How many times have you heard someone say, “I want to be close to God,” or “I feel far from Jesus?” For many of us, we have been led to believe that our relationship with Jesus is based on proximitya sliding scale of “near” or “far” based on the faithfulness of our spiritual devotion.
But what if being “close” to you isn’t good enough for Jesus? What if he wants to be closer than close? Instead of simply having a “personal relationship” with you, what if Jesus longs to be “perfectly one” with you instead?
In this achingly bold and beautiful book, pastor, scholar, friend, and now author, Dave Hickman, invites you into his personal journey from striving to abiding, anxiety to peace, weariness to rest; from having a relationship with Jesus to awakening to the freedom of his union with Christ. Through careful attention to Scripture, personal stories, and everyday examples, join Dave as he guides you into the depths of the mystery of your personal and corporate union with Christ. In doing so, you, too, can awaken to the wonder and freedom that is already yours in Christ.
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Read an Excerpt
Closer than Close
Awakening to the Freedom of Your Union with Christ
By David Hickman
Tyndale House PublishersCopyright © 2016 David Hickman
All rights reserved.
STRIVING TO ABIDE
Just a closer walk with Thee,
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea,
Daily walking close to Thee,
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.
I began a relationship with Jesus between third and fourth grade. It was 1986 — the year of Hulk Hogan, Garbage Pail Kids, and Chuck Norris action figures. Ronald "Ray-Gun" was president, gas was eighty-nine cents a gallon, and Top Gun was a box-office smash. I had a mad crush on the lead singer of the Bangles, and "Walk This Way" by Aerosmith and Run-DMC was my favorite song. I remember being heartbroken when David Lee Roth was "booted" from Van Halen and sitting horrified as I watched the space shuttle Challenger explode into a ball of flames on our wooden floor-model television.
One evening that summer I was sitting in the living room with my older sister, Amy, waiting on our parents to take us to Sunday evening service at church. Growing up in the hills of East Tennessee, everybody seemed to go to some flavor of Baptist church. There were Missionary Baptists; Primitive Baptists; Southern Baptists; Independent Baptists; Full Gospel Baptists; First, Second, and Third Baptists; and what we were — Freewill Baptists.
Most Sundays, our family would go to church in the morning and again that night. Sometimes we would go on Wednesday evenings as well, which seemed to cap off the spiritual trifecta of the week. While I heard a lot about God and Jesus when I was a kid, I never fathomed that either one (or both) wanted much to do with me. The times I did think about them (which wasn't very often), I pictured two misty figures floating around in heaven somewhere ensuring that I was "safe from harm" and "being a good boy." As for the Holy Spirit? Well, I didn't think about him at all; no one talked about him much. Having seen Return of the Jedi, I figured I knew everything I needed to know about the Holy Force — I mean, Holy Spirit.
I believed that God and Jesus loved me. But I also believed that they were strict and stern — critical, even. In many ways, I pictured them like Statler and Waldorf from The Muppet Show, two grumpy old guys eternally peering down on my life, shaking their holy heads in constant disapproval.
God: Look at that Dave Hickman down there. Boy, he's not half bad, is he?
Jesus: Nope ... he's all bad!
But a few weeks earlier, my sister had "asked Jesus into her heart." And now God and Jesus seemed as real to her as her right and left arm.
Amy: Dave, does Jesus live in your heart?
Amy: Okay, go to your room, close the door, get on your knees, and ask Jesus to come into your heart.
I wasn't sure what closing the door behind me and getting on my knees had to do with anything, but I did exactly as Amy said. I knelt beside my bed and humbly prayed, "Jesus, come into my heart." I meant every word, even though my prayer was so brief it felt more like a magical phrase — like "abracadabra" or "alakazoo." In my mind's eye, though, I envisioned the pasty-white, long-haired Jesus from the cover of my children's Bible open my heart with his hands and slide in, one foot at a time.
It was in that moment that God and Jesus took me by surprise. To quote the famous words of John Wesley, my heart suddenly became "strangely warmed." I found myself overcome with a mysterious and compassionate love I had never experienced. It was deep, real, and true. While I didn't know all the theology surrounding sin and salvation, I knew from that moment on that somehow Jesus lived in my heart.
BOUND AND DETERMINED
On that sultry summer evening in 1986, I began what I would later learn to call a "relationship" with Jesus. I later discovered, however, that having a relationship with Jesus was only the first step in the Christian journey. According to my youth pastor, the overarching goal of the Christian life was to establish a "close and personal" relationship with Jesus, and that could only come about with time.
Although "close" and "personal" were never really defined (and strangely subjective), one thing was clear: In order to be close to Jesus, I needed to do certain things — things like praying, reading the Bible, and regularly attending church. Most of all, I needed to do the things I should and not do the things I shouldn't. According to my youth pastor (and most sermons I heard back then), the more faithful and committed I was to these things, the closer I could get to Jesus.
I became bound and determined to be as close to Jesus as humanly possible. I would wake up an hour before school, run down into the den of my parents' house, and listen to the music of Steven Curtis Chapman and DC Talk before having my "quiet time." I prayed using the well-known acrostic ACTS, which stands for "Adoration," "Confession," "Thanksgiving," and "Supplication." And every time the church doors were open, I was in the front row with the rest of the youth group singing my heart out.
I was so determined to be close to Jesus that I eventually threw away all of my '90s hip-hop CDs (a decision I would later deeply regret), quit going to R-rated movies, and made a promise not to have sex before I was married. I did all of this willingly and joyfully out of my love for Jesus and my insatiable desire to draw close (and remain close) to the God I loved.
By the time I entered high school, I was "on fire" for Jesus. I became the president of our local chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and took on additional leadership roles within my church. I read every Max Lucado book there was, and worked through The Mind of Christ by T. W. Hunt and Claude V. King twice. I was a spiritual beast. Jesus was as close to me as I was to myself back then. I was head over heels in love with him.
Most of all, I was convinced that Jesus was head over heels in love with me. I mean, how could he not be? I had done everything I knew to do to please him and draw close to him. Little did I know that in a few short years, what seemed like closeness would feel like a great distance.
DETERMINED AND BOUND
College. I went there to study theology. I also went there to play baseball. I had a passion for both and wanted to attend a school where I could play the game I loved and grow in my faith in the process. Although I received multiple offers from local universities around Tennessee, I decided to go to Montreat College, a Presbyterian school up the road from the small town of Black Mountain, North Carolina. Because of its Bible and Religion program and impressive baseball team, I was convinced that Montreat would be a perfect place to draw closer to Jesus than ever before.
For the first semester, it was. But over time, I became preoccupied with other things: writing theology papers, dating, and playing Mario Kart into the wee hours of the morning. Instead of waking up early to read my Bible and pray before class, I would drag myself out of bed in a puffy-eyed fog, throw on a pair of sweatpants, and stagger into my classroom. I would normally fall back asleep before the professor even entered the room. I still wanted to stay close to Jesus, but with every morning that I skipped my devotions, I felt as if I was drifting further and further from him.
As for not doing things I shouldn't? That became a lot harder as well. Things I promised myself (and God) I would never do, I found myself doing. And doing again. And again. And then again. Although I was learning more about Jesus and wanted desperately to please and obey him, I became trapped in what seemed to be an endless cycle of sin-confession-sin-confession-sin-confession. Before long, the peaceful quiet times I used to enjoy were replaced by panicked pleas for God to forgive me of my failures the night before. Eventually, my desire to spend time with Jesus started to fade altogether as I found myself perpetually "hung over" with a lingering sense of guilt and self-condemnation.
By my sophomore year, I couldn't shake the feeling that my proximity to Jesus was somehow contingent on the faithfulness of my spiritual devotion. What I mean is, when I was consistent in praying, reading the Bible, and doing as I should, I considered myself to be "close" to Jesus. When I failed to do these things (which most often was the case), I thought myself to be "far" from him.
Before long, I became consumed with the fear of falling out of a relationship with Jesus altogether — which, consequently, only served to make me strive even harder to draw close (and remain close) to Jesus through more discipline, more study, and more good works. Ironically, the more determined I became, the more bound I found myself — bound by guilt, frustration, and self-condemnation. Even during the times I was able to check all the boxes on my spiritual "to do" list, there remained a strange nagging deep in my soul — a mysterious discontentedness about my relationship with Jesus. I was caught between wanting to please Jesus and not being able to. I jostled between feeling far from Jesus when I wasn't doing as I should, and longing to be closer still when I was. My life resembled the words of the apostle Paul in Romans:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. ... In my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?
ROMANS 7:15, 22-24, NIV
At night in my dorm room, I would plead with Jesus to deliver me from the prison of sin and apathy I found myself in, and draw me close to him again. But no matter how earnestly I prayed, I continued to wrestle with sin at night and drag out of bed in the morning. And Jesus seemed to be a million miles away.
GONE WITH THE WIND
I wish I could tell you that somewhere between college, getting married, and becoming an "adult," the distance between Jesus and me closed. It didn't. If anything, the space between us continued to grow. Marriage, paying bills, and earning a living depleted my emotional reserves, making reading my Bible and praying that much more difficult. But I didn't give up. No sir. I continued to fight for my relationship with Jesus. How could I not? To give up was incomprehensible. How could I give up on the one relationship that was supposed to save me?
Desperate, I joined a small group at my church. I scoured Amazon and Barnes & Noble, crossing my fingers to stumble upon that irresistible devotional (you know, the one with a good cover). I attended Christian conferences and events, praying (and paying) to press into the heart of God. I even purchased a diary (excuse me, journal) to record my feelings! While all of these were helpful, none of them (not even going to church) bridged the gap for good. Jesus remained as elusive as ever, leaving me perpetually grasping for him like a child chasing a balloon in the wind.
I expressed my frustrations one evening in my journal:
What is wrong with me? What is wrong with us? Why do I feel so distant from you? Why do you seem so distant from me? I've done everything I know to do to be close to you. Yet, why does my heart long for more and my soul yearn for something it cant explain? Why am I constantly dissatisfied? Why am I always striving? Draw me close to you again, please. Reveal yourself and make yourself real to me, I pray.
I wrote that entry in June 2003 — seventeen years after beginning a relationship with Jesus. As I wrote it, I remember reminiscing on the spiritual bliss of my middle school and high school years. Actually, I've lived the large majority of my life in the shadow of that faithful, devoted little boy. The one who used to sing loud and mean it. The one who used to pursue Jesus with all his heart. The one who used to feel close to Jesus. The one who used to know he was loved of God.
But after nearly two decades of chasing hard after Jesus, I finally lost sight of him. And in doing so, I lost sight of myself. Even though I was "saved," I felt lost. While I was a "son of God," I felt like an orphan. While everything on the outside appeared fine (because that's how Christians are supposed to be), on the inside I was living a life, in the words of Henry David Thoreau, of "quiet desperation."
But the wind, according to Jesus, blows wherever it pleases; you can hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with the Spirit of God (see John 3:8). And at the most unexpected time, and through the most unlikely of ways, the Spirit of God breathed Jesus back into full view for me. And nothing could have prepared me for how close Jesus was in that moment — the moment I became a father for the first time.
1. Describe your faith journey. When was the first time your heart became "strangely warmed" by Christ's presence?
2. In one word, describe your current relationship with Jesus. Why did you choose that particular word?
3. Describe a time when you felt particularly close to God.
4. The author shared that he considered his proximity to Jesus to be based on the faithfulness of his spiritual devotion (praying, reading the Bible, going to church). Do you feel this way? Have you felt this way? Explain.
Excerpted from Closer than Close by David Hickman. Copyright © 2016 David Hickman. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Foreword Fil Anderson xi
A Word Before xv
Introduction: The White Arrow xxiii
1 Striving to Abide 1
2 The Bond of Breath 11
Part 1 The Divine Mystery
3 The Mystery of God 23
4 Famous Last Words 35
5 Union to Disunion: Who We Were and What We Lost 51
6 Reunion to Perfect Union: Who We Are and What We Will Be 63
Part 2 The Divine Reality
7 Personal Identity: The Most Loved 83
8 The Spiritual Disciplines: Paradigm Shift 101
9 The Church: The Body of Christ 127
10 The Mission of Christ: So That the World May Know 147