Intimacy with God — Closeness or Familiarity?
I originally wrote this post on my personal blog a number of weeks ago.
Recently in our Oikos ministry school, I was tasked with giving an entire morning session on intimacy with God. Fellow missionary and teammate Shaun Wissmann has basically come up with the entire curriculum for our discipleship school, with the oversight of our fearless leader Mark Burgess. Then, they tell me what I’ll teach.
So far, this has worked wonderfully.
Since I felt like this is a subject I could approach from the head easily and wanted to make sure I was living it, I tried evaluating my own spiritual life. I had to ask myself about my own intimacy with God — namely, do I really cultivate an intimate relationship with Him?
It’s easy to be busy doing spiritual things. It’s easy to sit in seminary or attend a lot of church meetings, and let that become our manna instead of cultivating our own time alone with God. It’s easy to feed off of books or teachings from other people and be so built up by those in the inner man, that we actually lose site of feeding ourselves the hidden manna from private time alone with God.
So, in preparation for this particular session, I went and re-listened to the most recent podcast I did with SJ Hill and Stephen Crosby on being fascinated with God and stirred myself up. I pitched my “sermon notes” and prep time, and just spent time with God instead.
What is Your Idea of Intimacy with God?
For some reason something wasn’t sitting right and I felt like the Lord asked me what I thought intimacy was. I could answer ‘right’ with things like it’s about quality time not quantity. I Googled various definitions and typically would find people talking about romantic intimacy and sexuality, and basically the closest any two people can be with one another.
Then I came across one definition that floored me: close familiarity or friendship.
That word familiarity.
I had never thought about it that way.
Over the years the quantity of time I feel I spend with God on a daily basis has shrunk. Not in the way that I don’t spend much time with Him, but the pattern is more similar to what Smith Wigglesworth is noted to have said in that he didn’t pray more than 30 minutes, but he never went more than 30 minutes without praying.
I don’t fully live up to that pattern, but I definitely have more fluidity to my prayer time now. It’s about familiarity with God as opposed to sectioning off blocks of time in my schedule to make sure I am praying on my knees or in some formal time.
What about you, saint? What needs to change in your life in order for you to say you’re familiar with God? What needs to change for Him to be able to say He’s familiar with you?
That word familiarity can give us comfort or it can creep us out. The very word familiarity means we know what that person is like. Do you know what He’s like because you’ve spent a lot of time with Him? Or does your prayer time involve a lot of liturgy?
Does He Know You?
I used to read the admonition in Matthew 7:21-23 about how many would boast of their Christian activities only to have Jesus say He never knew them as a warning for us to live holy lives now.
On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
But what if it was about making sure not just to avoid a life that can mask a Christian lifestyle void of an interior substance, but it was also an encouragement to be familiar with Him? The connection to being workers of lawlessness is a strong one indeed and I for one don’t want to hear Him say that to me on that day. But I also don’t want to attempt to point out my busyiness casting out demons, prophesying and healing the sick but not being able to have Him say He even knows me — that He’s not familiar with me from a place of cultivated intimacy.
That scares me more than missing the mark!
I’ve just recently gotten married to my wife Lili, and the chunks of time in our lives that Lili and I saw each other before and leading up to the wedding and spent time together all looked different. Sometimes we were eating without saying much. Other times we’re just watching something together. Other times we’re actively engaged in conversation and getting the other’s thoughts about something. Now obviously there’s a few changes to what kinds of things we do together now as husband and wife. Sometimes we’re also fighting through some difference of opinion.
At any rate, all of this builds towards us being more familiar with the other. The amount of time itself that we spend together can be referred to as ‘quality time’, but that in and of itself is not intimacy with the other person.
Likewise, you can spend hours and hours praying and not necessarily be cultivating intimacy with the Lord — if our definition of the term is centered around familiarity and not an action.
Read your Bible, sure. Pray and listen. But make sure you’re getting familiar with God and He with you.