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In Step with GodUnderstanding His Ways and Plans for Your Life
By Charles F. Stanley
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2008 Charles F. Stanley
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIntimacy with God: An Essential Requirement
If you were to ask me to tell you about my mother, I would begin by telling you that her name was Rebecca and she was born in Dry Fork, Virginia. After her parents died, she helped raise her family. She did not have much education, but she was committed to doing the best she could. I also might add that she passed away a number of years ago. With this small amount of information, you would not know very much about my mother.
However, what if I told you that she was pretty and a very godly woman who always provided for me? My father died when I was quite young, and she willingly accepted the challenge of raising me. At one point, she worked two jobs in order to pay our bills and keep food on our table. Most of the time, she got up extremely early to go to work. While I was in school, she came home from her first job and prepared to go to her second job. Before she left, she would cook dinner and set the table for me so I would know exactly what to do and what to eat. She would lay it all out, and without fail, she would write me a note telling me things that I needed to remember or sometimes she would just write, "Charles, I love you."
Mom was disciplined and persistent. She had to be in order to keep our family together. She never gave up and never quit. Even though life was difficult, she rarely became discouraged. She always wanted me to look my best. Therefore, at night she washed and ironed my overalls so I would have a fresh pair for school the next morning. I had only two pairs. She would make sure that my shoes were shined and that I had a handkerchief in my pocket. Anytime I went to her with a problem, she never said, "Charles, I'm too busy to talk." She always stopped whatever she was doing and listened. Sometimes I did not make very good grades, but Mom never scolded me. She would say, "Do the best you can, and I will pray for you." Almost every night, she would come into my bedroom and kneel beside my bed. Then we would pray together. I can still recall how she said my name to the Lord while praying about the things that concerned me. I saw her become angry only a couple of times. She was far more forgiving than I knew how to be.
Even though she made just nine dollars and ten cents a week, we got through the difficult times. I can remember her sitting down, going over the bills, and saying, "This needs to go to this bill and this much on this one," and so on. She was meticulous and careful with money. Yet she also was very giving. There were times when we had little to eat. However, if someone dropped by who had less than we did, Mom always found something in the refrigerator to give to him or her. There are many things I remember about her, but the one thing that I will never forget is how much she sacrificed for me. If I stopped at this point and asked, "Do you know something about my mother?" I believe you would say yes.
If I asked you to tell me about God, what would you say? Could you tell me about the personal relationship you have with Him? Or would you say, "There is only one of Him. He lives in heaven, and I believe that His Son died for my sins. He has promised to create a place for me in heaven. He saved me, justified me, and forgave me"? I probably could list a few more doctrinal truths, but the real questions are: Do you know who God is? Do you know something personal about Him that goes beyond what you have learned while sitting in church or having conversations with a friend? Do you know His ways? Far too many people do not understand the way He works. The problem is, many of God's people know about Him, but they do not have a personal relationship with Him. And this is where we face our greatest challenge-knowing God and loving Him above all else. The bottom line to any relationship is this: if you want to know someone, you must know him or her intimately.
Over the years, the word intimacy has been redefined and misinterpreted by our morally out-of-step society. Having intimacy within a relationship does not mean having sexual contact. True intimacy is involved in fellowship with others. You can have a friendship and not be intimate with that person. You can become intimately involved in his or her life, but this does not mean that you are involved in a sexual relationship. Two friends can enjoy knowing each other on a very deep level. In fact, having close friends-intimates-is very reflective of God's nature because this is exactly what He desires from you and me-a close, personal, and especially intimate relationship. Many people are satisfied with just knowing a few things about God but not knowing Him deeply. True, unbridled intimacy touches the soul and the hidden places of our hearts like nothing else can. It goes much deeper than physical expression. And only God has the ability to love us intimately and unconditionally. He created us for one purpose, and that is to have fellowship with Him.
He wants you to know that He loves you. And there is nothing you can do to surprise or disappoint Him because He knows all things and is never shocked by your actions. Although He does not approve of sin, He loves the sinner. Therefore, when you do sin, you have an Advocate before the Father-Jesus Christ-who hears when you pray for forgiveness and cares when you are hurting. God may discipline you when you yield to temptation, but He will never withhold His love from you. This truth never changes. It never shifts and never fades. He is righteous and steadfast: "For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you" (Deut. 4:31 NIV). You are His workmanship-created in His image for good works (Eph. 2:10). There is within the heart of every man and woman a place that only God can fill. You may try to satisfy your longings with different things. But until you come to a point of full surrender to Him, you remain vulnerable to fearful thoughts, feelings of discontentment, selfish desires, as well as pride and lust. Fellowship with God starts at the very core of your being. It shifts your focus from being me-centered to Christ-centered. When you develop an intimate relationship with the heavenly Father, you discover He is surrounding you with His eternal care. Abraham drew near to the Lord, and as a result of his desire to know Him, he learned the ways of God. He did not resist God's instruction, and he proved to be faithful. The Lord granted him extreme wisdom and knowledge because he had learned the secret to tapping into the heart of God.
You cannot do His will unless you learn to walk in His ways. Think about the human relationships you have. As long as you hold someone at arm's length, you cannot know him or her. However, the moment you open up and begin talking to the other person, you start to develop a relationship. If you keep your emotional walls up, then the other person will sense this. Over time, he or she will find a way to break through or break away. Friendships-abiding relationships-can exist and grow only through mutual intimacy.
Prayer Is Essential
Where do we begin our step-by-step walk with God? Jesus taught His disciples to pray (Luke 11:1-4). Therefore, you must begin with prayer. One man told me, "I don't want to get into anything too deep in prayer. I'm not a very emotional person. I enjoy church, but I'm not one of those people who does a lot of talking to God. I mean, what would I say to Him? He knows everything anyway." One of the greatest desires of God's heart is that you and I would desire to know Him-not just give lip service to Him on Sundays but truly long to know Him and His ways. He wants to build an intimate relationship with us, but do we desire the same thing when it comes to Him? Do we want to know Him? To achieve this, we must also learn His ways. We may do this by drawing near to God, as James wrote: "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (James 4:8).
The intimate moments we share with the Savior are the very times when He reveals Himself to us. With our minds focused on loving and worshiping Him, we sense His closeness. Moses wanted to know God. His quest was not simply to gain a type of human knowledge. He wanted to know Him as a Friend and a personal, holy God. God wanted to show Moses how to live in the light of His favor and blessing: "Whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent; and the Lord would speak with Moses. When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would arise and worship, each at the entrance of his tent. Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend" (Ex. 33:9-11, emphasis added). The word friend in this context means "intimate companion." God never intended for us to know only about Him. He wants us to come to know Him-His ways and His unconditional love for us.
Many times, the British people scoff at Americans, saying we are often quick to engage in conversation but fall short when it comes to building deep relationships. On the other hand, they may appear standoffish when first introduced; however, once they have formed a close friendship, it usually lasts a lifetime. The closer in fellowship we become with God, the more we will trust Him. This is true for every relationship. The more time we spend with a friend, the more we learn about him or her, and the more we rely on that person. As trust increases, we find ourselves opening up and talking about the feelings we have and challenges we face. Trust and intimacy are tightly woven together. If we do not sense we can trust a person, we probably won't take time to get to know him or her. And even if we do, we will be cautious.
A Heart for God
The nearer I draw to the Lord, the more I will know about Him-His love for me and His good plans and desires for my life. Plus, the more intimate I become with God, the better I understand His ways, and this understanding leads to a deeper longing to know God better. I learn how to discern His will not only for my life but also for the situations I encounter. Many times, we run up against challenges that threaten to destroy our peace and security. If we have developed a close relationship with the Savior, we can be still and trust Him to show us how to respond. He also will give us insight into the motivations of others. Without realizing it, we may end up in a situation that may not be God's best. While God's desire is to provide the wisdom and insight we need to make good decisions, we must be in a position to accept His guidance. Although Moses did not perfectly understand God's ways, he still wanted to know Him. One of the most honest experiences we can have comes when we realize that we can be ourselves before the Lord and know that He loves and accepts us. The disciples made the choice to come to Jesus. He made Himself available to them, but they had to choose to come. Those who heard the Savior speak chose to listen and draw near. Their lives changed so dramatically that many left all they had in order to follow Him.
Moses was not just curious about God; he was intently interested and made his way up the mountain to a place where he witnessed the fiery evidence of God's presence burning before him. The Bible tells us, "The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed.... When the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, 'Moses, Moses!' And he said, 'Here I am'" (Ex. 3:2, 4, emphasis added). God Himself spoke to Moses. Anytime there is a reference to the angel of the Lord, we know that is Christ and that God is with us. Another thing we need to understand is that God chose something like an insignificant bush on the back side of a mountain as His staging point for the deliverance of His people. If He had wanted to, He could have set the entire mountainside on fire, but He didn't. He wanted to see whether Moses would respond and whether his heart was truly broken and ready to be used. God knew the answer because He is omniscient, but He wanted Moses to know as well. He knows exactly what we will do, even before an event or certain circumstance arises. Yet He had a goal in mind for positioning Moses in a place where he could see the bush that was not consumed by fire.
The time Moses spent before the burning bush was crucial to everything else that followed. Had he not turned aside to see God's presence, he would have missed the most awesome opportunity ever given. That was the point where his personal relationship with God began. It was the place where he began to discover there was much more to knowing God than anything he had heard. The relationship that grew between him and the Lord spanned decades that included times of heartache, joy, sorrow, celebration, frustration, friendship, and deep, abiding love. More important, these moments spent in the presence of God signaled the beginning of Moses' journey into deeper wisdom and an intimate knowledge of God and His ways. Once we begin to understand God's ways, we gain a clearer understanding of life. And we develop an intense desire to know Him.
By the end of this book, I believe your view of God will change. Your love for Him will grow deeper as you allow Him to teach you about who He is and not just who someone says He is. Remember what Jesus asked His disciples? He asked, "Who do people say that I am?" (Mark 8:27). He knew exactly who He was, but He wanted to hear what His disciples would say-those who had been with Him and were His most intimate and trusted friends. They fumbled for an answer and then told Him, "John the Baptist; and others say Elijah; but others, one of the prophets" (v. 28).
In Christ's day there were many religious misconceptions. A common one was called Elijah redivivus, which taught that the prophet Elijah had come back from the dead. Obviously some people who followed the Savior wondered if these misleading theories could be true. However, these false teachings were not what actually troubled the Lord. He was focused on the fact that He had been with the disciples for nearly three years, and it appeared that they still did not understand who He was. He was their Lord and Savior and friend. Did they truly know this? He wanted His closest companions to realize that He was the Son of God. Therefore, He became even more direct with His questioning: "But who do you say that I am?" Peter could not resist the urge to speak and answered, "You are the Christ" (v. 29), or Christos, which means "Messiah-the Anointed One." Jesus came to earth not only to save us from our sins but also to provide a way for us to know the heavenly Father. He was God in the flesh, and yet He was their teacher, master, and friend. Today, through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, we have the opportunity to know God personally and intimately. Many times, we fail to realize the importance of knowing Him. Yet when trials come or heartaches become too much for us, we cry out, longing for His sovereign and omnipotent touch.
Understanding What You Believe
In reading the Scriptures, we may wonder, How did the apostle Paul experience severe suffering without abandoning his faith? There was only one way, and that was through faith and intimate fellowship with God. How did David not only survive but also thrive during years of being pursued by King Saul-a man who had lost his focus and had become fixated on David's destruction? There was only one way: he maintained a focus on the Lord. The intimate relationship he built with God when he was a young shepherd boy carried over to his adult years. The time he had spent tending his father's flock was not useless or wasted. It provided the right setting and atmosphere for him to know the Lord. Later after he was grown and adversity, misunderstanding, and disappointment came his way, he recalled all the times he had been in God's presence. He also recalled the faithfulness of the Lord. When you, as David did, understand the power that is yours in Christ, fear loses its effectiveness. You realize that whatever comes your way passes through the loving hands of the Savior first. People who refuse to accept this truth from God's Word often find this hard to understand. But David understood it perfectly, and in Psalm 18, he wrote,
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, And I am saved from my enemies. (vv. 2-3)
Excerpted from In Step with God by Charles F. Stanley Copyright © 2008 by Charles F. Stanley. Excerpted by permission.
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