Five little balls of fluff huddle beneath the shed of our neighbor’s yard; adorable new kittens. My kids run toward them, hold and cuddle them.
A big black ball of fur lumbers toward our campsite along the path. Sitting around the campfire I elbow my husband, “that’s a bear!” and jump up, making a beeline for the camper - no desire to come close at all.
The kittens attract us with their harmless little cries, while a black bear elicits fear just by glancing at his large paw. But it’s not always the case; those with allergies to cats, won’t likely go close to the kittens, and an Indigenous man we met was quite comfortable approaching the bear, clapping loudly to shoo him away.
What draws us in? What pulls us away?
This becomes an important question for our spiritual growth. In all our striving and doing, day in and day out, tying laces, driving to practice, and sitting for coffee with a friend in need, we feel spent, like there’s nothing left in the tank to give. Trying to carve out time for the Word, even when we get there, feels empty. It becomes easier to pull away, unsatisfied and unmotivated.
We want to do all the right things, but our spiritual intimacy hangs like flag out of our reach. While we blame it on busyness, and sometimes that may be the case, but there’s something deeper. My fear of the bear sent me running for cover, but in his ease our friend could respond differently: the same bear, but contrasting levels of comfort.
What are the emotions we bring into our spiritual journey? How do they affect our relationship with the Father and our practice of spiritual disciplines?
Here are three questions to ask:
Are we afraid to draw near because of our filthy clothes? (=shame)
In Zecharia’s vision (Zech 3), Joshua the high priest stood before the Lord wearing filthy clothes. Not only in front of God, but Satan was there too. We approach prayer and our Bible reading as if we’re in a courtroom; we feel awkward and unworthy. These emotions bubble up inside of us, because we’re ashamed. We’re downhearted because sin still has a grip on us, we feel we shouldn’t still be struggling, and frustrated that we’re not perfect.
Are we afraid to draw near because we will be convicted? (=guilt)
Sometimes, we prefer to be like the Israelites, standing outside in the temple courtyard, watching the priest go into God’s presence, rather than ourselves. In Isaiah’s vision of the Lord, he cries out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Is 6:5). In the Lord’s presence, the guilt of sin glimmers brightly, like an engagement ring when it catches the right light.
Our poor choices, the deceitfulness of our hearts, seems inescapable. Drawing near to Christ may feel wrong given the burden of sin we carry. So we choose to rather set the Word aside for another day when we won’t feel this way.
Are we afraid to draw near because the Lord will call us to something hard? (=fear)
Jonah ran away from God’s call to Ninevah. After being anointed king, Saul ran to hide in the fields. In disbelief Moses stood before the holy fire begging God to send someone else. Elijah hid in a cave, believing he was the very last faithful man standing.
We feel like we’re doing all we can, but we worry. We fear he’ll call us to that task we don’t want to do, to someone in need, but we feel like we just can’t, or maybe he’ll ask us to give something up. We may not want to face the Father with our fears.
When we prayerfully ask the Lord to search our hearts, to reveal what keeps us from intimacy with him, we’ll likely face shame, guilt or fear - or any combination of them. It may feel unsettling, but it’s also enlightening. Like the patient who comes in with pain in their belly, then finds out they have appendicitis; there’s relief knowing the cause of their pain, and that the medical team has a solution.
In the same way, understanding what pulls us away helps us to draw near.
It's important, because, by the grace of God, we want to!
We desire to be a spiritual parent for our children, we long to serve the Lord faithfully, leaving a trail of His glory behind us, and to hear his words, "well done," when we've finished our race.
In our shame, we remember we’re not worthy, we’re not worthy in and of ourselves.
If our sense of worth comes from what we do, simply put, it’s not good enough! Because, “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).
When Joshua stood before the Lord with his filthy clothes, he was given new garments. “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments” (Zech 3:4). The Lord Jesus has redeemed us, his good gift provides our life with worth, meaning and purpose.
In our guilt, we remember we are sinners, but we’re saved.
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8), and by his grace we continue to repent and turn from our sin. We no longer stand outside in the courtyard because of our sin. When Christ died on the cross, the curtain was torn in two! The Holy of Holies is no longer a secret place, there are no further sacrifices to be made. We now approach the throne of grace with confidence, in full assurance of faith because our guilt has been atoned for, the price has been paid (Heb 10:19-22).
In our fear, we remember hard times will come, but we are not alone.
The daily grind of our lives may feel mundane, purposeless, or just too busy, yet because we are new creations in Christ, our lives are filled with meaning and intention, to do all things for the glory of God and the good of others. Though we may face steps of obedience that are scary, paralyzing us with fear - whether it’s repentance, suffering or loving others - God has called us to good works, He has prepared us, his Word equip us, and his presence strengthens us.
The invitation remains, “‘return to me’ declares the Lord of hosts, that I may return to you” (Zech 1:3). The good news of the gospel is that we are invited near! We’re reconciled to him, adopted into his family, belonging to his body and equipped for good works. His grace now empowers and strengthens us each day, that as we move near to him, He will draw near to us.
For, “how blessed is the one whom you choose and bring near to You to dwell in your courts. We will be satisfied with the goodness of your house, your holy temple” (Ps 65:4). Let’s throw off what hinders us and satisfy ourselves in his goodness today.