The joys of a deeper relationship with the Lord are ours to claim.
"I withdrew to my usual place of retirement, in great tranquility. I knew only to breathe out my desire for a perfect conformity to Him in all things. God was so precious that the world with all its enjoyments seemed infinitely vile. I had no more desire for the favor of men than for pebbles.
"At noon I had the most ardent longings after God which I ever felt in my life.
"In my secret retirement, I could do nothing but tell my dear Lord in a sweet calmness that He knew I desired nothing but Him, nothing but holiness, that He had given me these desires and He only could give the thing desired.
"I never seemed to be so unhinged from myself, and to be so wholly devoted to God.
"My heart was swallowed up in God most of the day."
to American Indians
Intimacy with God. Like the words of David Brainerd above, the prospect thrills us—and at the same time frustrates us.
How few people we know, or even know of, who experience the kind of closeness with God that our hearts long for. Even in Scripture only a handful of people seemed to have a special relationship with the Father. Abraham was called a friend of God. The Lord spoke with Moses face to face. Isaiah saw the Lord sitting on a throne. Paul was taken up into the third heaven, and the Apostle John had an incredible vision, which he recorded in the book of Revelation. These are not your "every day with Jesus" testimonies!
When we read the words of saints like Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, D. L. Moody, and the writers of the great hymns we find a spiritual depth that not many of us experience. Is this special communion with the Lord reserved for a favored few? Is it presumptuous to consider that God, Himself, would be our intimate Friend?
Very simply, intimacy is close or confidential friendship. And God, far from making it mysterious or unobtainable, has sought that kind of relationship with us from the beginning: "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness" (Gen. 1:26). He revealed Himself to the patriarchs and prophets; He personally led the Israelites in the wilderness by cloud and by fire.
God’s ultimate invitation to fellowship with Him was in sending His Son to pay the price for our sin so that we who believe could be called His children. To seal His presence in us, He sent His Holy Spirit to dwell within us.
God continually invites us to respond to His love and desire for fellowship. He longs to love us as only He can, and He wants us to know Him in all of His fullness. His commandment to us is "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" (Dt. 6:5). He wants us to be intimate with Him.
Why, then, do so few of us experience the kind of love relationship with God that David Brainerd described? What does it take to know Him as an intimate Friend?
Three years ago I prayed, "Lord, I want to go deeper with You." His answer was to lead me into a comprehensive study of the psalms. In essence He said, "If you want to know Me, study the longing, the honesty, the depth of feeling the psalmists expressed to Me. This is how I want you to fellowship with Me, and to grow in intimacy with Me."
From studying the hearts of the psalmists, I have begun to deepen my understanding of what friendship with God is like and of how it is developed.
Those saints—past and present—who have enjoyed exceptional closeness with God are first of all those who have deeply longed for it. God promised in Jer. 29:13: "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."
David’s longing for God was insatiable. Even when he was pursued by enemies, he did not seek deliverance or a change in circumstances; he sought God. He wrote,
O God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.
The Apostle Paul counted "everything as loss compared to the possession of the priceless privilege—the overwhelming preciousness, the surpassing worth and supreme advantage—of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (Phil. 3:8, Amplified). The only intimacy that mattered to Paul was intimacy with his LORD. He had become his focus, his goal in life, his chief desire.
True intimacy with God leaves us with a desire for deeper intimacy. The more we know our God, the more we want to know Him. Paul went on to say,"[For my determined purpose is] that I may know him—that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding [the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly" (Phil. 3:10, Amplified).
In Enjoying Intimacy with God, J. O. Sanders observed,
It would seem that admission to the inner circle of deepening intimacy with God is the outcome of deep desire. Only those who count such intimacy a prize worth sacrificing anything else for, are likely to attain it. If other intimacies are more desirable to us, we will not gain entry to that circle.
A desire to know only the Lord and His character must be our motive for intimacy. If all I seek are His gifts or whet He can do for me, I have a self-centered relationship based on God’s "performance" in meeting my perceived needs. Instead, my desire to seek Him must be based on a longing just to know Him, to fellowship with Him, to enjoy His company.
In order to seek God in this way, I must be willing to admit that I am not the center of the universe, and that I am not self-sufficient. I cannot depend on anyone else but the Living God to fully and consistently care about what is best for me. To earnestly seek God, I must be willing to enter into relationship with Him on His terms—by acknowledging my need and dependence upon Him. David wrote, "Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation" (Ps. 62:5-6).
In my life the greatest hindrance to developing intimacy with the Father is my bent to live my life in my own strength, to rely on my own insight, to think that I know what God wants me to do. I can easily distance myself from the Lord by trusting my feelings and my inclinations.
Similarly, Asaph’s feet came close to slipping when he observed the prosperity of the wicked and began to question God’s justice. It wasn't until he came seeking the Lord that he was able to get an eternal perspective. Then he could say confidently,
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
The psalmists knew that if they were left to their own devices, they would ultimately fail. They longed for God and God alone to be their rock and their salvation—and so must we.
Desiring the fellowship of the Lord and fervently seeking His strength for my life motivates me to want to be with Him. If I truly desire to be intimate with someone, then I plan to be with that person as much as I can. David wrote: "The one thing I want from God, the thing I seek most of all, is the privilege of meditating in his Temple, living in his presence every day of my life, delighting in his incomparable perfections and glory" (Ps. 27:4, TLB).
Realistically, though, how can we live in His presence every day of our lives?
Psalm 91:1 tells us: "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty." To dwell means to remain, abide, sit. It conveys a constancy, a continuity, a daily communion with the Lord.
The relationship spoken of here is not an erratic visitation as need dictates. Jesus, in Jn. 15:5, taught, "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing" (NASB). To bear the fruit of His character, which can only come from the intimacy of living with Him, we must choose to dwell in His shelter.
Andrew Murray’s thoughts on abiding give us insight into what we need to do in order to be a vital part of the Vine:
It needs time to grow into Jesus the Vine: do not expect to abide in Him unless you will give Him that time.... Come, my brethren, and let us day by day set ourselves by His feet, and meditate on this word of His, with an eye fixed on Him alone. Let us set ourselves in quiet trust before Him, waiting to hear His holy voice—the voice that is mightier than the storm that rends the rocks—breathing its quickening spirit within us, as He speaks: ‘Abide in Me.'
For me, abiding is taking the time to nurture my friendship with the Lord. It is spending special time with Him daily, reading and studying His Word and conversing with Him. It is planning mornings or days alone with Him. Since He is my confidant, it is coming to Him first with my joys, my hurts, my frustrations. Abiding is choosing to live in His presence and realizing that He is with me wherever I go. It is continually sharing my thoughts with Him throughout the day. It is meditating on His Scriptures so that I can know Him better. It is friendship sought on the deepest level. The decision to abide commits me to a lifelong process of developing intimacy with God and of "delighting in his incomparable perfections and glory."
Desiring Him and acknowledging God’s rightful place in our lives are important aspects of intimacy. Yet, even with God’s great love and desire for us, we cannot presume upon His character. Our God is a holy God. David wrote, "Friendship with God is reserved for those who reverence him. With them alone he shares the secrets of his promise" (Ps. 25:14, TLB).
Reverence, respect, and fear of God are essential to abiding in Him. To reverence the Lord is to stand in awe of His majesty, His holiness, His power, His glory. To fear the Lord is to be concerned about ever displeasing Him. John White wrote, "While we must never on the one hand lose the freedom to enter boldly and joyfully by faith into God’s presence during our lives on earth, we must also learn how to revere God in our relationship with Him.... Intimacy cannot occur without respect."
In Ps. 15:1-2, David described the heart of those who dwell with God. "LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart."
One of the most succinct verses on intimacy with God is Jn. 14:21: "Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him." If we love God and want to grow in our knowledge of Him, we will obey His commands. It is in our obedience that God discloses Himself to us. Jesus said, "You are my friends if you do what I command" (Jn. 15:14).
If I desire to share in "the secrets of his promise," then I will choose to pursue a lifestyle of purity. This decision to be intimate with God will affect what books I read, what movies I see, what music I listen to, what programs I watch on television. Abiding in His presence will alter my thought life, my activities, my relationships. My speech and actions will want to honor and reverence His Holy Name.
This does not mean that I will always be blameless. Someone once said that "The essence of holiness is not that we are perfect, but that we never stop pursuing it." If I truly want to draw closer to God, then my heart’s desire will be to please the Lord and to bring Him glory in all that I do.
If intimacy with God is our ardent desire, then we will diligently seek Him for the friendship that only He can provide. We will trust Him with our lives and we will choose to honor Him by desiring to live righteously before Him.
If we are willing to know the Lord in this way, what will our lives be like? Will we continually experience spiritual ecstacy? Will we always feel "unhinged" as Brainerd did that special day in his life? Do we need to withdraw from the demands of daily life and just sit at the feet of Jesus?
Intimacy, for me, is essentially a settled assurance that God is with me and for me even though my feelings and circumstances may seem to deny His commitment to our relationship. It is trusting Him and His promise to never leave me or forsake me. It is knowing that He is with me in the reality of my life. It is not expecting some continual emotional assurance that He is my friend.
Brother Lawrence gives this testimony to his intimacy with the Lord:
The time of labor does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and, in the noise and confusion of the kitchen where I am at work, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in a great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.
This is "day-to-day" intimacy with God. It is "putting on the Lord Jesus Christ" and entering the world confidently because the Lord is our Shield, our Defender, our intimate Friend. It is completely trusting God and His Word, not our feelings.
God does not have a secret society of intimate friends. We are as intimate with God as we choose to be. It is our desire, our abiding, our purity that will determine the depth of our intimacy with Him. Intimacy is understanding that I may feel "hinged" or "unhinged." It is knowing that I must sit at the feet of Jesus, so that I can walk with integrity as His friend. It is experiencing the closeness of the Lord and at other times wondering if He is near. Essentially, intimacy is abandonment of ourselves to the Lord—abandonment born out of trust and an intense longing to know the living God.
It was dark in the plane and it was dark outside except for the impressive streaks of lightning that lit up the night sky. We were circling the Denver airport; I was alone and somewhat restless.
As I stared out the window, I soon sensed the Lord’s presence in a special way. He spoke softly to my heart and asked, "Do you trust Me?" Tears sprang to my eyes. Again He gently asked, "Do you trust Me in all circumstances with all of your heart?" So there on a plane, in a storm, a fresh, deeper bond of intimacy was pledged.
My heart has heard you say, "Come and talk with me, O my people." And my heart responds, "LORD, I am coming."