Over many years I have figured out what God’s heart really desires for humanity. He wants intimacy. At first that sounded scary. It seemed like taking faith too far, over the top, bordering on unbridled enthusiasm and lacking in reason. For a long time, I imagined God would settle for good fellowship. My commitment to the relationship was casual. Intimacy with God was not a high priority. It didn’t occur to me that God is not a halfway God. But because of who He is, God didn’t force the issue and pull back on His gift to me of freewill.
Now, when I read Scripture closely, I see it clearly. Scripture underscores intimacy, especially where we encounter the little word “in.” Here are just a few of the verses that reveal His expectations for us to cultivate a relationship that draws us into God and God into us. The little word “in” suggests being “all in” for absolute intimacy.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” (John 15:5)
“Father, just as you are in Me and I am in you, may they also be in Us… I in them and you in Me. May they be brought to complete unity… in order that the love You have for Me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17:21, 23, 26)
“I will ask the Father and He will give you another Counselor… the Spirit of Truth… for He lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16,17)
“I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith… that you may be filled to the measure of the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:16)
“Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord continue to live in Him, rooted and built-up in Him… .” (Colossians 2:6-7)
“Those who obey His commands live in Him, and He in them.” (1 John 3:24)
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)
Intimacy With God Is Possible
Some may say it is impossible to be intimate with God because He is too transcendent, too remote. But would God express His desire that we be in Him and He in us if it were impossible? It does not happen with the flip of a switch or a bolt of lightning. It is a gradual process. We come to know God so well that the relationship becomes increasingly intimate. This is possible when we immerse ourselves daily in His presence. It’s similar to what happens when a person immerses himself in a new language and culture by making new friends. As immigrants to a new country and a new language know, at first the experience is strange and even uncomfortable. Their conversation is constrained. They struggle to express themselves and their feelings and to find the right words. But with time and immersion into the language and culture, the layers get peeled back. Insights come more readily. Life with others becomes more nuanced. Immigrants gain more and more insight into how their world works as they make a sustained effort to remain in the context of the new language, culture and relationships.
When I first met my wife as a young student in college, we knew nothing about each other. I started to talk to her. I wrote her notes. I was interested in knowing more about her and then to actually know her better. I looked for opportunities to intersect and actively engage her. I finally asked her out on a date. I got to know her class schedule so I could get to know her well. We became increasingly acquainted. In the basic social psychology of romance it was a matter of 1) creating proximity, and 2) promoting opportunities for contact. I did that with good result. The long and short of the story is that we grew to know and love each other. Our increasing social and spiritual intimacy eventually led to marriage, and over 44 years of marriage, we have continued to grow in love and intimacy.
The acquaintance process with God works in the same way. In the immersion into the presence of God through proximity to Him and frequent contact, we come to truly know Him more and more. It means obediently following Christ daily. It requires continual exposure to the means by which He reveals Himself and speaks to us along the journey each day.
Intimacy With God Bears Much Fruit
Jesus said, “If a man remains in Me, and I remain in him, he will bear much fruit.” The pursuit of intimacy with God produces three particular, worthwhile results, or fruit: wisdom, impact and unimaginable possibilities.
As the saying goes, you become like the people with whom you spend much time. Can you imagine anyone wiser than God? Wisdom accrues from spending time with Him. Scripture promises that God will impart wisdom, insight and understanding. When we are walking with God, when He resides in us and we continue in Him, He finds ways for His Holy Spirit to communicate what He wants each of us to know. One way is by giving us wisdom through illumination as we read and meditate on His Word, as we meditate on the Word. Another is as we listen to the testimony of others and as we reflect on the teachings and preaching of pastors and spiritual leaders. The Apostle Paul even talks about knowing the love of God so profoundly that it surpasses knowledge. He means that to receive wisdom is not merely a cognitive and intellectual awareness, but something that penetrates the heart.
Even when we are not aware, God is at work, making an impact through us.
When two people are in love, it shows. Their countenance glows. They really can’t hide it. In our increasingly intimate relationship with God, our countenance becomes a testimony. Our speech is different. Our behavior toward others becomes more motivated by the love of Christ in us. Loving the Lord with all our heart spills over into loving our neighbor in Christ–like ways more and more. The fruit of intimacy with God is impact. He gives us a testimony and a heart for others.
Years ago when I was a relatively young professor at the University of Hawaii, I was growing in my own walk with God. He surprised me. I was out of the office quite often traveling on business. I had a wonderful secretary named Sherry who had been raised in a Buddhist home. During those years, I kept an open Bible on my office desk. I would read Scripture each morning and highlight various verses. One morning Sherry sat down in my office and began to cry. This was so out of character for her. I asked her what was wrong. Had I offended her in some way? She gathered herself and shared that for the past three years, as I traveled, she would sit down at my desk and read the highlighting in my Bible. She said, “I want to become a Christian, but I don’t know how.” I shared with her that it was easy and that I would say a prayer. If it was the prayer of her heart, she could just repeat it, accept Christ as her Lord and Savior and become a follower of Jesus Christ. She did just that. At the end of the prayer I looked up and she had the biggest smile on her face. She was born again.
In my increasing intimacy with God, He blessed me with a quiet testimony in the highly secular setting of the university. Without my knowing it, God was at work bringing grace into Sherry’s life through the highlighted Bible on my office desk. Intimacy with God inevitably impacts others.
In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul makes an interesting connection between being “filled to the measure of the fullness of God” (a good way of portraying intimacy and holiness) and unimaginable possibilities. He says, “Now, unto Him who is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine” (3:19-20). In other words, with increasing intimacy in our commitment to our relationship with God and His encounters with us, He opens up unimaginable possibilities. God is proactive. He blesses those with whom He is intimate. The blessings impact us personally. They include the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control), the gifts of the Spirit (such as faith, knowledge, prophecy, healing, discernment), opportunities to participate in the work of the Kingdom of God and other possibilities, depending on His plan for our lives.
The enemy of the very best is not the bad. The enemy of God’s best is settling merely for something good. Why settle for occasional fellowship with God when you can be intimate with Him? Intimacy with God is the best and the good news is this: there is always more. John Wesley taught that in holiness we are being perfected as we live in obedient faith and walk daily in the Spirit. In intimacy with God, there is always more. It’s true that the best is yet to come!
By Jonathan S. Raymond