Intentional Intimacy — Cultivating the Love of God Through Prayer

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Reading and studying Scripture has been a part of my church culture as well as my own personal culture for years. Attending seminary strengthened my love for studying the Word and theology, especially with other believers. Yet, I noticed that in private devotional practice, my prayer life sometimes suffered. My enthusiastic Bible reading did not always produce intimacy with Christ or powerful times of prayer. Frequently, it felt like I was reading at a distance – about God, not with Him. 

When we practice private devotions, we gain knowledge of who God is, understanding of who we are in Him, and grasp what he requires of us. Yet, those meaningful and neccessary results are not our end goal. Our end goal in life is communion with God, intimacy with Christ, fellowship with the Holy Spirit, and love for our neighbors (Matt. 22:36-39). In our spiritual practice, we want to commit to seek His face, experience His presence, and conform more closely to Christ – we want to love Him more! To achieve this, time spent with God and in His Word must be saturated with prayer. Not simply prayer before and a prayer after but integrated throughout. But how? The strategy described below combines devotional reading of the Scripture with intentional prayer – both for yourself and requests you have for others. 

Intentional Intimacy involves four components that are woven throughout the reading of your daily Bible passage. They are (1) Revere and Rejoice, (2) Repent and Receive, (3) Reflect and Respond, (4) Refuge, Rest, and Request. 

Revere and Rejoice

In this section, you will use your passage’s specific language to rejoice in the Lord by speaking back to Him who he is. Praise Him using the words and/or ideas described in the passage. We will use Psalm 61 as our example: 

Hear my cry, O God;
    listen to my prayer.

From the ends of the earth I call to you,
    I call as my heart grows faint;
    lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For you have been my refuge,
    a strong tower against the foe.

I long to dwell in your tent forever
    and take refuge in the shelter of your wings. 
For you, God, have heard my vows;
    you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.

Increase the days of the king’s life,
    his years for many generations.
May he be enthroned in God’s presence forever;
    appoint your love and faithfulness to protect him.

Then I will ever sing in praise of your name
    and fulfill my vows day after day.

To find words to rejoice in God ask the question:  What language in this passage describes God? What words does this psalm use to tell us who He is? How can we praise God using the language that this psalm uses? 

Jesus, you are the ROCK that is higher (v.2). You are my refuge; you are a strong tower against my enemies (v.3). In you is shelter and your wings are my safe place (v.4). You hear my prayer O God (v.1, v.5a). You are a heritage-giver (v.5b). You are loving and faithful, you protect me in Jesus Christ (v.7). I praise you and serve you with my whole life (v.8).

You may be thinking, “Okay, but it is easy to find words in a psalm to praise God!” It is true, the Psalms are our praise-book of the Bible. They were made for rejoicing. But that is why we also use the word “revere” in this part. Other passages may lend themselves more towards reverence than outright rejoicing. Let’s look at a different passage to demonstrate:  

Judges 33:7-11 

The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs. The anger of the Lord burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years. But when they cried out to the Lord, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them. 10 The Spirit of the Lord came on him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war. The Lord gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him. 11 So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died.

God, you never forget us, even when we forget you (v.7). Even your anger is holy, and you discipline the children that you love (v.8). I stand in awe and holy fear of your power! You always hear my cry, Lord (v.9). You sent a deliverer to the Israelites in this passage, and you send Jesus for us (v.9). You sent your Son to save us, and your Holy Spirit to empower and protect us (v.10). You are my eternal peace (v.11). 

We can find ways to revere God’s holiness and power and rejoice in his strength, love, and faithfulness in every word of Scripture! 

Repent and Receive

The next step in Intentional Intimacy is to Repent and Receive. Repenting may not be something we are used to thinking about every day, but as we repent for the sin the Holy Spirit brings to mind, we become more sensitive to other ways in which we may be grieving the Spirit. We ask God to forgive both our hidden faults and willful disobedience. As we read our passage, many times specific sin comes to mind. Other times we simply see the standard he has set in Scripture and feel our own inability to reach it. It is important to remember that true repentance is a gift from God (2 Tim. 2:25). It is not something we can work up or “try harder” to gain. It is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). So, as we read our passage, we ask the Holy Spirit to open our eyes, convict us of sin, and remind us of ways we have grieved him. 

Let’s go back to Psalm 61:   

Lord, forgive me for not crying out to you when I am in pain or trouble (v.1-2). Forgive me for turning instead to the distraction that entertainment, food, and drink give me. Forgive me for not taking refuge in you, for not fearing your name as I should (v. 3-4). Lord, you have given me a heritage – forgive me for not seeing it, valuing it, and cherishing it as you have commanded (v.5). [You would also ask forgiveness here for any particular sins that the Holy Spirit reminds you of such as specific envy, greed, bitterness, lust, etc.]

After that, take a moment. Speak 1 John 1:9, Psalm 103:10-14, Ephesians 1:7, or Isaiah 1:18 over yourself. Believe fully that Jesus’ blood has covered your sin. The Father’s face is shining with love towards you. Stay in that moment, receiving the love of God down into your soul. Bask in the feeling of God’s good pleasure toward you. Truly receive the forgiveness of the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit and thank Jesus for covering your sin by His blood. 

Reflect and Respond

As you read through the passage, reflect on what the Lord is saying to you. It may be personal, or it may be an insight that others would benefit from hearing. As you meditate, the Lord will often call to mind other Bible passages that bring clarity to what you are reading.  If there is time, look the other passage up and reflect on how it informs the meaning of your original passage. Using Psalm 61 again: 

Thank you for hearing my cry to you Lord. You have told us in Philip. 4:6 to not be anxious but to bring our petitions to you! Thank you, Lord, for hearing me. Lord, in this psalm, David is asking for an increase of years of the King’s life, but could he be talking about himself if he is asking for many generations (v.6)? We know you promised him that his seed would be on the throne eternally in reference to Jesus Christ (2 Samuel 7). Is David referring to Christ here Lord? Oh Lord, on a human level, please only increase the number of my own days if I can be in your presence with your love and faithfulness protecting me – unlike Hezekiah, whose request lengthened his life, but your grace did not accompany him (2 Kings 20). Thank you for the heritage you have given me in Christ – the spiritual fathers and mothers I have (v.5). Help me to continue to fear your name and sing your praise all the days of my life (v.5, 8). 

To respond we should ask: How is the Lord prompting me to respond to these thoughts and ideas? What comfort or hope has he shown? How can I integrate these ideas into my daily life? 

I give you my anxiety about all the situations in my life Lord. Thank you for reminding me today that you always hear my cry! Lord, help me to remember that you are my refuge, my safe place. When I am tempted to worry, be anxious, or anesthetize my problems with other things, teach me how to instead trust you, praise you, and feel my union with Christ in the presence of the Holy Spirit. 

Refuge, Rest and Request

Finally, in the presence of God, remind your soul that he is your refuge. Take a deep breath and affirm that He is your rest. Then give your requests to him. Ask him for the specific desires or hopes in your life for yourself, your family, your church, and your community. Lift up those requests you have committed to others to bring to the Lord. Keep track of these requests and make notes when the Lord answers them. 

Honey from the Rock

“But he would feed you with the finest of wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” Psalm 81:16

This beautiful picture of provision comes at the end of a psalm that reads more like a prophecy (ref: ESV study notes). Asaph’s song begins by commanding us to sing out loud to God, play instruments, and offer exuberant worship. He then transitions into describing how the LORD has delivered Israel and how Israel has not listened to his voice (v.11), so he “gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own counsels” (v.12). This psalm’s description of God’s deliverance explains that the way of blessing is to listen to his voice. Like a father, he wants to fill our mouths, feed us, and satisfy us.

The phrase from verse 16, “honey from the rock” jumped out at me. It reminded me of Moses striking the rock in Numbers 20 and his subsequent banning from the promised land. A glance at the cross references gave a hint in that direction by pointing to Moses’ song in Deuteronomy 32. Here, Moses names the LORD as “The Rock” and verse 13 says, “and he suckled him with honey out of the rock,” giving the picture of Israel being fed. This song the LORD gives Moses is after the infamous incident of Moses striking the rock in Numbers when the LORD commanded him to speak to the rock.

The apostle Paul explains this rock of provision for the Israelites, “for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ” (I Corinthians 10:4). So, we know that Jesus Christ is “The Rock” of Moses’ song, and he is the Rock that provided water for Israel in the desert. Jesus is the “stone the builder’s rejected” that became the “cornerstone”(Psalm 118:22, Matt. 21:42, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17, 1 Peter 2:4-8). Additionally, he promises living water to those who come to him thirsty (John 7:37). He is the rock from which flows rivers of living water, and of whom we must eat and drink in order to have life (John 6:53).

God’s word to us, Jesus Christ — his redemptive story in the Bible — is also described as bread. He is God’s provision to us. John 6 has the miraculous feeding of the five thousand with a loaf of broken bread, followed by Jesus’ promise that he is the bread of life — the manna from heaven (v.32-35). Manna was described as having a “taste…like wafers made with honey” (Ex. 16:31). There are many other Scriptures that also describe God’s word –his daily bread to us — as honey:

“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103) Psalm 19 describes God’s law as “sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” Ezekiel’s call from God to speak his word included eating a scroll from God that tasted as “sweet as honey” (Ezek. 3:3). The scroll the apostle John was given was sweet in his mouth but then turned bitter in his stomach with judgment (Revelation 10). So, from the rock which is Christ, he gives us the sweet word — his very self — as provision, mercy, and grace for each day.

The point of Psalm 81 is the imperative to listen and obey God’s voice. Its phrasing and imagery is meant to teach us that Jesus is the Rock and the Word filled with sweetness and provision. The LORD wants to satisfy us, to provide for us by his Son who is the honey-sweet manna, the bread of life, and the living water. He is the scroll that we eat, the words that we hear, and the Rock on which we fall to be broken in pieces in the sacrifice of worship for our King (Matt. 21:44).