Throughout the course of our lives, we pray for all sorts of "big" things. We might ask God to give us that job that we've been hoping to get so that our families could be better provided for. We might ask Him to let that beautiful person fall in love with us so that we can spend the rest of our lives in happy fellowship with such a wonderful person. We ask Him to miraculously heal others so that we don't have to stop spending time with them. We might even ask for something as "small" as that amazing car that we want to drive.
Sometimes, though, we turn our attention to more 'spiritual' pursuits, and we ask God to draw us closer to Himself. We ask Him to become more real to us, to fill our minds and our lives with love and devotion towards Him. And when we pray for these things, it seems like we're not asking too much. After all, don't we believe that God wants us to want fellowship with Him like that? Aren't those prayers the kinds of things that He would rather us be praying for than some of those others - like a new car, or a pretty girl, or a better job?
Well, I'm not about to answer "no" to those questions, but I do think that we need to understand the magnitude of what we are requesting when we pray for God to give us more of Himself. It may not sound like it at first blush, but what you're really asking for is actually the most valuable experience conceivable.
There was a time when mankind's first parents enjoyed an easy continual fellowship with the Almighty God in the Garden. They were drawn closer to Him than we can even imagine. He was real to them, and they had a love and devotion to Him that was as-of-yet unimpeded by any human sinfulness. This was all exactly what they lost, however, when they disobeyed His direct command and ate that which they were forbidden to eat.
The story of the Older Testament of the Bible then progresses from that tragic moment through a series of events orchestrated by God to gradually draw man back toward Himself. In that economy, however, a simple prayer of "Father, please give me more of yourself" wouldn't really go far enough. To even draw near to the place where God had chosen to place His presence - the portable tabernacle in the wilderness wanderings, and later the temple in Jerusalem - required costly and bloody sacrifices and a series of ritual washings. And that's not to even mention the fact that only a certain family could truly enter into the immediate vicinity of God's presence - and that only once per year! Anyone desiring that kind of closeness to God would be looking at a very tall order indeed, and most would just have to settle for some degree of distance.
Why would there be so much difficulty involved in something that seems so noble, you might ask? I mean, isn't it a good thing to want to draw near to God? Doesn't He want His people to be close to Him? To understand, we really have to get an accurate picture of God's holiness and man's sinfulness.
The Bible describes God as being 'holy' - often in triplicate just to impress on us how important this particular attribute is to His character! To put it simply, this means that He is wholly different or set apart from everything else. He is fundamentally different than anything and everything else. One very clear and uncomplicated way to see this is in the fact that He created everything else that exists. And so everything in the universe and anywhere else was created by Him and relies upon Him for its very being. That is to say that literally everything is contingent upon God for its existence! In contrast, God is the only being who is contingent upon nothing else for His existence. He is because He is. That's all there is to it. See how different He is from everything else?
The holiness of God isn't simply about the metaphysics of existence, however. It also refers to His moral perfection that actually gives definition to every single concept of right and wrong. When we do something good, it is because we are acting in accordance with the 'good' as defined by God. And when we do something 'evil', it is because we are acting contrary to His nature. So we flit back and forth between good motives and evil ones, and all the while God stands as the very defining fiat of good. That is very different from the way we operate. It's like a completely perpendicular idea to that of our own moral nature.
In fact, this God to whom we would seek to draw nearer is so holy, so different from us in regards to the concept of morality that He cannot even look upon evil (Habakkuk 1:13). This is the reason for His separation from man following the sin in the garden. This is the reason for the secluded holy of holies in the tabernacle and the temple, filled entirely with the smoky covering of incense during those very brief moments when the one man in the entire nation of Israel was given permission to draw close once per year.
And that is the reason why it is such a tall order for us to ask to draw nearer to God - to feel closer to Him and to walk by His side. We are stained with the filth of our own sin, and yet we seek fellowship with the most holy and pure Creator. And to make matters worse, our sin and evil is not just a generic negative force clinging to us - as if it's just a part of who we are that we can't control. It's not just that we've done some bad things in our lives that we are ashamed of. No, the evil that we have done is only reckoned as evil because it is a transgression of God's Law. He is the injured party in every single infraction. In other words, when we ask to feel closer to God, we have to remember that we've piled quite a bit of disgusting disobedience between us and Him.
But the absolute wonder and glory of the Gospel revealed to us in Scripture is that God does allow us to draw near to Him! He has issued a formal invitation through His Son Jesus to come right on in to the very holy of holies at the center of the temple, and He tells us that we can and should come in as often as we would like! Hebrews 10:19-20 makes it clear that we have confidence to enter into the holy places through the blood of Christ, by the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain - that is, His flesh. And so because of our Savior we are given the same dizzying privilege that was given to the high priest on the Day of Atonement: to enter directly into the presence of God. But out position is actually much greater than his, for he could only go in once a year - and that with much preparation and sacrifice. The astounding truth taught in the Gospel is that Jesus has made all of the necessary preparations for us. His sacrifice was sufficient to perfect for all time those who are being sanctified (Hebrews 10:14).
So the way has been prepared, and the invitation has been issued. We can in fact ask for all of it! We can ask God to draw us nearer to Himself. We can ask Him to become more real to us, and to fill our hearts and our minds with love and devotion toward Him. We can even presume to walk right into the holy of holies - the way to which has been opened wide for us - and call the God of the universe, 'Abba': 'Daddy'!
To close, let me return for a moment to the idea that we may feel pretty good about ourselves and our noble intentions when we 'merely' ask God to draw us closer to Himself. Firstly, I hope that we can all see just what a huge request that turns out to be. But lastly, if God has indeed taken such steps through the work of His Son to open the way for us so that we can enter right into His presence, then how are we to feel about ourselves if we don't often take advantage of the incredible privilege? Our Father has given us the most precious gift that can be given. Let us not ignore it by being so wrapped up in the temporary pleasures of this fickle world.