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Intimacy with God (Sermon)

Our Greatest and Most Rewarding Pursuit

By Charles F. Stanley

Helping us stay “connected” has become big business in our culture. Smart phones, Facebook, and Twitter give us instant access to friends, family, work, and the world. But how much time do we actually spend building meaningful face-to-face relationships? And let’s go one step further—how much effort do we invest in connecting with God?

What kind of relationship do you have with the Lord? Is He a distant Deity or your closest friend? In one way or another, everyone has an association with Him, whether it’s acknowledged or not. Even those who say they don’t believe in God are bound to Him simply because He created them. Sadly, the majority of people in this world have no idea who their Creator is.

Created for Intimacy with God

Yet the Lord designed mankind to relate to Him. That’s what it means to be made in His image (Gen. 1:26). We’ve been given a spirit that can communicate with His Spirit. Just look at the earth and the heavens above. Although God is the Creator of all these things, He can never interact with a mountain or a star as He does with you. There is no higher honor that He could have given us than to be made in His image.

But when sin entered the human race, it rendered everyone spiritually dead and thereby alienated from God. Our spirits were no longer able to unite with the Lord in close communion. However, Jesus came to pay the penalty for sin with His death, and now all who trust Him as their Savior are spiritually reborn. Their connection with God has been reopened through Christ (Eph. 2:1-5).

Yet God doesn’t want our interactions with Him to end at salvation; that’s where they begin. If we communicate with Him only on a surface level, we cheat ourselves and hinder fulfillment of the Lord’s ultimate goal for us—an intimate relationship with Him. Though this is His desire for each of His children, many believers, unfortunately, do not live in the close fellowship that He’s made available to them.

Believers can be saved and eternally secure yet relationally distant from the Lord. Some Christians show little interest in spiritual things and are unaware of the shallowness of their interactions with God. Others are confused and frustrated, wondering why they don’t hear His voice or feel His presence. Even though they attend church, read their Bibles, and pray, He still seems to be far away and disconnected from them.

In the last few years, the term “intimacy with God” has become one of those phrases that Christians toss about in their conversations, but how many of us actually know what it means? If I asked you to describe it, could you? Part of the problem is that in our culture, the word intimacy has become synonymous with sex. But we’re talking about a spiritual oneness that is not based on the physical senses. God is spirit (John 4:24), and that is how we must relate to Him.

Understanding Intimacy with God

To help us comprehend what closeness with the Lord looks like, let’s examine the writings of David, whom the Bible calls a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). Psalm 63:1-8 gives a vivid description of His consuming passion for His Lord.

Yearning for God. The most obvious element in this Psalm is a thirsting and yearning for the Lord (v. 1). Every other pursuit in life seems like a dry desert when compared to the fulfillment of an intimate relationship with God. Our souls and spirits will never experience satisfaction until we discover the joy of devotion to the only One who can fill our emptiness (v. 5). David’s passion even had a physical element to it: “my flesh yearns for You” (v. 1). At times, those who have a particularly close connection with the Lord experience an aching for more of Him.

Awakened Spiritual Senses. The second aspect of David’s deep association with God is his ability to see Him (v. 2). One of the results of such closeness is the awakening of our spiritual senses. In learning to know Him more deeply, we “see” the One who is unseen. Our understanding of His nature and ways increases dramatically, the Scriptures come alive with meaning, and a new sense of discernment guards our minds. Along with this spiritual sensitivity comes the distinct knowledge that it’s all from the Lord and not from ourselves.

New Values and Priorities. Soon our relationship with God becomes the best thing in our lives and takes precedence over everything else (vv. 3-4). No other pursuit is more valuable. All the possessions, power, pleasures, and prestige this world offers are empty after experiencing the fullness of knowing the Lord.

Satisfaction and Fulfillment. He captures our thoughts and emotions (v. 5-6). Do you remember what it feels like to be in love? No one had to tell you to think about your loved one; your thoughts just automatically flew to him or her. That’s what it’s like when we love the Savior. The joy of being in His presence satisfies us as nothing else can.

Trust and Dependence. God becomes our shelter in life’s storms when we crawl under His wings of protection and cling to Him in total dependence (vv. 7-8). Those who know intimacy with Him feel the safety that comes with submission to His will. Since they know His heart and trust His goodness and wisdom, they have no cause for fear.

Who wouldn’t want such a rich and rewarding experience with the Lord? But it won’t happen automatically or accidentally. Just consider how human relationships develop. Close friendships aren’t instantaneous; they must be cultivated over time. In the same way, spiritual unity with the Almighty must be diligently pursued.

Getting to Know God

The first step in our quest for intimacy with the Lord is getting to know Him—who He is, what He does, how He thinks, and what He desires. Even though God is invisible and inaudible to our physical senses, a close relationship with Him is cultivated the same way human friendships are—through time spent together, communication, vulnerability, and shared interests.

Time Spent Together. We will never achieve closeness with the Lord unless we invest time and effort in getting to know Him. A neglected relationship simply won’t grow in richness or depth. Are you too busy to spend time each day with Him? If that is the case, the immediate demands of your schedule are robbing you of an awesome eternal treasure—deep, satisfying communion with God.

Two-Way Communication. The most obvious way to become better acquainted with the Lord is through two-way communi-cation. But our prayers are often monologues rather than dialogues. We come to Him with our list of concerns, but how often do we take time to listen for His response? Although God delights in hearing our prayers, He also wants us to be still and listen to Him.

Since He speaks to us primarily through His Word, that’s where we will most likely hear His voice. Try interacting with the Lord by praying as you read Scripture. Meditate on His words and ask Him questions: “What are You saying to me? How does this apply to my life?” Then be still and listen, giving Him time to speak to your spirit. Just remember that whatever He says will never contradict His written Word. The more you listen, the more you’ll hear His voice, and soon your time with Him will become your greatest delight.

Vulnerability. Another important factor is our willingness to be open and honest, exposing every area of our lives to the Lord. No one can be forced into an intimate friendship with God. In fact, the depth of this relationship is limited by the extent of our transparency with Him. Although the natural response is to shrink from such vulnerability, we need to remember that He already knows us inside and out and loves us more than we can comprehend.

Shared Interests. If we’re going to grow in oneness with God, we must learn to share His interests. He is always attentive to our concerns, but do we really care about His desires and purposes? Are you more interested in the Lord or in what He can give you? Self-focused prayers, neglect of His Word, and overly busy schedules send an unspoken message to Him: “I’m not interested in You!” If your relationship with the Lord seems stagnant, maybe you have drifted into a self-centered focus that is hindering your friendship with Him.

Results of Knowing God

Some Christians confuse knowing the Lord with knowing about Him. But no experience we have with Him or fact we learn about Him should ever be a strictly academic pursuit. Rather, such knowledge ought to continually transform us, influence others, and prepare us for heaven.

Transformation. No one can have an intimate relationship with God and remain unchanged. A “Sunday Christian” lifestyle will no longer satisfy. As we begin to understand who He is, our love for Him grows and motivates us to radical obedience. Our experiences with Him teach us that He is faithful and can be trusted. Recognition of the wisdom and goodness of His plans prompts willing submission to His leadership. And before long, time spent with Him becomes the best part of each day. Instead of watching the clock, we’ll want to stay longer because His presence satisfies our souls as nothing else can.

Influence. This kind of passion for the Lord is contagious and influences others. My granddad was a man who knew God intimately. As he told me about the things that Christ had done in his life, a desire to know the Lord like that captured my heart and shaped the direction of my life from then on. I didn’t change overnight, but today the most powerful and awesome experience I have is getting face down before God, sensing oneness between His Spirit and mine.

Preparation for Heaven. One day every believer is going to meet the Lord. Will He be a stranger to you? The greatest investment we can make in this life is a wholehearted pursuit of a deep personal relationship with Him. The immediate earthly rewards are greater than any sacrifice, but the treasure awaiting us in heaven is beyond imagination. Eternal life begins the moment we are saved, and the Bible gives a very interesting description of it: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). Our eternal life is now. Don’t wait for heaven; get to know your amazing Lord today.

Questions for Further Study

1. How does Jesus characterize friendship in John 15:13-15? What must we do to be considered His friends? What “inside information” does He reveal to His friends?

2. According to John 14:23-26, what are we to do with the information Jesus gives us? Who helps us understand His words? How is intimacy with God described (v. 23)?

3. Read Psalm 63:1-8. What does David do to connect with God? What emotions does he experience because of his oneness with Him? Notice how David’s soul is affected by his relationship with the Lord (see references to “my soul”).

4. According to Philippians 3:7-14, what was Paul’s greatest pursuit in life? How satisfied was he with his relationship with Christ? In comparison to this, what value did he place on everything else?

5. Paul’s intimate relationship with the Lord is evident (see 2 Cor. 12:7-12). What does his response to difficulty reveal about his level of trust in God? As death neared, did the apostle regard his pursuit of Christ as worthwhile (2 Tim. 1:12; 4:6-8)?

6. As Paul neared death, did he think that his pursuit of Christ had been a worthwhile investment of his life (2 Tim. 1:12; 4:6-8)?

Copyright 2011 In Touch Ministries, Inc. All rights reserved. www.intouch.org. In Touch grants permission to print for personal use only.