How do we cultivate the presence of God? I believe the answer is found in James. God said, “Draw near to me and I will draw near to you.” God always responds to us whenever we approach Him on His terms. A lot of people are sitting around waiting for the Lord to move while the Lord is waiting for us to make the first move toward Him. Think about it friend; God said He would draw near to you if you would only draw near to Him!
So the primary work of the church in times of declension is drawing nigh or seeking God. Contrary to popular thinking, seeking God is not a one-time event that ends with salvation. Initially, God seeks us and finds us. We then spend the rest of our lives pursuing Him.
I grew up on a farm where every spring we would cultivate our crops. Plowing up the weeds, placing more dirt around the roots, and applying fertilizer were the things we did to promote a better harvest. When people loose touch with God, James gives practical ways to cultivate His presence (4:7-10).
Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord. There can be no point of meeting between a proud heart and a holy God. Since God is repelled by pride, it is our responsibility to humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord.
Those who know God will be humble. They who know themselves cannot be proud. Just as pride is the mother of most sin, so humility is the mother of grace. The prophets called on God’s covenant people to humble themselves. When Israel was in a repenting mode, they would pull out the sackcloth and ashes and get low before God. On occasion they would convene solemn assemblies for the purpose of corporate repentance.
But how do we humble ourselves before God today? David said he humbled his soul with fasting. Denying his body food was a calculated strategy to starve pride out of his soul. His hunger for God exceeded his hunger for food. Fasting allows one to concentrate intensely on seeking God. Earthly necessities are put on hold for a season so eternal realities can be given their rightful place. Jesus said His disciples would fast when He was taken away.
Only desperate people will deny themselves. The self-righteous will not humble their souls. Neither will the self-satisfied or self-indulgent employ this discipline. But deep spiritual hunger can cause people to become so desperate that they humble their souls by fasting. I know of churches that have called on their people to fast from food, television, and computers for express purpose of diligently seeking God. Pastors have at times led their congregations into seasons of contrition and brokenness before God. These congregations were in dead earnest about the condition of their souls. They longed to have Jesus back in their midst. They realized that no price is too high to pay for a divine visitation. I know of two quarrelling churches that took out a full page newspaper ad to ask the community to forgive them for their poor testimony.
Cleanse your hands ye sinners. We wash our hands when they are dirty. When our lives are contaminated with external sin, God says it’s time to take a bath in the blood of Jesus. Outward actions, wrong associations, patterns of disobedience, and sins of commission and omission call for prompt confession and forsaking. Because sin is an affront to God’s character and an attack on His holiness, it must be put away. If we are to draw nigh to God we must disassociate ourselves from all known sin.
Purify your hearts ye double minded. A soiled soul causes confused thinking and divided allegiance. Purification of heart refers to the inner, unseen things of a man’s soul. Attitudes, motives, and thoughts must be brought in line. Man may look on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart. Unclean people can have no commerce with God. Communion with God is dependant on conformity to God, and no man can have fellowship with His Creator without the cleansing that the blood of Christ brings. That which is in the dark must be brought to the light.
Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep. A heart that has strayed from God must face the seriousness of its condition and take appropriate measures. Ecclesiastes says, “Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.” Manton said, “Holy tears are the sponge of sin; a hard heart must be soaked, and a filthy heart must be washed.” Godly sorrow, which works repentance that does not need to be repented of, precedes the joy that can only be found in the presence of Christ.
God punishes pride, but He rewards humility. Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and he shall lift you up. The redeemed heart rejoices when God draws near, “In thy presence there is fullness of joy.” This lifting of spirit is the result of lowering ourselves in God’s sight.
The first step in regaining that, which has been lost, is discovering and admitting you’ve lost it. The absence of God-consciousness is always a call to draw near to God. This is true both individually and corporately. One day the Bridegroom will come back literally and physically. In the mean time we can, and must, cultivate His felt presence in our midst by drawing near to Him. When we draw near to Him, He promises to draw near to us.
Article by Harold Vaughan
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