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The Search for Spiritual Intimacy
One of the greatest needs human beings have is the need for intimacy. God has wired us in such a way that feelings of acceptance, affection, and companionship are vital to our sense of personal fulfillment. Without satisfaction in this area, we spend money, time, and other vital resources attempting to fill the void. In fact, many resort to immoral practices as a way to fill the vacuum that the lack of intimacy creates.
Although we cannot force people to love us the way we need to be loved or create perfect environments or circumstances that yield the emotional satisfaction we crave, we can create a relationship with God that satisfies our need for deep intimacy. Journey to the Mountain of God is intended to help you discover and experience this level of spiritual closeness with God.
Spiritual intimacy is so satisfying that it makes you depend less on human relationships to fill your need for relational fulfillment. I am not suggesting that you become lax in your desire to bond with your spouse, family members, and friends. Rather, I am simply pointing out that theScriptures declare the "joy of the Lord is your strength" (Neh. 8:10). Strength to work through relational difficulties, strength to find your niche within your spiritual and natural communities, and strength to learn how to achieve intimacy on a human level are all easier once you have secured your strength in the Lord.
The Picture of Intimacy
Intimacy is such a confusing word that solid definitions and metaphors are always needed to clarify it. The Random House College Dictionary defines intimacy as: (1) a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving, personal relationship; (2) a sexually familiar act; a sexual liberty. Although people frequently use the word intimacy in connection with sex and sexuality, the word more commonly conveys a deeper sense of relational bonding.
Intimacy occurs when a parent consoles a crying child. Imagine a little girl who falls off her bike and scrapes her knee. Her dad sees the fall, runs over to her, helps her up, uses tender words to comfort her, and gives her a reassuring embrace. Although he's not directly addressing her wounded knee, his fatherly touch is medicine to his daughter's entire body and soul.
If you were a passerby who witnessed the entire event, this snapshot of intimacy would be indelibly printed on your heart and mind. If such a beautiful picture can be seen on a human level of intimacy, what would a picture of spiritual intimacy look like? Let me try to paint the latter impression.
Spiritual intimacy looks like a psalmist writing a new worship song to God. I have seen my wife, Marlinda, on countless occasions weeping before God as she seeks Him for a new song that our church can use to worship Him. Marlinda is a gifted musician who also serves as the performing arts pastor at Christ Church. Even as I write this paragraph, I am at a loss for words to fully describe the picture of intimacy I've seen so often when I've peeked into her study and found her lying on the floor, weeping before God.
I am fascinated to see her emotions for God on display. But I am also struck with an awkward feeling of spiritual jealousy. I am envious of the level of intimacy she has with God. Although we have been married since 1984 and have enjoyed a deep friendship, the depth of her intimacy with God lets me know that I cannot intrude on this area of her life. It's hers and God's alone.
I have also seen spiritual intimacy displayed through the surrendering of someone's heart to the will and purpose of God. One such occasion was on a Saturday morning at my church following a breakfast meeting we call Meet the Pastors. This event affords new members of our congregation a chance to meet our pastoral team in a relational setting. John, a man in his thirties, was not attending the breakfast but had been in another part of our cathedral, attending the membership classes, before he decided to seek me out. When he introduced himself and asked for a moment of my time, he was almost at the point of tears. As we walked into my office for a private chat, the floodgates burst open as he sought the words to describe what he was feeling.
John shared that he was a new Christian and had migrated from Jamaica, West Indies, about one year before. Several weeks prior to our conversation, while he was at work, he was overcome with the need to pray and cry out to God.
This kind of spiritual urgency was foreign to him. Further, John's preconverted religious background had been very stoic and devoid of passion. In obedience to his feelings (we seasoned Christians would say, "in obedience to the Holy Spirit's promptings"), he took his lunch break and sought out a private area where he could engage in a period of uninterrupted prayer. During his prayer time, John felt an overwhelming burden to return to Jamaica and plant a new church there. The urge to do this increased each minute he stayed in prayer.
Because John had never experienced anything like that before and didn't want to do something rash or spiritually unsound, he went to his car in the hopes of finding guidance from a Christian radio station.
My radio program, IMPACT, was on the air and I was telling the story of how Christ Church was planted. John said he hung on every one of my words, spellbound by the timing of my story and the dealings of God with his heart. He scribbled down the church address and had been attending Christ Church for several weeks before the day he approached me with this humble confession: "I don't know how to do what God is asking me to do, but I will obey nonetheless."
As John shared his heart with me, I, too, became teary-eyed because I was fascinated by the way God pursues those He wants to invite into a deeper relationship. In response to John's question about church planting, I explained the importance of obeying God by preparing for such a calling. I told him that he would qualify for the role of a church-planting pastor by exhibiting the appropriate qualities in his character, family life, biblical knowledge, and spiritual pursuit of God-which would take several years to develop. I promised to help him prepare for such a noble undertaking.
John was elated, and I was surprised at how God allowed me to witness a new convert surrendering his will to God's plans. That episode is spiritual intimacy in motion. John's true friendship with God had begun!
The Importance of Spiritual Intimacy
At the core of spiritual intimacy is the pursuit of deep friendship with God. We often don't use the word friendship to describe our devotion to Jesus Christ since it conveys a familiarity that can be misinterpreted as disrespect. Yet, the usage of the word friend was the choice Jesus made as He described to His disciples the kind of relationship their obedience to His divine commands would yield. Jesus said, "You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you" (John 15:14-15, italics mine).
Jesus still extends this invitation into friendship today to those who do what He commands. The fact that Jesus chooses to disclose private plans and activities not usually revealed to servants suggests that He sees us in a relational role and not simply as menial workers in His kingdom. This role of friendship intimates that regular communication of one another's intentions and whereabouts freely occurs. He is describing a friendship.
We've learned that spiritual intimacy is expressed through words and actions that display genuine friendship with and devotion to God. While usage of the word friendship captures the companionship aspect associated with the pursuit of God, devotion describes our homage and worship of God. The psalmist described his desire to worship God with this word picture: "As the deer pants for streams of water, / so my soul pants for you, O God. / My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. / When can I go and meet with God?" (Ps. 42:1-2).
This song was written by one of the sons of Korah-a priest and worship leader during David's reign-and it expressed the longing of his heart for communion with God. Deer run to water when they are thirsty or attempting to escape a pursuing enemy. The psalmist is describing a similar desperation for intimacy with God. The word picture he paints is that of a parched, panting deer seeking the cool, satisfying relief that only water from a running stream can provide.
Equally important to the rejuvenation and safety of our souls is the living water that flows from the living God. This passage tells us that spiritual intimacy is important because it leads us to the only place where real peace can occur: in the presence of God.
If you're looking for peace of mind and soul, look no farther. You've found your rest-the place of intimacy with God. If you're looking for solace from your wearisome situation, be it financial pressure, a backstabbing coworker, or a wayward family member, you've turned to the right source. The pursuit of God is medicinal to earthly conflicts. In the presence of God we find wisdom to combat difficult problems, and we find healing to combat the troubled soul. You're at home when you are in the presence of God! This is what your soul has been thirsting for.
Intimacy at Christ Church
Imagine helping five thousand-plus people discover and experience spiritual intimacy. That's what happened with my congregation one year before I penned this book. Our congregation had been through quite a two-year spiritual ordeal trying to secure a one-hundred-acre property for a future church campus. Hardly a week went by that we were not the topic of articles in publications ranging from local community papers to the illustrious New York Times. Our struggle to secure the property also drew attention from the major news networks, including ABC, NBC, and even the nationally broadcast CBS Evening News.
Dealing with my pastoral responsibilities while reporters were camped out in the sanctuary, waiting for a juicy angle for a new story, had taken its toll. During my devotional reading one morning, I found myself captivated by Exodus 19-the story where God invited Moses to bring the children of Israel to the mountain of God: the place that represented refreshing and spiritual intimacy with God.
I didn't connect the passage with my situation until a few moments later. As I meditated and prayed about what I had just read, I was kneeling in my study and became enraptured with a thought that the Holy Spirit placed in my heart. I felt the Lord telling me, "David, bring your congregation to My mountain for spiritual refreshing." At that thought, my mind swirled with all kinds of word pictures as to what "refreshing" meant.
Now, don't get me wrong. Worshiping with thousands of people is an exciting and dynamic experience, but I knew that the congregation was in desperate need of a sustained touch of God. We needed to journey to the mountain of God for renewal and personal breakthrough.
Armed with that personal command, I reread Exodus 19 and discovered that Moses took eight intentional steps to enable the million-plus Israelites to journey to the mountain of God. These steps were internal movements that had to occur in each person's heart to move him or her closer to the heart of God. God's heart would be displayed as the Israelites stood at the foot of Mount Sinai:
Step 1: Invitation to the Mountain of God
Step 2: Preparing My Heart for the Climb
Step 3: Valuing the Fear of the Lord
Step 4: A Heart of Holiness
Step 5: Disciplines for Mountaintop Living
Step 6: Ingredients for Spiritual Health
Step 7: Unleashing God's Blessings
Step 8: A New Beginning
When I took Christ Church through these steps, I had a new congregation at the end of 40 days. The church was teeming with a revived zeal for God despite the ongoing battle we still faced in securing our future home.
The one thing that became real to each of us at the end of the 40-day journey was this: it doesn't matter what life, the devil, evil people, or even the doubts that creep into my mind may say, I am anchored in an intimate relationship with God. This is the same conviction that I hope to see magnified in your life through this journey.
Preparation, Preparation, Preparation!
Work is involved in journeying to the mountain of God. The journey requires a commitment to read through each chapter on a daily basis with your study group or by yourself. As I mentioned in the introduction, you should complete the brief reflective assignment at the end of each chapter in order to reinforce and rehearse that step on the journey to the mountain of the Lord. This will prove crucial to attaining true intimacy with God.
These assignments pale in comparison to the greater reward of achieving a precious state of intimacy with God. During the first five days of our journey, the lessons focus on preparing you to take the journey. To the uninitiated, the preparation phase of any journey may seem unnecessary, but when the journey is meaningful or complex, preparation is invaluable.
One of the midlife accomplishments I'm especially proud of is successfully completing the 2005 New York City Marathon. Just imagine running 26.2 grueling miles voluntarily! The effectiveness of the race is not based on the runner's mental drive or strength of will, but rather on the five or so months of preparation before the day of the race. If I am not able to successfully run long distances, plow uphill like a mad man, or do wind sprints during the five months of preparation, completing the marathon with dignity will not be possible. The key to the successful completion of a goal is the quality of preparation invested. Similarly, the key to achieving intimacy with God is found in your willingness to prepare to meet God.
Read on! You have 39 days to go!
Day 1: Steps to Rehearse In order to journey to the mountain of God with a deep sense of excitement, you have to formulate an attractive picture of spiritual intimacy. Spiritual intimacy must encompass these dimensions:
1. Intimacy is a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship.
2. Spiritual intimacy must be sought intentionally.
3. Achieving spiritual intimacy is not instantaneous-it is a process.
Excerpted from Journey to the Mountain of God by David D. Ireland Copyright © 2006 by David D. Ireland, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted April 2, 2011
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