Summary: The apostle James taught, “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you,” but how do we do that? We’ve been told to make Christ the center of our life, that he should be the focus of our life and we should spend more time with him. But what does that mean, and how exactly do we do that? This article takes an in-depth look at this question and provides practical advice on what we can do to draw closer to Christ.
The apostle James taught, “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts” (James 4:8).
However, this scripture raises two questions. The first is, how do we “draw nigh to God,” and the second is how do we “cleanse your hands and purify your hearts?” To answer these questions, let’s examine them one at a time.
The first question is, how do we draw closer to God? The simple answer is to make Christ the center of our life, and the way we do that is to make him the focus of our life and we do that by spending more time with him. But what does that mean, and how do we do that?
Something that is in the center is what is most important and is what everything else revolves around and is connected to. When we make Christ the center of our life, he becomes what’s most important to us and everything we do revolves around or is connected to him in some way.
To illustrate this, if we wanted to get a college degree, the most important thing for us would be to pass all of our classes, and to do that would require learning the information given in each subject, completing each assignment, and passing all tests. Without doing that, we will not qualify to receive the degree we’re hoping for.
Even so, people going to college don’t spend every minute of every waking hour working on getting their diploma. There are many other activities they’re also engaged in, but none of them are as important as successfully graduating. Therefore, when it comes to deciding which activities to engage in and when, those that don’t help us achieve our goal take second place and can be postponed or eliminated if and when they interfere with doing what’s most important to us.
But suppose that someone is working their way through college. Then working at a job to earn money to pay for their college expenses has a direct impact on whether they get their diploma or not, therefore, working at a job becomes just as important as attending class, doing assignments, and passing tests.
The reason why people choose to believe in Jesus Christ is because they want to live with him in heaven forever, and to do that requires doing certain things, such as keeping his commandments. However, to do that requires that we attend his classes, learn the principles of his gospel, do our assigned work, and pass the tests he gives. Those who endure to the end in doing this will “graduate” with a degree in everlasting life.
However, as we go through life, there are many other extracurricular activities we participate in that are important. For example, we need to work in order to provide for such things as food, shelter, clothing, transportation, etc. In addition to this, all of us like to take time doing things we personally enjoy. This could include such things as working around the yard, hiking, camping, hunting, working on crafts or hobbies,
or just relaxing while watching television.
When we make Christ the center of our life, that means everything we do in life takes second place or is of
lesser importance than working on our degree for eternal life. When that happens, then Jesus becomes the focus of everything we do and we plan all of our activities around him. For example, working in the yard is often necessary, but there can be times when it interferes with serving God. At times like that, we have to decide if it’s more important for us to do yard work instead of doing God’s work, or whether to postpone doing yard work because doing God’s work is more important. Therefore, the first step to drawing closer to God is to make him the center or the most important thing or activity in our life.
To get a college degree requires taking a number of different classes, and to do that requires
going to the classroom where the professors are giving their instruction. A student who doesn’t show up for their classes and attentively listens to what the instructor is saying will never successfully graduate. Therefore, a student has to go where the teacher is and learn what the teacher is trying to tell them.
Therefore, the second way we draw closer to God is by spending more time with him, and we do that by going to where he is and seeking to learn what he’s teaching. But where do we go to do that?
In the days when Jesus walked the earth, people listened to what he had to say in many different places. They listened to him along the shores of the sea of Galilee, on mountains, in the plains, in towns, villages, in the city of Jerusalem, in people’s homes, and in the temple. Likewise, in our day, we can find God in many different places.
The most common of these is in the scriptures. We can think of them as God’s lectures in written form, and when we read them, the Holy Ghost acts as our personal instructor to help us better understand what we’re reading. Therefore, one of the best ways to spend time with God is to spend time reading the scriptures. It therefore goes without saying that the more time we spend studying the scriptures, the more time we’re spending with God.
Another place where we can find God and draw closer to him is by attending his classroom instructions. We do that every Sunday when we attend our sacrament meetings, along with our Sunday School, Relief Society, and priesthood classes. For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, another classroom that is available is in the House of the Lord.
Prayer in another way to draw nigh to God.
Nearly all teachers have an open-door policy, where they are available for their students to come and visit with them on a one-to-one personal level. Usually, the reason why students visit their teachers in this manner is because they have questions about what’s being taught and are expecting the teacher to help answer them.
Prayer is when we have a personal, one-on-one conversation with God and his door is always open for us to come talk with him. Usually, our prayers tend to be a one-way conversation where we do all the talking, but ultimately, they do become a two-way conversation, except God most generally speaks to us in the way things work out in our life. Therefore, prayer is another way we can draw nigh to God.
But prayer is not just for seeking answers or for help. It should also be used to give thanks to God for the
blessings we’ve received from him. There’s no better way to feel closer to God than to remember all he has done for us and then thank him for the many ways he has blessed our lives. Like all parents, God feels closer to his children when he hears them thanking him for the things he’s done on their behalf.
But, just like college, it’s not merely showing up in class that matters. It’s the effort we put into what we do when we’re there that’s important, and the same is true with our relationship with God. It’s not the act of reading the scriptures, or saying our prayers, or going to church or to the temple that draws us closer to God, it’s the reason why and how we do these things that matters. To understand why, let’s examine the difference.
Many people say their evening prayers just before getting into bed, but too often, by this time most of us are already becoming rather sleepy. As a result, we can find ourselves dozing off as we’re kneeling next to our bed saying our prayers. For this reason, our prayers can tend to be said without much thought or sincerity, and as soon as we say “amen,” we climb into bed and prepare to fall asleep.
As parents, imagine if our children talked to us that way. I doubt that would make us feel closer to them or they
to us. For praying to draw us closer to God, it has to be meaningful and come from the heart, but how can we do that when we can barely stay awake?
It’s traditional to pray when we first get out of bed in the morning and the last thing we do at night just before getting back into bed, but there’s nothing that says this is the way we have to do it. We can communicate with God anytime and anywhere we want. If we find we’re falling asleep just before getting into bed, then there’s nothing wrong with saying our evening prayers a half hour or more before going to bed. As we go throughout the day, we can talk with him as we’re driving, riding on a bus, at work, at the grocery store, or wherever. We don’t always have to be on our knees, with folded hands in order to pray.
For example, suppose while driving we’ve had a close call with another car that could have resulted in an accident but didn’t. We can offer a prayer, saying, “Thank you Father for keeping me safe.” Perhaps at work you have a co-worker who is being obnoxious, and so you could offer a silent prayer saying, “Father in heaven, help me know how to handle this situation.” Or perhaps you meet sonme you think would be interested in hearing about the gospel. You could offer a silent prayer saying, “Father in heaven, help me to know what to say.” When we pray like that, we’re drawing closer to God, and the more we do that each day, the closer we come to him.
This same principle applies to the scriptures. Many people will spend a set amount of time reading them and when that time ends, they close the book and go about their other activities. But if they were later asked what they read or what they got from it, many times they couldn’t say.
Of course, reading the scriptures every day is better than not reading them at all, but the more time we spend in the scriptures trying to better understand them, the more time we’re spending with God. And the more we get out of what we’re reading, the more we learn what God wants us to know. Then how do we do that?
One technique is to read a chapter, or a part of a chapter and then ask ourselves, “What did I learn from this?” Perhaps we could do this by restating what we just read in our own words. Perhaps we could ask ourselves how what we just read can be applied in our life. Perhaps we might have questions about the context or background of what we just read or certain words we don’t understand what they mean. There are many different ways to get more out of our scripture reading, but the point is to find some technique that helps increase our understanding of God’s word.
But someone will say they aren’t very knowledgeable about the scriptures and because of that they don’t get much out of reading them, even when trying to ponder them. Like everything else, the more we do something the better we get at it, therefore, as we read the scriptures, we start where we’re at in our understanding, and as we continue to ponder and study what we’ve read, over time we’ll find ourselves getting more and more out of them.
Not all scriptures are easy to understand, and many times we will have questions about them. When that happens, we could do some research, which is so much easier to do in today’s world of digital technology, where there is so much free information available on the internet. There are several websites that offer different translations of the Bible which can help better understand difficult passages.
There are many websites from different Christian organizations that offer commentary on the scriptures. Although these may not always be in full harmony with the teachings of Christ’s restored gospel, they can be helpful in broadening our understanding. In addition to this, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a tremendous number of resources on their website and on their app to help us better understand the scriptures.
Discussing the scriptures with a spouse and/or other family members, or friends is another way we can gain insight as we listen to the perspective of others. Perhaps there is someone we know who has a good understanding of the scriptures who can help answer our questions. When we utilize these and other techniques, we’re not just reading the scriptures, but are studying, pondering, searching, and researching them. This in turn will draw us closer to God, and the more often we do this, the closer we come to him.
But someone will say they don’t have enough time in their busy schedule to do all of that.
It’s a fact of human behavior that we spend our time doing those things we want. For example, those who love doing family history work, have the same twenty-four hours a day as everyone else but they still find time to spend hours searching out their genealogy. And the same is true for those who have a hobby or for those who belong to a club, such as chess, theater, music, sports, or politics. When we choose to make Christ the center of our life, then finding time to spend with him becomes something we want to do. Rather than trying to squeeze Christ into our many worldly activities, we schedule our worldly activities in such a way that it leaves us more time for being with Christ.
There are some simple ways we can create extra time to spend with God. For example, most people like to spend their evenings watching television, but if they gave up watching just one half-hour show and used that time to do some scripture study or research, they would be spending more time with the Lord than otherwise and the closer they would be to Him. Sundays are a great time to rest from our worldly pursuits and devote ourselves to more spiritual matters.
The same principle applies to going to church. If we want to grow closer to God, we should examine our reason for going. We can ask ourselves such questions as, Am I going there to worship God, and if so, what does that mean to me and how is what I’m doing truly worshiping him? Is what I’m doing at church helping me to draw closer to God or to my church friends? When I take the sacrament, am I focusing my thoughts on Jesus Christ, or on my cell phone? We can ask ourselves these same questions for the reason why we go to our other Sunday classes, and similar questions for why we go to the temple.
These are but a few ways we can draw closer to God, but notice James says that when we draw nigh to God, then “he will draw nigh to you.” When we move towards a stationary object, we are drawing closer to it, but God is not stationary. As we move towards him, he in turn, moves towards us, thereby shortening the distance between us and him.
In the story of the prodigal son, when the father saw his son a great way off, he had compassion on him and ran to greet him (Luke 15:20). We’ve all seen the television commercial where a man and a woman are running toward each other in an open field because they’re so anxious to be together. That’s what God does when he sees us trying to come closer to him. When we show we want to be with him, he’s more than anxious to be with us.
And it’s in the process of drawing closer to Christ that our hands become clean and our hearts are purified. It is by coming unto Christ that we become “perfected in him,” because it is “by his grace (not our efforts) [that] ye may be [made] perfect in Christ.” It is through “the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ… that ye become holy, without spot” (Moroni 10:32,33).
We don’t perfect ourselves. It is Jesus Christ who perfects us, cleanses us, sanctifies us, and makes us holy. But to receive those blessings, we have to go to him, and that’s what happens when we draw nigh to God.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of Spiritual Growth