Years ago, a speaker from Ireland was addressing a group of Young Life missionaries of which I was a part. The point of his message was the need for us to develop and maintain an intimate, conversational relationship with our God. Quintessentially Irish, with wild red hair, a fisherman’s beard, a distinct Irish brogue, flaming passion, and a bit of wry humor, he challenged us to make the time daily to spend in unhurried communion with our God. “He just wants to spend time with you!” was his passionate reminder at several points in the message, delivered almost as a plea to us.
The fact that our God “just wants to spend time with you” is one of the most important pieces of information we can ever grasp in our daily living. Throughout the Bible there is this theme of the priority of an intimate, loving relationship with our God. The stories of the great characters of the Bible are filled with references to the intimate, conversational relationships these people had with Him. From beginning to end in the book, the obvious focus is on developing a relationship between our God and His created beings.
We have lost much of that emphasis among Christians today, not because it is not evident but because we have overlaid it with our human-made religiosity. We have, as humans have always done with the simple relationship our God wants with us, majored in minor points while ignoring the obvious salient issues. We then turned those minor points into the major themes of religious duty, obligation, and ritual. These encrust the simplicity of the message that “He just wants to spend time with you,” obscuring it with expectations, structures, and rituals that impede that relationship.
As stated earlier, the idea of “knowing God” is a major theme throughout the Bible. Many of the major characters in the Old Testament stories, those who were the pioneers, the patriarchs, the prophets and the priests of renown, had this quality of intimacy and friendship with their God. God spoke to them, and they conversed with Him. They understood much of His way of moving among humans, and they lived lives that were steady and grounded in that intimate communion.
The concept we call “knowing our God” is not well understood by rank and file followers of the Christian faith, for at least two reasons. First, our English words for “know” and “knowing” imply a cognitive recognition of facts or features, and not an intimate knowing on a deeply personal level. Second, we have raised up a professionally trained clergy class who has been schooled in theology and trained in religious duties and tasks, but who have not been discipled into a deep intimacy with their God. They cannot take a congregation where they themselves have never traveled.
That we have exchanged the deep privilege of an intimate relationship with our creator for simply learning facts about Him and principles for “Christian living” is as tragic as a non-intimate and loveless marriage. Our intellectual approach to living out our faith has robbed us of the vitality and energy of life lived in intimate fellowship with the Holy Spirit of our God. When we try to live the faith cognitively before our God and not intimately with Him, we hold to the form of godliness but functionally deny its power. We reduce our God to a size we can manage in our own limited minds, allowing us, consciously or not, to control the image of our God.
JI Packer had this to say: “A God whom we could understand exhaustively, and whose revelation of Himself confronted us with no mysteries whatsoever, would be a God in man’s image, and therefore an imaginary God, not the God of the Bible at all.” Sadly, this is close to where we are today, a fact made even more sad when we understand that this God lives within us by His Holy Spirit.
More on knowing our God intimately in the next Adventure Blog post.