I stumbled upon this song last week. It touched something deep in my heart and took me into worship for some hours one night – worship with tears from a heart overflowing with love and longing for Jesus.

That place of love and longing, of feeling close to Him is so precious. It’s the most precious thing in all of life. It’s the thing that gives life purpose and meaning.

Most people who call themselves followers of Jesus would acknowledge that the most important part of Christianity is a journey of increasing relational intimacy with Jesus (closely followed by sharing that love with others). Scripture would certainly confirm this point (see John 17:3, Matthew 7:21-23, John 17:24, Matthew 22:1-14; Matt. 22:34-40; John 17:21; John 15: 1-17 amongst others)

But what does relational intimacy with Jesus actually involve. How do we get there? How do we grow in it?

There are three stages.

                          Stage 1: The invitation to intimacy

                          Stage 2: The knowledge of God

                          Stage 3: A moved heart

Stage one involves awakening to the idea that an intimate relationship with Jesus is available to everyone who names Him as Lord. This awakening usually takes place in the context of experiencing a little of stage 3 as our emotions are touched by His affections, often at conversion. Having our emotions moved by experiencing God’s love for us and feeling love back toward Him is such a powerful and addictive experience. If we really experience stage 3 it becomes an experience for which we thirst again.

It’s important to note here that whether I feel God’s love or not does not alter the truth of His everlasting love for me but when I do feel His love by the power of the Holy Spirit and feel love for Him in return it feels really good. It is a most powerful motivator for obedience (living in the way God asks us to live) in a Christian’s life.

Here’s how John Piper explains this,

John_Piper

In other words, when I experience the satisfaction of how God’s love me it moves me to live a life that glorifies Him.

Yet, while many people have a taste of stage 3 at conversion, stage 3 doesn’t last indefinitely without stage 2. Stage 2: The knowledge of God, is actually the fuel for stage 3.

It’s like any relationship. There may be infatuation at the beginning but as the relationship develops it’s a deepening knowing of the other person that causes real love for them to grow. It’s exactly the same with Jesus. It is the knowledge of who He is, what He’s like, how He feels and acts that causes real love, real intimacy with Him to develop.

Intimacy is defined byhow well we know Him.

So what does the knowledge of God look like? How do we obtain it? There are 2 stages to it as there are in getting to know any person.

                    Stage A: Mind knowledge

                    Stage B: Experiential knowledge

When we first meet someone we get to know them by hearing about them, by asking questions and obtaining factual, mind information (Stage A) about their life, likes, dislikes, joys, fears etc. This is Stage A.

Moving on to Stage B: Experiential knowledge – our relationship with that person is then deepened as we share our lives with that person and experience the mind knowledge we have obtained lived out in reality. The truth of what they have said about themselves is confirmed in action and trust and deep knowing forms.

With experiential knowledge alone we will experience misunderstandings of a person. We will have question like, “Why did you do that?” “Why did you say that?” We will want certain blanks filled in by factual knowledge through information gained by conversation. Alternatively, with mind knowledge alone we will not grow in trust and sharing of real relationship. Both stages are vital.

In relation to God, factual knowledge comes by the Word of God. Experiential knowledge comes as step out in faith to follow what Jesus has commands us in scripture and invite Him to do it with us. Spurgeon put it this way:

Spurgeon

In other words, if encounter with God by the Holy Spirit is to lead to a growth in true intimacy it must be married with and confirmed in the Word of God.

So here’s where the rubber of this hits the road. In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus commands us to go and make disciples. Not converts but disciples. It’s impossible to make disciples without making converts but it’s very possible to make converts and not disciples.

Making a disciple involves helping people in the journey of first knowing factual knowledge about God by His Word. It involves hours of studying and meditating on who God is, what He’s like and how He feels and acts. Why does it take hours? Because we spend hours, days, weeks, months and years filling our minds with the knowledge of worldly things which are in direct contradiction to who God is.

For more information on how to do this: Posts on how to make the study of the Word sweet

Next it involves practical steps of faith and ongoing dialogue with God as we walk out these steps of faith. It’s in this place, when the Word gets confirmed by something we experience either practically or in a revelation from God that true intimacy grows. We have that realisation of, “Oh, Jesus, You really are who You say You are. I really can trust You.”  This revelation this is what intimacy with Jesus looks like.  Stage 3: A moved heart and genuine love for God flows from that place.

Without an increasing knowledge of God in our lives, our faith will stagnate and love will grow cold after a few short years. We’ll end up with bitterness and disillusionment, stuck in religious duty.

I made a promise to God some years ago that all the days of my life, whatever it took, I would live with a burning heart of love for Him. This is the journey to keep that promise.

J. Ratcliffe

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