The Naked Church – Chapter – The Naked Church – Chapter – 8. Simple Intimacy
The Naked Church – Chapter Eight – Simple Intimacy
I am afraid that… your minds may somehow be led astray
from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.
—2 Corinthians 11:3
The Naked Church – Chapter Eight – Perhaps some people would find life more enjoyable if it could be faced with outlines and pie charts, but preferences actually make little difference, since life doesn’t come to us in definable doses. Start any week with a balanced allotment of time for family, job, church, and recreation and it’s sure to fall apart by noon Monday. Even though I border on being a schedule-holic, I’m grateful for that phenomenon. We weren’t designed to live like robots. Even the best-laid plans of regimentation, in schedules or theological priorities, never fully rise to the plateau where love, joy, and beauty reside.
These do not flow from the bondage of objective order, but
rather out of sincere and pure devotion to Christ. He knows the
demands of each day and the needs in our lives far better than
we do. If we willingly follow him, we will find time and energy
enough for our work, family, spiritual growth, and meaningful
relationships—yes, even for ministry and rest! In Christ our frantic busyness, our feelings of incompetence, and our pressure to
please people can be healed. That freedom is one of the choicest
fruits of intimacy.
The Naked Church – Chapter Eight – A Personal Relationship with God
Tim Stafford created a fictitious character named Joe, to describe what happens to too many people when they are invited to become Christians. “He walked down front expecting a personal relationship with God. He left with the understanding that he must read the Bible and pray every day. No one has explained very precisely the connection between the two.” Joe studies the Bible and gets involved with a church, but a seething disappointment underlies his activities, “the discrepancy between what he was offered—a personal relationship with God—and what he actually experiences.”
I’ve met many people like that. Their desire for a personal relationship with God, and perhaps even a taste of it, drew them to Christianity in the first place. They identified that longing in their heart as a hunger to know the Creator, and began to see God’s fingerprints in their life. But they never learned how to grow in their walk with God; eventually it was drowned in a flood of religious activity. They either abandoned Christianity, disillusioned that it didn’t live up to its promise, or else revised their expectations to fit a lifeless pattern of attending religious functions. Either way, they discounted their initial experience as emotionalism.
But God’s desire to be personal with you has never changed. I have already used the word “intimacy” to describe it, for I can think of no better term. The word itself conjures up the romance of tender affection, the safety of his trustworthiness and the joy of comfortable familiarity, all of which characterize the relationship which God wants to share with you.
In the last two chapters we talked about bringing Christianity out of an abstract theological plane in order to make it a real part of everyday life. This is essential to intimacy, for it doesn’t happen without our conscious participation. Intimacy means that we live every moment of our lives in him, allowing his wisdom to shape our thoughts and watching him work in us and unfold his will for us.
Two important aspects of intimacy will help us keep his presence out of the abstract. First, God wants to communicate with each one of us. Prayer was never intended to be a monologue in which only our concerns are expressed to God. He also wants to give us his wisdom and direction. Jesus said that one of the major assignments of the Holy Spirit was to mediate this dialogue: “He will guide you into all truth… He will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (John 16:13). In coming chapters we will look at how God speaks to us and how we can grow in our sensitivity to him.
Second, God wants to share his power with us. Human effort will never accomplish God’s work. Unless he fills us with his love, we will just exploit people for our own ends. Unless he fills us with peace, our path against the current of the world will destroy us with anxiety. Unless his power can really heal human hurts, how can we convey the depth of his love?
What I love about the prayer meeting mentioned in Acts 4 is not only that in the face of persecution they saw their need for boldness, but also that they got down on their knees until God filled them with it. They did not contrive a six-step plan to greater boldness. They did not institute persecution practice. They poured out their lives before the Father because they knew that only he could make them bold.
The term “spiritual gifts” is often used today to refer to God’s supernatural working through people. Though too much focus on this term has caused some problems, God does want to use you as a channel of his power. He wants it to be that practical, and Peter Wagner correctly identifies that lack of power as a major problem for believers today.
Ignorance of spiritual gifts may be a chief cause of retarded church growth [in North America] today. It also may be the root of much of the discouragement, insecurity, frustration, and guilt that plagues many Christian individuals and curtails their effectiveness for God.
I know that many evangelicals are bothered by such definitions of intimacy that include God speaking to us and sharing his power through us. Of course God is active today, they admit, and as long as that activity lies beneath the surface of human observation, they have no problem with it. Though he is real, they say, we can’t feel him. Though he can convey his will by inner impressions, they can’t bring themselves to say that he speaks to us. Though he can give us courage to endure cancer, he can’t heal it.
The deepest and most healing human relationships always involve touch. This fact, however, introduces some sadness into our relationship with God, for we do not touch him. The popular chorus “He touched me” is religious hyperbole. It reveals a longing for God’s touch, but nobody has actually felt God’s hand.
We talk about knowing God but deny him access to any part of our person except the mind and to any tool except the Bible. How unfortunate and mistaken! God wants to touch us, and though this is more often felt by our heart than by our skin, I find it no less discernible and far more real. Why would we expect God, a spiritual being, to touch us in the same way other humans do? Though he uses visual appearances or audible voices on rare occasions, only science limits us to our five senses. Scripture makes clear that our link to spiritual reality is through our heart or spirit and not our senses.
God’s regenerative work at conversion makes our heart alive again to his presence. He wants us to expect his presence to be real: “Anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). He rewards us with himself. This is our inheritance under the new covenant.
The Naked Church – Chapter Eight – A Theology of Intimacy
The very fact that God speaking today to people seems awkward to our Christianity should concern us deeply. We’ve lost a theology of intimacy, and with it the practical presence of God which it releases to the believer. This is both the proof and the cause of our nakedness. Having lost the goal of New Testament Christianity, we are adrift in its terminology and practices. In fact, much of church program today is little more than old covenant experience disguised in new-covenant terminology.
No passage describes the heart of the new covenant more succinctly than Hebrews 8:9-12. The writer quotes Jeremiah 31, stating that it was fulfilled by Jesus’ death on the cross and is now in force.
This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying “Know the Lord,” because they will all know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.
This covenant stands in direct distinction to God’s old covenant, and establishes the foundation of intimacy with God.
Instead of motivation and direction coming from without— through laws, creeds, and religious observances—it is meant to flow from within, from his laws written on our hearts and minds. We are free from meeting all the religious expectations of someone else’s rules and programs; we can now pursue our own personal relationship with God.
Instead of God manifesting himself as a mysterious and fearful presence lurking behind the veil, terrifying his people into subjection, he would live within us as a friend and guide. We become his possession, cared for with a depth of compassion reserved only for sons and daughters.
Instead of God revealing himself to just a few people, he would now reveal himself to all. No one needs a priest, prophet, or even pastor to tell him what God is like, for we can all know him personally, “from the least to the greatest.” Secondhand revelation—living off someone else’s relationship with God—is no longer necessary. We can each find God to be more real to us than our best friend; and no one has better access to that than anyone else.
The Naked Church – Chapter Eight – How is this marvelous intimacy possible? The last verse in the quotation makes it clear: The new covenant is based on God’s mercy, not our performance. The other characteristics show us why the new covenant is better, but this one shows us how it works. The law depended on human effort, which was never good enough to bring us into God’s presence. Under the new covenant, Jesus’ destroyed sin for us by his death on the cross.
The focal point of this mercy is forgiveness. The old covenant provided for forgiveness, but it was primarily intellectual. Certain rules were given, and if they were observed the person could trust that his sin had been atoned for. But Hebrews 9 tells us that these observances could never make perfect those who draw near to worship. In other words, their sacrifices were only a shadow for the real sacrifice, and the forgiveness they offered was only ceremonial. The conscience remained tainted by guilt.
In Christ’s sacrifice, however, the cleansing is fully effective. His forgiveness cleanses our conscience so that we can stand before God as if we had never sinned. That’s the power of what Father and Son accomplished for us on the cross. They prepared a way into their presence apart from the law. We no longer have to earn our way there by appeasement. He no longer counts sins and holds them against us for a day of punishment.
Now we don’t have to make ourselves clean before we can come to him. We can come to him just as we are, knowing that we can’t change ourselves, but that his love has cleansed us and his love will transform us into his image. What a gift! We have access to the awesome, holy God and can be with him in full confidence, assured that we belong there.
The Naked Church – Chapter Eight – Growing in Intimacy
Though the second half of these chapter-couplets are designed to help you grow more intimate with God, I must admit at the outset that building intimacy is something that God does with us. It would happen very simply in each of us if we didn’t allow ourselves to be distracted from its pursuit, or restrict God’s work by false expectations.
The Naked Church – Chapter Eight – Jesus in John 15 compares our relationship with him to a branch drawing life from a vine. Growth results from simply abiding in him, which we do by loving him and drawing near to him. He is the source of our fruitfulness. Without him we will not be able to do anything. With him we will be full of his life and fruitful in his kingdom.
You’ll also find that to be true of just about everything in your life. God’s Spirit will move freely and powerfully in your life as you just grow in your relationship to him. We can do far more to mess that up than we ever can to produce it. Growing in intimacy is tuning in to his agenda and not forcing our own ideas on him. He will teach you how to trust him and give you all you need to grow in him. All you need to do is remain in his presence all the time.
The following suggestions should prove helpful. It’s a list that I review often, especially when my own touch with God is not as real as I know he wants it to be:
1. Surrendering to God’s love is the key that unlocks God’s presence to you, not just at conversion but also every day thereafter. “Masters die at the Master’s coming,”4 or at least they need to. God’s presence will not flourish where it competes with other priorities. He is not our means to fulfill selfish ambitions, nor does he offer his counsel as mere advice to be evaluated.
Cultivate a heart that surrenders to God about everything in your life. Submit specific parts of your day to him, being willing to obey whatever his wishes are. Submission actively seeks God’s leading; it doesn’t sit back and take life as it comes, assuming that God’s will is automatically done. As Finney said, “Do not confound submission with indifference. No two things are more unlike.”
2. Keep your heart humble before God. Though Scripture tells us to come confidently to him, we cannot forget that our friendship is between two unequals. He is farther above us than we are above ants. Pride blinds us to that and ultimately to God. It puts self at the center, using God only as a tool whereby we gain our own selfish desires. We will only end up complaining at him when he doesn’t meet our expectations and will be blinded to his presence.
3. Live in God. A branch draws from the vine all the time. It does not walk away, only coming back when it needs a fill-up. It is always there, drawing from the vine. In our walk with Jesus a weekly or even daily touch with him just won’t suffice. He is in us at every moment and we are in him. Learn to live in that reality and it will become increasingly real to you.
4. Stay with it even when it seems difficult. I said that intimacy was simple, not easy. Jesus warned us that forceful people break into the kingdom, because your own flesh and the flow of the world will always try to pull you away from God. You won’t always be excited at the prospect of spending time in his Word or meeting with God’s people. Often when you spend concentrated time with him, your mind will be bombarded by extraneous thoughts. Just relax and with God’s grace work through the distractions. You’ll always find God’s presence worth mining for, and when You come away from being touched by him you’ll wonder why you weren’t excited to get there in the first place.
The Naked Church – Chapter Eight – Many believers fall short of discovering intimacy because they make their walk a matter of convenience. If you allow them to,the needs of work and family obligations, as well as the desire for leisure, will never let you walk with God. If your walk of faith is like a yo-yo, it is usually because you are worshiping, studying, and sharing life with other believers only when you feel like it or when you have nothing better to do. That will never lead to intimacy.
5. Finally, all your pursuits must be predicated on grace. You can never make yourself good enough for him. He will fulfill his purpose in you as you just grow in love for him. After times of failure and neglect, know that God is waiting for you, ready to wash you with forgiveness and set you back on the road to life. We will never earn the goodness which God pours out of his life into ours; we can only receive it with a depth of gratitude that offers our own lives back to God as living sacrifices. As you grow in intimacy you will find yourself constantly drinking at the fountain of his grace, where forgiveness and strength nourish our lives.
The Building Blocks of Intimacy
There are three very practical places where we can experience and extend our intimacy with God. I’ll warn you that these are familiar places. I doubt that anyone who has been a Christian very long hasn’t been told to worship God, study the Scriptures, and have fellowship with other believers. We all know how important these things are, but may not be sure how to make them effective.
I hesitate to include this section, because any time a living thing is dissected, it gets killed. Relationship with God is an organic reality, growing out of his presence in us. Without a heart that loves him and seeks to know him better, these become nothing more than dead religious activities. We may pat ourselves on the back as we check them off our discipleship checklist, but grow no closer to him in the process.
As disciplines, they are meaningless. To the degree they become requirements that try to earn God’s favor, they will work against the very relationship you seek. These are simply places where God has invested his presence. If you go to him there, you will find him. If you do them only to satiate guilt or to ingratiate God to your agenda, they will fail miserably.
Learning to meet God at these places develops through consistency and use. Don’t expect immediate results; allow the relationship to grow like any other. Ask God to teach you, and don’t be afraid to ask others for insight who are further down the road than you are. With that goal in mind, let’s take a fresh look at these important building blocks to intimacy:
1. Worship. I know this word conjures up images of church services with blissful music and orchestrated readings and prayers. But that’s not what Scripture means by it, nor do I. Those moments can be an expression of worship, but worship itself is a life lived in God. It is an exchange of love and communication between the Father and his child that culminates in living in trust and obedience to him.
Thus, it is first an individual act before it can ever be a corporate one. Though it goes on all the time in the hearts of those who know God, it is cultivated in moments where we consciously spend time in God’s presence. This can happen virtually anywhere at any time that you pause and fix your attention on him. What you do during that time can take various forms; what’s important is that it must really express the honesty of your heart:
• adoring him for his goodness
• thanking him for some specific way you’ve seen him work
• singing a familiar song
• confessing weakness or failure
• requesting for help or wisdom for yourself or others
• quietly reflecting on something he’s teaching you
• or any number of other things.
The Naked Church – Chapter Eight – As an exchange, it also includes learning to recognize his voice so that you develop a life-long conversation with him. Worship is not just the revealing of our hearts to him; it is a dynamic conversation between a Father and his child. Look for him to reveal things to you about himself, about yourself, about things he wants you to do or words of encouragement to share with others.
This is worth learning and lies at the heart of intimacy. I wish I could give you three easy steps to conversing with God, but it is a heart matter, remember, and no such steps will work. It may help to find a regular time when you draw away from all outside distractions, but it can also happen in your car during a commute, or at a simple pause in a harried day.
Genuine worship will help us recognize God’s presence. Of course he is always with us, but worship helps us partake of that presence. Just as I am with my children as I sit in the family room and watch them play, my “being with them” takes on deeper meaning if I am actually interacting with them, either by conversation on the couch, going for a walk, or joining their game on the floor.
2. Bible Study. The most effective tool we have been given to learn about God and how he thinks is the Scriptures themselves. Anyone who genuinely hungers for God will be a person who studies the Word, because it is a complete revelation about God’s own nature and his plans for us. True intimacy doesn’t devalue the Bible’s importance, since it is the only validation we have for our experiences with God.
Make Scripture a regular part of your life. Read it. Meditate on it. Share it in conversations with other believers. Look for God to reveal himself there, don’t just put in your time to fulfill a religious obligation.
Often when I begin reading the Word, it seems like little more than ink on the page. I’ll finish a chapter and can’t remember a thing I read because my mind was racing a hundred other directions. You know what I do? I start the chapter all over again. I have simply determined not to stop reading the Word until I’ve got something out of it that can affect my day. It may be a new insight about God, an attitude he wants to heal in me, or a greater grounding in my faith. I’ve read some chapters five times in one sitting before I fulfilled that objective.
The Naked Church – Chapter Eight – Choose a translation that is easy to read. Paraphrases may be good for overviews, but they are not as accurate as translations which have been scrutinized by a wide range of scholars. The New International Version or the New American Standard Bible are excellent study Bibles.
Have a plan in the Word and stay accountable to it. Sometimes I read large sections for a wide-angle view; at other times I read only a chapter or paragraph for more concentrated meditation. Prayerfully think about what you’re reading; ask God to show you something that will benefit your growth and obedience to him that day. This makes the Word a practical aid for our life in God and will save us from the trap of going away from the Word having been stimulated intellectually but not shaped spiritually.
When you listen to solid teaching, notice how the teachers handle the Word and see what insights they have gained. Learn to do the same. Study aids can be excellent tools, but don’t become dependent on their charts or commentary. Read a passage and think through it yourself first, and then read the extras for further insight. Above all, don’t be intimidated; the Scriptures were written for you to understand!
3. Fellowship. Subsequent chapters will deal more extensively with this area, but I want to include in this context the importance of sharing our journey with other believers. It is a bountiful source of encouragement, balance, and help.
The Naked Church – Chapter Eight – Christian fellowship is so much more than polite conversation at a missionary tea or looking at the backs of people’s heads in the pews in front of you. Most people don’t understand the difference between true fellowship and attending church services, and that is tragic because these two things often have so little in common.
Biblical fellowship involves people sharing together the reality of their spiritual journey. They trade insights into his ways and seek counsel in difficult circumstances, encouraging each other to greater trust in Father’s working. They serve each other even when it is inconvenient, are honest with each other even when it is difficult, and pull together instead of pulling each other apart. Even if it’s only two or three others, find some believers with whom you can meet regularly. Worship together, share your study in his Word , and support each other through prayer and practical service.
On Learning Intimacy
Even though I can share some key principles about intimacy with you, it is not easily taught by classroom lecture or book instruction. It can only be learned by doing it yourself with someone who can guide you in your discoveries.
Western society has put too much confidence in classroom learning, and the church has followed suit. Not all things can be taught that way, and intimacy is one of them. When I was sixteen I took flying lessons. There is a lot you can learn in a classroom about flying—navigation, weather conditions, aerodynamics, and what the instruments are for—but one thing you can’t learn is how to fly! That takes a one-on-one experience in which an instructor sits by your side for some sixty hours of flight time, showing you step-by-step how to do it, watching your every move, and correcting your mistakes quickly.
Too many Christians have never gotten out of ground school. They know all about Christianity but very little of how to actually walk with a loving Father. What they need to know can’t be taught by a lecture, but only by someone who will personally show them. If we do it for pilots, how much more should we do it for disciples? Jesus did. He invested hundreds of hours in just a few men—but those men really learned how to do it.
The Naked Church – Chapter Eight – If you’re serious about intimacy, find people you know who have a closer walk with God than you do, and ask them to help you. Meet with one of them weekly, sharing what you’re learning and where you’re struggling. Listen responsively to their suggestions. Learn what you can, but be careful that you don’t let their walk be a substitute for your own. God’s Spirit must always be your primary teacher in learning a life of intimacy.
Intimacy with the Almighty God is almost too awesome to contemplate. Our minds will never contain all that he is. Paul said our intimacy is like a poor reflection in a mirror; we only see glimpses of him. Though the promises are great indeed, and though we must pursue them with all we have, we must not be frustrated when their fulfillment is not yet perfect. Our finite frames cannot handle God’s complete revelation, nor our minds his greatness.
The Naked Church – Chapter Eight – Growing in intimacy is a lifelong journey, and the best is saved for last. One day, clothed with immortality, we will behold him face-to-face and know him more completely in that moment than we ever will in this life.