Intimacy With God
Here’s some breaking news! God is head-over-heels in love with you. He loves you beyond your wildest imaginations. You might respond, “How can he love me that much? He knows all there is to know about me. And of course, anyone who knows that much about me could never really love me.”
Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch Christian writer who, with her family, helped many Jews escape the Holocaust, once offered a word picture to explain how God loves us—specifically she was talking about how he forgives all our sins—past, present and future. Corrie Ten Boom said that God takes all of our shortcomings, tragedies, flaws and scandals and throws them into the ocean. He throws all of our sins into the ocean of his grace. His ocean of love covers all of the things that we believe make us unlovable. In effect, the ocean of God’s love and grace completely covers—baptizes—all of our sins. And then, Corrie Ten Boom said that God took one more step after obliterating all our sins, covering them with his grace. He posted a sign in his ocean of grace that says “No fishing.”
That sign is for anyone who is tempted to dig up the old skeletons of his/her past and re-live them, agonizing over them and wondering whether God ever did really forgive them. That “No fishing” sign is also for anyone who would presume to hold our past against us, for as Paul says in Romans 8:31: If God is for us, who can be against us?
Let’s consider God’s love, which is deeper than the deepest ocean and higher than the highest mountain—God’s love is more powerful than the greatest human army or weapon known to man. Let’s turn our attention to Intimacy with God.
Singing songs, praying and talking about things of God with friends might be part of Intimacy with God—but emotional feelings are not the sum total of our relationship with God.
Intimacy with God is not one and the same as the feeling we have when we look up on a sky festooned with stars and stand in awe of the majesty of the creation we can see. Such experiences may contribute to our relationship with God, but they don’t completely encompass or define it.
Our relationship with God might be enhanced as and when we are inspired by watching the sun set over the ocean, watching a little child take his or her first steps or watching huge flakes of snow lazily drift to earth, covering all of God’s creation with fresh, clean, pure white snow.
Those, and many other profoundly exhilarating experiences can lead us to a deeper relationship with God—but there is more to Intimacy with God.
Let me share with you two extremely important, and somewhat related, components of what it means to commit to an intimate relationship with God. And let’s reiterate that word “commit” again—there will be no intimate relationship with God unless and until we commit to it. That doesn’t mean we cause the relationship to happen or that our relationship with God blossoms or grows primarily because of our actions and deeds—of course not. But God does not force his intimacy on us. We must accept his invitation. We must make a commitment.
Here are two important parts of our commitment to Intimacy with God:
1) Intimacy with God involves complete trust in him, in his love and his grace.
One of the keys for intimacy between married people is the creation of an environment in which each partner feels absolutely safe about sharing their heart and soul with complete trust. This human intimacy involves a safe and protected place for two people to go—so that in their trust and faith they may share anything and everything, in absolute confidence.
Spiritually, God offers you and me that absolute trust. The problem we have, on our part, is accepting his trust as being enough—as being powerful enough—as being all encompassing. Intimacy with God involves trusting him, surrendering our lives completely to him—so that in utter abandon we can rest in him, believe in him and have faith in him.
2) Intimacy with God involves contentment on our part—acceptance that God will do everything that we need in our lives. Now remember, everything we need is not always the same as everything we want!
Our relationship with God is not a matter of getting all we want “out of life” as so many often express it, but being satisfied with what God provides.
Sometimes we say, in effect, “God, I will become much more close to you if you grant me better health—if you give me a job, or a better job—if you help me heal the wounds in my family life—if you make me physically happy.”
One of the lines in “Soak Up the Sun” (a song by Sheryl Crowe) advises happiness is “not having what you want; it’s wanting what you’ve got.” Contentment is one of the central planks of an intimate relationship with God. Paul wrote about the intimacy he enjoyed with God:
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:11-13, my emphasis).
Contentment with God involves our response to God, telling him, “Your grace is enough. I trust you in the way you are taking care of me. I know you will always take care of me. You are enough for me—always and forever.”
I have a friend who was going through some major life changes—upheavals in virtually every part of his physical life. The life he had known only a few months before was suddenly thrown upside-down. Routines, rhythms, familiar places, cultural practices and friendships all seemed to go up in smoke.
At one of the lowest points in his life he took a solitary walk on the beach (or, if you live in the Northeastern United States—the shore). He saw a rather large dog taking his master for a walk. The dog was obviously anything but content, and his lack of contentment was illustrated by his unwillingness to go where his master wanted. The dog was barking, jumping, pulling and tugging—trying in vain to get off the leash that connected him to his master.
My friend paused, and said to God, “God, that dog is me. I am tugging on my leash. I need to be content, and walk beside you. I need to trust you and know that you are right there. Instead, given the recent upheavals in my life I am trying to take you where I want to go— where I think I need to go. What I need to do is walk in step beside you and trust that you will take me where you want me to be.”
As the day wore on my friend continued to talk with God, and as the sun began to set over the beach he walked past a pier. A homeless man was unpacking some blankets and spreading them out on a bench, preparing to go to sleep for the night. My friend watched from a distance and then walked by the homeless man whose eyes, by that time, were shut.
Once again my friend spoke with God: “God, help me to be as content as that homeless man appears to be. If you want me to take a few blankets and spread them out on a bench, then I want to be content and satisfied with what you provide.”
I am often reminded of the lyrics of a song from the musical Godspell —which was popular well over three decades ago. One of the songs made popular by that musical was based on a prayer that goes back to the 13th century—it’s a prayer with three powerful themes:
Dear Lord, these three things I pray: To see you more clearly, to love you more dearly, to follow you more nearly.
Let’s talk briefly about those three themes:
1) To see you more clearly.
Today, just as in every era since the creation of man, there is a great deal of smog and fog that swirls around the topic of the relationship God offers humanity. There are middle men and women who pretend that God won’t listen to or answer our prayers unless and until we buy their snake oil, or pray the magic prayers they are selling (for just four easy payments of $29.99!) and they’ll throw in some water from the Jordan River, or if we call right now, some small pieces of wood from the actual cross of Christ.
Many people who say they want to have a closer relationship with God know, deep down, that they are unwilling to see him more clearly if it means making revolutionary changes in their lives. If seeing God more clearly means upsetting their religious apple carts, some people would rather remain spiritually blind than receive healing and see God as he is.
You may remember the title of one of the classic hymns of our Christian faith: “Open My Eyes That I May See.” The title of the hymn says it all. Unless and until we are willing to let the scales fall from our eyes— unless and until we are willing to wake up and smell the coffee—and stop deluding ourselves—or refuse to continue to let religious traditions and legalisms dictate our lives and behavior—then we will not see God more clearly.
2) To love you more dearly.
Love is, of course, one of those words which is so over-used and so misunderstood. It’s a word that is used to convey desires to have our lusts satiated. It’s a word that is often used about the feelings and experiences that will make us feel physically good—and we allow that definition to color our understanding of love.
God has a great deal to tell us about true love—eternal love—his love. The love of God, the love we are given by his grace which enables us to have an intimate relationship with him, and the love which allows us to experience a deeper and more profound relationship with loved ones—family and friends—is not solely directed toward ourselves. The love of God is not focused solely on our satisfaction or on advantages we enjoy.
The love of God was primarily demonstrated and exemplified by Jesus, when he came to earth, not to be served, but to serve us—because of, and out of, his love. And we’ll speak more about God’s love as we discuss the third theme of this 13th century prayer:
3) To follow you more nearly.
Every time we watch television and virtually every time we pick up a mass circulation magazine, images of role models are provided for all of our desires and appetites. There are athletic role models, sexual role models, good looking role models, rich and famous role models. There are political role models and models of materialism.
But the greatest role models of all receive scant attention. Oh, we do know a few names of people who stood in the gap, who were willing to swim upstream against popular opinion, who were willing to serve their fellow man and worship God in spirit and in truth—but they are given little attention when compared to the super models, the rich and the famous, the entertainers, the movie and sports stars.
We have heard of Abraham Lincoln—we have heard of Martin Luther King Jr.—we have heard of Mother Teresa— but such individuals and the values they represent are afterthoughts in our media today.
People who follow Jesus more nearly don’t qualify as super stars in our modern era. We hear little—even from institutions and individuals who should tell us about him—of Jesus. I’m not speaking about the Jesus who is recast into the image of legalistic religion. I’m not talking about another repurposed Jesus who serves the purposes of a particular religious endeavor or belief. I am talking about the real Jesus who said, in John 15:13: Greater love has no one than this; that he lay down his life for his friends.
Jesus exemplified that love. Jesus upset lots of religious apple carts. He reached out to the least, the lost and the last. He loved those who were cast off, abandoned and neglected.
Jesus never met a person he didn’t like—even the religious people who were trapped by their religious legalism—he loved them but expressed a strong condemnation for what their religion had done to them, and was doing to others.
God offers us true intimacy. But here’s the bottom line: Intimacy with God comes only by his grace. We are offered intimacy with him—but he will not force himself on us. He will only express himself in an intimate way if we accept his invitation.
Take a moment as we close to consider if you are resisting—or perhaps even running away from God’s love and grace—or if you are listening to him, responding to him and desiring for him to come near you.