The Intimacy Paradigm

“The amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God [the Father] and the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”1)2 Corinthians 13:14 The Message

In 1990 I attended a Vineyard conference where the theme of intimacy with God was centre stage. My whole framework was profoundly challenged and my life was literally turned upside down. I was confronted with a quality and depth of ministry that was completely foreign to me. The speakers were flowing in the prophetic and words of knowledge were freely flowing through their lives. They were ministering into areas of the heart that hindered authentic intimacy with God and they were offering healing prayer to hundreds of broken lives. People streamed forward at the invitation and many people went through dramatic deliverance.

My life was transformed by that single conference. I had undergone a profound paradigm shift. I had embraced what I now call the ‘intimacy paradigm.’ But it is one thing to embrace something conceptually. I had turned a corner theologically and conceptually which set in motion a journey of moving from the head to the heart in order to become established in this new paradigm. Living exclusively from my head was no longer an option. I had been upgraded to a new level of reality and I could never be the same again. But living in the intimacy paradigm of an authentic heart journey with God has been the greatest challenge of my life as a believer. The Vineyard movement in the 1980’s and 1990’s were renowned for their pioneer work in new frontiers of intimate worship. Their CD series, ‘Touching the Father’s Heart’ helped me to go much deeper in my heart journey of devotion.

The centrepiece in this battle to lay hold of the revelatory knowledge of the heart of God is the pursuit of intimacy with God. If we are content to merely know God from a distance, to know about Him instead of knowing Him personally, experientially and intimately then that is all we will ever attain. I once heard a preacher facetiously say, “Blessed are those who expect nothing; they shall not be disappointed!” God has called us to such a depth of intimacy in relationship with Him that it massively transcends our intellectual comprehension. “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”2)1 Corinthians 2:9

Paul taught that this intimate knowledge of the heart of God completely transcends our intellectual faculties. Theological knowledge is merely an invitation into the deep waters of spiritual intimacy. Those who have come into relationship with God through the new birth are now privileged “to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.”3)Ephesians 3:19 This includes all theological knowledge.

And of course, God in His brilliance has already made a way for us. Through the new birth He places us in Christ, planting us right in the fiery centre of that most intimate of all relationships: the relationship between the Father and His Beloved Son. This new intimacy is a gift. It is not something we earn! John said, “Everyone who confesses that Jesus is God’s Son participates continuously in an intimate relationship with God.” 4)1 John 4:15 The Message

Intimacy with God is intended to be the defining characteristic of the Christian. The essence of true spiritual intimacy is a oneness that is characterised by a deep supernatural love. Every Christian is intended to carry the aroma of divine intimacy so that their very presence invites others into their own experience of intimacy with God. Paul said, “Pray for the insight and ability to bring others into that intimacy.”5)1 Corinthians 14:13 The Message

We read in the Psalms a brief phrase that powerfully captures this call to radical intimacy with God: “Deep calls unto deep.”6)Psalms 42:7 The inner depths of God’s heart cries out for intimate fellowship with the deepest places in the hearts of His children. We were designed and fashioned for intimate relationship, not only with God but also with other human beings. God is the very author of intimacy and He has created us in such a way that we will never be satisfied unless we experience this gift of deep spiritual intimacy. Gordon and Gail MacDonald, in the opening paragraph of their book, Heart Connections, discuss the nature of this intimacy.

If food is fuel for the stomach, intimacy is fuel for the soul. Without the one there is physical starvation, without the other there can be spiritual starvation. Intimacy implies a deep and lasting connection between persons. Age, intellect, class, gender, and all other such classifications are all irrelevant when it comes to experiencing this intense rapport. Yet some of the most intelligent and powerful people in our lives appear to know almost nothing about intimacy.7)Heart Connections, Gordon and Gail MacDonald

As appealing as the concept may be it has proven as elusive to humanity as the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. For try as we will to reach this place where two hearts meet and stay connected, the promise somehow continues to elude us. As a pastor, the number one complaint I hear from people is the sense of not being able to connect with God in their hearts. The Apostle John came to the conclusion that the same factors that destroy intimacy with one another were the very same things that hinder intimacy with God. “If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?”8)1 John 4:20

Intimacy is all about relationships, whether that relationship is with God, our spouse, our children, our parents or our friends. Whenever we come face to face with a roadblock in growing closer to another person we will inevitably find that this very same issue will hinder us in drawing nearer to God. Our human relationships actually become a mirror which reflects the depth (or lack of depth) of our intimacy with God. Intimacy has to look like something! John said, “Anyone who claims to be intimate with God ought to live the same kind of life Jesus lived.”9)1 John 2:6 The Message

The moment we purpose in our hearts to seek to cultivate intimacy with God we must begin to deal with the deeper issues of the heart because intimacy is all about the connection of two hearts. Just as a married couple must work at cultivating intimacy in their marriage, so we must work at developing a closer walk with God. But if a Christian never sets their heart to pursue intimacy with God they will never come to understand just how many roadblocks there are in our hearts to growing in intimacy.

The tragedy is that many Christians are content to know all about God without ever experiencing the gentle touch of His warm embrace that comes when we seek to gain a firsthand, experiential knowledge of His heart. But once we embark upon this journey there is no going back. This is the ‘intimacy paradigm’ and it is an essential ingredient in developing a biblical understanding of the heart. For far too many Christians this intimate relational paradigm is totally foreign. We are strangers to the experiential knowledge of God and we have somehow become acclimatized to this sub-standard level of Christian experience.

In order to embrace the intimacy paradigm we must learn to cultivate the intuitive dimension of the heart. We may very well have a cognitive understanding of the concepts of intimacy and love but the reality of these concepts are embodied in the experience of love. The art of Christian love and intimacy is better ‘caught than taught.’ There is always a valid place for intellectual analysis in the Christian life but the experience of intimacy transcends rational analysis. It is an experience! As I mentioned in the first chapter, my own personal journey has been one of a slow and gradual deliverance from an ‘unfeeling heart.’ My capacity to feel and to express my feelings has been deeply compromised because I came from a highly unfeeling family but it was not their fault. They were the product of unfeeling parents where emotions were something to be avoided. Many people have grown up in a family where feelings were never expressed and this can exercise a crippling effect upon the heart. It creates a deep wound because love was never expressed and love simply cannot grow in an unfeeling heart.

Our ‘heart’ is that part of us which is able to experience the intimate touch of our loving Heavenly Father, whereas our minds are capable only of intellectual analysis.

If God seeks to draw us into intimacy with Himself He will not appeal to the intellect but to the heart. In fact, intellectual analysis has the capacity to kill all intimacy! Many Christians are so locked into ‘analysis mode’ that they are unable to experience any kind of intimacy with God. I often feel as though my own spiritual journey has largely been characterised by an attempt to escape the vice-like grip of cold-heartedness where so often I find myself continually stuck in my head. And I know that many other Christians can testify to the same struggle.If our rational and intellectual faculties stand in the way of entering into an intimate relationship with the Lord then ‘analysis’ must be recognised as a stronghold of the mind that is capable of hindering our spiritual growth.

Knowing God intimately and knowing His heart toward us is the very essence of the Christian life. Intimacy with God is the foundation of every aspect of the Christian life. Without this intimate knowledge of God’s heart we cannot enter into the fullness of our calling to participate with Christ in revealing the Father. This is the ultimate purpose of the intimacy paradigm and God is actively seeking to promote this paradigm shift among His people. Paul asserted that it is our high calling in God to pursue this intimate knowledge of the heart of God.

I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him… that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection… Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.10)Philippians 3:8-14 NIV

References   [ + ]

1. 2 Corinthians 13:14 The Message
2. 1 Corinthians 2:9
3. Ephesians 3:19
4. 1 John 4:15 The Message
5. 1 Corinthians 14:13 The Message
6. Psalms 42:7
7. Heart Connections, Gordon and Gail MacDonald
8. 1 John 4:20
9. 1 John 2:6 The Message
10. Philippians 3:8-14 NIV