[From ws15/04 p. 15 for June 15-21]
“Draw close to God, and he will draw close to you.” – James 4:8
This week’s Watchtower study opens with the words:
“Are you a dedicated, baptized Witness of Jehovah? If so, you have a precious possession—a personal relationship with God.” – par. 1
The assumption is that the reader already has a personal relationship with God by virtue of being both a baptized and a dedicated Witness of Jehovah. However, the context of the letter of James reveals another scenario in the first century congregation. He rebukes the congregation for wars and fights, murdering and coveting, all originating from fleshly desires among the Christians. (James 4:1-3) He admonishes those who slander and judge their brothers. (James 4:11, 12) He warns against pride and materialism. (James 4:13-17)
It is in the middle of this rebuke that he tells them to draw close to God, but he adds in the very same verse, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you indecisive ones.” As Jehovah’s Witnesses, let us not ignore the context or think that we are free from all the maladies that afflicted our first century brethren.
What Personal Relationship?
The relationship being referred to in the article is one of friendship with God. Paragraph 3 affirms with an illustration:
“Having regular communication with Jehovah is a vital part of drawing close to him. How can you communicate with God? Well, how do you communicate with a friend who lives far away?”
We all have friends, whether many or few. If Jehovah is our friend, he becomes one more in that group. We might call him our best friend or our special friend, but he is still one of several, or even many. In short, a person can have many friends just like a father can have many sons, but a son or daughter can have only one father. So given the choice, which relationship would you prefer to have with Jehovah: beloved Friend or beloved child?
Since we are using James for this discussion on building a close relationship with God, we might ask him what type of relationship he had in mind. He opens his letter with the salutation:
“James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the 12 tribes that are scattered about: Greetings!” (James 1:1)
James was not writing to Jews, but to Christians. So his reference to the 12 tribes must be taken in that context. John wrote about the 12 tribes of Israel from which the 144,000 were to be drawn. (Re 7:4) The whole of the Christian Scriptures is directed to the Children of God. (Ro 8:19) James does speak of friendship, but it is friendship with the world. He doesn’t contrast it with friendship with God, but rather enmity with him. Therefore, a child of God can become a friend of the world, but in so doing the child becomes an enemy of the Father. (James 4:4)
If we are going to draw close to God by building a personal relationship with the Divine One, then hadn’t we better understand the nature of that relation first? Otherwise, we could sabotage our efforts before we even begin.
Paragraph 3 of the study talks of the need for regular communication with God through prayer and personal Bible study. I was raised as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and for well over half a century, I have prayed and studied, but always with the understanding that I was God’s friend. Only recently have I come to understand my true relationship with Jehovah. He is my Father; I am his son. When I came to that understanding, everything changed. After more than sixty years, I finally began to feel close to him. My prayers became far more meaningful. Jehovah became closer to me. Not just a friend, but a Father who cared about me. A loving father will do anything for his children. What a wonderful relationship to have with the creator of the universe. It is beyond words.
I began to talk to him differently, more intimately. My understanding of his word changed as well. The Christian Scriptures are in essence a father speaking to his children. I was no longer understanding them vicariously. Now they spoke to me directly.
Many who have shared this journey have expressed similar thoughts.
While exhorting us to build a closer relationship with God, the leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses are denying us the very thing needed to accomplish that. They deny us membership in God’s family, the inheritance which Jesus himself came to the earth to make possible. (John 1:14)
How dare they? I say again, “HOW DARE THEY!”
We are called to be forgiving, but some things are much harder to forgive than others.
Bible Study—Father Speaks to You
The counsel from paragraphs 4 through 10 is good if you accept it within the framework of your relationship with God as a child with a Father. However, there are some things to be wary of. Given that a picture is worth a thousand words, the idea planted in the brain by the illustration on page 22 is that one’s relationship with God goes hand in hand with one’s advancement in the Organization. Many, myself included, can attest that the two bear no relationship to each other.
Another cautionary note pertains to the point made in paragraph 10. While I make no claim to divine inspiration, I would venture to “prophesy” that come the actual study, someone in the audience will answer the question to this paragraph by applying it to the Organization. The reason will be that since the Governing Body is being directed by Jehovah, and we shouldn’t question Jehovah’s actions even when we don’t understand them, we should do likewise regarding direction coming from the organization.
I shall let your comments determine whether I am a “true prophet” or a false one in this. Honestly, I would be most pleased to be proven wrong about this.
A Tangential Observation
I must say that for those claiming to be a slave that is both faithful and discreet, there is a remarkable lack of discretion in the choice of Biblical examples employed to illustrate the point of recent articles. Last week we had the overnight visit of Saul to Samuel as a Bible example of the training Elders should provide.
This week the example is even sillier. We are trying to explain in paragraph 8 that sometimes Jehovah does things that might seem wrong to us, but that we must accept out of faith that God always acts justly. We use the example of Azariah, stating:
“Azariah himself ‘continued to do what was right in Jehovah’s eyes.’ Yet, ‘Jehovah afflicted the king, and he remained a leper until the day of this death.’ Why? The account does not say. Should this disturb us or cause us to wonder whether Jehovah punished Azariah without due cause?”
This would be a great example to illustrate the point were it not for the fact that we know exactly why Azariah was struck with leprosy. What is more, we explain the reason in the very next paragraph, thereby totally undermining the illustration. This is just plain stupid, and does little to inspire confidence in the writer’s qualifications to instruct us in God’s word.
Prayer—You Speak to Father
Paragraphs 11 through 15 speaks of improving our relationship with God through prayer. I’ve read it all before, countless times in the publications over the decades. It never helped. A relationship with God through prayer is not something that can be taught. It is not an academic exercise. It is born from the heart. It is a thing of our very nature. Jehovah made us to have a relationship with him, for we were made in his image. All we have to do to achieve it is to remove the roadblocks. The first, as we’ve already discussed, is to stop thinking of Him as a friend and see him as he is, our Heavenly Father. Once that major roadblock is removed, you can begin to look at the personal obstacles we’ve put in the way. Perhaps we feel unworthy of his love. Perhaps our sins have weighed us down. Is our faith weak, causing us to doubt that he cares or even listens?
Whatever type of human father we may have had, we all know what a good, loving, caring father should be like. Jehovah is all that and more. Whatever may be impeding our way to him in prayer can be removed by listening to him and dwelling on his words. Regular Bible reading, particularly of those Scriptures written to us as God’s children, will help us to feel God’s love. The spirit he gives will guide us into the true meaning of the Scriptures, but if we don’t read, how can the spirit do its work? (John 16:13)
Let us speak to Him as a child speaks to a loving parent—the most caring, understanding Father imaginable. We must tell him all we feel and then listen to him as he speaks to us, both in his word and in our heart. The spirit will light up our mind. It will take us down paths of understanding we had never imagined before. All this is now possible, because we’ve cut the cords which have bound us to the ideologies of men and opened our minds to experience the “glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Ro 8:21)