Have you ever considered yourself or someone else “far from God?”
In fact, take a moment. Who comes to your mind right now when you think of someone who is “far from God?” What is the “kind of person” you might consider “furthest from God?”
I think this is a common notion: people for a variety of reasons can be more or less far from God. I know of Christians, churches, ministry organizations that would consider their mission, their purpose something to the effect of “reaching people far from God.” The language pictures an effort to stretch and to close the distance between God and people.
But lately, we’ve been focusing our attention on the nearness of God, His listening and responding. Believers are often deeply comforted by that reality of God and rightly so. But, what about unbelievers, or as I like to say “not-yet” believers?
I revisited Acts 17:16-34 recently, when Paul was in Athens noticing that the city was full of idols. Paul saw an opportunity when he noticed a shrine for “an unknown god.” He began to tell the Story of God summarizing big ideas from Scripture. Paul was introducing them to the Only, True God that was unknown to them thus far. Then Paul said this:
“And [God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God in the hope that they might feel their way toward Him and find Him. Yet He is actually not far from each one of us…” (Acts 17:26-27)
It seems like our commonly held notion of “far from God” is in fact a myth of some kind. Though it smarts a bit to adjust our perspective, what a hopeful and helpful adjustment! What if God is near to each one of us whether we know it or not? What if witnessing for Christ is less like straining to pull someone close to God? What if it’s more like starting a conversation with Someone new that has been right there with them all along?
“Turn toward Him and talk to Him. What do you want to say?”
That might sound like a strange evangelistic invitation, but it’s mine. It’s on the heels of a conversation or two, if not a more developed relationship, where I’ve shared bits a pieces of the Story of God here or there as there has been opportunity. I believe God’s call to trust and worship Him alone through the person and work of Christ by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is a close call. God is right there, close to each one of us whether we know Him yet or not. He’s not calling over chasm. He is calling, closing in with grace for every need.
I’ve heard such simple yet profound “first prayers” in response to that invitation:
“I’m so sorry. Please, forgive me.”
“I can’t do this on my own anymore. I need You to take over.”
“Thank You for loving me. Thank You for giving Your life for me.”
“I guess I believe You’re there now. Show me who You are. I’ll go Your way.”
These were words from their hearts to who they know God to be so far. Of course, knowing and loving God develops further as they grow in discipleship, but these were honest starts and introductions into that relationship. And, they all started in the same way—an acknowledgment that God was right there where we were and listening, ready to respond. We didn’t have to go anywhere special or say anything extra religious or magical—nope, just turn and talk by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-10).*
What would change for you, if you believed that God’s call to Himself is a close call, that He is near to each one of us?
How might that effect how you witness to and relate to people you once thought were “far from God?”
How might that effect how you pray for people in terms of evangelism—family, friends, workplace, neighborhood, nations?
Take a few moments to turn and talk to God. What’s on your heart to say to Him?
*Note: This does take discernment as I listen to prayers like this. I’m listening for things like God-centeredness, grace, surrender, trust, that what they are saying of God is true of Him for what they know so far. I’m also listening for things to address and grow into to help them grow in the future, what the next good step is.
Example: one person above prayed at one time in effect, “Help me do more, do better, try harder with church stuff.” I thought that I didn’t hear God-centeredness and grace—we’re not there yet. The next time after some Scripture, conversation, a devotional resource he prayed, “I can’t do this on my own anymore. I need You to take over.” There it is! We’ll learn more as we go, but that’s surrender, trust, and a big change from self-centered to God-centered.