In my last sermon, we began to explore the issue of seeking the face of God, or intimacy with God. It’s a challenging issue because it hits at the very heart of our Christian faith. It separates the genuine from the fraud. It exposes religion as it masquerades as relationship. We really can only fake a genuine personal relationship with God for a short time – sooner or later we are forced to come to terms with this issue of intimacy with God.
In my last sermon, I believe I established the importance of intimacy with God, and I would encourage you to study that sermon, because it was foundational to what follows. Now I want us to explore how we go about deepening our relationship with God; getting to know Him better and loving Him more deeply. Firstly, we need to decide that this matters enough to us that we are going to do something about it. The first step toward experiencing intimacy with God is our decision to pursue Him more than we pursue other good things such as happiness and success in this life.
In order to really find God, our passion to know Him must exceed all other passions. We must desire Him more than we desire a new house; a better friend; relief from our grief and loneliness; the solutions to our problems; the answers to our questions; more than we desire becoming a better person; feeling happy; or even enjoying good health. God longs to be known by us far more than we long to know Him. He is relentlessly committed to working in our hearts until our passion to know Him becomes stronger than all our other passions.
However, just desiring this isn’t enough, you need to make every effort to draw near to God. More than bearing fruit, your call must be to know the Lord. If you seek Him, you will always find Him. He is always near to those who draw near. Many people want to enjoy His presence, but only a few really draw near. You must do more than want Him: you must seek Him. This is part of your call as a Christian. There is no higher purpose. Your victory will be proportional to your seeking. You will always be as close to God as you truly want to be. Your victory in life will align with your desire for God. God is most available to those who are most available to Him. In other words, the ones who truly find Him are those who seek Him with all their heart.
In reality, the Bible is just one long invitation to come to God. From God calling to Adam and Eve in the garden at the beginning of Genesis to the Spirit and the Bride saying “Come!” in Revelation – and on every page in between – God entreats us to seek Him, to come close to Him, to draw near to Him.
Through Moses: “If you seek the Lord your God, you will find Him if you look for Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 4:9)
Through Isaiah: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” (Isaiah 55:1)
Through Hosea: “Seek the Lord until He comes.” (Hosea 10:12)
Through James: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)
Through Jesus: “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest …” (Matthew 11:28) “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink …” (John 7:37) “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20)
In order to get to know God better, we need to give time to Him. When we really want to develop relationships with our friends, with our husband or wife, with our parents or with our children, we set aside time to do so. Indeed, we talk about spending ‘quality time’ with someone when we want to work on our relationship with them: that is, time spent with someone alone with no agenda and no distractions. God wants to spend quality time with us, time when He has our undivided attention. Mary, the sister of Lazarus, understood this:
Luke 10:38-42 “As Jesus and His disciples were on their way, He came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to Him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what He said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to Him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Mary chose to spend time with Jesus and refused to be distracted; Martha chose not to spend time with Him. Jesus said that Mary had chosen better. Later, we see Mary express her devotion to Jesus in a most extravagant way, pouring a bottle of extremely expensive perfume over Him. Again, Jesus commends her action. Jesus invites us to learn from Mary and spend time with Him as she did, letting Him change us in that encounter.
How much do you value spending time with the Lord? Does the idea of being with Him fill you with expectation and joy as it did Mary? Given how incredibly wonderful God is, it is somewhat astonishing how little time many of us spend on deepening our relationship with Him. When a young man and woman are courting, only things over which they have no control will keep them apart. If we let God captivate our heart with His love, then we too will desire to draw near to Him above anything else.
Again, Jesus is our role model here. The gospels record various occasions when Jesus Himself withdrew to places of solitude to spend time with His Father:
Mark 1:35 “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed.”
Matthew 14:23 “After He had dismissed the crowd, He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone.”
Luke 5:16 “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
If this was part of the rhythm of life for Jesus, how much more do we need to build it in to the rhythm of our lives too? Are we willing to invest time in our relationship with God? Western society is so goal-oriented, in contrast to the more relationship-oriented cultures of much of the rest of the world. We often find it hard (especially perhaps for men) to invest adequate time in developing deep human relationships, let alone deepening our relationship with God. A Filipino description of Westerners I once read refers to us as the, “people with gods on their wrists.”
Giving time to just being with God, to just being in His presence, is in conflict with the values of the world in which we live. Many would tell us we are wasting time drawing aside from the world to spend time with God. We may need to make some tough decisions to do this. Spending time with God is important – indeed it’s of crucial importance to the way we live – but it never seems urgent. As a result, we find it easy to postpone, or delay it indefinitely until it never happens. But the window of opportunity is now. Isaiah says, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on Him while He is near.” We need to ‘seize the day’ before the years pass away and we miss sharing the best part of our lives with God. Why let the opportunity slip of having a close relationship with Him now?
Most of us will need to plan in order to give time to communion and fellowship with God. We need to make practical decisions about how we use our time. We should make unbreakable appointments with God. God will not force us to spend time with Him – He longs for us to give Him time because we want to, not because we should. Our loving heavenly Father’s desire to be with us is always much greater than our desire to be with Him, but He always allows us the freedom to remain distant from Him. It’s our choice.
How we spend our time reveals what we value. We can’t do everything. We have to choose. Are we choosing not to spend time with God, in favour of other activities? Or are we willing to sacrifice the unimportant, saying ‘no’ to some of the demands we or others place on us, in order to give time to God? How much is our relationship with God really worth to us?
What this means in practice will vary widely according to our circumstances. For some, it may just be necessary to enter appointments with God in our diary – and then make sure we keep all those appointments. For others, it may be right to give up participation in Sunday sports in order to be with our Church family as we worship and pray together in God’s presence.
Others may decide that a change in employment is required. I read a story recently of a woman who had given up a lucrative job as an architect to become a cleaner in order to, in her own words, “spend more time with Jesus.” In the world’s eyes, her decision made no sense. In God’s eyes, she chose something far greater. In our pursuit of intimacy with God, are we willing to reject many of the values of our culture? Are we willing to choose a lower ‘standard of living’ in order to pursue the higher ‘quality of life’ so we can live in close communion with our loving heavenly Father?
The most difficult problem is not finding the time to spend with God – but deciding that it’s important enough to find the time. If we truly love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, then it should be reflected in our diaries and calendars! Relating to God is like any other relationship. If we relate to Him as a person then we will develop a personal relationship with Him.
The primary focus of time we spend with God must be on God Himself – on our relationship with Him – rather than on what we can do for Him or what He can do for us. We should not be coming to Him primarily to be given orders to obey (as if we just worked for Him), or to ask Him to meet our needs and the needs of others (as if He worked for us), but rather to relate to Him deeply and profoundly as our closest friend, the lover of our souls and our heavenly Father.
Many people are content to spend some time, morning after morning, reading the Bible and praying, without ever experiencing the real presence of God. These same people would never be content to speak to one of their close friends for 30 minutes without hearing the slightest response from that friend. But years of practice have taught us to be satisfied by the performance of religious duties quite apart from the experience of God’s presence.
The Scriptures repeatedly speak of the need to be still before God and wait on Him: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him”… “Be still, and know that I am God,”…”In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it,”…”The Lord longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion.” … “Blessed are all who wait for Him!” …”It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”
This is all about relationship, so we need not strive but just relax and be silent, becoming aware of His loving presence. God can reveal Himself to us more in one minute of quality time spent with Him, than in hours of ‘distracted’ time. True intimacy is a place of transparency and vulnerability: where we receive both God’s incredible, unconditional love and also His healing. Intimacy is a place of security, protection, and peace, of acceptance and affirmation, of restoration and healing, of refreshment and renewal.
The benefits of a deep relationship with the Living God are beyond measure. We discover how true it is that we are blessed with “every Spiritual blessing in Christ.” It’s as we draw near to God that we find out how wonderful He is. It’s as we enter into His presence that we discover for ourselves His incredible unconditional love: that we are completely forgiven, fully pleasing to God, totally accepted in Christ, and deeply loved by Him.
The more we get to know God’s perfect acceptance and affirmation, the less we will feel that we need to meet certain standards to feel good about ourselves; no longer will we feel that we need to be approved by others to feel good about ourselves; no longer will we be afraid of failing or of rejection because we will know how God feels about us – He already accepts us completely, in Christ. Every inner need we have can be perfectly met, not because we have what it takes, but because God does. No material possession can bring us true joy. No human relationship can fill our hearts with divine love. No circumstance can provide us with God’s peace. God – and only God – can truly meet all our needs perfectly. He gently invites us to let Him do that.
We can give our tears to God, because He is our comforter. We can give our fears to God, because He is our confidence. We can give our pain to God, because He is our healer. We can give our stress to God, because He is our peace. We can give our heaviness to God, because He is our joy. We can give our loneliness to God, because He is with us like no one else could ever be with us.
Spending time in God’s presence should not only be the focus of our times of private devotion but also of our times of fellowship and corporate worship. Where two or three come together in Jesus’ name, there He is, longing to meet with us. As we gather as brothers and sisters in Christ, we should expect to meet with Him through each other. It should be God with whom we have fellowship, not just each other. Whenever and however we meet – we should always expect to come away knowing that we have met with the Lord, and that He has deepened our relationship with Him as a result of that encounter.
Our heavenly Father invites us to walk the path of life with Him. But sometimes we go our own way, diverted by something in the distance that attracts our attention more than Him, or else we are so busy that we don’t notice we’re following a different road, wandering away from Him. At other times, we lag behind, drawn aside by something at the side of the road, happy to enjoy the scenery where we are; but God moves on and we don’t follow. Occasionally we run ahead, having been shown where He’s taking us, not noticing that He wants us to walk more slowly or to take a different route to the destination. He wants us walking with Him, side by side, listening to His voice. As Enoch and Noah were described as men who “walked with God,” so should we be.
For the real goal is not just to find time for God but giving Him time so He is the total focus of our attention, learning to relate to Him and experience His presence with us throughout the day, knowing Him in the midst of all our activity.
Jesus, as He wandered through Galilee and Judea, looked on His time as His Father’s time, and so He was completely available to fulfil His Father’s desires. We too, need to be always available to God, always in communion with Him. It is quite possible for us to give God half an hour every morning and an hour or two on Sundays and never be available to Him outside that time.
God designed the human soul to be passionate, abandoned and committed. God intended our souls to be captured, consumed, and enthralled with Him. So, seeking God’s face should some naturally! Those who have a deep love-relationship with God value Him so much that everything else pales in significance in comparison. Many years ago, Charles Spurgeon expressed it like this:
“Believers love God with a deeper affection than they dare to give to any other being. They would sooner lose father and mother than part with God. They hold all earthly comforts with a loose hand, but they carry Him fast locked in their bosoms.”
This has been the testimony of God’s people throughout the ages:
Psalm 16:2 “I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.”
Psalm 63:2 “I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.”
Psalm 73:25 “Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You.”
Philippians 3:8-9 “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him.”
Those who have truly tasted real intimacy with God have no trouble in declaring that nothing else in life is worth anything in comparison to knowing Him. Drinking deeply from the River of Life soon removes any desire for the empty things of this world which attracted us so much before. Knowing the Lord personally and relationally so far surpasses all other things in value that their net worth is zero by comparison.
As we open ourselves to experience the Lord’s love, it both satisfies us deeply in a way nothing else can, and yet also makes us hunger for more. May this be the testimony of each and every one of God’s children we seek God’s face.