Intimacy with God

Dr. Brian Allison

Charles Swindoll's little book, Intimacy with the Almighty, is a very spiritually profitable book. In his introduction, Swindoll makes reference to a pastors' meeting at which he spoke. After the meeting, a beleaguered, tired, and strung-out pastor came up to him and said, "Nobody around me knows this, but I am operating on fumes. I am lonely, hollow, shallow, enslaved to a schedule that never lets up." For a number of months after this encounter, Swindoll could not get this phrase - "I am lonely, hallow, shallow, enslaved to a schedule" - out of his head. Admittedly, this pastor's experience is that of many Christians. Is that your situation, my Christian friend? Are you operating on fumes, and they have nearly vaporized? Is your vehicle just chugging along, ready to come to a dead stop in the wilderness, with no gas station in sight?

And so, the question confronts us: How do we keep spiritually fresh? How do we keep spiritually alive? How can we experience that continual strength and passion in living for Jesus Christ and serving Him? Well, very simply, as Swindoll writes - intimacy with God. Psalm 73:28 reads, "But it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all Your works." I hope that this text will become a faithful and trusted friend to you as you continue on your spiritual journey. I hope that this text will become a source of encouragement to you as you strive for more of Christ's felt presence. I hope that, at times, it will become an exhortation for you in order to spur you on to a deeper commitment to, and fellowship with, God. And I hope that it will, at times, even become a rebuke to you so as to return your heart to Christ.

Approaching God

There are three spiritual movements in this particular verse – approaching God, resting in God, and proclaiming God. The first movement, then, is that of approaching God – "But it is good for me to draw near to God." This first movement is contrasted with the idolatrous movement of the wicked, as the previous verse clearly reveals. It reads, "For indeed, those who are far from You [Lord] shall perish; You have destroyed all those who desert you for harlotry [i.e., for religious unfaithfulness or idolatry]" (73:27). The wicked abandon God, whereas the Psalmist clove to God. On the one hand, the wicked follow after false gods, and they are numerous; but, on the other hand, the Psalmist pursued the living God. The Psalmist drew near to God, that is, he entered into the holy presence of God, and thus enjoyed sweet communion with Him. Thus, we read the Psalmist's words, "...I went into the sanctuary [the place of worship] of God, [where God's presence dwells]" (73:17a).

Practically speaking, drawing near to God – coming into the presence of God and knowing spiritual communion – brings enlightenment. When the Psalmist had entered the sanctuary, he asserted, "Then I understood their [the wicked] end [i.e., the consequences]" (73:17b). Again, he affirmed, "You will guide me with Your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory" (73:24). You will receive the needed light while waiting in the presence of God. When you are in God's presence, you will know, for instance, what God requires of you; you will discern His will; you will be able to interpret His leading in your life. Yesterday I had the opportunity to participate in an ordination service. The candidate who was being ordained talked a bit about his life. He was in the army for twenty seven years. He had reached the rank of Major; and then God began to 'speak' to him concerning entering the pastoral ministry. He and his wife stole away to one of their favourite quiet places in England and listed all the reasons why he should not enter the ministry. Then they entered the presence of God and opened up their hearts to Him. They went into the spiritual sanctuary, and there they received light. God gave them understanding, and they were clearly convinced of His will. Subsequently, this man, along with his wife, went to seminary, and now has been ordained to the Gospel ministry. Indeed, in the presence of God, you receive the light.

Maybe you need direction in your life; maybe you need to figure out what God is doing in your life. Are you saying, "What is God's will for my life?" I suggest that you draw near to God; you need to go into His presence because that is where you will receive the light. Or maybe you are facing a difficult situation, perhaps a problem situation with a relative or with a friend; and you are not quite sure how to resolve the issue. I suggest that you go into the presence of God and receive His light. Or maybe you are confused; you are trying to make sense of your mixed up world; nothing seems to be working out in your relationships, and you are wondering what God is doing with you. I suggest that you go into His presence because that is where you will find the needed light. Psalm 36:9 reads, "For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light." Never forget that truth.

Notice the Psalmist's sober self-evaluation of drawing near to God. He affirmed, "But it is good for me to draw near to God." First, it is good because drawing near to God is of value and worth to God. It is pleasing to Him. God Himself, of course, determines the goodness of any given act or exercise. God deems what is virtuous, and thus what is a delight to His heart; and God deems that drawing near to Him is good. Second, it is good to draw near to God because of the spiritual profit and happiness that come to us as we engage in this practice. So, My Christian brothers and sisters, it is good in God's sight for you to draw near to Him; and it is good to draw near because it will result in your spiritual joy and prosperity. Therefore, draw near to God.

Accordingly, make prayer a priority. The act of prayer is the practice of the presence of God. We draw near to God not only through prayer, but also through meditation on His Word and the reflective memorization of that Word so that it 'speaks' to us. As you approach and read the objective Word (the Logos), God is pleased, in the mystery of His will and by the power of His Spirit, to subjectively speak (the Rhema) personally through that Word. The living God encounters you. Pursue intimacy with God.

Resting in God

Not only does the Psalmist approach God, but he rests in God – "I have put my trust in the Lord GOD." For the Psalmist, God was His refuge, his hiding place. God is the place of protection and safety. Of course, what is presupposed, when we consider this kind of language – protection and safety – is that life is filled with dangers, misery, and heartaches. We all know this first-hand. We have been given some vivid reminders of these things recently, that have the ultimate design of not causing us to say, "Tut, tut," but rather of causing us to examine our own hearts and to understand again our own frailty. For instance, yesterday (Apr. 19th) marked the fourth anniversary of the Waco Holocaust in which 81 cultists perished in fiery flames. Interestingly enough, yesterday also marked the second anniversary of the Oklahoma City government bombing in which 168 people perished, including children. Further, this coming week, a funeral will be held for a mother and her four children who were murdered by an estranged husband, who then committed suicide. That is life, friends. That is where we live.

Often, there is no recourse in people. The 'arm of the flesh' will fail you. Only God is able and is ever faithful. Do you notice that the Psalmist chose to rest in God? It was a conscious decision to rest in God. He asserted, "I have put my trust in the Lord GOD." The Psalmist believed that God would be his shield, that God would be his defence, particularly against the assaults and attacks of the wicked. Notice how the wicked are described. We read, "Therefore pride serves as their necklace; violence covers them like a garment. Their eyes bulge with abundance; they have more than heart could wish. They scoff and speak wickedly concerning oppression; they speak loftily. They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walks through the earth" (73:6-9). The Psalmist (and others) were subject to the criticisms and verbal attacks of the wicked. These ones slandered and maligned. Yet, the Psalmist made God His haven of rest.

You, too, my friend, need a haven of rest, especially from personal assaults and verbal attacks. Those attacks and assaults will come – those criticisms and slanders – and they will take their emotional toll. At those times, you will need a refuge. I encourage you to make God your refuge. Let Him be your High Tower. Let Him be your confidence. Commit your cause to Him, and He will deliver you. He will exact justice; He will establish righteousness. Rest in God. There is peace in His presence. Again, pursue intimacy with God.

Proclaiming God

The Psalmist delighted in proclaiming the greatness of God – "That I may declare all Your works." The design of approaching God, and resting in God, is not to produce some reticent, secluded mystic, but rather to produce an empowered and enthusiastic proclaimer of God. What are the works of God in your life? How has God manifested His grace in your life? What are the merciful acts of God in your life? The Psalmist delighted to declare these.

Thus, knowing God's personal presence and communion, not only brings spiritual light, but also spiritual power. My Christian brothers and sisters, there will be times in your life when you will feel discouraged; I do not care who you are, or what kind of relationship you have with God right now. Also, there will be times when you will feel frustrated and defeated. The world mercilessly 'beats up' on saints. Moreover, there will be times when your fervour for holiness and righteousness will wane, and there will be a spiritual dryness in your soul, and it will disturb you. Further, you will experience seasons when the darts of Satan and the evil forces will be unleashed against you with unusual and unsettling force. Now, at those times, remember that knowing the presence of God translates into experiencing the power of God. Having been in the presence of God, you will come forth as a courageous, unflinching proclaimer of truth and will declare all His works – the expressions of His goodness (e.g., forgiving you of sins, healing a loved one, etc.) and his greatness (e.g. directing the course of history, bringing revival to the church, etc.). You will stand your ground, and nothing will move you, because you will know the power of His presence, and His presence will go with you. In God's presence, you see Him and you hear Him, and thus you will be constrained to declare Him. You will have no choice but to declare His person and His works. Your experience of God will overflow in praise. This is intimacy with God.

In summary, your spiritual progress, your spiritual growth, will be determined by, and measured by, your depth of intimacy with God. I made reference to Swindoll's book, Intimacy with the Almighty, earlier in this article. In that book, he talks about four necessary elements by which to know intimacy with God. First, there must be simplicity. We need to reorder the priorities and activities of our lives. Our lives have become too complicated and too busy. Our lives have become too complex, and as a result we fail to fully experience intimacy with God. Second, there must be silence before God. We need to learn to be still before God so that we may hear Him speak to us. Few of us know what it is to be silent before God, but it is in stillness that God's still, small voice may be loudly heard. Third, there must be solitude. Though fellowship with people is good, and is to be sought after, in order to know the spiritual depths of God, you need to be alone with God. In this privacy with God, you are able to examine and understand your own heart; and through that examination and understanding, serenity results, a deep settled peace. Serenity flows out of solitude, a solitude in which we search our souls and allow God to speak into our experience. In that speaking, God is pleased to dispel anxiety and fear. Fourth, there must be surrender. We must come to the point where we give up control – control of our possessions; control of our position, reputation, and status; control of our plans; control of people. One of the major things that keeps people back from intimacy with God is that they do not know how to give up control; they are afraid to yield and sacrifice all to Jesus Christ.

Do you know intimacy with God? Do you know that closeness in fellowship with Him? Are you thirsting after God's presence? Can you say with the Psalmist, "But it is good to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all your works." I trust so. There is no greater privilege or joy given to people than this: intimacy with God.