Intimacy with God

Sunday is Valentine’s Day. Do you have a valentine? How about asking God to be your valentine?

Francis of Assisi prayed, “O, God, help me to want to love you.”[1] For one pastor, that desire began to have a profound effect upon him.

I began to feel something while praying that I didn’t have language for. It would be more accurate to say that I was embarrassed to use the language I had. I was having feelings of connection with the divine, but the feelings reminded me very much of the amorous feelings I have for my wife…[2]

For some, such an idea is strange. Then again, among the ancients, ravishment is a well-documented phenomenon in prayer. John Eldridge laments, “Listen to me – there is something missing in all this. You long to be in a love affair, an adventure. You were made for something more. You know it.”[3] Mentored on pragmatism, we cannot seem to discern the voice of God calling us to romance, to stop our activity, even in His behalf, and simply enjoy Him. The culture has warped our prayer life. “Come away my love…” is not the language to which we are accustomed to hearing. As pastors and leaders, have we become so wrapped up in the care and feeding of the sheep that we find it difficult to break free and follow wildly after God?

The real deal in prayer is that one falls in love with God! Not a reflection of an improved self, but with Christ, the resurrected, exalted, and enthroned Jesus. The pure in heart see God. Men who are lovers of themselves stumble over their own shadow (2 Tim. 3:1, 2a, 4b; 4:3a) and perish unfulfilled. Self-absorbed people do not fare well in relationships. In addition, self-absorbed pray-ers do just as poorly in their relationship with God. You will never get to know the other person playing Narcissus. Further, if you do not interact, if you fail to allow prayer to develop into a real dialogue with God, you do not have a real relationship, only a fantasy for a relationship. Relationship demands dialogue; and dialogue cannot be manipulated or dominated to be authentic and mutual.

Two lovers want to know one another. They share facts – “Where were you born? Where did you grow up? What do you like to do? Eat? What is your hobby?” Then they explore beyond the superficial – “What you think about this or that? How do you feel when…?” They compare notes about parents and siblings, school friends and cousins, family histories and values. To move too quickly to intimacy without knowing the other is a violation that disregards the integrity of the other, that fails to treat them holistically and hold them as a sacred trust. It is a heart knowledge of the other that creates genuine intimacy. So, to rush to ‘experience’ God as some emotional trinket, as a ‘fix’, without due diligence in prayer, over an open Bible, discovering what God cares about, values, loves and hates, indeed, about our similarities and the distance between us and the transcendant God, is to be content with a superficial relationship.[4]

James Packer warns,

I am often troubled with what I find. While my fellow believers are constantly seeking to advance in godliness, they show little direct interest in God Himself. When they study Scripture, only the principles of daily personal godliness get their attention; their heavenly Father does not. It is as if they should concentrate on the ethics and dynamics of marriage and fail to spend time with their spouse! There is something narcissistic and, to tell the truth, nutty in being more concerned about godliness than God.[5]

Sadly, it is possible in prayer to sidestep God.

Brennan Manning noted,

Whatever else it may be, prayer is first and foremost an act of love. Before any pragmatic, utilitarian, or altruistic motivations, prayer is born of a desire to be with Jesus. His incomparable wisdom, compelling beauty, irresistible goodness, and unrestricted love lure us into the quiet of our hearts where He dwells. To really love someone implies a natural longing for presence and intimate communion.[6]

Philip Yancey writes in Disappointment with God,

Power can do everything but the most important thing: it cannot control love…In a concentration camp, the guards possess almost unlimited power. By applying force, they can make you renounce your God, curse your family, work without pay, eat human excrement, kill and then bury your closest friend or even your own mother. All this is within their power. Only one thing is not: they cannot force you to love them…[7]

Prayer cannot be coerced. Force is a weak master compared with love. Prayer cannot be a must or a have to, even though prayer is vital, and one can argue that the Christian life cannot be lived without prayer. Still, for prayer to do its best work, it requires the motivation of love, not law; want to, not have to.

[1]       John Coburn, Prayer and Personal Religion (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1957), 33.

[2]       Ken Wilson, Mystically Wired: Exploring New Realms in Prayer (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009), 27.

[3]       Brent Curtis and John Eldridge, The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997), 4.

[4]       William A. Barry S. J. God and You: Prayer as a Personal Relationship (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), 28.

[5]       4:2.

[6]       Brennan Manning, Quoted by Mike Macintosh, Falling in Love with Prayer (Colorado Springs, CO: Victor, Cook Communications, 2004), 25. See: Manning, 2003.

[7]       Quoted by Brent Curtis and John Eldridge, 77-78.