Intimacy with Jesus

Approximately,  forty years ago, I started a non-scientific, but very enlightening survey.  I first asked my pastor and later dozens of evangelical pastors some version of the following question: “What percentage of your church is experiencing intimacy with Jesus?”  After finding the right vocabulary for their denomination, such as “walk in the Spirit,” “sold out,” “on fire,” etc., every Pastor answered somewhere between 5 and 10 percent.  In one setting, I was speaking to 850 Pastors and asked them to please let me know if their church refuted those statistics.  Only eight spoke with me afterwards, and each said that the percentage was about right.  By the way, they would likely have reported upwards of ninety percent if I had asked; “what percentage of your church is committed to Jesus.”  However, commitment is simply a matter of the will and doesn’t nurture the soul.  I’m pleased that people are committed to Jesus, but the reason He gave us His Spirit is so we could have intimate fellowship with Him.

Billy Graham has observed the body of Christ for decades, and he confirms my informal survey.  He states that 90 percent of the Church live carnal lives.  He was not saying that they live immoral lives but rather, they are not living lives controlled by the Spirit.  This even happens in good churches where the Bible is taught, and correct doctrine is emphasized.  Oswald Chambers framed the issue well when he said; “The soul is in danger when knowledge of doctrine gets ahead of intimacy with Jesus.”  Good Biblical teaching is crucial and produces people who believe correctly but does not automatically produce people who have intimate fellowship with Jesus.  That motivates me to write about what I have learned about intimacy.

There are numerous types of intimacy including relational, emotional, intellectual, physical, and spiritual.  I do not profess to be an expert on any of them, but I do feel comfortable writing about is my own personal discoveries, regarding intimacy with Jesus.  I’m talking about a spiritual oneness that God designed us to have with Him.  Intimacy is intrinsic to the very nature of God who exists as a triune being.  From a heart of love, He created humanity in His image and gave us the capacity and desire for intimacy with Himself.

It’s important to state that I am not speaking about an emotional experience or a warm fuzzy feeling.  In fact, it’s not a feeling at all; it’s a condition that does or does not exist.  The root word for intimacy in Latin is “intimus” which means “innermost,” so the dictionary defines intimacy as, “to make known,” but I believe that’s only half of its actual meaning.  I say that because Jesus defined intimacy for me when He said; “As the Father knows me, so I know the Father.” (Jn. 10:15)  Since theirs is the most intimate relationship conceivable, I would amend the dictionary definition of intimacy to read: “Knowing and being Known.”  One person can share their innermost thoughts, but if the other person does not, you do not have intimacy.  You have the potential for intimacy because it takes two who open their hearts to one another to achieve it.  One should not expect perfect continuous intimacy because that is only possible within the Godhead.  However, we can experience periods of intimacy, which last as long as we keep the door to our heart open.  Since God is always ready for intimacy with us, we are the limiting factor.  If we don’t feel close to God, guess who moved?  Like the Laodicean’s we often close our spirits, but He continues to knock on our door.  I’m confident that many Scriptures support my definition for intimacy as “knowing and being known.”  I’ll begin with one that most people have not associated with intimacy.

John 3:16 may be the best-known verse in the Bible but not too far behind it is Revelation 3:20.  It says; “…I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in…”  (NIV)  It’s in every evangelistic tool I’ve ever seen but used entirely out of context.  We castigate cults who use verses out of context and yet the evangelical church continues to do so itself.  We quote this verse as a salvation verse in spite of the fact that the context clearly states that it’s spoken to the church.  Twice in just nine verses, it says that this offer is to the church and ends with, “…anyone who is willing to hear should listen to the Spirit and understand what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”  (NLT)  Given our continued misuse of this verse, it’s obvious that we didn’t listen and I confess that it was formerly true of me.  Early on, I was heavily involved with several Para-Church ministries and became tremendously evangelistic.  I quoted this verse hundreds of times but eventually woke up to its true meaning and became interested in the intimacy that it offered.  Revelation 3:20 is a verse about God’s desire for intimacy with His people, and importantly I believe it also reveals the method of how to achieve it.

The metaphor of knocking on a person’s door requesting to be invited into their home was in the culture of that day.  My personal experience in the Middle East is that people will express their hospitality by inviting you to dinner at the finest restaurant.  However, if they ever invite you to have a meal in their home with their family, they are expressing a desire for a more intimate friendship.  Understanding this, Jesus says to a spiritually lukewarm body of people that His knocking is an offer of a return to an intimate fellowship with them.  Since lukewarm could describe many of today’s believers, this verse has great relevance.  Maybe the greatest tragedy of misapplying this verse to unbelievers is that believers have missed the opportunity for self-examination.

Actually, there is a multitude of Biblical references about the subject of intimacy.  Paul speaking of Christ in Philippians 3:10 says, “That I may know Him.”  Then in verse 15, he says that the spiritually mature should have the same goal.  You may or may not be aware that in the original text, the word Paul uses for “know” is the same one used in the Old Testament about sexual relations. (Gen. 4:1, Mat. 1:25)  “Adam knew his wife Eve, and she became pregnant.”  Paul’s decision to use this word for “Knowing Christ” shows that he intended to make it clear that he does not mean he desires to have correct information about Jesus but rather an intimate experiential knowing.  The closest human parallel to “Knowing Christ” is the physical, emotional, and spiritual intimacy experienced in marriage.  In fact, Scriptures use the metaphor of marriage to express His relationship to His people.  Jesus is the Bridegroom, and we are His bride.  This metaphor is just one more place where intimacy is not only encouraged; Paul says it should be our primary goal.

I have read a dozen or more of the best-known books about “Knowing God,” and they helped me know more about God, but they didn’t help me “Know God” experientially.  For me, the answer came by focusing on, “Knowing and being Known.”  The importance of, “Knowing Christ” is indisputable but how to know Him is often the missing link.  My experience is that God allows us to know Him in direct proportion to how much we let Him know us.  I am quite confident that this is one of the most important lessons I have learned in my spiritual journey.  Someone should write a book entitled, “How to let God know you.”  Maybe these thoughts are my attempt at doing that because I firmly believe that the prerequisite for knowing Christ is letting Him know me.

In my opinion, this is confirmed by numerous Biblical stories and begins right in the Garden of Eden.  God came daily to have intimate fellowship with Adam and Eve, and we can only guess what that was like for them.  However, a clue comes after they ate of the forbidden fruit.  After they had disobeyed God, there was an immediate recognition that something had changed, so they hid from Him.  That afternoon God came to spend His usual time with them but didn’t find them waiting, so He called out, “Adam where are you?”  Using the Laodicean metaphor, they wanted to live behind closed doors, but God came knocking.  I had read and heard this hundreds of times, but one day it caused me to ponder it in depth.  Parenthetically, I wonder how often I missed what God wanted to say to me because I was so familiar with a text that I didn’t take the time to consider its true meaning.  However, on this occasion, I thought, “Wait a minute, what’s going on here?  I thought God knew everything.”  As I pondered the situation, a new thought pattern in the form of a metaphor began to develop.  Four of my grandchildren lived a few houses away when they were younger, so they were at our house at least daily.  Almost every time I returned home, my wife would say, Sarah heard your car, and she’s hiding.  So I would move noisily around the house opening and closing doors and declare loudly, Wow, you sure are hiding good today!  Now Sarah had only three places she hid, but I would pretend that I didn’t know where she was.  After what seemed like the appropriate length of time, I would locate her, but more often than not, she couldn’t stand the suspense, so she would jump out and say, “Here I am!”  Even though she was hiding, she was anxious to be found because hugs and lots of laughter always followed it.  She loved playing this game and truth be known; I loved it too.  So with that image in mind, I wondered, was God playing this kind of game with Adam?  Did He really know where Adam was but was playing a game with him?  Given the import of the situation, I am certain He was not.

I believe when God said, “Adam, where are you,” that He actually did not know where he was, (pause for impact)…….Relationally.  Of course, He knew the facts, even to the point of exactly what Bush they were hiding behind.  However, this was not a question about facts; it was a different kind of question.  I believe God asked a relational question to Adam, so the central point of this story is; God was giving him an opportunity to allow himself to be known.  Adam chose to let God know him relationally and answered, “I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid.  I was afraid because I was naked.” (Gen. 3:10)  There were consequences for disobedience, but because he allowed himself to be known, intimate fellowship was restored.

Later God asked this same type of question when He said to Cain, “Where is Abel, your brother?” (Gen. 4:9)  Here it’s clear that God knew the facts about Abel because he said, “your brother’s blood cries to me from the ground.”  It’s obvious God was not asking a question of fact, so why did He ask this question?  I believe He was giving Cain an opportunity to allow himself to be known.  He refused and reaped terrible consequences.

God continued this kind of interaction with Elijah.  After a victorious triumph over the prophets of Baal, he was discouraged and running for his life. (1st Kings 19)  As he hid in a cave, the Lord came to him and asked, “What are you doing here?”

God knew the answer to this question, but He wanted Elijah to allow himself to be known.  So Elijah vented his frustration and fear and unburdened his heart.  Then God said; “Go stand on the mountain for the Lord is going to pass by.”  He did so and saw something like a strong tornado, then an earthquake and then fire but the Lord was not in any of these.  Finally, he felt a gentle breeze and God was in it, which is another metaphor for God speaking in a “still small voice.”  However, Elijah did not recognize it, so he went back to the cave.  The Lord was extremely gracious and asked him a second time, “What are you doing here?”  Elijah gave the same answer again, “I’m here because I’m scared, and Jezebel said she wanted me dead.”  After this second time of allowing himself to be known, his heart connection with God was revitalized, and he was restored to his former role of speaking and acting for the Lord.  I believe the gentle breeze in which the Lord was present was also a metaphor for the intimate fellowship with God that Elijah had lost because he had let fear and discouragement steal it from him.  I think the important point of the story is that God strengthened and restored Elijah because, as in the other examples, Elijah had allowed the Lord to know him with vulnerable honesty.  Elijah’s life from that point on appears to have been one of calm communion with his God.  Elijah is just another illustration of the restoration of intimate fellowship that comes when we allow God to know us.

We have yet another Biblical example in Jacob’s experience of wrestling with an angel all night. (Gen. 32:24)  He kept asking for a blessing and near dawn, the angel asked: “What is your name?” Since the angel is the “pre-incarnate Christ,” of course, he already knew his name, so why did he ask?  I maintain that He was giving Jacob an opportunity to let himself be known so he could bless him.  Jacob replied, “My name is Jacob,” which means “one who supplants” or “usurper.”  (One who improperly took something from someone.)  In his case, he had lied to his father and had stolen his brother’s blessing.  When he stated his name, he was admitting his character flaw, and therefore was, allowing himself to be known at the deepest level.  Then the angel gave him a new name, which is another metaphor for intimacy bestowed.  His new name was Israel, and he became the first of God’s chosen people called the Israelites.

In Genesis, the question is, “where are you” and in The Revelation, it’s “open the door,” but both are intended to give an opportunity for people to allow themselves be known.  God doesn’t need information because He is omniscient.  However, His desire for intimacy with us requires us to cooperate by allowing ourselves to be known.  Remember the definition of intimacy is both “knowing and being known.”  God wants to know us in order to have an intimate connection with us, but he never forces it on us, He waits for our consent.  If He forced it on us, it would be considered spiritual rape.  Rape is defined, as intimately knowing another person without their permission and God doesn’t do that.  He knocks at the door and waits for us to let Him in, or He asks us by way of conviction, where are you or what are you doing here?

God had been knocking on my door for years, asking those and similar questions but I had not answered because I was too busy doing things for God.  I was hoping for, even longing for intimacy, but had not achieved it.  I had not yet learned that letting God know me was my side of the equation.  These and other scriptures helped me understand that it was as simple as telling God things He already knew about me.  He always knows the facts, even the details of the facts, but He doesn’t know them relationally.  When I did that, the Lord graciously began to let me know Him at a deeper level than I had ever experienced and that produced the intimacy that I longed for.

Here’s a homemade story that illustrates the point that when we choose to let someone know us, it opens the door to intimacy.  Let’s say a father has given his son a curfew of midnight.  One night the son returns home at three o’clock in the morning, and since the house is dark, he assumes that everyone is asleep.  He thinks maybe dad won’t know he broke curfew, but in fact, his father did hear him come home.  The next morning at the breakfast table, they are both aware of the situation, but Dad says nothing.  Can you imagine how their relationship was repaired when the son voluntarily said, “Dad, I know you don’t know, but I came home three hours late last night.”  Of course, dad knew the facts, but he did not know them relationally until the son told him. Even though there were probably consequences, there was never a question of whether or not he would remain a son.  However, the boy’s honesty restored a healthy father-son relationship because they were now both on the same page regarding that issue.

I experienced intimacy first with a small group of men that I met with for years.  A high level of trust had developed, and incrementally I had become very vulnerable with them.  We eventually knew each other very well and in many ways better than anyone outside the group did.  We had developed a high level of trust and trust is foundational for intimacy.  The more we trust someone, the closer we let them get to us.  Only then will we share our inner-world with another person.  When one of the men had a heart attack, I visited him in the hospital and met his mother for the first time.  She didn’t know I was part of it, but she told me how much her son loved his group.  She said when he describes his group to her; it reminds her of an ancient Proverb.  “Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts or measure your words, just pour them all out, chaff and grain together, sure that a faithful hand will sift them, keep what is worth keeping and with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away.”  That described exactly how I felt about the guys in the group and it helped me understand what had produced our intimacy.  When I realized this, I began telling God things He already knows.

Again, my experience is that God lets us know Him in direct proportion to how much we let Him know us.  Intimacy with God has been the most rewarding and life-changing thing I have ever experienced.  After I began to experience it with God, I eventually did so with my wife, and our marriage reached a deeper level.  I am not sure that is the correct order, but it’s the way it happened with me.

At this point, let me say a few words about what I do not mean by intimacy with Jesus.  It is not a greater commitment to Jesus, which is a good thing, but no matter how serious you are, it’s a poor substitute for intimacy.  The value of commitment is that it’s the glue that keeps us together until we experience intimacy.  There is also an imitation intimacy which is an emotional experience often created by a worship team that encourages it.  It’s transitory but feels so right while it lasts because it can be a deeply spiritual experience, but that is not intimacy.  Millions of people who have that kind of worship experience week after week are the same ones who answer the surveys that their spiritual experience is less than fulfilling.  While it feeds the emotions, it doesn’t produce the kind of intimate heart connection with Jesus that people consciously or unconsciously desire.

Believers who have never experienced genuine intimacy with Jesus might ask, “Isn’t fellowship with God the same as intimacy with God?”  I think the answer is yes if we rightly understand the true meaning of fellowship.  However, what most people mean when they think fellowship with God is the condition of being, “In fellowship or out of fellowship.”  They typically think of themselves as being out of fellowship when they deliberately sin and are back in fellowship when they confess their sin.  That’s a good thing, but it does not produce the abundant life of John 10:10.  Asking a spouse to forgive us for something is a good thing and may even restore harmony, but it does not produce intimacy in a marriage.  It’s true that confession of sin means we are allowing ourselves to be known by God but only for an isolated segment of our life and it does not produce the intimacy I’m talking about.  True intimacy involves so much more than getting back in God’s good graces; it means letting Him know all of our thoughts and feelings.  There isn’t anything you can’t say to God because He already knows the details, but He wants us to be like the son who told his Dad something he already knew.  David is a good person to study because he tells God exactly how he feels about things and especially his frustration with God.  Take a leap of faith and pour out your heart then be ready to experience intimacy with Jesus.

Today God is still speaking to us as He did in Scripture.  “Where are you?”  (What is your true spiritual condition?)  “Where is your brother?”  (Any un-reconciled issues in your relationships?  How about your marriage?)  “What are you doing here?”  (Do you find yourself defeated or on the run in some area of your life?)  “If you will open the door, I will come in.”  (Do you have any doors that are closed to Jesus?)  For more thoughts like this, I highly recommend the timeless classic written by Robert Boyd Munger called; “My Heart-Christ’s Home” (It’s a small pamphlet, available on Amazon)

Is your desire for intimacy with God strong enough to make you move towards it?  If not, take some tiny baby steps and see if the results don’t cause you to want more.  We all know our own heart.  The question is, “Will we allow ourselves to be known?”  It’s past time to get honest with ourselves, others and God, and experience the intimacy that we’re created for.  Intimacy takes two, who want it, and God is ready when we are, in fact, He’s knocking at your door.