Obstacles to Intimacy with God
We move in stages in our relationships. We meet people for the first time. We will know them on a superficial level, and depending on the situation get no further than knowing their name. If it is the only time we meet them we will not know them well. However, if we do a 10 week course where we share deeply, at the end of the course we will perhaps know these people better than others we have known for much longer in years, but with whom we have remained only superficially connected. Boy meets girl, they go out together, discover more about each other, likes and dislikes, meet the relatives, hear the family stories and get to know each other. They may decide to separate and the relationship ends, but if they commit to each other the depth of love and intimacy will grow as they spend time with each other in the everyday of life. Romance will be tested by the ordinariness of life.
If sharing is restricted by selfishness, fear, pride, work commitments, unwillingness to be vulnerable and trust or for a myriad of other reasons then we will not have any depth of relationship.
So it is in our relationship with God. Intimacy with him as closeness, safety, trust and transparency among partners in a collaborative relationship doesn’t just happen. It will depend on a number of factors.
Intimacy with God is Begun by Obedience
Until we have obeyed the Father and believed in the Son, repented, been forgiven and received the Holy Spirit so that we are brought into the fellowship of the Godhead, our sin will keep us separated from the One who made us for himself. (John 3:36; 6:40; Acts 2:38; 1 John 1:7; 1 John 5:10).
Allowing Time to Grow Close
In our busy lifestyles the first blockage to intimacy with God is often our inability to do as he says in Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”
A generation of Christians reared among push-buttons and automatic machines is impatient of slower and less direct methods of reaching their goals. We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our relations with God. We read our chapter, have our short devotions and rush away, hoping to make up for our deep inward bankruptcy by attending another gospel meeting or listening to another thrilling story by a religious adventurer lately returned from afar.
The tragic results of this spirit are all about us: Shallow lives, hollow religious philosophies, the preponderance of the element of fun in gospel meetings, the glorification of men, trust in religious externalities, quasi-religious fellowships, salesmanship methods, the mistaking of dynamic personality for the power of the Spirit. These and such as these are the symptoms of an evil disease, a deep and serious malady of the soul. (p. 66)
How much faster the pace of the 21st century! We want instant connection with God in five minute blocks without considering that this flies in the face of all of life. Babies do not speak the moment they are born – it takes time. An acorn takes years to become an oak tree. Friendships need time to develop. Nothing of lasting value is instant. ‘Wait’, ‘be still’, and ‘quiet’ are words we find often in the Bible in the context of finding God. We would do well, in the timeless words of W. D. Longstaff, to
Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word…
Take time to be holy, the world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret, with Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.
Being Focused On Other Things
So often when we do spend time with the Father our minds are full of other things and we find it hard to be quiet and get close to him. The distractions mean we are not present with him and cannot receive or give love. David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” (Psalm 139:23) and Peter gives the following advice, Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7).
Don’t let the cares of the day, the stresses of the moments, and the worries of tomorrow interfere with your communing and partaking of the love affair Jesus longs for you to have with Him. Don’t live your Christianity by ‘going through the motions” – acting like, sounding like, and being like a Christian. From The Colors of His Love, Dee Brestin and Kathy Troccoli, p.47
Singing a simple worship song, meditating on a psalm, gazing at the sea or across a forested valley, and praying in tongues all help us to move our focus away from ourselves and our concerns on to the Lord, so that we can receive from him what he longs to give us – himself.
Our Perception of Ourselves
Some of us think we are too bad to be forgiven. If we have any doubts about the complete cleansing of the blood of Christ for all sin or the complete forgiveness we receive when we repent, we will not believe we are worthy to be in God’s presence. We are born again by faith, given the Spirit of holiness and seated with Christ –
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7).
It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God-that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:30)
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Philippians 3:9)
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24)
For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (1 Peter 3:18)
Are you going to believe God?
And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all…because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy… let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:10,14,22)
We are not worthy. Like the prodigal we say, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ (Luke 10:21). We live with shame and guilt for past sins. We also feel condemned because we fail to live as we know we should as lovers of God. We are often harder on ourselves than we are on others. There can be a false humility, stemming from unbelief, that somehow we cannot have a closer relationship with God. What do we find in the Bible?:
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him (John 3:17).
This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God…(1 John 3:19-21).
The woman caught in adultery brought to Jesus was not condemned. She was told to leave her life of sin.
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence-Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. (1 John 2:1)
I had struggled for years to feel forgiven about something. What a liberating moment it was to realise the truth of Romans 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. I reasoned, “I am in Christ Jesus, and he does not condemn me, therefore I am forgiven and free of condemnation.” “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died-more than that, who was raised to life-is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:33-34).
We need to recognise the voice of the father of lies, who wants us to remain with feelings of guilt and condemnation long after God has forgiven us. If the accuser has been hurled down by the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 12:10-11), we can walk in a new life of freedom.
Are you going to believe God?
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
After the first flush of excitement when we first meet the Lord, there can be a gradual decline in our awareness of him as life continues with its usual challenges and difficulties. If we have thought God is there to respond to our needs, we can become disappointed when prayers are not answered. We may react immaturely, thinking that it’s all about us, not realising that our focus needs to be on God.
In the church culture in which I (Mal) grew up, the most common reason to come to Jesus for salvation was fear of going to hell. Loving God was talked about, but not often demonstrated. This produces a very self-focussed ‘faith’. If someone claimed to have an intimate friendship with God I’m sure people would have thought they had tickets on themselves.
Friendships formed for what we get out of it do not develop well. When we get stuck in a one-sided relationship, demanding God answer our prayers without realising this comes out of relationship (John 15:14-17), we can get petulant and turn away from him.
God often does answer our self-centred prayers, perhaps for the same reason that a parent cares for a baby – because he loves us and wants us to grow. He does it to create a greater desire to know this awesome God. “It’s His desire that when He heals us, we will want to know Him – the Source of healing – not just want more of His blessing” (Todd Bentley, in 30 Reasons Why Miracles Happen). Jesus ultimately wants us to seek Him, not for the benefits, but to know Him personally. He wants a relationship with us. In John 6, the Lord spoke of Himself as the Bread of Life, and called people to eat His flesh and drink His blood. It is sad that in so much of our church tradition this most intimate act of communion, where Jesus gives to us afresh his very resurrection body and cleansing blood, has become a ritual or a mere mnemonic. This was His call for us to come into intimate relationship with Him.
My Goal is God himself, not joy, nor peace,
Nor even blessing, but Himself, my God;
‘Tis His to lead me there – not mine, – but His –
At any cost, dear Lord, by any road.