Good morning, brothers and sisters, may the grace and peace of our Lord be with you!
Draw near to God
Fellowship with God not only has a starting point (baptism into Christ), but also needs to be maintained (drawing near to God). Drawing near to God is a spiritual discipline, and its purpose is to look to God and align ourselves with his will, so that our thoughts and actions become increasingly pleasing to God. There are four specific ways to do this, the first is to teach and obey the word of God, and the other three are listed below:
- Fellowship (koinonia): The shortest path to God is not walked alone, but with friends. The one closest to God is not the person who stands alone, but the person who stands with the assembly of God’s people. When God’s people gather together, each person becomes closer to God. When God’s people listen to his word together, each person hears his word clearer. When God’s people worship and pray together, each person draws nearer to the throne of God. When God’s people serve together, each person has a more intimate relationship with God. God’s salvation design was not for individuals to be saved and be alone, but for many to be saved and be together. His desire is not for one person to draw near to him, but for his many sons and daughters to draw near to him together. “Fellowship” is not only “life together in Christ”, but it is the best way to draw near to God. According to the book of Acts, “fellowship” has the following characteristics:
And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart,praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:44-47)
- The people: “all those who had believed”—There were no onlookers, only believers.
- The event: “breaking bread, taking meals together, praising God”—They worshiped in the temple, and had fellowship at the table.
- The time: “day by day” – They met together every day, not once a week.
- The place: “were together”—They gathered together, not scattered in different places.
- The possessions: “selling their property and possessions and sharing them with all”—They were good stewards of God’s gifts, and shared generously with others.
- The heart: “with one mind” and “with gladness and sincerity of heart”—They were like-minded, sincere, and gladly meeting together.
Brothers and sisters, if you want to draw near to God, you must gather together with those in the body of Christ, worshiping, serving, and breaking bread together with gladness and sincerity of heart. In other words, live life together. It goes beyond a Sunday greeting, but becomes a part of life. You may ask, is this possible in our modern individualistic society, especially in the States? Even if you have doubts, you must try your best, because this is God’s desire for us. Do not invade other people’s privacy or gossip about others. Be sincere in your love for one another. Give priority to midweek gatherings such as prayer meetings, fellowship meetings, and special events at church. Your first plan of action should always be to go, to attend, to participate. Similarly with Sunday worship, Sunday school, and Sunday lunch. Your first plan of action should always be to go, to attend, to participate.
- The breaking of bread: The breaking of bread represents “Christ-centered worship”. Breaking bread is Christ-centered, centered around the Lord’s table, sharing the Lord’s bread and cup. It is a form of worship, an act of faith, a remembrance of the Lord with our spirit. Every Sunday worship is a Christ-centered worship, regardless of whether the Lord’s supper is observed that day. Brothers and sisters open their hearts to praise the Lord. They receive God’s word together, experience the presence of God, and are blessed beyond measure. In the midst of worship, many will find their strength renewed, their questions answered, and their difficulties overcome. Some people think that worship is the same as “listening to a sermon”, and they do not come to worship God, but only to listen to a message that can make them feel good emotionally or allow them to gain some knowledge intellectually. They do not fear God nor respect others, and are constantly looking at their phones, making phone calls, or walking around. It is sad that there is this kind of behavior and attitude towards God. The church, on the other hand, has a responsibility to offer a high-quality worship service. Every part of the worship must be carefully planned and well-thought-out. From the major components such as the selection of hymns and the content of the message, to the smallest details such as the accuracy of the bulletin and PowerPoint slides, each act of service should be prepared and carried out with reverent hearts.
Worship is the most direct and eternal form of fellowship with God. When we are in heaven, all earthly activities will cease to exist. We will no longer need to share the gospel or plan any church events, but the worship of God will never cease.
Then a voice came from the throne, saying: “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both great and small!” Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.” (Rev 19:5-6)
- Prayer: The meaning of prayer is to humble oneself and look up to God. A praying person should adopt a posture of humility, whether it is to bow down, to kneel, or to stand with hands raised towards the heavens. A praying person should have a heart filled with gratitude: Here I am, a lowly person on earth, speaking to the exalted God of the heavens, and he actually listens to my prayers! The essence of prayer is trust, admitting one’s own inadequacies, and trusting in the heavenly Father for help. Those who are prideful are unable to pray, because they cannot humble themselves. Churches that are prideful are also unable to pray—we have money and we have people, why do we need to pray? “Not praying” sends a message to God, “God, we don’t need you, we can rely on ourselves!” Can such people draw near to God?
Prayer is God’s grace to us, a privilege for God’s children, that we may draw near to God through his Son. Prayer is not simply supplication, but also includes thanksgiving, adoration, and confession, drawing near to God with our spirit. The gospels record Jesus praying many times, as an example to his disciples. The book of Acts also records many prayers of the disciples and the church, such as:
They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. (Acts 1:14)
Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen” (Acts 1:24)
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)
When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,…”. After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. (Acts 4:24, 31)
Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. (Acts 9:40)
When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. (Acts 20:36)
Brothers and sisters, the four spiritual disciplines of drawing near to God are: teach and obey the word of God, fellowship with each other, worship and break bread together, and prayer. To be most effective, these must be done together with brothers and sisters: study God’s word together, fellowship together, worship together, pray together. Praise God that practicing these disciplines will be beneficial to a person’s overall wellbeing. You will worry less, trust more, have a vibrant spirit, and a constant joy. You will find favor with God and man. May your year start well as you draw near to God and receive his blessings.