Give Me More of God: Why Spiritual Intimacy Can Feel Elusive
Deep in the heart of every true disciple of Jesus is a deep longing for more of God. But what is this more we desire? We might each describe our want somewhat differently, depending on how this longing refracts through our biology, history, and theological influences. To some degree, none of us has words for it. But at the core, what we desire is to really know God — to know him in the intimate ways that only love knows.
And we have this desire because, by God’s unfathomable grace toward us in Christ (Ephesians 2:8–9), he first has known and loved us (1 Corinthians 8:3; 1 John 4:19). It is his great desire, one he expresses in the promise of Jeremiah’s great prophecy (quoted in full in Hebrews 8):
This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:33–34)
At the heart of the new covenant is God’s great desire that we “shall all know” him.
Known by Love
You don’t need to know Hebrew (or Greek) to discern the knowing God desires. It is the knowing of relational intimacy, of deep friendship — the kind of knowing that only love knows. For to truly know God is to love God.
“To truly know God is to love God.”
The role of love in intimately knowing someone is profound. On one hand, we cannot intimately love someone we do not know. So, knowledge must precede love. But on the other hand, the deep love of intimate friendship is the door to even deeper knowledge of the beloved, because intimate friends entrust themselves and so disclose more of themselves to each other. So, there is an intimate knowledge accessible only through the deep love that results from and produces even more profound trust.
We see one illustration of this dynamic in play at the end of John 6, when, as a result of hearing Jesus say offensive-sounding things, “many of his [wider group of] disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (John 6:66). But the twelve didn’t leave him. Why? Because, to use Peter’s words, that they had “come to know” that he was “the Holy One of God” (John 6:69).
For eleven of them, this knowledge wasn’t merely intellectual; they had come to love him and trust him, even when he confused them. And because they trusted him, Jesus disclosed to them “secrets of the kingdom” he didn’t disclose to others (Luke 8:10). To really know Jesus was to really love Jesus, which was the door to knowing Jesus more. This is what Jesus is getting at when he later says to them,
Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him. (John 14:21)
The Way Is Simple
Notice the simplicity in those words: Jesus will manifest himself to whoever loves him. And two sentences later, he says, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). If we love Jesus, both the Father and the Son will manifest themselves to us through the “Spirit of truth” who “dwell[s] in” us (John 14:17).
These are precious and very great promises (2 Peter 1:4). The way to know the triune God intimately, to experience the relational communion promised in the new covenant, is not complex. Jesus calls us to keep his commandments, or keep his word, which is essentially what he means when he says, “Believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1). Jesus doesn’t give us a list of rituals, ascetic rigors, detailed prayer requirements, long pilgrimages, meditative practices, or instructions for creating special aesthetic environments to experience communion with him and the Father through the Spirit. The way is simple: “Believe in me.”
The Way Is Hard
The way may be simple to understand, but, as Jesus says elsewhere, “The way is hard that leads to life” (Matthew 7:14). The complexity and difficulty for us come not from the way itself, but from the evil we face: the internal evil of our unbelief or “little faith” (Matthew 17:20), combined with the effects of remaining sin dwelling in our members (Romans 7:21–23), and the external evil existing in a world that “lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). Learning to overcome the obstacles presented to us by our sin-infected flesh and the devil-filled world (1 John 2:16) is very hard indeed.
But the way to more deeply knowing, loving, and trusting God is by faithfully persevering through the great difficulties, and through receiving God’s grace of forgiveness when we fail (1 John 1:9). For God uses these difficulties as opportunities to manifest more dimensions of himself to us. Through tribulations, we experience that Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33), that his grace is sufficient in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9), and that he “is able to make all grace abound to [us], so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, [we] may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). We come to know more of him.
Through this hard way that leads to life, we also repeatedly encounter the reality that God is true to his “living and active” word (Hebrews 4:12). And we discover that the reality we’re encountering is not merely a set of propositions, but a Person: Jesus, who is the living Word (John 1:1). We discover, in fact, that Jesus is the way that leads to him, the life (John 14:6). And when it comes to our practical pursuit of God, we discover that the Lord most often and most profoundly reveals himself to us “by the word of the Lord” (1 Samuel 3:21).
For Those Who Want More
It’s possible that this may strike you as disappointing, as if the secret to intimacy with God is “read your Bible more.” Because what you long for is something more. You want to be near God and to encounter him more personally than you seem to experience when you read your Bible or hear God’s word preached and taught and discussed. If so, your disappointment could be resulting from one or all of the following possibilities.
First, it’s possible that your exposure to God’s word has outpaced your obedience to it. A familiar and accurate grasp of God’s word is only as good as your behavior-determining belief in it. Jesus said this to some of the most frequent Bible readers of his day: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39–40). Jesus discloses himself intimately only to those who keep his word. It’s worth prayerful examination.
“Jesus discloses himself intimately only to those who keep his word.”
Second, it’s possible you have a misconception of what intimacy with God should feel like, which has given rise to expectations based on a kind of fantasy, not unlike the unreal expectations we can bring to romantic love or deep human friendships. Remember, our most intimate marriages and closest friendships usually result from a few intense experiences that punctuate many ordinary times that all build trust and deepen love.
Third, it’s possible we might think that the word of the Lord is a poor substitute for the Lord’s manifest personal presence. And in a sense, of course, that’s true. But think of what makes your most intimate, manifestly present friends so meaningful. Ultimately, the words through which you disclose yourselves to each other in mutual trust, along with the promises you faithfully keep, create the intimacy you enjoy. So it is with God.
Now We Know in Part
But it’s also possible that your longing for more is your inconsolable longing to be with your Beloved, the longing all true disciples of Jesus experience. You have come to know Jesus and love him and trust him, but you are keenly and sometimes painfully aware that the wonderful disclosures God has made to you are like a splash of the ocean of joy you someday will swim in (Psalm 16:11). You’re aware that now you only “see in a mirror dimly” what he’s revealed to you, that now you know only in part, but later you will know fully, “even as [you] have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). There’s part of you that’s weary of the betrothal phase of your relationship with Jesus, and you long for the wedding, when the full marriage will at last be consummated.
For most of us, our discontent with our current level of intimacy with God comes from a mixture of the above: slowness to obey, misconceptions of what leads to our desired intimacy, and a longing that will be realized only when we finally see our Beloved face-to-face. But all these causes are reasons for great hope because they all point to the fact that there truly is more. There is more of God to know, more of God to love, and more ways we can deepen our trust and intimacy with him through faithfully keeping his word.
Whatever the cause of our longing, the Spirit is stirring in us a desire that comes from God. Because it’s his great desire, the very heart of the new covenant, that we all really know him. And someday, perhaps sooner than we think, God will bring to pass his precious and very great promise:
No longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. (Jeremiah 31:34)
In the meantime, “Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord” (Hosea 6:3).
Credit: Jon Bloom