This article is about the nearness of God and the presence of God.

Source: The Monthly Record, 2000. 3 pages.

The God Who is Near God's Presence in Your Life

“When feeling all alone deep in the night, turn your thoughts to God.” It sounded trite at first. But after some prayerful musing, I began to see the wisdom of my pastor’s counsel. Even in the small hours – awake and forgotten by every other soul on earth – the Christian is never really alone. Our God is always present. He is always the God who is near.

The relentless fact of God’s presence is unmistakably taught in the Bible. We are told He is both “a God nearby” and “a God far away” (Jeremiah 23:23). The highest heaven cannot contain Him (1 Kings 8:27). Even in the depths of Sheol He is there (Psalm 139:8). “In Him we live and move and have our being,” recited the Apostle (Acts 17:28). No matter where we go, no matter what we do, our Lord is never remote.

For the child of God, the unlimited, personal presence of the Lord is no abstract teaching of Scripture. Less is it the outcome of some speculative philosophy or human science. This nearness is a religious reality experienced every day. In its theological train come myriad blessings for our Christian lives.

God is not just “out there.” He is also “in here” – in your life – working for your good and His glory. He is the God who is near, transforming the mundane through the divine ministry of His personal presence. Even miraculous gifts of God – like His written Word – become all the more relevant because they are actively present in profoundly personal ways. Three main aspects of God's nearness deserve our closer attention.

His Nearness in Christ🔗

The personal presence of God with man reaches its rather conspicuous apex in the life of our Saviour. When the Virgin conceived, “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). Thus, none other than the Son of God lay in the Bethlehem manger (Luke 1:35). Isaiah had foretold it:

They will call him Immanuel – which means, God with us.Isaiah 7:14

By entering our human family, Christ our Immanuel deigned to call us brothers (Hebrews 2:11). He shared in our flesh and blood by the greatest miracle in human history! But it was not the last. The depth of His humiliation increased with each step towards Calvary. Our High Priest was “tempted in every way just as we are – yet without sin,” all that He might “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15). In death, too, He tasted the final and ultimate bitter fruit of the fallen world we created.

Jesus is familiar with the real miseries and burdens of your life, from the inside out. On your prayer bed at night, you can say many things, but one thing you can never honestly say is, “Lord, You just don’t understand.” He does understand. He understands all too well. Life this side of heaven is never easy, and He knows it. You can always be confident of Christ’s sympathetic ear.

In the euphoria of the first Christmas Day, however, do not forget the glory of Ascension! Our Lord and Saviour not only was human but still is human. In the ascension, Jesus Christ no more shed His humanity than did he leave it behind in the tomb. The astounding fact of the incarnation remains, even now as your eyes run across this page. Glorified humanity, yes – but humanity nonetheless! As Scottish Divine Rabbi Duncan once said,

In the exaltation of Jesus, the dust of the earth has been exalted to the throne of heaven!

Since He is now so far away in heaven, how then can the ascended Lord Jesus in any meaningful sense still be our Immanuel – God with us? Did God’s nearness in Christ reach its zenith as He disappeared behind the clouds? Not at all. Your Saviour still has a very vital and personal presence in your life, even this very moment. The secret to His continuing presence, however, lies in Another.

His Nearness in the Spirit🔗

“Don’t you know…that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). With this matter-of-fact protest, the Apostle Paul ends all debate. God is personally present in our Christian lives by His Holy Spirit. As Principal Donald Macleod puts it,

The Holy Spirit indwells the believer. This scarcely requires argument.

The nearness of God by His Spirit is a frequently recurrent theme in Scripture (for example, see John 14:17, Romans 8:11, and 2 Timothy 1:14).

But what does the indwelling Holy Spirit do? In what ways does He bring God near to the Christian? Reformer John Calvin was in no doubt as to the Spirit’s crucial role:

It is the Spirit who makes Christ dwell in us, to sustain us, to quicken us, and to fulfil all the offices of the Head.

The believer’s life-giving union and communion with Christ depends upon the Holy Spirit’s work (John 6:53-63). As the Reformer summarizes:

Life is transfused from heaven to earth by the Divine influence of the Spirit; for, neither could the flesh of Christ be life-giving by itself, nor could its efficacy reach as far as us, except through the immense operation of the Spirit.

If the Spirit dwells in your heart, then in a profoundly personal way Jesus does as well.

Why is the Christian never alone? Why do you not need to fear isolation or abandonment? Jesus is near, nearer than breath, living in the believer’s heart. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you,” He promised (John 14:18). With the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, He keeps His promise, making His comfort and companionship closer than life itself.

One irony of this intimate, personal relation with Christ established by the Spirit is that it defies description. No earthly illustration exactly fits the situation, so the Bible uses a plethora of different images: a cornerstone and building (Ephesians 2:20-21), a vine and branches (John 15:5), a body and limbs (1 Corinthians 12:27), and a husband and wife (Ephesians 5:32). Even the Trinity itself is given as an illustration of the sublime connection between Christ and the Christian (John 17:21).

This is why, then, in evangelism we speak of God’s nearness. “Trust the Lord, turn from your sins, and open your heart to Jesus,” we tell our friends. Jesus is in heaven, but by the personalizing work of the Holy Spirit He can live in your heart as well. No idle or sentimental babble, this is the stuff of deep Christian theology and daily Christian living!

His Nearness in Grace🔗

While transporting life from the throne of heaven down into the believer’s heart, the Holy Spirit also brings blessings. The Spirit who is near works grace in our lives. He brings conviction of sin and a new desire after righteousness (John 16:8). He provides grace in times of stress and crisis (Hebrews 4:16). He grows fruit in our lives which is pleasing to God (Galatians 5:22). He gives gifts to the church through you and through me (1 Corinthians 12:11). His divine ministry of grace provides the staples of Christian living.

One powerful way in which the presence of God is made beneficial to us is through the special means of grace. Through Bible study, good preaching, fervent prayer, and right use of the sacraments, God the Holy Spirit works grace in your life and heart. That is why it is so important that you not neglect these means. The Spirit works through them, bring grace directly to you. Abandon their use, and you will feel it in your soul!

The presence of Christ and the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life are not fleeting, periodic encounters. “Behold I am with you always,” our Saviour said. God’s nearness is a constant of the Christian life, upon which you can always depend. The gracious fruits and gifts which it brings, however, can ebb and flow. God sometimes withdraws the light of His countenance for a season, especially because of chronic, willful sin. But for the child of God, “underneath are always the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27). The Lord will never abandon you; He is only working all things for your good (Romans 8:28).


Occasionally, I still wake in the night, and the cold silence presses hard upon my heart. Then I remember the wise words of that pastor so many years ago: “Turn your thoughts to God.” With the light of God’s nearness filling the room, my soul warms with grace. And my heart then sings with the Psalmist David:

When I do thee upon my bed remember with delight,
And when on thee I meditate in watches of the night.
In shadow of thy wings I’ll joy; for thou mine help has been.
My soul thee follows hard; and me thy right hand doth sustain. Psalm 63:6-8, Scottish Metrical Psalter

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