–October of 2001
To the average man in America God is an inference, not a reality. He has put belief in the Almighty into the back of his mind along with the other various odds and ends that make up his philosophy of life. The possibility of an intimate acquaintance with God has never entered his thinking.
Christians, to be sure, go further than this. God is more than brain deep. To them He is life deep. The Bible makes it perfectly clear that God is personal and can be known in personal experience. Leaping out from almost every page of Scripture is a God who affects us and is affected by us. The Old Testament gives us portraits of God speaking, pleading, loving, working, and manifesting Himself whenever and wherever His people have the receptivity necessary to receive such manifestation. We see Him walking with Adam and Eve in the Garden, eating with Abraham by his tent, and arguing with Moses on a mountain top. The gospels give us a front-row seat as God steps from behind the curtain onto the stage of life to interact with man. The Bible assumes it to be self-evident that we can know God intimately.
Within the holiness tradition, we are regularly summoned to know God, to talk to God and to love God as one loves a friend. Yet, to many, the idea of being intimate with God is still mystical and illusive. Their knowledge of God is more accidental than intentional—more like an occasional contact than an ongoing companionship. When talking about God they use the textbook language of a learner rather than the transparent language of a lover. They remind me of a story the Boston Globe carried about an Elvis Presley look-alike contest. One contestant had this to say, “Elvis was my idol. I have seen his concerts, watched every movie he has done, bought every album he made, collected ticket stubs and clippings from programs all around the world, had my hair styled like his, and won many look alike contests. I’ve stormed the stage at his concerts so that he would see me, and I’ve climbed the walls at Graceland to catch a glimpse of him. It’s really funny, though. All the effort I put into following him…and I could never seem to get close.”
Why do so many Christians find it difficult to get close to God? I believe, for the most part, it is the same reason we find it difficult being intimate with one another. One of the more significant barriers to any relationship is self-centeredness. The sinful self seeks independence from both God and man. It is self-seeking rather than self-giving. No relationship can find true intimacy unless there is a giving of oneself freely to the other.
Another barrier is superficiality. Our image-conscious culture holds others at enough distance to prevent the development of close relationships. To allow people to get close means that they will see me as I really am. We struggle with this kind of openness. Honesty about ourselves makes us vulnerable. Being vulnerable is often too threatening to our self image and security. When this is carried over into our Christian walk, we keep God at a distance. We fear exposing our inner self to Him. We talk to Him in clichés rather than pouring out our heart in true transparency. But the more we mask our true self and hide from God and others, the more distant our relationships become.
A final hindrance is time. Children spell love “T-I-M-E” and so does God. Most relationships I know are starving for a lack of time. Our Western culture has forgotten how to walk. We know only how to run and drive. We pack our days so full that time to build meaningful relationships is all but impossible. Our relationship to God has to be “crock-potted” not microwaved! The salvation of our soul may be the miracle of a moment but the making of an intimate relationship with God is the work of a lifetime.
God wants to tear down every barrier and walk with us in intimate fellowship. Scripture tells us if we will, “draw nigh to God, He will draw nigh to us.” That’s not just a possibility, but a promise. There is no better time than the present to start “knowing God”.