Intimacy and EternityPrologue
He has made everything beautiful in its time.
He has also set eternity in the hearts of men.
Part One: The River of Delights
The Pace of Life
Towards a Life of Reflection
The Trysting Place
Part Two: The Ascent of Toil
The Dark Night of the Soul
The Principle of Suffer-Reign
The Grace of Yielding
SEVERAL HUNDRED YEARS AGO A BOOK CALLED L’Abbaye Sans Murs (The Abbey without Walls) was published. At a time when people who felt drawn to be close to the Lord were expected to withdraw to monasteries or convents, this book took the unusual step of encouraging people to deepen their life of devotion while at the same time remaining fully involved in the world. Intimacy and Eternity aims to be a modern-day equivalent, to meet the needs of Christians who are longing to bridge the gap between their desire to be close to the Lord and the comparatively low level of spiritual life they experience most of the time.
Although the ability to remain close to the Lord can only be the work of grace, the Lord can help us to develop frameworks that will aid the flow of His Holy Spirit in our lives. In the process, we shall examine and demystify many of the ways by which the Lord leads the soul on its pilgrimage.
Intimacy with God is such an all-embracing theme that I have, of necessity, had to be highly selective in what I have included. I have not, for instance, spent much time considering how our spiritual life is sharpened by the everyday rubbing that comes from normal healthy fellowship. Neither have I attempted to say anything about sacramental approaches to intimacy because the treasure-trove of Christian literature is already full of such teaching.
I have incorporated a number of personal stories, on the assumption that most of us assimilate teaching best when it comes wrapped in real-life experience. Given the very real danger of the reader becoming tired of the ever-present first person pronoun, I hope the snippets I have included will serve in much the same way that scaffolding does during the construction of a building: as an aid to make the main themes accessible.
In all honesty, this is not a book to skim-read. The teaching takes us quickly into topics we will want to ponder deeply and to apply prayerfully. To help us do this I have made each chapter as nearly self-standing as possible, and have included opportunities at the end of each chapter to pause and pray. The key to benefiting from these devotional interludes is to approach them slowly, so that what the Lord shows us may take root in our hearts. I pray that He will draw close to each one of you as you make your way through this inner pilgrimage.
The Path to Intimacy
Let me describe various conditions, and see if they in any way mirror your own experience. You are hungry for God, yet no longer find the fulfilment you once did in the things you used to enjoy so much. You sense a growing dissatisfaction in your spirit. Even worship times have begun to feel shallow and hollow. You are afraid to voice these thoughts in case you sound negative or judgmental – especially since you feel in some ways as though you are bearing less fruit now than you once were. You are at a loss to know why this should be the case, since your desire to meet with the Lord remains as strong as it has ever been. Be reassured! This longing to know God better, combined with a certain inner discontent, is a necessary prelude to going deeper with Him. As we shall see, ‘wilderness’ times have a crucial role to play in the development of the soul.
Others of you, by contrast, are seeking the Lord with eagerness and expectation for Him to show you the next step in your life. You are aware that He is stirring you up, urging you to broaden your horizons, and to branch out into some new sphere of service.
Which of these categories most nearly speaks to your condition: an inner discontent with the spiritual status quo? A longing to escape from the rut you feel you are in? Or a great excitement in your heart because the Lord is leading you in new ways and making you more open and receptive to His promptings? These are just some of the starting points God may be using to draw you into a more rounded intimacy with Himself.
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us,
that we should be called children of God.
And that is what we are! . . .
What we will be has not yet been made known.
But we know that when He appears,
we shall be like Him,
for we shall see Him as He is.
(1 John 3:1-2)
The Lord’s leading is both sure and surprising. Is it not delightful to consider the stages by which He led men such as Moses, Peter and Paul to a deeper knowledge of Himself? Their early years afforded little or no indication of all the Lord would accomplish through them in later life. We never know what we will become in Him – but the more we seek Him now, the easier He will find it to lead us tomorrow.
1. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Harper Collins Fount). Used with permission.
2. Luke 10:38-42.
3. It is not wrong to embark on this path with caution. Contemplation must be practised within a safe, secure and accountable environment, where all is firmly based on the Word of God. This is important, since a terrible deception has infiltrated a sizeable section of the contemporary Christian contemplative scene. Mystical influences from Hinduism, Buddhism and Sufism (an Islamic offshoot) have become popular, promoting a universalist viewpoint that is at complete variance with the teaching of Scripture. Please do not think that I am tarring all such institutions with the same brush, but this is a tremendously serious situation. Souls are being led far from the true focus of their faith by calling on deities that are, in reality, dark and dangerous powers. See ‘The Challenging Counterfeit’ in my book Ravens and the Prophet (New Wine Press).
4. Martin Luther declared he was so busy that he dared not pray for less than three hours a day concerning his many activities. John Wesley likewise lived what he preached by rising early each morning in order to spend quality time seeking God. So too did the Lord Jesus!
5. Mark 3:14-15. The word ‘appointed’ in Greek means ‘to make someone into something.’
6. David Watson, Fear No Evil (Hodder and Stoughton).