This is a message that I gave recently to a Vineyard Church in Altamira. Preparing for this basic message challenged me and I pray it will do the same in your relationship with Jesus.
What is most important, besides God Himself, in the kingdom of God? Love
Love is affection and intimacy between two individuals (a parent and a child, two close friends, a husband and a wife). It is this love and intimacy, between us and God, that I wish to explore tonight.
What I wish to share with you is nicely illustrated in the following story:
John Bunyan was a rough, swearing, “man’s man” in the 1600s. He realized, however, that his life was going nowhere and he turned to religion. In the 1600s, religion (centered on the church, and being a good person) was popular in Europe, as it is in Brazil in 2007. He wanted to “start over”,” turn over a new leaf” and be a better person. He began to work very hard at becoming a good man.
He did a pretty good at turning his life around and he thought he was doing well until he encountered two women one day as he was walking through his village. His encounter with these two women completely turned his world upside down. As he was passing their house, these two women were sitting on a porch, passionately sharing their love for Jesus with each other. Though he was quite familiar with religious Christians, he had never before encountered anyone that LOVED Jesus. The love these women had for Jesus was so real and so passionate, that he went home completely undone and fell on his face before God. He knew he completely lacked what these women had and he knew that he desired this deep, heart love for Jesus more than anything else. He cried out for God to touch him, to love him, to change his self-centered heart, to kill the man that he was and allow him to be born into an intimate, love relationship with Jesus.
After that night, John Bunyan’s life was never the same. He lived a life of no compromise, a life filled with such passionate, intimate, love for Jesus that he greatly disturbed the religious leaders around him and he was put in prison for 13 yrs because he refused to stop teaching about this love of God for men; and he refused to stop telling about the danger that “Christian” religion was to a passionate love relationship with God. While he was in prison, he wrote a book called, “Pilgrim’s Progress,” which is the second most printed book of all time. The most printed book of all time is the Bible. Pilgrim’s progress is simply a book about a Christian’s journey in this life and what a Christian can expect to face as he walks out a love relationship with Jesus. It’s a wonderful, challenging book and one that I would encourage everyone to read, if you have the opportunity (you’ll enjoy it more if you read an updated version — the old-english version is a bit challenging).
Based on his writing in this book, it’s amazing to find that what a Christian will face in this life as he walks with Jesus has not changed since 1600. In fact, it hasn’t changed in 2000 years! He says that perhaps the biggest temptation that a Christian will face is the temptation to become lukewarm in his intimacy with Jesus and the tool that Satan often uses to accomplish this is religion and religious people. John Bunyan knew this difference well, because he lived it, as have I. He knew first hand the difference between religion and being in love with Jesus. I do, as well. In religion (going to church, doing your duty, following rules, trying to be a good person, working for God) there is a promise of life, but in reality, only an intimate, love relationship with Jesus gives life.
Tonight, I want to talk about this intimate, love relationship with Jesus, that John Bunyan saw in these women, and that radically changed his life.
Can we have an intimate, close, love relationship with Jesus? Is this what Christianity is all about? Or is it about “turning over a new leaf”, developing better character, becoming a better person, or even becoming more like Jesus?
Jesus placed the highest priority on intimacy with God and He seemed to indicate that this was the most important thing in life. Let’s look at some examples:
Only one extended prayer of Jesus was recorded. It was the night before He died. Let’s look at what Jesus emphasized:
Jn 17:3, “This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
“know you”, not know about you, not believe that you exist, not follow the Bible, not be a good person, and not go to church… Eternal life is centered on intimately knowing God and Jesus
Jn 17:10, 11, “All I have is yours, and all you have is mine… so that they may be one as we are one.”
What a beautiful description of the INTIMATE relationship of the Father with the Son
Jn 17:21- 23, “…That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me… that they may be one as you are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Intimacy of Son and Father, intimacy of us with Him. What will convince the world about Jesus? Passionate love, and intimacy, of Jesus’ followers, with Him and His Father — Remember what impacted John Bunyan—the passionate love these women had for Jesus!
Jn 17:26, “I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
Intimacy between Father and Son and that same intimacy between us and Him – That was THE priority to Jesus
Mt 6:9, “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,’”
“Our Father” – God wants to be addressed in this intimate fashion… picture a child on his father’s lap, rather than fearful, dressed up people in an elaborate church building,
“Hallowed be your name” – Hallowed or “Holy” means “There is no one like you” – the most intimate way two people address each other, and God is delighted when we address Him in this intimate way
Jesus addressed this exactly with two close friends when he visited them:
Lk 10:38-42, As Jesus and His disciples were on their way, He came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to Him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what He said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to Him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
“ONE THING is needed” and “WILL NOT be taken away from her.” What is that one thing? INTIMACY, closeness, spending time at Jesus’ feet. Many, many Christians totally miss the ONE THING and, like Martha, work FOR Jesus, trying to earn His delight, and end up tired, frustrated, and bitter, while thinking that religion and church are all that the Christian life is about. What is the ONE thing? Intimacy and closeness with Jesus!
So, hopefully, if you haven’t seen it before, you see tonight that love, closeness, intimacy with God is what the Kingdom of God is all about…
HOW do we become intimate with God?
How do we become intimate with anyone? There is a book in the Bible that has one theme and one theme only, intimacy. It is called the Song of Solomon and this book describes in vivid detail the intimacy of married lovers. It was put here for only one reason, because the intimacy God desires with His people is exactly like the intimacy shared between lovers. If the kingdom of God is about love, since God made us in His own image, it only makes sense that many of the characteristics of human love are the same as in our love relationship with God
Song of Solomon is simply a dialogue between a married man and woman and the intimacy shared between them. Let’s look at some characteristics of intimacy and love expressed by this couple. As we look, we will apply the intimate conversation between lovers with our intimacy with God.
What grows intimacy in a love relationship?
Time alone together:
SS 2:14, My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.
SS 2:10, My lover spoke and said to me, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me.”
SS 7:10-12, I belong to my lover, and his desire is for me. Come, my lover, let us go to the countryside, let us spend the night in the villages. Let us go early to the vineyards to see if the vines have budded, if their blossoms have opened, and if the pomegranates are in bloom – there I will give you my love.
Intimacy between lovers thrives on time alone with each other. For love to grow, much time is needed, talking and listening. Have you noticed that when love is new, and the priority is intimacy and getting close, we can never spend enough time with the one we love, whether this is a good friend or an intimate lover? We ask many questions because we really want to learn about them, we want to know their heart. We ask, “What are you thinking?” “Do you like that”, “What would you prefer?” “What do you believe about this?” We ask and listen, ask and listen. When we are intimate with someone, there are few things more beautiful than the sound of their voice.
What happens when intimacy dies? There are no more questions. There is much talking, with little listening. When love is forsaken, we no longer care what our loved one thinks or feels, we only care about what WE think and feel. When intimacy dies, we tell each other what to do, how to think, and how to behave. Instead of asking what they would like, we get irritated that they don’t want what WE want. When the one we love shares deep longing and hurt, we don’t ask questions and listen, but rather we give quick advice, “Well, just do this and it will be all better.” We become too busy and too tired for listening and asking questions. When intimacy is lost, the relationship becomes a duty, even a burden. We all know relationships that have lost intimacy. Perhaps your marriage or love relationship tonight is dry and burdensome. I would encourage you tonight that intimacy CAN be restored; by spending time with your lover, sharing your deepest feelings, asking questions, and listening.
It is exactly the same in our love relationship with Jesus. Remember Mary and the ONE THING. What was Mary doing? I can picture her looking into Jesus’ eyes, listening to Him, asking questions, sharing her heart. A lover of Jesus longs to hear His voice, loves sharing his heart, his deepest longings and fears, joys and sorrows. THIS is prayer. A Jesus lover loves spending time alone with His God. If intimacy is the goal, prayer is the key. Prayer is sharing our heart, asking questions and listening. If we don’t desire intimacy, when we pray we will talk and talk, we will tell God what to do, we won’t listen for His beloved voice, we will only talk, and prayer will be a duty, a burden, as personal conversation is in a love relationship without intimacy. How do we become intimate with God? We spend time alone with Him, sharing our heart, asking questions, and listening.
Adoration and Praise:
SS 4:1-15, Man speaking: How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful! Your eyes behind your veil are doves. Your hair is like a flock of goats descending from Mount Gilead. Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn, coming up from the washing. Each has its twin; not one of them is alone. Your lips are like a scarlet ribbon; your mouth is lovely. Your temples behind your veil are like the halves of a pomegranate. Your neck is like the tower of David, built with elegance; on it hang a thousand shields, all of them shields of warriors. Your two breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies. Until the day breaks and the shadows flee, I will go to the mountain of myrrh and to the hill of incense. All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you. Come with me from Lebanon, my bride, come with me from Lebanon. Descend from the crest of Amana, from the top of Senir, the summit of Hermon, from the lions’ dens and the mountain haunts of the leopards. You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride; you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace. How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride! Much more pleasing is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your perfume than any spice! Your lips drop sweetness as the honeycomb, my bride; milk and honey are under your tongue. The fragrance of your garments is like that of Lebanon. You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride; you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain. Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates with choice fruits, with henna and nard, nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with every kind of incense tree, with myrrh and aloes and all the finest spices. You are a garden fountain, a well of flowing water streaming down from Lebanon.
5:10-16, Woman speaking: My lover is radiant and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand. His head is purest gold; his hair is wavy and black as a raven. His eyes are like doves by the water streams, washed in milk, mounted like jewels. His cheeks are like beds of spice yielding perfume. His lips are like lilies dripping with myrrh. His arms are rods of gold set with chrysolite. His body is like polished ivory decorated with sapphires. His legs are pillars of marble set on bases of pure gold. His appearance is like Lebanon, choice as its cedars. His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely. This is my lover, this my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.
Adoration and praise is the talk of lovers. There is never enough, and at every opportunity, we lavish praise on the one we love. We love to praise the other. We love to point out everything about them that we love. In 5:10, “outstanding among ten thousand”, she calls her lover “holy”– there is none like you! Praise and adoration is the language of those in love and it draws them closer.
This is likely the most important part of our time with the God that we love. This kind of talk always draws us closer to God, and aren’t these kinds of words what we most long to hear from our Father. When intimacy is lost between lovers or between us and God, words of adoration and praise are no longer part of the conversation. This is why worship is so important. It is the language of love. If you have difficulty worshipping God, you are not intimate with Him. If you desire more intimacy with Jesus, the place to begin is worship, telling Him how awesome He is, in as many ways as you can think of.
This is why worship is such a priority in the Vineyard. This is why we sing TO God and not about Him, because we want to draw close to Him. Worship and adoration from our heart, whether in song or in conversation, will always draw us closer to Him. Worship is not just in song. It is such an important part of our time alone with the God that we love. We speak worship and adoration about who He is, about what He has done, what we are grateful for. When we give ourselves to God in worship, in a moment, we find ourselves at His feet, like Mary, with His undivided attention. There is no better place to be on this earth than worshiping Jesus, at his feet.
SS 2:14, My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.
SS 8:3, His left arm is under my head and his right arm embraces me.
These verses speak of undivided attention. The rest of the world loses relevance, loses its power over us when we know the closeness of our lover. In intimate encounters, faces are close, faces are held, and we look deeply into the other’s eyes. They have our complete attention and we have theirs. We are as close as we possibly can be. When intimacy is lost in a love relationship, being so close is uncomfortable and strained, we don’t search the other’s eyes or hold the other’s face, we’re easily distracted, and other things become more important than our lover. We no longer share our longings and desires, talk becomes superficial. We no longer talk about each other, but we talk about things we have to do or we talk about other people.
It is the same in our relationship with God. When we know God’s closeness and His pleasure in us, the world loses its power over us. God is looking for a people who are so wrapped up in intimacy with Him that the things of this world lose their relevance and hold on us. These verses speak of being face to face. Many times in the Bible we’re told to seek God’s face. This is a place of undivided attention. We long to know that we have his attention, and He says over and over in the bible that we are His delight and that we have His attention. If we lose our intimacy with God, we no longer desire to be alone with Him. We cannot look at Him and we won’t allow Him to see deeply into us. We no longer share our deepest desires and hurts. If we still pray, we pray about others, we go through a list, we say the same words over and over. We hurry away from our time with Him because we “have so much to do”. Giving God our undivided attention, however, will always draw us closer to Him.
SS 1:5-6 Dark am I, yet lovely. O daughters of Jerusalem, dark like the tents of Kedar, like the tent curtains of Solomon. Do not stare at me because I am dark, because I am darkened by the sun…
One intimately in love is humble and needy, but finds her value in the opinion of her lover. “Dark, but lovely…”
6:4-5a, You are beautiful, my darling, as Tirzah, lovely as Jerusalem, majestic as troops with banners. Turn your eyes from me; they overwhelm me. Your hair is like…
There is humility, almost embarrassment in attention focused on her. Her focus remains on her lover.
SS 5:8 …if you find my lover, what will you tell him? Tell him I am faint with love.
To be intimate with someone is humbling, vulnerable, even scary. This is because you are giving yourself to them, giving yourself away. You allow yourself to be seen, as you really are. You may be rejected, used, hurt. These feelings of vulnerability may be so strong that you feel sick (“faint”). And yet being intimate and real with someone is the most wonderful place to be. “I am dark, but lovely.” We will never feel as beautiful as we do when we are intimately loved. Love is always scary, painful, and beautiful. When I think of my love for my wife and kids, it is the most beautiful thing I have known, and yet it is scary because I could lose them, hurt them. Beautiful…and scary … and vulnerable.
It is the same in our relationship with God. There is risk in giving ourselves to Him. We have doubts that He will respond to us, that He cares for us. Will He love and care for us? Or will He harm us? We have times where we question His love and even whether He is there. But when we receive His love we experience His living water quenching our thirsty, faint, empty hearts. A love relationship with God is challenging. It will involve risk and pain and effort, and it will be the most beautiful thing you ever experience.
All Things Become New:
SS 2:11-13, “See, the winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land. The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. Arise, come with me.”
When you share intimacy and love with another, all things become new and your whole outlook on life changes. You see the flowers again, you hear music again, you love life again, and your life has value because you are loved. When we come to Jesus, we experience the same renewed life. As we walk in intimacy with Jesus, we live with a thankful heart and the joy of knowing His love. As we neglect our love relationship with God, and other things become more important, we lose our joy, we stop seeing ALL the blessings he sends our way, we become dry and hard and Christianity becomes a burden, a task, and obligation.
SS 5:2-8, I slept but my heart was awake. Listen! My lover is knocking: “Open to me, my sister, my darling, my dove, my flawless one. My head is drenched with dew, my hair with the dampness of the night.” I have taken off my robe – must I put it on again? I have washed my feet – must I soil them again? My lover thrust his hand through the latch-opening; my heart began to pound for him. I arose to open for my lover, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with flowing myrrh, on the handles of the lock. I opened for my lover, but my lover had left; he was gone. My heart sank at his departure. I looked for him but did not find him. I called him but he did not answer. The watchmen found me as they made their rounds in the city. They beat me; they bruised me; they took away my cloak, those watchmen of the walls! O daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you – if you find my lover, what will you tell him? Tell him I am faint with love.
What happens here? Her lover visits and she is tired; other meaningless things become too important. She doesn’t want to get out of bed! She doesn’t want to get dirty! She forgets that intimacy with her lover can be lost. Lost intimacy leaves you wounded. These verses are a perfect description of the Christian life when we lose our love for Jesus and other things get in the way. We long for Him but we aren’t willing to do what it takes to maintain closeness with him. We then don’t feel His presence, we don’t respond to His voice. We are vulnerable to the wounds of others. We feel lost without His closeness and unless we find His love again, we will remain dry, wounded, and full of self-pity. We need to realize that intimacy with Jesus, as with our lover, takes effort to maintain. I’m sure this woman would have said, ”You can come over ANY time!” Yet, when he came at an inconvenient time, she grumbled and complained. We start out praying, “Whatever you want, Lord. You tell me and I’ll do it. Your way is best.” But after a while, we are angry and hurt when God doesn’t give us what WE want, when we want it, and in a way that WE understand everything He’s doing. We must fight to maintain intimacy. Intimacy CAN be lost. God’s love for us never changes, but our remaining close and intimate with Him takes effort to maintain.
SS 2:15, Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom
This speaks of the little things that will steal the fruit of our love and intimacy. Little things. Caring too much about the things of this world, caring about how we look to other people, caring about how good we are, caring about our comfort (or sleep) more than about love and intimacy. We must remember that maintaining intimacy is challenging and the above verse, with the woman in bed when her lover calls, points out that we WILL make mistakes. In any relationship, there are misunderstandings; we WILL fail! The biggest enemies of intimacy are LITTLE THINGS. The enemy of love is not hate, but neglect. Neglect and nonchalance. Neglect of time alone, of listening, of adoration; and in taking God, or the one we love, for granted. Neglect is our enemy. If we don’t recognize this and fight for intimacy, we will lose intimacy in our earthly loves and in our love relationship with Jesus. Intimate love is so much like a garden; where there is neglect, there will be loss; but where there is intimate care for the garden (time alone, sharing of hearts and listening), there will be much fruit. The awesome thing about Jesus is that His delight in us never changes (even when we fail) and that He will ALWAYS be longing for our return to intimacy with Him.
SS 3:2-4, I will get up now and go about the city, through its streets and squares; I will search for the one my heart loves. So I looked for him but did not find him. The watchmen found me as they made their rounds in the city. “Have you seen the one my heart loves?” Scarcely had I passed them when I found the one my heart loves. I held him and would not let him go…
Notice how she chooses to seek, and seek some more. And then she won’t let go. Intimacy is sought, chosen, clung to. It doesn’t just happen. There is a healthy, desperate seeking to be in the presence of the one loved, and you don’t care what it takes, how long it takes, or who knows. You don’t care if you look foolish. All you care about is the love shared between the two of you. Intimacy takes effort, it takes work, it takes seeking out our lover. We are desperately loved by God yet we can choose to be closer and closer to Jesus. We can get up early, stay up late, wake up in the middle of the night to share our hearts with Him and listen for His voice. We can go on walks with Him. We can do whatever it takes to get close to Him. And the reward is deeper intimacy with the God that so cherishes us; the reward is the abundant life that we long for and that Jesus came to give us.
Passionate… As you read through this book, you can’t miss that love is passionate. It is not boring; there is a never-ending search for more intimacy, more closeness. There is time for conversation, for adoration, for worship. One in love doesn’t tire of talking to, or about, their lover. One in love with God longs to talk of Him to others. It’s his pleasure and he looks forward to the next opportunity.
So … God is looking for a people in love with Him, as this is the person that will impact those around him for the Kingdom. Remember the women with John Bunyan. Their love for Jesus impacted him without even a conversation with him! God seeks a lover who is willing to consider EVERYTHING else in life as secondary to drawing closer to Him. He is looking for those who see intimacy with Jesus as the most important thing in life. We may have had Christianity all wrong up to this point. We must realize that only in this closeness and intimate love with Him will we find the joy that we deeply long for; we will find life.
Prayer is the means of becoming more intimate with Jesus. It is THE most important factor in our walk with Jesus. It is conversation, alone with your Father. It is the deep sharing of your heart. It is humble and vulnerable. It often reveals weakness and desperation. It is asking questions. It is listening more than speaking. It is adoration and worship of our lover. It is gratitude, knowing we are “dark” and undeserving of His love. It is a passionate seeking of His face and of His pleasure, His smile, and His embrace, seated at His feet.
If you are not used to conversing intimately with God, give yourself time to grow in intimacy with Jesus. Intimacy is not something we have, it is something that grows from seed. The seed is planted when we first give ourselves to Jesus. It needs water, storms, sunshine, and time. Start by setting aside 15 minutes per day. Perhaps go for a walk-this works well for me-, sit, stand or kneel in a quiet place. Worship Him, adore Him, share your heart with Him and take a few minutes to listen. Invite Him to speak to you and you will learn to recognize His voice. Share your prayer times with a friend; this will help you keep at it and it’s a joy to speak about the one you love to another.
If this intimacy with God is your heart’s desire, and it has not been the focus of your life, let me share with you God’s invitation to intimacy with Him. This was written to Christians:
Rev 3:20, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”
Note Jesus’ desire: conversation, sharing, talking and listening. Today can be the beginning for you. The beginning of an intimate relationship with the One who made you, who knows where you’ve been and wants to begin again with you. Crucify that religious spirit that says that you must work, or be good, to earn God’s pleasure. You ARE His pleasure! He is waiting now at the door; He will be waiting for you, delighted in you, tonight when you lie down. He will be waiting for you and delighted in you when you wake up tomorrow. He wants to go away with you to share His love with you, to hear you share with Him your deepest longings and desires. He longs to share His delight in you, anytime, anywhere.
If you wish to draw close to Him and begin anew with Him, please sit down or kneel where you are, and share your heart with Him…He will be delighted!
I know, I know! I have yet to learn the value of brevity!