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Four Circles of Intimacy with God
Our Often Mechanical Approach to Religion
Why People Need 'Experiences'?
Improving Our Level Of Closeness to God
Objectivity and Subjectivity
Knowing God Objectivity
Knowing God Subjectivity
The Coming Kingdom
Four Circles of Intimacy with God
Many years ago, J. Oswald Sanders wrote a book called Enjoying Intimacy with God, in which he said,
It is a well known fact that some Christians seem to experience a much closer intimacy with God than others. They appear to enjoy a reverent familiarity with Him that is foreign to many of us.
He was of the opinion that there are four circles of closeness to God. If God is the center point, most of His people occupy one of four concentric circles around Him - the smallest obviously being the closest to Him. These four circles, or degrees of intimacy with God, existed in the days of Moses, during Jesus' time on earth and, undoubtedly, still exist today.
Favoritism on God's Part? or Do We Disqualify Ourselves?
As Sanders went on to ask "Is it a matter of favoritism on the part of God? Or do such people qualify in some way for that desirable intimacy?"
The one fact we need to remember is that, in the Old Testament, intimacy with God was rare and awe inspiring, even frightening - not a pleasant feel good experience. Besides which, something was expected of the person concerned - just ask Abraham, Moses, Isaiah or Jeremiah. The vast majority of people did not have a one-on-one access or any personal connection to the Father except through the few men He hand-picked to act as His spokespersons.
In the New Testament, while one can reasonably surmise that the disciples developed an attachment to Jesus during His time on earth, they were not chosen just to hang around with Him for a few years. They were trained by the Messiah then, after He left, took the Gospel to the Jews and Gentiles at great personal cost.
It was only on the death of Christ that others could approach the Father. At Christ's execution, the veil of the temple was rent from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51), symbolizing the fact that ALL believers can ".. draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16).
We aren't drawing near to the Father when we feel we are doing so, but because His word tells us we can.
Our Often Mechanical Approach to Religion
J. Oswald Sanders came to the conclusion that it is possible for every one of us to have an intimacy with God that we usually associate with a chosen few. However, the qualifying conditions are so stringent that not many of us are willing to pay the price...
Both Scripture and experience teach that it is we, not God, who determine the degree of intimacy with Him that we enjoy. We are at this moment as close to God as we really choose to be. True, there are times when we would like to know a deeper intimacy, but when it comes to the point, we are not prepared to pay the price involved. The qualifying conditions are more stringent and exacting than we are prepared to meet; so we settle for a less demanding level of Christian living.
In other words, Sanders concluded that the level of our relationship with the Father is based on our own choices, be they consciously or unconsciously made.
This I am afraid is very likely to be true in all too many cases. Too many Christians tend to make a 'decision' for Christ, after which their religion consists of a formal adherence to rituals - a weekly Sunday service, grace before meals etc. All too often they believe that the suitably uplifting Bible verse of the day and/or the latest 'Christian' book (that all too often enhances the author's bank account more than it does the reader's spiritual life) is sufficient spiritual feeding.
And, it is quite likely that they involve themselves in one or more of the myriad of activities that so many churches delight in providing - conferences, committee meetings, evangelism teams, women's circles, men's breakfasts, choir practice, coffee mornings, softball leagues, picnics, yard sales, Christmas pageants. An endless cycle of 'doing' that renders the believer completely oblivious to how dry and barren his or her spiritual life may have become. See Why The Fire Hasn't Fallen
In summary, while they may manage to squeeze their way into heaven by the skin of their teeth (remember Jesus' warning about being lukewarm), little is done to enhance their relationship with the Father.
Then, on the other hand, we hear of those believers who are painfully aware that there is something missing. The Bible tells them that God wants them to draw closer to Him but regardless of what they do, regardless of how much they pray or read their Bibles, they never seem to take even one step up the mountain nearer to the Father and actually feel His love and compassion.. Instead they feel a frustrating barrenness in their spiritual lives that they do not know how to deal with.
And the church? The church that has largely substituted human programs for God's power doesn't help at all. Its endless cycle of 'doing' very effectively covers up the fact that all too many of them are spiritually dead as a dodo - social clubs with God sprinkled in to legitimize the word 'church'.
Is it any wonder that some Christian have a hunger for a deep personal relationship with God. Unfortunately, all too often this leads them down one of two paths,
1) Because their relationship with the Father seems distant and barren, they eventually find it increasingly difficult to believe God hears and cares about them and some eventually walk away
2) This desire to feel God's presence often leads others into the mystical and very dangerous practices of walking labyrinths, practicing contemplative prayer, etc. and they gradually become infatuated with the seductive feelings that accompany these practices. These pleasant experiences that were learned from and are shared with the pagan world, do nothing except to lead them further from God and deep into occult territory.
Why People Need 'Experiences?
Preying on many believer's feelings of spiritual dryness, numerous misguided and untrustworthy false teachers have come up with more and more ways to seduce the masses into believing they have had a mystical experience with God. These practices have usually been introduced into the church by some well-meaning, but ignorant, pastor as a way to validate their faith and give it a new and exciting dimension.
But why? Why do they need to do that?
Largely because all most modern churches have to offer is a rather inscrutable message of salvation. They tell people that they need to be saved, but rarely tell them what it is they need to be saved from. Their messages neither warn of the seriousness of wrath of God, exactly what incurs His wrath and what will happen if they are on the receiving end of His justice.
Equally tragically, most Christians seem to have little or no idea about the kingdom Jesus came to announce - where it is, what it will look like, or what they will do there. All that is usually offered is a vague idea about some ethereal place 'out there', or pious phrases that amount to little more than spiritual gobbledy gook. If this is the best we can do then it is hardly surprising that non-Christians are not in the slightest bit interested in our "heaven", and Christians themselves so rarely seem to look forward to the coming of the day of God.
Luckily the Bible isn't at all silent on where "heaven" is and, even more importantly, what it will be like. In fact, the Bible's description of the coming kingdom is far, far, more practical, and a lot less sanctimonious, than that of our theologians. Were Christians willing to do a penny's worth of investigation, they would find that the Bible knows absolutely nothing about some otherworldly realm that side of Pluto, but speaks of heaven as being right here on earth.
Ask as many people as you know what changes they would make to this world in order to make it perfect ... a place it would be an absolute pleasure to live in. I am willing to bet good money that there will be an astonishing similarity in the answers regardless of the person's religious affiliation, ethnic background or any other distinguishing factors. What you will hear will be along the lines of peace and safety, an absence of crime, hunger and disease, unpolluted air, water, and food, and an honest government.
Christianity, which appears to millions to be outdated, out of touch, and largely irrelevant to modern society, promises exactly the utopian world that mankind dreams of. The world most men and women would choose to live in is, in every respect, precisely what the Bible describes, except the Bible calls it heaven, the kingdom of Heaven, or the kingdom of God.. And this was the message that was at the heart of Jesus' ministry.
Having heard nothing but vagueness, it is no wonder that the Christian Gospel message is of interest to so few, and churches have to resort to pagan methods to provide people with new and unique experiences that (hopefully) keep them coming back.
How terribly tragic that Kingdom Jesus came to proclaim is something to eagerly look forward to (the understatement of the year) regardless of how trying the present circumstances. As a matter of common sense, the worse the present situation, the more a person should yearn for the kingdom to get here. And, it is infinitely superior to, and quite a bit longer lasting (try forever) than fake and fleeting experiences offered by the wolves.
Improving Our Level Of Closeness to God
When I looked into what many others said about how to improve your level of closeness with God, virtually everything I read said almost exactly the same thing.
1) Confess Your Sins: Because, as the ancient prophet once wrote, our iniquities have made a separation between us and our God, and have caused Him to hide His face from us (Isaiah 59:2), we need to make a daily habit of confessing our sins and thus remove that barrier. See Sin, Repentance and Salvation on this page - Heart Of The Matter
2) Spend Time With God / Pray: Couples who have been married for many years know that successful marriages don't happen automatically - you have to work at it. You have to spend time together and work through issues that come up. If you don't, it is more than likely that you will drift apart. Jesus told the disciples that He was the vine and they the branches and they had to abide in Him, because apart from Him they could do nothing. (John 15:5). Note: the word abide simply means to stay or remain.
3) Keep His Commandments: Jesus also said to remain in His love (Vs 9) and explained how in the next verse - By keeping His commandments (Vs. 10) One had to wonder if those that claim to regularly read the Scriptures have noticed that, in the Bible, holiness and good works are not optional. In fact, Jesus Himself greatly stressed the fact that these was indispensable to salvation. See Holiness
4) Read The Bible: However, we cannot possibly keep Jesus' commandments are until we actually know what they are. And the only way we can do that is not through supernatural experiences, but by becoming extremely familiar with the written Word of God.
There is little question that all of these are good - nay, excellent ways to stay on the road to salvation and eternal life. In fact, it is impossible to be saved without repentance, holiness etc. However, I think there is something missing. Something from which all the above are likely to flow far more freely and easily.
The problem is that because confessing our sins, reading our Bibles, praying, attending church services and/or Bible studies can all be done without a smidgeon of heartfelt emotion, they can leave us as dry and barren - feeling as far from God as before.
Which is why I believe we need to change our mind set, and how we view and tackle the problem. We need to realize that some aspects of faith should be objective and others are subjective, and we really need to stop confusing the two.
Objectivity and Subjectivity
Knowing God Objectivity
The word objective means impartial, unbiased, unprejudiced and neutral - uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices.
For the past many years I have urged people to examine things objectively, especially when it comes to religion. Unfortunately, in this world of 'warm fuzzies' people are obsessed with how they feel. Thus they assume that since they don't feel the presence of God, He must not be there or is simply ignoring them.
This when our objectivity has to kick in. The problem is that all too many Christians are quite unaware of the solid, factual foundations of their faith, which is often largely limited to "this is what I believe because this is what the Bible says". While this may be commendable, it can also be very dangerous, simply because this kind of faith can fall flat on it's face when confronted with clever arguments.
Which is why I strongly stress that all Christians should have a good working knowledge of the facts. See Choose Life that You Might Live. While it is sixteen chapters, it is not difficult reading. The first two links below are to chapters 3 and 6..
Whether you are aware of it or not most, if not all, religions of the world offer absolutely no evidence to substantiate the claims they make. Instead, very many of them have a try it, you'll like it philosophy. Unfortunately, once having 'tried' it, all too many people confuse personal experiences with the truth. How they feel is taken as proof of the validity of the religion. In other words, there is nothing on which to base our decisions except what the founder of the religion said, and whether the teachings seem to work in our own lives. See Faith and The Bible
In complete contrast to this (and in complete disagreement with what many Christians think) God has never asked us to have blind faith or to take anyone at their word. Because anyone can claim to be divine or be divinely inspired, and just about anyone can have mystical visions or experiences, the Judeo-Christian faith consistently stresses the importance of truth, and makes appeal to evidence to support its truth claims. In fact, it is actually quite remarkable as to how many times, God, Jesus, and the prophets of both the Old and New Testaments, appealed to facts to support what they said and taught.
The evidence for the Bible includes scientific and archaeological accuracy, and some truly remarkable prophecy. Virtually all facets of Jesus' life were foretold hundreds of years in advance. For example, Daniel specified EXACTLY when the Messiah would appear. Isaiah prophesied the miracles He would do. Other prophets told us how Christ would be betrayed, supplied details about his death and told us where he would be buried. See Comparing Jesus With Other Religious Leaders... Why Jesus Is Without Equal
The Seven Feasts that the nation of Israel was instructed to keep not only gave us the exact circumstances and timing of Jesus' death, resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit, but also provide us with a road map of events to come. See The Seven Feasts of Israel.
So, although it is not always easy to do, during the darkest periods remember that what you feel or what is going on in the here and now has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that His promises hold good - that, regardless of present circumstances, the future is unchangeable. He has it in His hands and it is better than anything you have ever known, experienced and possibly can imagine.
Knowing God Subjectivity
Truth can only be known objectively.
However, although there is not a single example in the Bible of a godly person's beliefs stemming from their feelings or emotions, these are an integral part of being human. Therefore once we have objectively established (as all of us should do) that our faith has solid legs to stand on, and that the object of our faith is completely trustworthy and a more than worthy recipient of our faith, love, and loyalty, we can begin the process of building a relationship on that rock solid foundation.
Let me see if I can explain. For example,
The Bible tells us that God is great and, since we have ample evidence to believe the Bible is Divinely inspired, we know this is true? But do we feel it?
We regularly sing (and rightly believe) "our God is an awesome God", but do we actually feel it. Do our emotions tell us that He is an "awesome" God?
We know that He created the universe in less than a week, but are our thoughts limited to 'Wow! Six days' - next! That is if we think about it at all.
I personally know Christians who watch David Attenborough's or National Geographic's very remarkable nature shows, and marvel at the abilities and capabilities of so many of God's creatures, yet never once say a word about, or spare a thought for, the one who designed and made them. Doesn't it occur to them that the ONLY reason animals and birds do so many amazing things is because the Great Designer made them that way.
I have come across many Christians who love flowers. Yet, while they will spend much time arranging a bouquet in a vase, not a second is given in praise of the One who designed and made this unbelievable beauty..
Yet, these same people will go into rhapsodies about the talented humans who refinish antique cars, or can accurately throw a football half the length of the field.
There is something very wrong if you do not see God in a rose or in the wings of a bird of paradise.
So, on the next clear night, spend some time looking up at the stars and imagine how great a Being it took to create, then put each one in it's place. The next time you gaze at an unbelievably gorgeous sunset, don't just look at the pretty colors, but think of the God who invented every element necessary to put on that spectacular show.
Also See Anthropic Principle: The Design Is In The Details
Take a little time to watch "Earthflight" a documentary on bird migration that took four years to film and captures the paths of 100 bird species in 40 different countries. And remember, the Creator who enables some species to cover as many as 40,000 miles in a year, when most of us don't even put that much distance on our cars in three years.
Sit and ponder what an imagination He has in order to make the hundreds of thousands of species, many of which we have never even heard of. A blonde Yeti crab, Pink Fairy Armadillo, Poodle Moth, or a Red-lipped Batfish anyone? When you see something as commonplace as a dandelion, don't just see a pest, but remember that He made around 450,000 species of plants.
As the Bible says, God's power and nature are clearly understood through what He has made.
Psalms 33:5 says "... the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.”
"For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20 NASB)
Considering the magnificence of God's creation, iit is hardly surprising that one of the things that the Psalmists deeply reflected on were His works.
I will meditate on all Your work And muse on Your deeds. (Psalms 77:12 NASB)
I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Your doings; I muse on the work of Your hands. (Psalms 143:5 NASB)
One generation shall praise Your works to another, And shall declare Your mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of Your majesty And on Your wonderful works, I will meditate. (Psalms 145:4-5 NASB)
Not taking for granted the world God created is a big step towards feeling and appreciating His awesomeness for yourself. And then, the next time you pray, first look out of your window and take time to think about the fact that the God is that you are speaking to made and owns the sky you are gazing at.
ALSO REMEMBER that this same God came down to earth to die a horrible death to give us, selfish, sinful humans who have all but destroyed His perfect creation, the chance to live in it for all eternity. And if that isn't enough to blow your mind about our God, I suspect you might need your pulse checked.
The Coming Kingdom
In complete contradiction to what is taught by the Word of Faith movement, Christ doesn't necessarily demonstrate His love by giving us everything our little hearts may desire.. We won't necessarily always have good health, a good well-paying job, a happy marriage etc. He never promised that that nothing bad will ever happen to us, but that we will make it through setbacks, disappointments and even tragedies carried by the faith that this life is merely a stepping stone to a perfect one.
Christ demonstrated His love for us by dying a horrible death so that our sins are forgiven and we eventually have the life and world every single one of us would give our right arm for. See The Message of The Bible ...The Kingdom Is at Hand
Imagine for a moment what your future would be like if Christ hadn't died for you. After your few short years on earth, all you have to look forward to is rotting in a grave somewhere. With nothing but this terrifying abyss in the cards, is it any wonder that so many people around the globe grasp at every bit of flotsam and jetsam floating by that may give them a shred of hope that there is something, anything, beyond the grave?
So the next time you thank God for 'salvation' stop and think what a very cold coffin must feel like, imagine the sound of the earth thudding down on the lid of the coffin as they fill in the grave - then contrast that with eternal life in God's coming kingdom. I suspect your thanksgiving will be more heartfelt than usual.
"In that day I will raise up the fallen booth of David, And wall up its breaches; I will also raise up its ruins And rebuild it as in the days of old; That they may possess the remnant of Edom And all the nations who are called by My name," Declares the Lord who does this. "Behold, days are coming," declares the Lord, "When the plowman will overtake the reaper And the treader of grapes him who sows seed; When the mountains will drip sweet wine And all the hills will be dissolved. "Also I will restore the captivity of My people Israel, And they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them; They will also plant vineyards and drink their wine, And make gardens and eat their fruit. "I will also plant them on their land, And they will not again be rooted out from their land Which I have given them," Says the Lord your God. (Amos 9:11-15 NASB)
Life might not be perfect. In fact life might be pretty awful in the here and now, but it is not about the here and now.
CONTINUE ON TO - Chapter VII - Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning, and Thomas Keating.
These supposed Christians fraternized with Eastern mystics, embraced their spiritual philosophies, and integrated their practices into Christianity. What is mind blowing is that none of them ever put forward the position that Christ is the only way to God, nor did any of them every preach the Gospel message. Although they recognized the doctrinal differences, the experiences they felt they had in common apparently trumped all other factors.
How then can we possibly trust them to point us in the direction of God?
While it is not particularly amazing that our Lord not only foretold the appearance of these impostors down to the last detail - it is beyond belief that man has so blatantly disregarded Jesus' warning, even though He was so very specific about the two places where the Christ would not be found - the desert or wilderness and the secret or inner chambers.
If therefore they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the wilderness; go not forth: Behold, he is in the inner chambers; believe it not. (Matthew 24:26)