Intimacy Is More Than Knowledge
One common mistake is thinking that nearness to God can be achieved through knowledge accumulation. Now, of course to intimately know God we must know crucial things about God. Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
But never in the history of the Christian church has so much theological knowledge been available to so many people as it is today. The American church enjoys perhaps the greatest amount of this abundance. We are awash in Bible translations, good books, insightful articles, recorded sermons, interviews, movies, documentaries, music and more. And much of it is very good. It is right for us to be very thankful.
But America is not abounding in Enochs (or finding them frequently disappearing), saints who walk with God in a profoundly intimate way (Genesis 5:24). Why? Because knowledge is not synonymous with trust. That’s why Jesus said to the religious leaders of his day, some who possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of Scripture:
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5.39–40″>John 5:39–40)
Biblical knowledge is far better than gold when it fuels our trust in God, because it fuels our intimacy with God (Psalm 19:10).
Why Aesthetic Experiences Fail
Another common mistake is trying to achieve intimacy with God through subjective aesthetic experiences. We might call it a “Field of Dreams” approach: If we build the right environment, God will “come.”
Some pursue this in high liturgical environments designed to inspire an experience of transcendence and mystery. Others pursue it in contemporary worship events designed to inspire an experience of immanence. Others chase revivals, thinking that proximity to God’s power will result in proximity to God. If we truly trust God, such environments can encourage our intimacy with God. But none of them inherently possesses the power to conjure God’s nearness to us.
Think of it like this: A candle-lit dinner with romantic music may encourage a sweet moment of relational intimacy between a husband and wife, but only to the degree that the environment encourages and deepens their mutual trust and love. If there’s relational distance between them due to a lack of trust, the aesthetics themselves have no power to bridge the distance. Only restoring the trust will do that.
How We Draw Near to God
The secret to drawing near to God and having him draw near to us is revealed clearly in the Bible: We draw near to God through faith in Christ who alone gives us access to him (Hebrews 4:14–16).
God is impressed with our faith, not our feats. Where faith is lacking, he is not pleased with the quantity of our knowledge or the quality of our aesthetic events.
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
When God sees a man or woman whose heart fully trusts his promises and lives by them, God comes to strongly support that saint (2 Chronicles 16:9) and manifests himself to him or her:
Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him. (John 14:21)