The Lord is near to all who call on Him,
to all who call on Him in truth.
One of the difficult challenges we have as human beings is realizing that we cannot control much in our lives, despite the great desire to do so. We cannot control people’s actions or thoughts. We have limited control of our environment because it is subject to change. When we speak, we cannot control what someone else is going to think or do.
Another challenge is that we social creatures, despite our desire at times to be a loaner. Relationships and connection are important to us and vital to our happiness and sense of self-esteem. Yet, we cannot control whether we are going to have any friends, or if we are going to be appreciated socially. The only thing that we can truly control is us - what we think, how we react, what words we use, our attitudes, and how we behave. We have no control over how others are going to respond to us, but there are hints in the Bible and psychological studies that give us direction.
As our Bible verse indicates, proximity is important to our relationship with God, as well as other children of God. It is valuable to understand that as a human being we are influenced by proximity. Psychologists have a term called The Proximity Effect. Abundant research indicates that there is a positive correlation between the amount of time spent together and the attraction between people. For example, students who sit next to each other are more likely to become friends in a class.
Proximity is a powerful indicator of relationships. This is why people have friends within this church – because we are close to each other; we live in the same town or neighborhood. It’s obvious that we are not going to befriend someone that we don’t have an opportunity to meet. Whether it is at a friend level or a life partner level, we cannot connect lovingly in any fashion unless we can meet them. It could be argued that the internet opens many opportunities to meet people. Yet research shows that even in the arena of internet dating, most people choose someone who is close to them. Although exceptions exist, we predominantly befriend people who are near to us.
Another powerful relationship indicator is exposure. Psychologists have another term called the Mere Exposure Effect. This is a phenomenon where people prefer other people or things simply because they are familiar. For example, babies smile at the people who smile at them more. Repeated exposure to novel people or stimuli increases are appreciation of them. So, the more often we see something or engage with it, the more we like it.
Of course, burn out is totally possible if the exposure is rather shallow. Hearing “Achy Breaky Heart” a thousand times can lead to annoyance. But the first 20 times, it’s a pretty cool song.
A study was done along this regard. Undergrad males were asked to judge the attractiveness of a pool of female volunteers. This pool of women, who were said to be of equal attractiveness, were asked to attend a 200-person lecture course along with the undergrads. The women were asked not to speak to anyone or stand out in any way. Some of the women attended five lectures, others 10 and other 15. At the end of the semester the undergrads were again asked which females were the most attractive. The one who attended 15 lectures were their choice.
A 2006 study indicated that 38% of people who are married or have a long-term relationship become acquainted with each other in the same job, school, sports center, or church. According to this research, the attraction between people increases with the increase in encounters between them.
Proximity and exposure can be a positive thing if we are interested in being liked or finding a relationship. But it has its downside. Married people, both men and women, understand that if we are around an opposite gender for great amounts of time, day in and day out, over the years, the temptation to cheat increases.
Now before you say phooey, consider why so many affairs happen at work, between bosses and employees, college teachers and students –exposure and proximity.
The same is true with social influences of all kinds. We may not swear, but if we are constantly around people who swear, we have a greater tendency to start swearing, or smoking, or spitting, or stealing. Isn’t this why, as parents, we want to control our children’s environment? My Dad once told me that he thought the most important job he had was to pick my friends – to control my environment, to manage my proximity and exposure to friends.
And the same is true with our relationship with God: the more time we spend in prayer, contemplation, and meditation, or silent conversation with God, the nearer we become to the Presence, and the more influence it has over us: Exposure and Proximity.
Proverbs 13:20 says it this way - He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.
We know this to be true because God has written that instruction on our heart. Still, we sometimes allow ourselves to be swayed by the ego, trapped by our human condition that leads us into temptation. We occasionally disregard or overestimate our abilities to resist the human condition, and we hang out with people who constantly swear. It should not be a surprise when we find ourselves swearing a couple months down the road. When we frequently place ourselves in situations that demand the greatest self-discipline to resist temptation, we are tempting fate. The odds are against us. We are making our way rocky and difficult.
The simple solution is to avoid those situations – walk with the wise, not the fools.
Satan, get behind me, said Jesus. In other words: “Ego, stop badgering me. I am committed to my higher self, to the guidance and understanding from my inner Source, from the knowing of my heart, not my head.” Jesus knew that to exalt the ego, to acknowledge and elevate the small self, was not the path to take. He made a commitment to follow the higher path, regardless of how the ego insisted otherwise.
When we make this same commitment, we hear the voice of God from within, we feel the meaning and understand Isaiah 40:3-5: “In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all humankind together will see it. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Prayer and meditation are avenues for seeking proximity and exposure to our Source. In our quiet times with God, our minds and hearts draw nearer to Spirit. From our earnest desire for spiritual closeness, we open the channels for God’s revelations.
Daniel 10:12 – “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them.” Daniel released the fears and doubts of his small self, his ego mind, and drew nearer to his Source. This is humbling ourselves: to release the small self and let God flow through us as our highest self. We choose to draw near to God and not remain distant.
We will never know everything, but as we move closer to God, we will know everything we need to know. Philippians 4:4-7 The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
We may not know everything, but if we ask, we can know enough. Jeremiah 33:3 teaches: Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know. When we call to God we are drawn nearer to Spirit. We can do all the internet searches we want, but until we take our knowledge and combine it with God’s Love, inspiration, and revelation, we will not understand how all this knowledge applies to our lives and others.
It is my prayer that we will seek God’s proximity and exposure, then open our receptive and responsive hearts to God’s whispers of Love, joy, and peace.