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As a child, I was small and sickly, and the prey of every bully on the school playground.

One day during holiday time in the summer of 1934, 1 was in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with my cousin Alex Haddad. I had accompanied him down to Seymour Square to pick up some groceries for his mother. We had nearly returned to their little house on Burton Street when three big fellows in a pickup truck came by and shouted, "Haddad, get yourself and that blankety-blank Hebrew-Wop-Dago cousin of yours out of here before we mop up the gutter with you."

Immediately I cringed. I thought to myself, Uh-oh, here comes another beating. Then I looked over at Alex, and my fears subsided; a peaceful calm replaced them. In fact, I started to smile. That year, Alex was the AAA wrestling champion in the 175-pound division. At 15, he was very much a man. His biceps were like cannonballs and his pectoral muscles were like marble slabs.

Strangely, Alex did not answer back. I said, "Alex, you're not going to let them get by with that, are you?"
"Well, John, you know what the Bible says: If they hit you on one cheek, turn the other."

I had never remembered Alex being that spiritual before, but I was in no position to contest his decision! So I kept walking with him toward the house. We went inside the little picket fence, and just as we got to the front door, he handed the other bag of groceries to me and said, "John, take these in to Mom. Tell her I forgot something; I'll be right back."

I knew exactly what he had forgotten. I shoved the groceries inside the front door and then trailed him back down to Seymour Square. He surmised that the three roughnecks were on their way to Miller's ice cream parlor. I got to the location just in time to watch Alex knock the biggest of the three fellows out cold and addle a second fellow with another powerful blow, while the third ran away in stark terror.

I pushed back the shoulders of my four-foot, 10-inch frame, brushed the palms of my hands together, and said to myself, "Anyone else?"

What had converted me from a terrified little boy to a calm and serene fellow brimming with confidence? A simple answer: Alex was near.

In just the same way, the Lord is near to all who profess faith in Him. "Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand" (Philippians 4:5).

A literal translation of Philippians 4:5b shows that the verb is missing—"the Lord near." No verb was needed. It is abrupt, staccato. It is a bolt of light. The awareness of His nearness gives great calm in the storm and stress of life.

Living in the awareness of that fact brings about a behavioral change that cannot be explained in human terms. It's often the only major difference between a defeated Christian and a victorious Christian. Fortune may have eluded you. Professional success, which you have sought so laboriously, may have slipped through your fingers. Love may have betrayed you. All these may be true. But the Lord is near! There is no mockery in that statement. Those few words impel us to observe the mandates set down in Philippians 4:4-8.

The four kinds of nearness

The commentators of the Bible distinguish four ways in which the Lord remains near:

  1. The Lord is near in His presence—in the same way a person in the next room is near. "Thou art near, O Lord," sang the psalmist (Psalm 119:151a). And the apostle Paul echoes and glorifies the ancient song. The Lord is near in that He indwells, by the Holy Spirit, the individual Christian. He is "Christ in you" (Colossians 1:27).

  2. The Lord is near in His availability. The psalmist cried, "The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him" (Psalm 145:18). Here again the New Testament echoes the Old Testament. As children of God we have His ear because we have His heart. A distant Lord would depress us and distress us. An unapproachable Savior could not help us. Thank God, Christ is approachable. "For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:15,16).

  3. The Lord is near in His compassion. In the exigencies and vicissitudes of life the Lord is near. The psalmist affirmed this truth when he sang, "The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart" (Psalm 34:18). Who has not known the distressfulmystery of a broken heart! "God is ... a very present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1). The consciousness of Christ's compassion induces poise.

  4. The Lord is near in His return. The Lord is also at hand eschatologically. He is coming again in clouds of heaven with great glory. I believe His coming is sooner than we think—the possibility was certainly very real to the early Christians. He Himself declared it in no ambiguous terms. Jesus may come today. In the silence and darkness of midnight His trumpet may sound and His awful glory blaze upon us! Our love of His appearing is the greatest inducement to obedience. Every command laid upon us is more easily fulfilled when we are motivated by the continuous consciousness of the possibility that Jesus may come today. "Be ye also ready" (Matthew 24:44). Readiness for His return should make us rich in Christian character. Contemplation of this truth will make us like Him who is our great Exemplar.

God's nearness is the key to peace

As you live in the consciousness of the nearness of the Lord, you will find strength to help you to apply the biblical formula for peace:

  1. Praise. You will find strength and inclination to excite praise, even when circumstances would drag your spirits down. Living in the consciousness of the nearness of our Lord will dispel the clouds of pessimism and lead you into the sunshine of enthusiasm and optimism. You cannot live in the consciousness of His nearness and go around looking as if you were born in crab-apple time, put up in vinegar, and weaned on a dill pickle.

  2. Poise. You will find poise much easier to achieve as you live in the consciousness of the nearness of your Lord. For instance, you will find that your thoughts are pleasing to God, and therefore positive—thus putting worry on the run. As you live in the consciousness of His nearness, you will realize a strength that is not your own, enabling you to exercise the self-control, establishing poise and banishing worry. "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord" (Psalm 37:23).

  3. Prayer. When we pray we don't always feel the nearness of God. Sometimes, in difficult times, God can seem very far away. Yet the Bible reassures us that He is near: "Though 1 walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me" (Psalm 23:4). It is God's Word we should listen to, not our feelings. The state of our emotions will shift from day to day and hour to hour. But God's Word remains constant and true.

To sum up: The Lord is near in His presence, His availability, His compassion, and His return. That should remind us that He is watching everything we do. It should assure us that He stands ready and eager to supply the needed resources to fulfill our every responsibility to Him and for Him. And it should motivate us to live every moment in a way that would not shame us were He to suddenly burst upon the scene.

In these three words, "the Lord near," lies a dynamic truth. These words can produce the motive power generating attitudes and activities in fulfillment of the divine demands.