We are surrounded with messages that promise health, happiness, wealth, and blessings of all kinds, but we often overlook the very purpose of Christianity, which is to walk with God by having a personal, intimate relationship, and teach others to do the same–so how do we actually achieve the kind of intimacy that causes us to not care about earthly blessings in any way?
For many of us, obedience means different things, as some of us struggle with obeying God’s commands to stop sinning, to love or forgive others, as well as give charitably to those in need
This article is not meant to condemn anyone or be designed to spark a debate around whether God loves everyone equally or not, it is written to show how the authors of the Bible defined the pathway for intimacy with God, and what it feels like to achieve a relationship we have probably only read about or experienced in very rare instances
As we mature, and when our lives change dramatically as Christians, it is not because we simply start following rules, but when we learn to fall in love with God
This requires us to first start obeying God’s Word out of respect and gratitude for his love, rather than wait for a feeling of inspiration or change of heart on our part
In all cases, regardless of whether they are large or small, we should be eager to change our lives so they are in alignment with how God wants us to live, not because we simply want to check off a bunch of boxes like we are taking a test, but because we want to experience God’s heart in every situation possible, seeking to be in perfect harmony with him, without placing our will, or the will of the enemy, above his
Falling in love with God not only revolves around understanding who he is, but looking past what the world has to offer in our pursuit of him because we care for him that much, which is something many of us say, but not many actually live out
And with that…
The Advantages Of Walking Intimately With God Are Not What We Typically Think
Despite what many teach, and hope for, intimacy with God does not mean instant gratification of all our prayer requests, nor does it mean every problem in our life will be miraculously solved according to how we see fit, let alone in the timing we want
I know, I know, it is hard to concentrate over the sound of so many bubbles bursting, but the reality, thankfully, is a relationship with God offers so much more than earthly blessings in the form of money, spouses, jobs, etc…
In fact, and this may come as a total surprise, walking intimately with God means, get ready for this, actually walking intimately with God!
Dude… wait, what?
Seriously though, many do not understand how valuable this relationship really is, as they focus so intently on earthly happiness, they miss out on the biggest blessing they have available to them–God himself
For example, look at how God openly describes himself as being our “very great reward”
I am your shield, your very great reward
If God describes himself as our “very great reward”, think about how many times we have heard people preach about God being our reward compared to how often we hear people tell us about all the earthly blessings God wants to shower us with in the form of better jobs, money, spouses, and all sorts of other things–why are we not being taught God is our “very great reward” more often, is that not more exciting than the promise of earthly happiness?
Sure, God wants to bless us for our obedience, but many get caught up in wanting his blessings more than an actual relationship, which is bad, in case you were wondering
So what are the benefits of having God as our reward?
God’s Presence Brings Peace And Joy Beyond Measure, Even When We Have Nothing Earthly To Feel Peaceful or Joyful About
We hear, and quote, the following passage all the time, as David said one day in God’s presence is better than happiness for any length of time elsewhere
Remember David was a wealthy king, who had everything he could possibly want, yet he still preferred God’s presence above anything else, but what is being in God’s presence actually like to make it so valuable to those who know him intimately?
It varies, but the Bible consistently describes God’s presence as bringing both joy, and peace
At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure”
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you
These verses show how God’s presence brings both joy and peace, but how does that compare to the happiness we find in the world?
For example, we can feel a measure of happiness, peace, contentment, etc… over worldly things we receive, but as soon as they are gone, we are unhappy again
We see this with money, relationships, jobs, and everything else the world says is valuable
But what is it like to be filled with God’s lasting, supernatural joy and peace, regardless of whatever is happening around us?
We can start to understand this by looking at how people in the Bible reacted in the face of challenges, persecution, and even physical torture when God was with them
For example, David said he could face death without fearing it, all because God was with him
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me
Look how Peter, and the other Apostles rejoiced when they were whipped for preaching the gospel, as the Spirit was so strong with them, people lay the sick down in the streets in the hope Peter’s shadow might heal them as he walked by
The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed
They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name
Can you imagine being so filled with joy after being whipped that you praised God over being found worthy of a beating just for preaching the gospel?
I mean come on, most of us are afraid to talk about God even with our closest friends, let alone speak about God to a bunch of people that viciously dislike us to the point of wanting to cause us physical harm
Honestly, if we were whipped in the same way, most of us would not walk out of the experience praising God over it, we would be sad, depressed, and may even get angry at God for him allowing us to be mistreated
Mind you, these are very natural reactions our earthly natures would turn to, but they have nothing to do with anything God’s Spirit would lead us towards
Also, keep in mind these passages talk about extreme situations where people were upheld by God’s Spirit, so why is it that we, who claim to all have the same Spirit these people did, get sad, depressed, impatient, and even angry towards God when the smallest things in our lives do not go our way–can we honestly say we are enjoying the fullness of relationship these people were, having peace, and being filled with joy even in the worst trials or persecution?
Of course not!
And the reason is simple, we do not dwell in God’s presence, or have the Holy Spirit as these people did, so how do we get it?
Newsflash: Obedience = Intimacy
This is probably the simplest equation within Christianity, as the concept of God rewarding obedience with intimacy is re-enforced all throughout the Bible, both in the OT, and NT
I know a lot of people get up in arms when they hear challenging OT passages, insisting they are no longer applicable because we are under the new covenant, but keep in mind God’s personality did not change between covenants, as the authors of the NT spoke the same message about intimacy being related to our obedience, often quoting OT scripture in the process!
To start, we know God does not tolerate rivals, so if we value anything worldly or sinful above him in any way, we are saying we find those things preferable over some aspect of his righteous character, which would be like telling someone you love them, but then still date someone else on the side because you liked pieces of them better–that attitude is not exactly a period piece love story in the making
(It is important to understand how James calls believers who seek the world above God are being “adulterous”, and expressing “hatred toward God”, when was the last time you heard someone preach a message like that, yikes!)
In fact, the authors of the NT, including Jesus, defined love for God as fully obeying his commands, not just saying “I love you” while perpetually denying him in our lifestyles
To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good
(Notice how Paul separates “those who are corrupted” and those who “do not believe”, saying openly that there are Christians who “claim to know God but by their actions they deny him”, which is different than those who never claim to know him–a good reminder to guard ourselves against living sinfully in any way)
Check out these examples of what it means to love God through obedience, and how our sins separate us from him:
Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me
(Notice how David asks for God to restore “the joy of your salvation”, as when his sin separated him from God, his presence was not as strong, which also removed the joy that came with it, as this was David’s psalm after his affair with Bathsheba, and the murder of her husband to cover his guilt)
The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry; the face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth
(This is a good example of how the NT authors used the OT to remind people of God’s character, as they did not consider the OT’s description of God’s character void in the same way a lot of people conveniently do today)
Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him
(Note how Jesus says “Whoever has my commands and obeys them” is the one who “will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him”, as he was not saying intimacy with either God or him is available as a default, but requires obedience!)
Now, of course, we must understand God loves us even when we stumble, but the Bible is clear that if we live obediently, we will enter into a place of intimacy that a life of ongoing rebellion cannot provide
Yes, I know, this means letting go of sin, and seeking to love people in ways that make us totally uncomfortable at first, but we have to keep in mind it is for a reason, which is not to make our lives difficult, but to enter into an intimate relationship with God, where we come to understand just how pointless living for ourselves really is, as the inexpressible joy found with him is beyond anything the world could ever give us
1 Peter 1:8-9
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls
(If we have never felt this joy, or felt it so long ago we do not remember what it was like, it raises challenging questions about the status of our salvation, and whether or not we have ever truly experienced God)
Jesus talked very openly about this, as he wanted us to know the very joy he had received from the Father, the very joy that caused him to overlook the pain of the cross for the sake of our salvation, to be inside of us, and taught that this joy came through obedience, not wishful thinking or laziness
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete
Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him
We know the enemy wants to rob us of our joy, our peace, and our relationship with God, which they do, sometimes quite easily, by leading us into disobedience, and teaching us to value worldly happiness above our relationship with God
Jesus knew God like no one else, and by his own words, he taught that intimacy, and increased love from God came through obedience, so we know this is still true today, as even he “obeyed [his] Father’s commands and remain in his love” in order to have a passionate relationship with the very same God we worship today
It is beyond tragic, but many Christians have never experienced true intimacy with God in a way that would cause us to hunger for it, to rejoice in the face of persecution, and to be fearless in the face of physical threats, even death
This is because we live a life that is separate from the amazing, beautiful relationship God shed his blood to give us, as we assume, or are incorrectly told, we are filled with the Holy Spirit, and walking in the fullness of a relationship with God, even though it looks nothing like the examples we see in the Bible
We should no longer settle for a caricature of Christianity, we should be eager to pursue God for the sake of knowing him, not just honor him as a footnote in our lives or be satisfied without his presence
We will talk more in another article about receiving the Holy Spirit, but for now, I welcome us all to examine ourselves to see what we need to let go of or pursue, increasing our faith as we commit ourselves to God’s love, and righteousness for the sake of knowing him intimately
In my own life, over the last few months, I have made every effort to rid myself of things I knew were standing between God and I, which has changed my life beyond what I could have ever imagined
I had to get real with myself, and admit I did not have the relationship with God I read about other people having in the Bible, and spent time evaluating what was needed for me to get it, as it is okay to admit we do not have the intimacy we want, but it is not okay to be content without it
In my personal evaluation, I did not just focus on big things that were obviously in need of repenting, and I did not wait until my conscience caught up with me after resisting God for a long time, but purposefully set out to change my life in ways that were designed to seek God’s kingdom first in every area
For example, I started getting up early to study the Bible on my own and with other members of my church, I attend multiple Bible studies on weeknights, spend time praying with my Christian friends for healing, encouragement, spiritual gifts, etc…, make a point of reaching out to new members of our Bible studies to get to know them better, give as much as I can whenever someone needs it outside of tithing, and lots of other little things that add up to reflect a heart that is more hungry for God than the world
Now, and it is not every time, but God’s presence comes when I pray, when I read the Bible, teach, and play music, whereas before, it came very rarely, if at all, and my love for people has increased to the point where if I get around others who are passionately seeking God, I adore them in a way that makes no logical sense, and can feel God’s presence just by being around them
After this recent life change, I understand what David meant when he said one day in God’s presence was better than a thousand elsewhere, as his Spirit feels like clean electricity that radiates love, joy, and peace
True intimacy is nothing like what I thought I had before, it is way better, and so far beyond description it is ridiculous
In fact, as I grow closer to God, it inspires me to lead others to him, including other Christians, as we do not often look at our relationships with God and go “I want more!”, mainly because we have no idea what we are actually missing out on in exchange for holding onto what the world tells us is happiness
Also, look at how obvious it is when we lack earthly happiness, as it relies on things like money, peer validation, possessions, a spouse, entertainment, etc…, yet many of us do not know when we lack true, godly joy as we have never experienced it to know what we are missing out on in the first place–consider how many examples of Spiritual joy we have in our lives compared to all the examples of earthly happiness we are encouraged to chase, the difference is staggering!
I get so excited about drawing near to God, as who knows what else is waiting as we continue to seek him with sincerity!
We do not know what we are missing out on with God until we have it, as it takes real effort to achieve true intimacy!
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him