My low-pressure approach to cultivating intimacy with God

I recently shared some of this material at a ladies’ brunch. It is my hope and prayer that it might help you in your walk with God. ~Elizabeth

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This is a story about getting away with Jesus and how it transformed my life. It’s a story of hearing God whisper, “Come away with me,” and it’s the story of how I said yes – not perfectly, but repeatedly. It’s a story that might seem really elementary to some of you, and you’ve been living this for years. But for me it was groundbreaking, and it happened here in Cambodia.

Our international church was a watering hole for me right from the beginning of my time in Cambodia. It was a spiritual oasis, a weekly time to refresh and renew and meet with God. I remember walking into the church’s auditorium four years ago, feeling something inside me take a deep breath, and just knowing I was home. I met God that first Sunday, and every Sunday after.

But about a year and a half ago I felt God drawing me into deeper communion with Him. I felt Him calling me to a more daily commitment to meet together. Before then, I’d never learned to be consistent in my time with God. I had tried, but my attempts never lasted more than 3 to 6 months at a time. And they were never in the morning. (And I’d kind of always felt guilty about that, actually.)

But I was suddenly finding that Sunday mornings were not enough for me. They weren’t enough to get me through my week. My cup was empty. My well was dry. I didn’t have the strength I needed to thrive. Maybe in my passport country I could have survived like that, going from Sunday to Sunday, with maybe a Wednesday Bible study thrown in. But in Cambodia, I couldn’t live like that anymore. Life in this country was taking more out of me, and that meant that in turn, I needed to take more from God.

I knew, deep down in my spirit that this was what God was calling me to. I knew I needed this, and I knew I wanted it. But I have NEVER, EVER been a morning person. Left to my own devices, I would prefer to sleep.

So I had to start with really small steps. And I do mean really small: 10 minutes. I woke up 10 minutes early. In the beginning all I did was read a daily selection of prayer and scripture from a prayer book. I got a notebook, and I started writing out my own prayers and recording the Bible verses that really stood out to me.

I knew I wanted this to be a long-term commitment, so there were several things I decided not to feel guilty about:

  • I didn’t let myself feel guilty if I skipped a day because I was too tired to get out of bed. I just woke up the next day and started over again.
  • I didn’t let myself feel guilty if I couldn’t keep up with some prescribed Bible reading plan. I didn’t try to catch up when I missed. I just slowly worked through whatever section of Scripture I was in.
  • I didn’t let myself feel guilty if I got sidetracked with other Scriptures or devotional books and deviated from “the plan.” 
  • And I didn’t let myself feel guilty about my short times. I just slowly increased my morning time, usually by 10 minutes at a time.

Each individual meeting with God doesn’t always feel very fruitful. But the seconds add up to minutes, and the minutes add up to hours, and every moment with God means something. When I look back over the last year and a half, I see that these times with God have been the source of some of my greatest spiritual breakthroughs. And that’s not to say I didn’t experience God before coming to Cambodia, because I did. I really, really did.

But here is where I discovered that God’s love for me is much deeper than I ever knew before. Here is where I discovered He loves me as much as He loves everyone else, and I didn’t use to be sure of that. Here is where I learned who I am in Christ in ways I’d never known before. And I’ve had various seasons where God says, “Ok, we’re going to work on this particular sin now, or this particular lie.”

I know I can get really excited when I talk about intimacy with God. But I also want to be very careful how I talk about it because

  • The last thing I want to do is heap more guilt and shame on you or give you something more to DO.
  • I don’t want to give the impression I think I somehow “earned” God’s intervention in my life by deciding to spend more time with God. I didn’t earn His gifts of healing and freedom; everything is a gift and comes from Him alone.
  • I don’t want to give the impression a morning quiet time will solve all your problems. I still walk through difficult times. I still sin — and that still discourages me. I still sometimes skip my morning devotional time. And I still sometimes have a hard time connecting with God.
  • I also know some of you may be walking through a desert right now, or a fiery trial, and thriving may seem far from possible. So I want to be really sensitive to your pain and your weariness.

When we talk about needing to steal away and spend time with God, it can sound legalistic, like this is what you have to do to measure up. But that’s NEVER, ever my intention. All I want is for people to get away and be with God. All I want is to see people healed and set free. Our time with God is NOT where we prove what great followers we are, it’s where the healing happens.

And we will still have trials. Our relationship with God can’t inoculate us against difficulty. And we will still have times in the desert, seasons of winter when we can’t see the fruit or feel His presence.

If that’s you today, if you’re in a difficult or dry season, I want to encourage you not to give up hope. Seasons don’t last forever. Hold out for another season. In the big picture, over the whole course of our lives, if we are drawing near to God and He is drawing near to us, we can thrive even in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

And that is the truth about my story: I’m no longer barely surviving in Cambodia. Cambodia is actually the place I learned how to thrive in my walk with God. Cambodia is where I learned how to abide with Him and to commune with Him. I found God here, and I’m not the same person I was before. In fact, God isn’t the same God I thought I knew. He’s so much bigger and better than I ever thought.

And I’m thankful for that, thankful that I was so needy that it drove me to get more of God. What I was on my own wasn’t enough to handle life here. What was inside me wasn’t enough to live life here. I didn’t have the reserves or the strength the way I might have had in my own country.

I still hear God on Sunday mornings — I’m so thankful for Sunday mornings!! Now though, I hear God throughout the week too. (And since I’m a human and kind of dense and hard-headed, it helps the lessons sink in better if I hear them on Sunday and during the rest of the week.)

So if you are like me and you’re only haphazardly meeting with God, perhaps only on Sunday mornings, and if you’re ready to go deeper into God and into His love, I want to gently suggest that maybe it’s time to make more space for Him in your life, maybe it’s time to invite Him into your busy, stressed-out schedule and into your worried, overwhelmed heart.

I promise you that if you get away with Jesus, it’s going to change your life. Because the time we spend with God is what helps us thrive – whether you’re in Cambodia like me, or somewhere else. Only God’s love is enough to fill our hearts for our days, for our marriages, for our friendships, for our work, for our children, for our ministry. When we’re connected to God, we can be like the trees in Jeremiah 17:7-8, the ones planted by streams of water, flourishing and bearing fruit, even in the dry, desert places.

 

God, you are the only one who can make us flourish in the desert. You are the only one who gives life to our lifeless souls. God, plant us in you, that we may know you, that we may know your heart. Give us your life abundant, and help us thrive in whatever land we find ourselves. And we acknowledge that when you do this, when you make us thrive, it is NOT our doing, it is YOUR doing, and the glory goes to you alone. Thank you for being enough for us, Amen.