Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Philippians 4:5-6 (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society
Often, when Christians hear the biblical phrase “The Lord is near,” they think apocalyptic warning as in: "Oh no, I better behave, Jesus might come back tonight!" That is the case in some passages, but it is not for this one. If it were, then an eschatological air raid siren would be juxtaposed between some generally encouraging words. How strange that would be if that were the case.
The word translated into English as “near,” literally means “at your elbow.” It can be used as a time reference but can also be used as a spatial reference. Context is key to understanding which way to take it. In this case the verse following is determinant. The thought is clearly nearness, as in a companion being close, "beckonable," and so without the possibility of separation anxiety. We are being told that God is with us, in fact beside us, literally, at our elbow.
Now that is a comforting thought. One that has legs-- it can walk through our entire life with us. When you are in situations which are making you tense, uncertain, or worried, there is someone with you that you can count on. You can tell him about what troubles you and ask him for assistance. Whether at school or the workplace or at home, God is not far away, He’s at your elbow.
This article is abridged from a Baccalaureate Address preached at Kutztown Area High School on June 3, 2007. Thanks to Robert C. Owen, from whom I first heard this particular interpretation of the text, and later found viable through my own study.