17 The LORD is righteous in all His ways,
Gracious in all His works.
18 The LORD is near to all who call upon Him,
To all who call upon Him in truth.
19 He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him;
He also will hear their cry and save them.
20 The LORD preserves all who love Him,
But all the wicked He will destroy.
21 My mouth shall speak the praise of the LORD,
And all flesh shall bless His holy name
Forever and ever.
As I entered into worship last night with friends at a Bible study, I was forced to consider something that has been bothering me the past few days: I have felt distant from God. I felt physically alright, and there was no particular point about which I could say, “Aha! That is when my heart pulled away from the Spirit.” It was a gradual thing, a growing self-reliance, a bit of pride tossed in, some unrepented sin, a little doubt and fear, a lot of loneliness, and when you add all those things together it leads to distance from God. I didn’t really want to be distant from my Lord, but that is where I ended up–and I didn’t like it.
Once I realized I was far from Him, I pleaded for Him to show me how to come back. Along with David, I said to God, “Cleanse me from secret faults.” (Psalms 19:12b) I wanted God to help me understand why this gulf existed between us. He pointed me back to the cross of Christ, the bridge between my sin and His salvation. It is as if He said to me, “Come back here, and you will understand what you must do.” And so I returned to the gospel, and I found something wonderful: God’s presence.
As the Psalmist says in today’s verses, God is gracious in all His works. There is nothing that God has done or will do that is not overflowing with His gift of grace for us, and yet even these gracious works flow from His righteousness and from His love. In my distance from God, I had not called upon Him in truth. To be honest, I had hardly called upon Him at all, and so I was left to rely on my own resources. His Spirit was always there with me, never far from my side, but in my pride and doubt and worldly fear, I had pushed the Spirit away, departing from righteousness. No wonder God had felt far away!
Worldly fear: it gets the best of us almost every time. We fear losing a job or not being able to pay a bill. We fear never finding a Godly mate or never getting past the wounds of an old relationship. We doubt that we have the right stuff to share the gospel or we get overconfident and think we know plenty and others do not. We fear the judgment of our peers or else we don’t listen to the loving guidance of Godly people. We fear the future and regret the past, but we dwell so wholly in the present that we forget that God has promised us a future and a hope wherein we will call and He will answer. (Jeremiah 29:11-13) But we must seek Him with ALL our heart, and so we must not only love Him but also fear Him, treat Him with respect and approach Him with humility. “Behold the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him” the Psalmist wrote. (Psalms 33:18a) But when we do NOT fear Him, then where is OUR eye? Our eye is on the world. When our gaze is not fully focused on God and His will, then the Spirit will indeed be far from us.
15 “If you love Me, keep My commandments.
16 “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever–
17 “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.”
“Keep my commandments,” Jesus said. What did He command us to do? Love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind, to love God so much that we repented of our sins and believed in His Son as the Christ. And when we have done that, focusing all our love and hope and faith upon God, then the “Helper”–the Holy Spirit of God–will come alongside us to guide and strengthen and teach us.
What is the desire of those who fear God? I know that my own desire is to know Him better and to be found in His presence. I desire to be peaceful in the midst of the toil of this life, to be caught up in the love of the eternal life that is to come. When I cry out to God, it is to express my desire to no longer be lost in the soullessness of this world but to know His Spirit in greater measure, so that I may be uplifted and counseled and have my hope and faith bolstered by the rock of my salvation.
It is utterly true that the Lord hears our cry and saves us–sometimes even when we do not know what to cry out. Even from heaven, God hears the cry of the oppressed and the victimized, He hears the cry of those who love and fear Him. He hears, He forgives, He acts, repaying us according to the truth of our heart’s desire. (1 Kings 8:39) And those whose hearts are wicked, who do not seek the Lord in truth, they shall go down to destruction. It is when we approach God with a contrite heart that He hears and forgives.
Truly, we must humble ourselves every day before the Lord our God. We must approach the throne of grace with fear and love, with utter truth in our hearts. For God knows the hearts of all men, and even secret things will be brought to light and judged. But if we have truly sought His Son and His salvation, He will know and act accordingly.
Look at verse 18 one more time:
“The LORD is near to all who call upon Him,
To all who call upon Him in truth.”
It does not say He “will be near,” nor does it say He will “come near” to those who call upon Him. On the contrary, He IS near to them already! He has promised to never leave us nor forsake us. (Joshua 1:5) His Spirit is with us forever (John 14:16) and His Son is with us to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20) Those are potent promises of God’s continual presence in our lives. Therefore, any distance between us and God is only our own doing. We do not seek Him in truth, our words and our hearts are not in sync when we cry out to Him, because we carry doubt and because we allow pride to tell us we don’t really need Him. But we do! Out of the boundless measure of His love, those righteous and gracious works He has done, He has done them for US, and we NEED His salvation and we NEED His grace. Without them, we could not stand.
And so my mouth shall praise Him, and all flesh shall one day praise His holy name forever. We will react with worship toward the One whose Son saved us from destruction. We will extol the glories of our true King and Lord. We will fall before the throne of God, casting our worldly crowns on the glassy sea and taking up the crown of glory He has held for us in the name of Jesus Christ His Son.
I will call upon the Lord, and I pray that my words and my heart shall truly be as one as I seek Him in truth and repentance. I desire His presence again. I will cry out “O my God, be not far from me!” And when I finally leave behind the world, the flesh, and the devil, and when I seek God with all my heart and mind and soul, then I will draw near to Him and I will find that He was never far from me at all.
Holy Lord God, be not far from me! Don’t let me push You away anymore. In Your gentleness and mercy, grasp hold of my heart and pull me close to You. I desire Your presence, and I need Your mercy. I am so fearful of things in this world, so please, Lord, cast out my fear with Your perfect love. I do love Your Son, and so, Father God, restore Your Spirit to me that I may know the fullness of Your blessings in my life. Let my true heart’s desire be ever and always to serve You. Amen.