Intimacy with God

Scriptures: Genesis 32:22-31, Luke 1:26-38

 

Title: Intimacy with God

 

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • What intimacy needs
  • Jacob wrestles
  • Mary receives
  • Conclusion

 

Introduction:

This morning we continue our series on Christian spirituality: ‘Being with God’

–         Spirituality is our capacity to connect with God

–         And for Christians that connection comes through Christ

–         Spirituality is a bit like dancing with God – it brings us closer to Him

 

Rebecca Nye has an acronym which we are using to give structure to this series

–         Her acronym spells the word S.P.I.R.I.T. [1]

–         Space, Process, Imagination, Relationship, Intimacy & Trust

–         These are all essential elements of Christian spirituality

–         We need these six things to connect and interact with Jesus

–         To be fair to Rebecca, I haven’t used her content – I’ve really just borrowed her six words

–         If you read her book you won’t recognise the sermon in it

–         So far we have looked at the importance of space, process, imagination & relationship with God

–         This morning we look at intimacy with God

 

What intimacy needs:

Fire – at the right distance it is a good thing

–         It can warm us, give light & help us to cook our food

–         But being at the right distance is crucial

–         Too close and we get burned – too far and it has no effect

 

Intimacy with God is a bit like handling fire

–         Being at the right distance is crucial

–         Too close and we risk getting burned

–         Too far and the relationship grows cold, morphing into empty ritual

 

Keeping with our metaphor, fire needs three things to live: heat, fuel & oxygen

–         If you have only heat and fuel, but no oxygen, then the fire won’t start

–         Likewise, you could have a whole forest and all the air in the world, but without enough heat there’s no fire

 

Just as fire needs three things to survive, so too intimacy needs three things:

–         Closeness, openness and time

 

Closeness by itself is not enough for intimacy

–         When you travel on the train you can be in quite close proximity to people but that’s not intimacy because in that situation people tend to close off or go into their own little bubble

–         There’s little or no openness between people on the train

–         That’s fine – there’s nothing wrong with that

–         In fact it is a necessary and healthy survival technique for people living in cities to have boundaries like that – you can’t let everyone in

–         But you do have to let someone in

 

The way you are on the train is not the way you need to be with your close friends or your spouse – and it’s not the way we need to be with God

–         With those we can trust we need to be open

 

I have here a jar of raspberry jam

–         Even though the jam and I are close (I’m holding the jar in my hands), with the lid shut I can’t actually taste or enjoy the jam

–         With the lid on all this does is make me hungry

–         But when I remove the lid and open the jar I can smell that lovely sweet fruit and taste and enjoy the jam

 

For there to be intimacy in a relationship you need to have closeness with openness

–         You need to take the lid off, make yourself vulnerable

–         Let down your defences and reveal your inside self

–         Be honest and tell the other person what you are feeling and not just what you think they want to hear

–         Sometimes what you are feeling is nice to taste – like jam

–         Other times it’s more bitter like vegemite

–         But that’s okay – savoury and sweet both have their place in intimate relationships

 

Closeness with God can be tricky because God is everywhere and we can’t physically see Him with our eyes in the same way we can see other people

–         We can’t rely on our feelings to sense God’s presence either

–         Our emotions are generally unreliable indicators

–         If we are feeling sad or lonely it might seem to us like God’s a thousand miles away when, in fact, the Scriptures tell us that God is close to the broken hearted

 

Although closeness with God can be difficult for us to discern accurately, openness with God is easier in many ways

–         God already knows what we are thinking and feeling

–         It’s not like we can hide anything from him

–         But there is still value for us in taking the lid off and voicing those deeper things to God

–         Being honest and saying to him, for example, “Lord, I’m really scared”

–         Or, “God, I’m really angry” Or, “Jesus, I’m so thankful to you”

–         Letting him taste the jam or the marmite in us

 

As well as closeness and openness, we also need time for intimacy to work

 

They say, “There’s no ingredient like time” and “Good things take time”

–         Time is pretty important really

–         When you cook a steak you don’t just sit down and eat it straight away – you let the steak rest for a few minutes, then it tastes better and doesn’t bleed all over the plate

–         Same with wine – you let wine age for the taste to improve

 

Likewise intimacy needs time – it is a process that can’t be rushed

–         It takes time for people to draw close

–         It takes time for the heart to open

–         It takes time to get to know someone intimately

 

Intimacy is a special kind of knowing – not knowing in your head, but knowing on a deeper level, in your experience, in the fibre of your being

 

When I was a lot younger I used to be into kayaking

–         This was back in the day of fibreglass kayaks

–         These days it’s mostly plastic

 

Anyway, one of the skills that is essential for white-water kayaking is learning how to roll

–         If you capsize then you need to know how to bring yourself the right way up – that’s called rolling

 

Now when I was starting out I thought that I could roll – because I had done it once in a swimming pool

–         But knowing how to roll in a swimming pool is not the same thing as knowing how to roll on a river in rapids

–         A swimming pool is a controlled environment

–         A river is a lot more unpredictable

–         Knowing how to roll has to become instinctive or second nature, so that if you capsize you automatically right yourself without thinking about it

 

The first time I capsized my kayak in rapids I had to bail out and my fibre-glass boat got smashed on some rocks

–         I didn’t want that to happen again so after I had repaired my boat I went back to the pool to practice my rolling technique

–         Every day for many days I rolled over & over & over until I was so intimately acquainted with rolling that I could do it in my sleep

–         Then the next time I capsized in rapids I instinctively rolled the kayak up the right way – it had become like an involuntary reflex

 

The point is, it takes time to get to know something (or someone) intimately

–         My knowing how to roll in rapids wasn’t just a head knowledge

–         I practiced it so much that it became experiential knowledge – knowledge that was woven into the very fibre of my being – muscle memory

 

It takes time to get to know God intimately

–         In our relationship with God, it’s not enough to pray once or twice

–         It’s not enough to read a little bit of the Bible occasionally

–         That won’t help you much if you capsize in the rapids of life

–         To really get to know God intimately we have to spend time with him regularly in gathered worship, in prayer and in study of his word

–         What did the apostle Paul say? Pray without ceasing

 

If we are used to praying regularly throughout the day then when something upsetting comes along we find our natural reflex is to pray

–         If we study the Bible daily then we find that over time God’s word is woven into the very fibre of our being so we know his ways intimately

–         And if we participate in church life regularly then, in a crisis, we are more likely to find we have a network of people who care & will support us

 

It’s similar in marriage

–         A husband and wife need to spend quality time together regularly

–         They need to make time to be close and open with each other

–         Then when trials or difficulties come along they don’t shut down or battle on by themselves – they instinctively draw closer and open up to each other even under pressure

 

Closeness, openness and time – all three are needed for intimacy

 

Now, we might associate intimacy only with those things that are pleasant or nice, like a kiss or a cuddle

–         And while intimacy can be pleasant it’s not always a feel good thing

–         Sometimes intimacy can be more like a wrestling match or a rugby scrum

 

Jacob wrestles:

Please turn with me to Genesis chapter 32 – page 38 near the front of your pew Bibles. This passage picks up a story from Jacob’s life

–         After many years serving his father-in-law, Laban, Jacob returns home to face his brother Esau and on the way home he has a close encounter with the Lord. From Genesis chapter 32, verse 22, we read…

 

22 That same night Jacob got up, took his two wives, his two concubines, and his eleven children, and crossed the Jabbok River. 23 After he had sent them across, he also sent across all that he owned, 24 but he stayed behind, alone.

Then a man came and wrestled with him until just before daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he was not winning the struggle, he hit Jacob on the hip, and it was thrown out of joint. 26 The man said, “Let me go; daylight is coming.”

“I won’t, unless you bless me,” Jacob answered.

27 “What is your name?” the man asked.

“Jacob,” he answered.

28 The man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob. You have struggled with God and with men, and you have prevailed; so your name will be Israel.”

29 Jacob said, “Now tell me your name.”

But he answered, “Why do you want to know my name?” Then he blessed Jacob.

30 Jacob said, “I have seen God face-to-face, and I am still alive”; so he named the place Peniel. 31 The sun rose as Jacob was leaving Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.

 

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this Scripture for us

 

I’ve chosen this reading because I see it as an example of intimacy with God

 

In the process of wrestling two people inevitably get close

–         The two wrestlers are not shut off from each other, like passengers on a train – they are openly engaged in a struggle together, facing each other

–         And as time passes in their struggle each gets to know the other better

–         They instinctively learn how the other moves, where they are strong and where they are weak and so on

–         Wrestling is an intimate thing – although not necessarily an easy or feel good thing

 

A number of points in this passage from Genesis are noteworthy…

 

Firstly, we notice that Jacob encounters the Lord alone – in solitude

–         It is only after Jacob has sent his wives and children on ahead that God meets with him in such a personal way

 

The next thing we notice is that God humbles himself, takes the form of a man and meets Jacob on equal terms

–         God could easily have overpowered Jacob if he wanted to – but he doesn’t

–         God matches Jacob strength for strength

–         When it comes to intimacy, the Lord does not wish to crush us

–         He humbles himself and meets us on equal terms

 

I know that for some people (especially men) intimacy can be a struggle

–         It’s often something we blokes avoid – perhaps because we don’t like feeling vulnerable

–         Or maybe because intimacy was never modelled to us growing up

–         We never saw our dads doing it so we don’t have the first clue how to do it ourselves

–         And that’s why this image of God wrestling with Jacob is such a good picture for us men – because intimacy is hard yacker, it can be exhausting

–         But what we have to remember is that intimacy ends in blessing

 

Yes, Jacob’s struggle with God made him weaker (or more vulnerable) in some ways, but it also made him stronger in other ways

–         The Lord touched Jacob’s hip and it was thrown out of joint – that made Jacob weaker so he walked with a limp

–         And yet this loss of physical strength made room for grace

–         The limp is the posture of the saint, walking not in physical strength but in spiritual strength [2]

 

With a dodgey hip Jacob could not wrestle anymore and yet he still holds on to this stranger asking for a blessing

–         The stranger asks for Jacob’s name and Jacob is open enough to share it

–         The stranger then gives Jacob a new name, ‘Israel’, saying…

–         ‘For you have struggled with God and with men and you have prevailed’

–         Part of the blessing of intimacy is that we get to know our true selves better

–         Jacob always had it in him to prevail (to be Israel), he just didn’t know it until after his wrestling match with the Lord

 

Another part of the blessing is that we get to know God better

–         It is only after the mystery wrestler disappears that Jacob fully realises he has had a close encounter God

–         In verse 30 Jacob says, “I have seen God face to face and I am still alive”

–         So he named the place ‘Peniel’ [which in Hebrew means ‘face of God]

 

Earlier in the service Peter led us in a song he wrote himself called ‘Greater than I

–         Jacob recognises, after the fact, that the one who could both wrench his hip and bless him with a new name, was greater than I

–         There is something profoundly humbling about an intimate encounter with God

 

Although Jacob now knows God better, he doesn’t know God perfectly

–         When Jacob asks the strange wrestler for his name, the man replies…

–         “Why do you ask my name?” – He does not reveal who he is

–         Perhaps this is because God’s name is beyond human understanding

–         Or perhaps the Lord is saying, ‘Don’t you realise who I am?’

–         While we may become familiar with God’s ways the Lord still cloaks himself in mystery – he doesn’t reveal everything about himself

 

So that’s one story of intimacy with God

 

Mary Receives:

We find another in Luke chapter 1, page 74 toward the back of your pew Bibles

–         This story is quite relevant for the season of Christmas Advent we are in

–         It is the account of Gabriel’s appearing to Mary, the mother of Jesus

–         From Luke 1, verse 26 we read…

 

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy God sent the angel Gabriel to a town in Galilee named Nazareth. 27 He had a message for a young woman promised in marriage to a man named Joseph, who was a descendant of King David. Her name was Mary. 28 The angel came to her and said, “Peace be with you! The Lord is with you and has greatly blessed you!”

29 Mary was deeply troubled by the angel’s message, and she wondered what his words meant. 30 The angel said to her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary; God has been gracious to you. 31 You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God. The Lord God will make him a king, as his ancestor David was, 33 and he will be the king of the descendants of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end!”

34 Mary said to the angel, “I am a virgin. How, then, can this be?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and God’s power will rest upon you. For this reason the holy child will be called the Son of God. 36 Remember your relative Elizabeth. It is said that she cannot have children, but she herself is now six months pregnant, even though she is very old. 37 For there is nothing that God cannot do.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” said Mary; “may it happen to me as you have said.” And the angel left her.

 

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this reading for us

 

This story of intimacy with God shares some things in common Jacob’s, but there are also some differences

 

Mary’s close encounter with the angel was alone – in solitude (just as Jacob’s had been)

–         Not only that but the subsequent overshadowing of Mary by the Holy Spirit, so that she became pregnant with Jesus, happened in private also

–         The conception of Jesus is shrouded in mystery

–         Intimacy with God is a sacred thing – it is something to be treasured in the human heart, not something to be treated cheaply

 

Clearly God came close to Mary, so close in fact that she carried the Son of God in her very person – you can’t get closer than that

–         Mary was also open to the Lord

–         Although she didn’t really comprehend all that it would mean, Mary did not struggle with God (as Jacob had) – she simply trusted him saying…

–         “I am the Lord’s servant, may it happen to me as you have said”

–         And of course, Mary’s intimacy took time – 9 months just for starters

–         Closeness, openness and time – Mary had all three with God

 

In the process of wrestling with God, Jacob was made weaker, more vulnerable (his hip was thrown out)

–         And yet this weakness created room for God’s grace – it caused Jacob to stop fighting and hold on for a blessing

 

It is similar with Mary’s experience

–         By becoming pregnant outside of marriage God had put Mary in a particularly vulnerable position

–         He had made her weaker, socially speaking

–         What if her fiancé Joseph decided to insist on the letter of the law

–         She could be stoned for adultery

–         At the very least she would suffer misunderstanding & loss of reputation

–         And yet, despite her disadvantaged position God’s grace was sufficient for her – God looked after her

–         Mary wasn’t stoned – nor did Joseph divorce her

–         Both the Lord and Joseph stood by her

–         And what a blessing she received, to bring the Son of God into the world

–         For Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s promise to bless the world through Abraham

 

The other thing we note here is that God gives Mary fair warning of what he is planning so she has some say in the matter

–         This is not something that is done to Mary – it’s something done with her

 

The Lord never forces himself into our lives

–         He stands at the door of our heart and knocks

–         What we notice in this picture is that the door of a person’s heart has no handle on the outside – it can only be opened from the inside

–         The point is, when it comes to intimacy with God, we (like Mary) have to make a decision to welcome Jesus – to let his Spirit in

 

Conclusion:

In our culture when someone wants to take that initial step to becoming a Christian they often pray a prayer asking God for forgiveness and inviting Jesus into their heart

–         This prayer is a very personal and intimate thing

–         By inviting Jesus into our heart we are basically saying…

–         “God, I want to be close to you. I want to spend time with you. I am opening myself up to you”

 

Now, this idea of inviting Jesus into our heart is sometimes misunderstood

–         When we talk about the “heart” – we don’t mean the physical organ in our chest which pumps blood around our body

–         The heart (in Scripture) is a metaphor to describe our inner person – our deeper (more intimate) self

 

In popular culture these days the heart is often associated with emotions or feelings

–         But in the Bible the heart is the seat of the will

–         In other words the heart is where our decisions come from – it’s where our deepest values and principles reside

 

Therefore to welcome Jesus into our heart means to give Jesus access to the deepest most intimate part of ourselves

–         It means to let Jesus become our core value, our greatest principle

–         It means to allow Jesus to guide our decision making

–         To invite Jesus into our heart is to allow him to sit on the throne of our life – let him be Lord and King of what we do & say

 

To invite Jesus into our heart makes us weaker or more vulnerable in some ways – because we are relinquishing control to Jesus, surrendering to him

–         But it also makes room for grace

–         It is when we stop fighting God, when we stop resisting him and simply cling to him in faith that he blesses us

 

Below are some words to a prayer

–         Take a few moments now to read these words quietly to yourself and consider whether this is a prayer you are ready to pray

–         This could be the first time you’ve prayed a prayer like this

–         Or it could be the hundredth time

–         That’s okay – I encourage you to pray this prayer as often as you like, until it’s woven into the fibre of your being

 

Let us pray…

 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.

Forgive my sins as I forgive those who have sinned against me.

I invite you to come into my heart by your Holy Spirit.

May you be Lord of my life, and may you give me your blessing & grace. Amen.

 

 

 

https://soundcloud.com/tawabaptist/27-nov-2016-intimacy-with-god

[1] Rebecca Nye, ‘Children’s Spirituality’, page 41.

[2] Refer Bruce Waltke’s commentary on Genesis, page 448

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