In our series called Faith in the Night Seasons, we've been talking about intimacy with Godwhat intimacy is, how we get it and what we must do to maintain it.
After our God-sent period of brokenness, the inner darkness that has plagued us for so long will finally begin to fade away and the light will appear. Our images of anguish and loneliness will be replaced by certainty, joy, and the penetrating peace of God's presence. And we'll begin to see that God has been "in control" all along and that "all" things really do work together for good to those who love Him.
"[And] the God of all grace, who hath called us unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after ye have suffered awhile, [will] make you perfect, [established and] strengthen[ed]" (1 Peter 5:10).
Intimate knowledge of Christ offers more blessings than we could ever possibly mention, but I'd like to highlight just a few here.
The Joy of the Lord
One of the many blessings that come from intimacy is the overwhelming joy of sensing God's presence.
Certainly during our difficult times of stripping and crucifying, we won't "feel" joyful. But as God begins to restore our soul and we begin to see His presence in all things, we'll begin to experience an unutterable and unspeakable joy. As the Psalmist says, "...weeping may endure for a night (a "night season"), but joy cometh in the morning" (Psalm 30:5). That joy and strength is something that no man, no situation and no illness can ever take from us (John 16:22).
It's Jesus' presence that brings us this joy. As Psalm 16:11 declares, only in His presence is fulness of joy or complete joy. In other words, joy is our response to experiencing His presence. As God's overflowing, abundant, buoyant, joyful happenings begin to flood our soul, the long, dark, dreary, hopeless and bleak years of frustration and disappointment will simply fade away.
Joy, peace and faith are all linked together. Joy comes from the presence of the Lord. Peace comes from being fully persuaded that God will do what He has promised. And faith comes from seeing God in all things (Hebrews 11:27).
Another wonderful blessing that comes from knowing God intimately is the ability to genuinely share Jesus' Life and Love with others. Scripture tells us that this is our primary goal and purpose as a Christian.
"Now the end [goal, purpose] of the commandment is Love out of a pure heart..." (1 Timothy 1:5).
Just as Paul's encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road changed his life forever, we, too, will have an intense desire to share the Gospel with others, not only in words, but also through our actions. Christ has become our life, thus, it will be as natural for us to share what He is doing in our lives as it is to share family news.
When we experience intimacy with Jesus, we'll have a far greater capacity to genuinely teach others, because our teaching and sharing will be done by example, not just in words. Many Christians instruct others on the "crucified life," but if they never personally experience it, how can they expect to give it to someone else? Only the Spirit of God through us can touch and affect another's life. This is the way real Life is imparted.
Many have written me in the past and asked how they can teach their children The Way of Agape. "Which book can I get?" "What class would be best?" "Which teacher would you suggest?" My response has always been the same: "Live it yourselves. Show your children that Agape works for you, and that it is the only answer!" Our life actions are a hundred times better than our words.
An Example: Our Kids
Years ago, when Chuck and I were going through all our own marital struggles (see our book, Why Should I Be the First to Change?), our boys were just teenagers. Even with all our personal problems, Chuck and I were still teaching Bible studies in our home. With our words we were telling others, "Jesus is our life," "He's the answer to all our problems," and in our hearts, we believed this to be true with all of our being. But behind closed doors, it wasn't true at all. Our lives were totally falling apart and our boys saw the whole thing.
Teenagers and nonbelievers, it seems, are often the ones most "sensitive" to hypocrisy. They can spot phonies a mile away. (See our new book The Choice on this very subject.) You can't tell your teenagers, "Do as I say," and not expect them to look at your life and see if it works for you. If it doesn't work for you in your own life, how can you expect them to want it? Our lives need to be examples of what we say. Otherwise, it's not the truth! (The definition of truth is "when our words and deeds match and become one.")
Now being fruitful does not mean that our lives have to be "perfect" or "all together." None of our lives ever will be! But, it does mean that we need to be running to Jesus to solve all our problems. Then we'll be showing our kids that, in spite of all the hard things going on in our lives, Jesus is still the only Answer!
There's an old saying, "If we have head knowledge, then all we can give is head knowledge. If we have heart knowledge, then we can give heart knowledge. But, if we have feet knowledge (if we are really experiencing in our lives what we are sharing with our words), then we can truly pass along life knowledge.
In other words, only those who have lived the Cross can give the Cross. Only those who are intimately experiencing Jesus' presence can teach about intimacy. This is why Scripture exhorts us to let our lives be "open books"known and read by all men. "[Your lives] are our epistle, written in our hearts, known and read of all men" (2 Corinthians 3:2).
Our Present Relationship with God Affects Everything
Our present relationship with God affects everything we think, say and do. The impact we have on the world around us depends upon the impact Jesus is having in our own lives at that moment. We can't function now on something Jesus did for us twenty years ago. Our relationship and our intimacy with Christ needs to exist in the "now." It must be ongoing and growing like any love-relationship.
When our fellowship with Him is intimate and we are experiencing being loved and cared for, then we will be able to extend that same Love and forgiveness to others. When our relationship with God is strained or even nonexistent because we are holding on to some hurt, disappointment or fear, then our relationship with others will also be greatly affected. We won't be able to extend unconditional Love and forgiveness because we are not experiencing it for ourselves.
"Rejection of God seems to go hand in hand with the rejection of others."1 In order to genuinely love and forgive others, we need to first be sitting at the Lord's feet, loving Him.
Now if we are going through a night season, and we are not "seeing" or "feeling" anything from God at the moment, we still need to make those "faith" choices to allow God to purge what He needs to in us. Then, again by faith, we must walk out that Love and forgiveness. In His timing, He promises to align our feelings with our choices and make us genuine.
During the times when I am spiritually weak and someone comes along and asks how I am, I will often say, "Well, I have made the appropriate faith choices, but my feelings haven't aligned yet." Now, I'm being honest with them, and yet I haven't lied about how I really feel.
Remember, we can't change our feelings or emotions, we can only put in charge the Person who can change them, and that's God.
A Reproduction of Christ an Extension of His Love
God wants to form Christ in us so that outwardly we can reflect Him in all that we do, and inwardly we can commune and fellowship with Him. In other words, God doesn't just want us to be a revelation of Christ, He wants us to be a reproduction of Christ or an extension of His Love.
The proof of our being like Christ is shown by what we do. Whether we are at home, at the office, shopping, on trips, every place we go and everything we do will bear fruit and show that we belong to God. It's not that our life will be a "piece of cake" (it definitely will not!), but in all our experiences, our actions will prove that we do, indeed, belong to Christ and have an intimate Love-relationship with Him.
Paul expresses it so well in 2 Corinthians 6:4-10:
...Approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in watching, in fastings;
by pureness, by knowledge, by long-suffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, By honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report;
as deceivers, and yet true; As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
An Example: Fruit of a Pure Heart
A few months ago, I was on a radio talk show and a young Christian man called in and asked a very good question. "How can I show my wife that I really love her?" He said his non-believing wife had never experienced real Love. He had bought her many expensive personal gifts and trinkets for their home, but she still was very insecure in his love for her. He just wanted to know what he could do to really communicate how much he loved her.
God gave me a very interesting response: "You know what? All the fancy gifts, treats and frills that you might buy your wife to show her your love will never compare with the natural fruit of a pure and loving heart.
In other words, nothing is more precious for a wife than seeing an adoring look from her husband's eyes, feeling his soft and gentle touch on her neck and experiencing his other silent, loving actions that convey so much louder than words, "I love you." These are the things that mean so much more to a wife than all the gifts, presents or goodies you could ever possibly buy."
(But, I also told him, once he convinced his wife of his love, then gifts are great!)
By doing these kinds of loving actions, this husband will not only convince his wife that he loves her, he will also be a reproduction of Christ to her.
As 1 John 4:12 reminds us: "No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His Love is perfected [allowed to flow through] us."
Chuck has become just that to me. His embrace in the mornings, his adoring look over the dinner table and his affectionately taking my hand when we're walking, all communicate his love for me much louder than any gift he could ever buy. He not only has become a vessel of human love towards me, but he has also become an extension of God's Love towards me.
Intimacy with Christ not only brings us the joy of the Lord and genuine fruitfulness, but it also proves that we are being conformed into His Image and becoming a reproduction of Christ and an extension of His love.
"Love suffereth long, and is kind; Love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Love never faileth..." (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
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Next month we'll explore some further blessings of intimacycontentment, rest, freedom from our enemies and true humility.
This article has been excerpted from Chuck and Nan's book Faith in the Night Seasons. For further details on this study series, including new video and audio resources, please see Additional Resources.