Fanny Crosby had been composing hymns since the age of six. One evening in 1874, in her mid-fifties, she was visiting in the Cincinnati home of fellow hymn writer William Doane. The two talked at length about drawing near to God, and Fanny retired for the night with words and phrases playing through her mind. When she came down from her room the next morning, she recited a new hymn to Doane, who composed a tune on the spot:
I am Thine, O Lord, I have heard Thy voice,
And it told Thy love to me;
But I long to rise in the arms of faith,
And be closer drawn to Thee.
Draw me nearer, nearer, blessed Lord,
To the cross where Thou hast died;
Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer, blessed Lord,
To Thy precious, bleeding side.
The hymn was soon published and, like many of Crosby’s 8,500 gospel songs, became popular and meaningful to multitudes. It reflects the biblical command to “draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings” (Hebrews 10:22, NIV) and expresses the desire of many—to rise in the arms of faith and draw nearer, nearer to God. But how do we do that? What does it mean for those of us “who once were far away [and] have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13) to draw still closer to God?
Anyone who longs to get closer to God should begin with the awareness that God has already taken the first steps. He is nearer than you think, always. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with him.”
That was the experience of Moses, as recorded in the Bible. From his inaugural encounter with God, we may be able to identify seven steps that will take us “nearer, nearer, nearer.”
Starting Where You Are
The third chapter of Exodus begins, “Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, ‘I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up’” (Exodus 3:1-3).
Wherever you are, God is there. He is not distant. He will not ignore your efforts to draw near. He has already taken the first steps toward you. He may even light a fire to get your attention.
Listening for God’s Voice
The Bible says that when Moses noticed the burning bush, God spoke to him. He even called his name. Twice: “Moses! Moses!” (3:4). He knew Moses already; He knows you. He knows when to shout and when to whisper. He knows whether to speak your name through a song or a sigh, a breeze or a bruise. So live in expectation, listening for his voice in the ebb and flow of your daily life, and you will become more attuned to the sound of his voice speaking your name.
Adopting a Servant’s Tone
Moses answered God, “Here I am” (3:4). It is easy for us to miss something important when reading those words, something ancient readers would have known immediately. “Here I am” was the familiar phrase used by servants when they were called (see 1 Samuel 3:4, Isaiah 6:8). Sometimes we long to draw near to God, but we want him to come our direction. Or we insist on certain terms of our own in the process. But God said, through Isaiah the prophet, “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). And James said, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (James 4:6). So humble yourself and adopt the tone and posture of a servant if you want to draw near to God.
Removing All Hindrances
“Do not come any closer,” God told Moses. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5). Why? Scholars debate many possible reasons why God told Moses to remove his footwear, but one possibility is especially intriguing: sandals were a human construction, but Moses’ feet were God’s creation. Perhaps God wants us to remove whatever comes between him and us, whatever will hinder complete vulnerability and intimacy in our relationship with him—whether it is sin, shame, fear, or anything else.
Dialoguing with God
The Bible account of Moses’ mountainside meeting with God relates a dialogue between them. God speaks and Moses answers. God speaks again and Moses answers again. Back and forth, numerous times. Yet when we approach God and desire to draw near to him, we sometimes do all of the talking, which may be part of our problem. Relationships are two-way streets; they are fueled by roughly equal parts give and take, talking and listening. We get to know God better and draw closer to him as we learn not only to talk to him but also to listen to him—by reading his words, being silent, and waiting for him to speak.
Being Open and Honest
As God’s conversation with Moses continued, and God made his call and will clear to the shepherd of Midian, Moses balked. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” “Suppose I go . . .and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’” “What if they do not believe me or listen to me?” (see Exodus 3:11, 13, 4:1). The same guy who moments earlier had taken off his shoes and fallen on his face was arguing with God. But there is no indication that God took offense. As we become more and more honest with God, we draw closer to him. He doesn’t even mind an honest argument, provided we maintain the posture of a servant (as Moses demonstrated in Exodus 4:10 and 13, for example).
Keeping the Conversation Going
After Moses had lodged several objections to God’s plans, they continued talking. In fact, Exodus 4 records them exchanging 300 more words (in the English translation) of conversation. A quick glance at the next chapter even shows that the conversation between them continued after Moses left Mount Horeb. So with us, drawing near to God is not a one-and-done occasion; he invites us into an ongoing conversation that includes not only our heartfelt confessions and requests but also our panic, our questions, our suggestions, affirmations, protests, suspicions, qualms, and regrets. He wants us to keep company with him. Every day. Throughout the day. When we’re alone and when we’re with others.
These simple suggestions may not call down fire from Heaven, but they may spark something new in your relationship with God. And sometimes that’s all it takes to experience the beauty and blessing of James 4:8: “Come near to God and he will come near to you.”
Bob Hostetler is an author and speaker from southwestern Ohio. His more than 50 books include Falling in Love with God and The Bard and the Bible: A Shakespeare Devotional.