At our prayer meeting last Saturday, I shared James 4:8 with the men who were there. “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.” After a few of my simple remarks, one of the men asked: “How do we draw nigh to the Lord?” Quickly I fired off a couple more shallow comments, then we took some prayer requests and went to prayer. As I thought about it later, I questioned whether or not I had that morning actually drawn nigh to the Lord. Certainly, “going to prayer” is not necessarily the same thing as “drawing nigh to God.” The question has hovered over me for several days, prompting me to think that we all could benefit from spending a few minutes on this subject. But I already know that this will not be an in-depth study; I’m not sure that I’m the man for that.

In our opening Psalm, Asaph, begins in praise to Jehovah God for His faithfulness to Israel. Then he says, “But as for me (personally), my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped.” After that, the psalmist speaks of some of his hidden sins – like his envy of the prospering wicked. Why doesn’t God deal with those people who cause the righteous so much grief? Asaph comes close to accusing the Lord of maleficence in not judging wickedness. “Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end” – verse 17. Eventually he comes to the wonderful final five verses, including, “It is good for me to draw near to God.” In drawing nigh to God he found the answers to his questions, and his soul was uplifted.

It is good to draw near to God. But again, how is it done? Are there steps to follow? Is there a ten step plan? Do the Methodists have religion figured out, following specific steps to reach specific goals? Are the Episcopalians right with their “Book of Common Prayer” – their instruction manual? I don’t think so. But still, “HOW do we draw nigh to the Lord?” Let me share some things for you to consider and to implement if the Lord personally leads you to do so.

But first, there are some things to keep in mind in regard to our question.

First of all, God is omnipresent, and therefore we are never really out of His presence. He is everywhere all the time. So drawing nigh to the Lord doesn’t involve physical movement. As I was thinking about this subject and jotting ideas down, it occurred to me that I could use several of the attributes of God as an outline. God is a spirit, therefore we must draw nigh unto him in spirit and in truth. And the Lord is absolutely holy, so we must draw nigh with spiritually feet bare and our hands washed. The holy God tells us that whatsoever is not of faith is unacceptable with Him, rendering unbelievers unfit to approach. And then there is the necessity of genuine humility. In that regard the context of James’ exhortation gives us additional things to consider. James 4:6 – “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God… Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.” I will come back to these in just a minute.

But returning to my first point: God is omnipresent, so drawing nigh has little to do with going to church or climbing a mountain peak. We can draw nigh to the omnipresent God right where we are and in the moment in which we live. I am not saying we shouldn’t go into our prayer closet to daily draw near to God, but it is not necessary. The Lord is with us wherever we are. His Spirit dwells within the child of God. When the Lord reminds you that you’re straying, you can return at that moment and at that place. And Psalm 50 tells us that every beast of the forest is His; He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, so it would be pointless to approach the Lord with bribes or any of the works of our hands. There are other things about the nature of the Lord Himself which should teach us how to draw nigh. For example, He is omniscient, so we can’t hide anything as we come to Him.

Before I get into my suggested answers to the question, consider what it is to “draw nigh.”

Of course, I hope everyone understands that to “draw nigh,” means to “draw near” or more simply to “get close.” Our two English words are actually only one word in Greek. And that word is translated half a dozen ways, but they all mean essentially the same thing: “draw nigh,” “come near” or “be at hand.”

What I found interesting in studying that word were the various contexts in which it was used. The Lord Jesus condemned the hypocrites who drew near to the Lord with their words and promises. There is a “drawing nigh” which is sinful. Jesus said in Matthew 15:8 – “This people DRAWETH NIGH unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.” That kind of approach is obviously not James’ subject. But it does remind us to make sure we aren’t being hypocritical as we come to the Lord. Sometimes the “drawing nigh” is in regard to time. Romans 13:12 – “The night is far spent, the day is AT HAND: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.” Again, James’ reference to “drawing nigh” has nothing to do with time, except that today would be as good a time as any to draw near. Sometimes that Greek word is used in regard to physical proximity. Acts 9:3 – “And as (Saul, the persecutor) journeyed, he CAME NEAR Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven.” This is getting closer to the way James uses the word.

But there is also a somewhat mysterious or mystical use of the word. It comes up over and over again in the gospels, flowing primarily from the lips of Jesus and John. “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is AT HAND.” The Kingdom is at hand in what way? Chronologically, physically, spiritually? All of the above? Which of these three relate to James’ exhortation to draw nigh to God? Maybe we should just keep them all in mind.

How CAN we – how SHOULD we – draw nigh to the Lord?

Before we can begin, there needs to be a full understanding about the One to whom we are approaching. This is Elohim, the Creator, and He is the God who killed 99.999% of the people of the world with the flood. He is the God of the Ten Commandments, and the One who said, “Don’t let anything touch my mountain or the Ark of my Covenant.” This is the God who raised the dead, and the God who sent the priests, Nadab and Abihu, to their deaths. We are talking about approaching the God who has never been seen with human eyes. In other words, drawing nigh to God must involve His grace or we could never live through the experience. It is an awesome privilege to come unto the Lord. It shouldn’t be taken lightly.

As a corollary to that, there needs to be an understanding that we are unworthy of any kind of approach. Moses drew nigh to the burning bush, but despite the Lord’s invitation he was unworthy. Isaiah was invited into God’s throne room, but he, too, was unworthy. He cried out, “Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips…” Simply because James has given us this exhortation, it doesn’t mean we can just saunter up to the Lord in our sins, in our ignorance, and in our pride. “Hey, I’m a child of God, so He can’t refuse me.” Is that so? If you FEEL unworthy of this approach, then it is an indication that you are headed in the right direction. Don’t stay away from the Saviour if He is inviting you. But at the same time never forget that you ARE unworthy and will always be unworthy, no matter what you might have done recently for the Lord’s glory.

We should probably consider the source of this desire on our part come. I wonder how many millions of people have read James 4:8 and have had no inclination to approach? But you have. From where did that come? I know that John 6:44 is talking about coming to the Saviour for deliverance from sin – for salvation. But I’m not sure it isn’t a general principle. “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him…” If the Holy Spirit doesn’t put it into a person’s heart to draw nigh to the Lord, I’m not sure that even a good Christian, of his own accord, is going to step forward. Check the history of your own life for evidence either pro or con. But right now, you have a burden, a desire, a yearning, to draw yourself up close to the Lord. Do it, because the very burden itself is an indication of acceptance, despite how unworthy you are. That desire is one of the Lord’s gifts to you.

How should we draw nigh to God? Do so as a prodigal. That we are all sinners should be something we never deny. That I am an unworthy sinner should be something never very far from my mind. That we are unfit for admission to the Lord’s throne room, we know to be true. Even so, “Let us… come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16. Our unworthiness is a major part of our need. Recognition of that unworthiness is a good first step.

But again, I go back to the context of James’ exhortation. “Cleanse your hands.” Wash them by faith in the water made righteous by the blood of the red heifer – the Lord Jesus Christ. “Purify your hearts.” Of course, there is no dish soap, no Lysol spray, no bleach that can purify any heart. For this we must go back to the Saviour once again. “Lord, I long to approach, but my filthy heart is unfit. Please, Lord, cleanse me.” “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We purify our hearts by giving them over to the Lord to scrub clean. Verse 9 says, “Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep.” I am not going to tell you that unless there are physical tears running down your face, you will never be able to draw nigh to the Lord. But either am I going to tell you there will never be reason for those tears. If they come, let them flow. “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart” – Psalm 34:18. “Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep.” If your fellowship with the Lord has died, then there is good reason to mourn.

Perhaps you picture the throne of the Lord as high over your head. I wont try to take that image from you. And you may say that you are no good with ladders, especially after the tenth rung, so Jacob’s ladder isn’t going to bring you into God’s presence. You don’t need it. The Lord has provided an elevator for quick and easy access. Verse 10 – “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall LIFT YOU up.” Humility is one key, if not the number one key, to drawing nigh to the holy God. Psalm 138:6 – “Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly.” Don’t use your lack of worth as an excuse to keep from drawing nigh. A recognition of your lack of worth is the key to unlocking the door into God’s presence.

But of course, our humble hearts likely are not the only voices saying, “How can YOU draw nigh to the Lord.” Our great spiritual enemy, the accuser of the brethren, doesn’t want you close to the heart of God, so he raises the same question. He will do his best to keep you from such a blessing. That may make it necessary to be diligent. Keep knocking at the Lord’s door, until He opens it for you. Verse 7 – “ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Does Matthew 7:7 apply? “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”

I will close by adding one more thought to the last one: Don’t stop. To be near the Lord is something we need every day – constantly. But the very gravitational nature of life, and the nature of our own human hearts, makes it necessary to continually draw nigh. Don’t James’ words imply constinency? “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.” We need the Lord’s blessings every moment of every day. “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.”