Laura, in a Little House On The Prairie re-run, was told those who are closer to God are more apt to have their prayers answered. The episode closed with Laura, face aglow, at the foot of a mountain, preparing the arduous task of “getting closer to God.”
While we smile at a child’s literal interpretation, there are adults who believe they can move closer to God by sticking pins in themselves or walking on burning coals or dragging a heavy cross for hundreds of miles. Others think seclusion will do it, retreating to caves, monasteries, bomb shelters or isolated communes. A southern California religious school even moved out into the desert and now advertises itself as being “fifty miles from the nearest sin!”
Label them naive, nutty, or fanatical, yet it is not wrong to want to be close to God. In fact, He commands it. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you...” (James 4:7). But how can man draw near to God?
David, the psalm-writing king of Israel, asked the same question, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in His holy place?” (Psalm 24)
David answers his own question with, “He that hath clean hands and a pure heart.” The rest of James 4:7 agrees. It says, “Cleanse your hands you sinners and purify your hearts you double-minded.” But both raise another question, “How can I be clean and pure?”
The answer is again found in David’s psalms. He confessed after he committed adultery with Bathsheba, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness: according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions; and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done evil in thy sight . . . create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me . . . . For thou desires not sacrifice else I would give it . . . the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”
David recognized two things many of us never think about. One that God is utterly holy, utterly beyond our reach. Two, that unless He in mercy reaches down, there is no mountain high enough, no sacrifice great enough, no retreat far enough to make us clean enough to come close to Him.
David also knew the secret of coming closer. It is not in climbing higher but in bowing lower. Isaiah wrote, “For this is what the high and lofty One says, He who lives forever, whose name is Holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit.’” Jesus echoes with, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
In other words, outward religious activity does not bring us closer to a God who knows what goes on inside our hearts. We need inward changes. James says we need to humble ourselves in submission to God. Humility is never easy. We would rather redefine our sinful condition, or rationalize it, excuse it, cover it, deny it, or even be perversely proud of it, anything but humbly admit we cannot make ourselves fit to draw near to God. Besides, contrite submission to Him means turning away from our own efforts to draw closer and coming to Him in the only way He accepts.
Laura, with the humble faith of a child, may find God at the top of her mountain, but not because she scaled his peak. God meets His people even in the valleys, as long as they come admitting their spiritual poverty. He doesn’t care where we are, but what we are — on the inside, where only He can see. When we humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, He promised to lift us up — and draw us close to Himself.