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Double Take: Spiritual Intimacy

What does a close, personal relationship with Jesus look like from day-to-day?

Tim Rhodes and John VandenOever May 16, 2022

Each month we ask two writers to reflect on a quote by Dr. Stanley. For May, Tim Rhodes and John VandenOever explore what means to be close to the Lord—and how His nearness can change our daily life. Here’s an excerpt from Dr. Stanley’s sermon “Intimacy With God”:

Intimacy with God is a close, private relationship with Christ that results in a strong desire to know, trust, and obey Him—and to accept His love. That’s more than just going to church. It’s more than reading your Bible or trying to do good works. We’re talking about a close personal relationship with the Lord. That is the will of God for every single believer.

Take 1

by Tim Rhodes

I’m a sucker for emotional experiences. Give me a good story, share a beautiful song, plop me in a baseball stadium during game seven of a World Series, and I’ll eat it all up. I’ve cried in more movies than I can count. 

In the past, I assumed that intimacy with God was found in similar moments of emotion—perhaps during a powerful hymn or riveting sermon. If I wasn’t really feeling something, then I wasn’t close to God. I worried the relationship I desired wasn’t there.

But at this stage of my life, as the father of three children whom I couldn’t love more intensely and living in a rich and vibrant community, I’ve come to see what true devotion looks like. Emotions, though not insignificant, are the flowering of branches—not the roots of relationships. It is easy to forget that when Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment, which concerns our devotion to Him, the response is twofold: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Upon these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:36-40, emphasis added).

“Intimacy with God results in a strong desire to know, trust, and obey Him—and to accept His love.” 

Intimacy with Christ is ultimately expressed in my reflection of Him to those around me—my family, my neighbors, my community. When we demonstrate His unconditional and sacrificial love—feed the hungry and thirsty, shelter and clothe the stranger, tend to the sick, visit the imprisoned—all of it stems from trust and obedience to God. To be Christlike is fundamental to a close relationship with Him: “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of Mine, you did it for Me” (Matt. 25:40).

Take 2

by John VandenOever

The bell sounded and a chorus of chairs scraped the floor, students erupting through every door, pushing to join the sea of bodies that flooded the hallways of high school between periods. I’d rise slowly, calculating the time I could spend with a trip to my locker, the water fountain—anywhere to keep from appearing alone or too early to the next class. My father had taken a new job in this city, and I was a midyear transfer, thrust into a community of teens, all of them shuffling along in an established pattern.

Illustration by Adam Cruft

But in those hallways, I discovered the satisfaction of companionship with the Lord. Every class change, I met with Him for five minutes and understood what it was to be personally connected with God. It was where I felt seen, safe, and free to come clean with my deepest needs.

This is where intimacy with God begins—from unapologetic need. There’s a reason why Christ drew the neediest of society to Himself, saying, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14 ESV). And, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). When we’re most needy, we’re most ready to be close to Jesus, to take His yoke and find rest for our soul (Matt. 11:28-30).

When we’re most needy, we’re most ready to be close to Jesus, to take His yoke and find rest for our soul.

What we often forget is that this godly love and inward peace is meant to create not a comfortable people but followers who are able to identify with other hurting, broken, isolated souls. Our closeness to Christ should breed courage. The Spirit inside us will fuel a desire to take our intimacy outward. As Jesus told 72 followers, instructing them to go be His messengers, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (Luke 10:2). 

With fondness, I remember the people God sent to meet me in those hallways, the lunchroom, the locker room, even. They were people who recognized the lonely or were lonely themselves. Slowly, they made me feel less isolated. We soon made an island together amid the treacherous waters of school lunchtime. And with the Lord as my friend, I learned to see beyond myself to pull others ashore with me. 

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