want to DRAW CLOSE to God, but the question remains: HOW can we do it? The verse right before shows us the 1st Step is to CLEAN UP our act.
1. Clean Up! James 4:7-8
Verse 7 says: Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you …
Before we DRAW NEAR, we must do more than submit to God. We must also resist the Devil. This is a two-pronged approach. And the wonderful discovery is that with these twin principles come with twin promises:
Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.
Our primary interaction with the Devil is very simple: RESIST! Don’t hang out with him. Don’t converse with him. Don’t try to out-smart him. Just RESIST. This verse promises that IF we resist, the devil WILL leave us alone (at least temporarily).
We live in an age when people actually get diagnosed with things like: “poor impulse control” or “oppositional defiant disorder.” Now, I’m not saying such things may not exist, but I am saying that a lot of folks tend to assume they have no responsibility to control their actions. They feel that “If I have a strong urge…I just have to go with it!” Part of drawing near to God is learning how to “Just say ‘No!’”
Look at these verses again: Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. James 4:8
Not only are we to RESIST Satan’s influence, we are also to wash our hands and purify our hearts. It’s not that we will never sin. All of us sin from time to time. But when we sin, we must agree with God that our Sin is ugly. We need to turn away from that sin (this is what Repentance means --- we change our minds to agree with God.) Cleansing filthy hands and purifying tainted hearts is how we show we are serious about DRAWING NEAR to God.
When someone you care about is coming to visit, don’t you clean up your house? You make the beds; you de-clutter the rooms; you mow the yard. If you’re about to see someone important, don’t you take a shower, put on clean clothes, brush your teeth, gargle, and then check out your appearance in the mirror before you see them? Let me ask, Is God important to you? Then clean up, spiff up, and get ready for interaction with God.
Some may wonder why it says, “Purify your hearts you double-minded.” That’s because being double-minded IS a SIN. It shows we haven’t really made the choice between the world and God. You can’t have it both ways. James makes that clear in verse 4: You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
I am reminded of what George W. Bush said about the War on Terror: when he announced to the nations: “You are against the terrorists or you are against us. There is no neutral territory,” In some situations there is no middle ground. There is no room for a person who wants to play both sides. That’s how God feels about anyone who wants to DRAW NEAR to Him.
You can’t turn towards both God and Sin at the same time. Turning to God means turning your back on Satan. Paul wrote about this in Romans 8 when he taught that the mind on the flesh means certain death, but the mind on the Spirit means life and peace. You can’t have your mind on the flesh and on the Spirit at the same time. Choose one side or choose the other.
Friend, God CARES which side you choose! God LONGS for the closeness that comes when His Spirit lives in us. That’s why James 4:5 says, … the Spirit he caused to live in us longs jealously. God is actually JEALOUS with a righteous possessiveness. He WANTS you to choose Him. It breaks His heart when you are double-minded.
God yearns earnestly to have fellowship, but that fellowship will be on His terms, not ours. What we are looking at today are some practical and understandable STEPS to DRAWING NEAR to God. If we attempt to draw near without these scriptural STEPS, our fellowship with God will be hindered. We saw that the first step is to CLEAN UP. The next step is to HUMBLE DOWN!
2. Humble down! James 4:9-10
But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:5-6
I’ve heard it said that Preachers tend to fall into 1 of 3 Sin Traps. They may fall into lust of the flesh --- which would include things like sexual sin. Or they might fall into the lust of the eye --- which includes financial shenanigans, like embezzling church funds.
But if they avoid those 2 common Sin Traps, they get so impressed with themselves that they fall prey to the 3rd Trap: the boastful pride of life. (I heard that one preacher was awarded a medal for humility --- but it had to be taken away because he insisted on wearing it all the time.)
Actually, Preachers aren’t the only ones who fall into those Sin Traps. For all of us, PRIDE is actually the most subtle and dangerous SIN TRAP of all. A proud person is in no shape to draw near to God because they are too occupied with self-aggrandizement to bow the knee before God
The text goes on to tell us this: Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. James 4:9
Last summer I spent 3 days at the World Prayer Center seeking to draw closer to God myself. I noticed that one of the changes this time of renewal produced in myself was a greater propensity to shed tears at the drop of a hat. I would cry my way through my reading, cry through my prayers, and cry whenever I heard praise music. I was doing a lot of crying up there in Colorado, and on my way home. I guess some people might think I was having a mental breakdown … but looking back at it, what happened to my emotions gives new meaning to James 4:9.
I think this is not as much a command as it is an explanation of what happens to us emotionally when we yearn to draw near to God. I guarantee that a flippant attitude will never connect with the Almighty. A heartfelt yearning to draw near to God will most likely loosen up our tears. And I think that godly sorrow is a definite part of the humbling process.
James 4:10 says, Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
Why is it so important to Humble ourselves? You see, the root of all sin is the lack of fear of the Lord. And lack of fear of the Lord comes from PRIDE.
John Bevere wrote in his book, Drawing near, “God will never manifest his presence in an atmosphere where He is not revered (obedience + awe = respect).
You MUST humble yourself in order to FEAR the LORD. Now, there is a big difference between being scared of God (wanting to avoid Him) and FEAR of God (which makes you long to be near Him.)
• Fear of the Lord means loving what God loves and hating what God hates.
• It means agreeing with God about right and wrong.
• It requires us to be honest about our own sins and weaknesses.
If we don’t have a proper fear of God, we tend to excuse ourselves and think we’re not so bad. If we understand that God is all-powerful and perfectly just, we will be deeply sorry for our sins and failings.
It is the fear of the Lord that keeps us from sin while sin keeps us from intimacy with God The primary manifestation of the fear of the Lord is unwavering obedience to the desires and will of God.. There are some who are saved, but lack intimacy with God, still living in the “outer court”; restricted by the veil of their own flesh, they cannot draw near unto the new and living way. (John Bevere, Drawing Near)
When you seek to draw near to God,
• First: CLEAN UP!
• then HUMBLE DOWN with proper fear of God.
But there is one more HOW-TO in this chapter of James, and it might surprise you. We’ll put it this way: If you want to DRAW NEAR to God, then BEHAVE YOURSELF!
3. Behave yourself! James 4:11-12
Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? James 4:11-12
It seems that James jumped suddenly from talking about our relationship with God to talking about our relationship with each other. In the past, I tended to think James was switching topics. But now I’m convinced this is very much the same topic. We will never be able to draw near to God until we draw near to each other. How can we buddy up to God while holding our brothers and sisters at arms length?
That’s what the Apostle John was saying in 1 John 4:20-21: If anyone says "I love God”, yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: whoever loves God must also love his brother."
If you grew up in a family where you had brothers and sisters, you probably noticed that your parents didn’t particularly LIKE it when you were fighting with your siblings. There’s no way you’re going to have a peaceful, close time with your mom or dad while you’re in the middle of a big fight with your sister or brother.
On the other hand, parents get pleasure out of seeing their children show love and care for each other. It’s one of the highlights in life to be able to sit around the table with your family … IF they are living in harmony. It’s the same way in God’s family. God doesn’t want to see bickering and hurtful talk among his children. If that’s what you’re doing, it will keep you from DRAWING NEAR to God.
James gets specific: Brothers, do not slander one another. This comes down to that simple old truism that we’ve all heard from our parents: If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all. But besides what we SAY, we need to watch how we think about each other --- because thoughts have a way of sneaking out in our words.
A lot of the problems between Christians would never happen if we would simply give each other the benefit of the doubt. We have no business judging each other’s underlying motives. Now, that doesn’t mean that we overlook actual sin. But it does mean that we refrain from judging each other’s hearts and motives. Why? Because you can’t see into your friend’s heart. Only God can do that. So we need to leave that to God. We should think and speak the best about each other.
If another person has a heart problem, that is between them and God. To put it bluntly, it is none of your business. Let God handle them. The job God has given YOU is simply this: Think well of --- speak well of --- and show love to … your Christian brothers and sisters. Anything less is sin. If you are alienated from another of God’s children, you will not be able to DRAW NEAR to God.
Do you want to draw near to God? Then draw near to His People. That’s where HE is, and that’s where he wants YOU to be.
A.W. Tozer summed up what we are talking about today with these words, “God’s presence is more than a doctrine to be held; it is a life to be enjoyed every moment of every day.”
Do you want to draw near to God?
Do you want to be a God-Walker?
Then Clean Up, Humble Down, and Behave Yourself!
God is on the prowl for folks just like you. Answer His invitation.
Draw near to God, and He WILL draw near to you.