Faith can dry up. Most of us sense when this is happening. How do we get it back? We were designed to do faith with others. This journey is not to be taken with strangers, but people we know and who know us. It calls us to a life of intimacy. This comes with risks and joys. When done well, it gives our faith a new vitality.
When we drift off behind the trees, away from God, we also get separated from one another. We saw that in the Adam and Eve story. Before they heard God coming, they had already covered themselves. Shame and guilt had already infected their relationship. When we are spiritually adrift, our life together suffers immeasurably. I know this. When I am far from God, I don’t tend to not play well with others. What they do becomes a frustration for me. People start to feel like projects at best, or annoyances, or sometimes enemies.
I know other Christian leaders who’ve lost their love for the ones Jesus loves. These were leaders who lived as competitors, rather than sisters and brothers. Love, if it was ever there, had degenerated into a positioning and posturing for power. And John tells us in his epistle, that when we don’t love each other, we don’t love God anymore.
In the next few blogs in this series, on restoring vitality, let’s look at our life together. We’ll explore 5 marks that should be present in our life together. I’m not covering these as “ministries” or “programs” every church should have. But rather, these 5 things are part of the healthy DNA of God’s Kingdom. They should be part of all we do together. But it will mean that most of us need to rearrange our lives so they can happen.
The first is “intimacy.” There is a reason I’m not using the word “community.” We have program titles that use the word “community.” Turning things into programs is what we do. But this can’t be programmed. Practicing intimacy flows from the desire and courage Christ has planted in our hearts to be one with him and with others.
Intimacy is an uncomfortable word. It feels awkward and threatening. Intimacy is more than just revealing “who we really are.” It isn’t about leading every conversation with our pains and problems. Intimacy isn’t physical. Our culture equates sex with intimacy. Yet most have learned to hide themselves quite well even while naked. Intimacy isn’t just revealing our secrets to another. Intimacy is about developing a relationship with another, inviting them into our space and trusting them, because we want to be changed.
Benefits of Intimacy
Intimacy comes with benefits. There is joy and strength in knowing and being known. There is security in knowing that we are loved. There is comfort of not having to explain and justify oneself. And there is freedom for self-discovery without the fear of being found out. These are all benefits of a relationship with God in Christ, but they are also the fruit of living deeply and honestly with other human beings.
Dangers of Intimacy
It wouldn’t be fair not to mention the dangers of attempting intimacy. We’ve probably all trusted people who can’t be trusted. I’ve been betrayed in my friendships. And sadly, I have made others feel betrayed. It was in betrayals that Jesus had opportunity to show the extravagant love of God. It’s a risk, but it’s a risk with a redemptive purpose. We should be cautious but also need to trust God with the pain.
Life without intimacy keeps us isolated, wrapped up tight in our own world, and it makes hearing the voice of God more difficult when he calls. There are ways we can minimize the risk and develop these kinds of relationships. And once we experience one or two connections like this, we find the strength to take the risk again and again.
How do we grow in our experience of intimacy? How can we find relationships where we can be known and know? Here are four things that are important to understand and commit ourselves to.
- Build a common life. We have to share our lives with people. That sounds simple, but we have so adopted the American culture that we live lives of isolation. We don’t live in our neighborhoods, we live in our cars, or bedrooms. Our only visitors in the evening are the entertainers on our 65″ TV, or iPads. At church, if we still go, we pop in and out, rushing to our next activity where we sit passively next to people we’ll never know. To truly know people, and for people to truly know us we can’t just wave at the intersections of our lives, but we need to walk the same road in the same direction. Do you have space for people, not just to visit your life, but to stay with you?
- Listen and talk. Intimacy requires communication. Communication reveals. It explains. It also works to understand. Do you remember seeing images of the old days when houses had porches and porch swings? They were meant for talking. It was the place where couples young and old talked about the future and the past. We have so many poor forms of communication that don’t lead us to growth and understanding. A text, or snapchat might work for sharing information, or blurting out emotions. But they don’t allow for pondering, or reflecting. They help us know facts, but don’t allow for the discovery of meaning.
- Take the risk. Intimacy never comes without risk. There is the risk of rejection. There is the risk of betrayal. There is the risk of being hurt by someone who is unkind, insensitive. Please take the risk – cautiously. Slowly open your life, listen and talk, and follow God into a new place. Reflect on Scripture together, pray with one another, invite other believers into the circle. This all strengthens the oneness of God’s people. If at some point the relationship doesn’t honor the Lord, then back away.
- Lead with serving. It is easy to pursue relationships for what we think we’ll get from them. We want company. We want to have people who are “ours” to love and to love us. But that motive destroys intimacy. Because in the end it seeks to use others to meet our needs. True intimacy is a call to serve. As we serve it opens up trust, vulnerability, honesty, and common experiences that unites hearts together. Just yesterday I had the joy of paying tribute to a dear friend who is retiring and moving away. When I think of him, I shared, I think of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. This man “washed my feet” for years. He was there. He cared, he gave, he listened, he spoke, he challenged… all to make me a better man. Because of that I’ve had the freedom to trust and be open with him in any and every area of my life.
Do you want to get unstuck in your relationship with God? Do you want to move into a new experience of his love? The life we live with others matters. We wonder why so many of us are unchanged and unformed? We’ve missed the call to live with Him and with one another.
- Prayerfully envision a life that is shared with others.
- Who has God put next to you?
- Where will you make space for someone else in your life?
- Ask how God is working in the other’s life?
- How could you serve them?
- Reflect on what God is doing in you on this journey.
If there is a way I can encourage you, or serve your ministry, my email is on my “About Jim Renke” page. Or you can direct message me on twitter @jimrenke, or instagram at jimrenke. I’d love to hear from you.
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