How can 2022 be the best year ever in terms of our walk with God? These is the question I would like to address this morning.
As one of your elders, I desperately want to see each of you to experience tremendous growth as a believer in 2022. I want to see you grow spiritually like never before. I have been asking myself, “What is the one thing we as a church can focus on in order to grow deeper in our Christian faith?”
I would like to propose the answer. I believe it is this—learning over time how to experience an unbroken, moment by moment, personal intimacy with the triune God of the Bible.
This morning I’d like to define what intimacy with God is, give some biblical examples of intimacy with God, and then offer practical tips on how to experience a level of intimacy with God greater than we’ve ever experienced before.
Open your Bibles to Psalm 16:11. Our reading this morning is very short, but ver powerful. It’s one-third of one verse. One sentence only.
“In your presence there is fullness of joy” (Ps 16:11).
What Is Intimacy with God?
Intimacy means to be “marked by very close association, contact, or familiarity, by a warm friendship developing through long association.”
For many of us, our spouse is our best friend with whom we are most intimate. We have known each other for years. We know the idiosyncrasies. We know the likes and dislikes. We eat at table together. We sleep together. We make love. We experience good times and bad. We are committed to each other for life in a covenant relationship. In the human realm, marriage is the closest picture we get of what true intimacy is all about. If we are not married, we still have intimate relationships, though we must be more intentional to develop them. It could be with our parents, our siblings, or an old schoolmate
We are built for intimacy. This is why young men join gangs. This is why rugby clubs party after games. This is why New Zealand’s drinking culture is the way it is. People need intimacy with other people. This can come in healthy or unhealthy ways, but nevertheless they—we—need it. One of the things so troubling about our modern condition is the breakdown of intimate relationships. We see this breakdown in marriage and divorce rates but also in the mental health challenges of the Millennial and Gen Z generations. The well-known book by Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone, records the lives of American teens and twenty-somethings and the epidemic of loneliness among them.
But as much as we need intimacy with other human beings, the Bible insists our greatest need is for intimacy is with our Creator. We are designed in such a way that we cannot be truly happy or fulfilled until we experience a steady, continual, moment by moment intimacy with the God of the universe.
This leads to an important theological fact about God himself. He is a tri-personal God. Inter-personal intimacy is the very essence of who God is. The three persons of the Trinity have intimately related to one another in love and companionship from before time began. Individually and collectively, we are created to share in this intimate relationship forever and ever and ever. This is the purpose, the raison d’etre, of our existence.
Intimacy with God is a moment by moment longing for the very presence of God. Like any intimate relationship, it requires quality time, frequent conversation, and respect. Intimacy with the Trinity is with the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit. It is a privilege and opportunity for every believer. It is why we are saved. It is the eternal life Jesus talked about. As he said in the upper room, “This is eternal life, that they keep knowing (γινώσκω, pres.) you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jn 17:3).
Intimacy with God is like living in the fourth dimension. Just as 3D is so much greater than 2D, so 4D than 3D.
Biblical Examples of Intimacy with God
Man’s intimacy with God begins where one might expect—in the earliest chapters of Genesis. Prior to the rebellion of Adam and Eve against God, the couple met face to face with God, who walked in the garden of Eden in the cool of the day (Ge 3:8). Once they had eaten the forbidden fruit, the pair realised their nakedness, crafted fig leaf clothing for themselves, and hid in the bushes (Ge 3:8). It was God who called to the man, asking, “Where are you?” God came calling out for man, not man for God. This is the central idea of Christianity. This is what sets apart our belief system from all others. Christianity is not man’s search for God, but God’s search for man.
But why is God searching for man anyway? Why would a holy God search out dirty, filthy, stinking, prideful, selfish, sinners like us? Frankly, if I were in his place, I wouldn’t. But he is different from us. God is ἀγάπη (1 Jn 4:16), and he insists on a relationship of intimacy with us through his Son. The Bible ends with God dwelling among redeemed mankind (Re 21:3), wiping tears from human eyes (Re 21:4). We shall see him face to face (Re 22:4).
Think of Abraham’s intimacy with God. He lived for 30 years in the land of Canaan, waiting for an heir from his own body. He encountered God many times as God tested his faith. Abraham got to know God intimately and finally was called “a friend of God” (Ja 2:23).
Moses pitched a tent far off from the camp of the Israelites (Ex 33:7-11), called it “the tent of meeting.” Everyone who sought God would go out to this tent. When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance, and God would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses came out, his face shined (Ex 34:35), and his young assistant Joshua would stay in the tent meeting with God (Ex 33:11).
King David had an extraordinarily intimate relationship with God from an early age. In Ps 16, he writes, “I have set Yahweh always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken” (v. 8). He loves the habitation of God’s house and the place where his glory dwells (Ps 26:8). He asks one thing of God—that he may dwell in the house of God all the days of his life, to gaze upon the beauty of God and to inquire in his temple (Ps 27:4). When he was hiding from Saul in the wilderness, he wrote, “O God, you are my God. Earnestly I seek you. My soul thirsts for you. My flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory” (Ps 63:1-2).
Intimacy with the Father was the chief characteristic of Jesus, our Lord. He was always with the Father, and the Father was always with him (Jn 8:29). Often Jesus would withdraw from the great crowds to desolate places and pray (Lk 5:16). But everywhere at all times, Jesus was conversing with the Father (Jn 11:41-42).
Paul’s Christian life seems to have been one, long continuous prayer. He urges the churches to follow his example by praying without ceasing (1 Th 5:17) and praying at all times in the Spirit (Eph 6:18). Brothers and sisters, throughout the Bible we see the normal Christian life is to be continual, unbroken intimacy with God in all the daily activities of life.
How Do We Experience Intimacy with God Today?
In answering this question it is crucial to state that moment by moment experience of God’s presence must be bounded by biblical doctrine and sound Christian theology. Many books have been written how to experience God, though who or what is meant by “God” may not be entirely clear. In the 1980s-90s, Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline led many evangelicals down a path toward Christian mysticism. Another book along these lines is Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God. If you read books like these, be careful. They can be helpful, but you must test them against Scripture and Christian doctrine.
Just this week, a friend told me about Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling, with over 30,000 reviews on Amazon! According to my friend, she writes what she believes Jesus is saying to her. Unfortunately, Jesus’ words to her do not always match what the Bible says. We are not to believe every spirit, but to test the spirits to see whether they are from God (1 Jn 4:1).
Still, experiencing intimacy with God is biblical and should be a key aspect of our Christian experience. To begin practicing God’s presence this year, I suggest the following. I am assuming your Bible study life is strong and your theology is sound.
1. Live a pure life. Guard yourself from doing, saying, or thinking anything which might displease God. When you do, confess and humbly ask forgiveness. Reject useless thoughts as soon as they arise and return to communion with God. Once you’ve confessed, give yourself no trouble over past mistakes and sins. Heartily renounce everything which you are sensible does not lead to God.
2. Keep your soul’s gaze fixed on God in faith. Do everything for the love of God and in prayer. Go straight to him in everything. Perform all your actions for the love of God. Don’t let your greatest business divert you from God. Let wherever you walk be holy ground (show illustration of the body, soul, and spirit of the believer).
3. Before taking up any task, look to God, if only for a moment. Do the same when you are engaged on the task and lastly when you have performed it. Do your common business without any view of pleasing men and purely for the love of God. Never hurry or loiter, but do each thing in its season, with an even, uninterrupted composure and tranquility.
4. Continually converse with God. Accustom yourself to a continual conversation with him in freedom and simplicity. Offer up in secret a few words as love prompts on the instant. “Lord, I can’t do this unless you enable me.” “Lord, I must fail if you leave me to myself. It is you who must stop me from falling.” Speak to him frankly and plainly, requesting his assistance in all affairs.
5. Pursue this practice faithfully until a habit develops. To form a habit of conversing with God, we must apply ourselves with some diligence. Over time we should find love for him inwardly exciting us to do practice his presence without any difficulty. Worship God as often that you can, keeping your mind in his presence and recalling it as it wanders from him. Think of him as often as you can. A lifting up of the heart, a little remembrance of God, one act of inward worship suffices.
6. Find full joy in the presence of God, leaving behind the things of this world. Become, in this life the most perfect worshiper of God you can possibly be, as we hope to be through all eternity. Live as if there is not but God and you in the world. Allow God to always be with you and in you, considering yourself as stone before a carver.
Of course, we can’t practice the presence of God unless we are first reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. Becoming a Christian is a portal into another world. It allows us to interface with ultimate reality, the tri-personal God who created us for relationship with himself. To fulfil our purpose as human beings, we absolutely must return to a peace footing with God. We must lay down our arms and surrender to God by believing in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. On the cross, Jesus cried out, “It is finished.” He did everything necessary for our salvation. He substituted for us on the cross, paying the judicial penalty for our sins, so that we might go free and become totally new men. Today, I invite you to believe in Jesus if you have not done so previously. What a great day to do it…the first Sunday of this new year.
Most of us have already made this decision and are believers saved by grace. We now live in the period called “sanctification.” In this period it is God’s desire and our privilege to become our true selves in Christ. By learning how to practice the presence of God in our everyday lives, we discover the secret so many Christians of the past have learned—the secret of finding all our satisfaction in God and God alone.
David wrote, “You make known to me the path of life. In your presence there is fulness of joy. At your right hand are pleasures forevermore,” (Ps 16:11).
Paul wrote, “…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Php 4:11-13).
Brother Lawrence, a 17th-century Christian who regularly practiced the presence of God, wrote, “This King, who is full of goodness and mercy, doesn’t punish me. Rather, He embraces me lovingly and invites me to eat at His table. He serves me Himself and gives me the keys to His treasury, treating me as His favorite. He converses with me without mentioning either my sins or His forgiveness. My former habits are seemingly forgotten. Although I beg Him to do whatever He wishes with me, He does nothing but caress me. This is what being in His holy presence is like.”
May the very presence of the tri-personal God, become the place where we long to be. May God give us a vision of himself as we set out to spend more time with him that we’ve ever spent before. May we learn how to enjoy his presence at all times in whatever we’re doing.
“Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen” (Ro 16:25-27).