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. 

Practical Training for Small Group Leaders

Time Management 

Using time wisely is crucial in facilitating a small group discussion. Valuing every minute communicates the importance of the discussion itself.  It shows respect for the women’s hard work throughout the week in completing the passage. All women are busy. Each one has made sacrifices to be at Bible study each week. Beginning and ending study on time are crucial to communicate respect and consideration. To not be intentional with your time is to communicate that the study is trivial.  

You will have a set amount of time for each week’s meeting. It is helpful to look over and think through your own preparation and make note of what was the most fruitful for you.  Observe the parts that take more time and plan ahead accordingly. Practical application is very important for helping people see where they need to repent or change, so it is imperative to not run out of time. Always be aware of the time and how long your group has left.  It is your responsibility to lead your group in discussing the whole passage each week and to ensure that one person does not “rabbit trail” the discussion. Skipping sections will discourage the women who have spent precious time that week completing the entire lesson. Occasionally there may be an exception to getting through the entire passage – if a serious issue arises that must be dealt with – but this should definitely be an anomaly. 

It will take experience and wisdom to judge the difference between someone wasting time and someone sharing a personal and meaningful application to her life. Trust the Holy Spirit to help you as you grow in this ability. 

Small Group Dynamics

Your goal in the discussion is to help each woman in your group feel comfortable and safe to share what God has shown her that week.  The objective of the group is a deep, vibrant, and authentic discussion of God’s Word. Some women will be naturally confident to speak and share, and other women will be more reluctant. As you gain experience and get to know your group, you will develop winsome methods for drawing out the hesitant women and helping the talkative women become better listeners. When you have an eager-sharer, sometimes it works to gently interrupt and say, “I want to hear the rest of that Jane, but I’m afraid we are running out of time. Let’s plan a group fellowship where we can each have time to share the wonderful stories of God’s grace in our life!” 

Sometimes it helps to note on your paper the women who have not shared that day. When appropriate, gently encourage the quiet women to answer by calling on them directly. 

Many times, a group takes a while to “warm-up” to one another. It may seem like a long stretch of awkward silence but resist the temptation to jump in and answer yourself. Some groups need more time before someone has the courage to speak out. “Rescuing” the group too quickly short-cuts that process and inadvertently teaches them that you have all the answers. 

Be an attentive and interested listener. It is much harder to listen than it is to speak. You are modeling for the group how to create a thoughtful discussion. Use your body language to communicate your genuine interest. Seek to keep eye contact with the woman speaking the entire time she is sharing. If appropriate, verbally respond to her answer to show that you were listening and you value what she said. 

Aiming for every woman to share every week teaches that everyone’s answers are important. It also conveys that each woman is not only a necessary part of the group, but that God will speak to each person through his Word.  This helps each woman feel more responsibility during the week to complete the lesson.  Just as one would not show up to a covered dish dinner empty-handed, this approach ensures each woman feels a responsibility to seek God for the group. 

Do not allow women to criticize one another’s answers, or to criticize their own answers.  Do not allow the group to depend on one or two members to do all the work, or to look to older/more mature members to always answer. Do your best to create an atmosphere of freedom to make mistakes and give each woman respect and the opportunity to receive grace and mercy. 

Communication

         Communicating with your small group each week is essential to help the women in your group trust you and bond with each other. Contact each of your women every week, checking in with them, encouraging them in their lesson, answering any questions they have, and taking their prayer requests.  It is a good idea to send an email every week with any announcements and with the group prayer requests. 

An example of a contact phone call:  You: “Hi, Carrie! This is Janet. Is this a good time to talk? Great! I just wanted to check in with you and see how you are doing and how I can be praying for you this week. You can give a prayer request that you want me to share with the group or one that you want me to keep confidential. I will be praying for you every day, so I would love to be able to pray specifically!” 

Of course, texting is fine as well.  Some (especially younger) women will only communicate through text and others love a phone call. Take good notes as they share with you so that you can communicate those requests accurately to the group as well as pray effectively. 

When a group member misses a week, be sure and contact her as soon as possible to establish that the group missed her and isn’t the same without her. 

Prayer Requests

         Prayer requests are a wonderful way to get to know and to support other women in our church and community.  Yet, we all know what it is like when the prayer requests themselves take all the time in a group.  This is why contacting the women for their requests each week before the group meets is imperative. Do not allow prayer requests to be expressed during your discussion time. Communicate to your women that the prayer requests should be for them personallyThis means it must be a prayer request for them as an individual – not for their neighbor or even for their child. If they have a situation, encourage them to ask for prayer that helps their response to the situation. For example, if group member Betty has a neighbor with cancer, the prayer request would be: Please pray for Beth as she seeks to minister the love of Christ to her neighbor Sarah who was recently diagnosed with cancer.

Emphasize the confidentiality you will keep if asked and advise your group members of their responsibility to keep all prayer requests confidential. Distribute the prayer requests for the women by passing them out or sending over email each week. This will help your group bond quickly. The thoughtful members of your group will begin to ask one another about ongoing requests. This quickly deepens friendships and creates connection. The group bonding over answered prayers as well as a mutual desire to grow in Christ will encourage them to dig in the Scripture more carefully and to share more readily and genuinely with the group.  

Your personal daily prayers will grow your love for your group and will enable you to lead them with joy. Daily prayers for your group members are not only a commitment you have made, but a privilege!  When you pray, you are acknowledging to God and others that He is sovereign. He is the one who supplies every need, and he is the one “who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philip. 2: 13). Pray for the Holy Spirit to draw near to them as they study his word, for them to feel his presence, for their commitment to the group, for intimate sharing, and for equal participation among members. 

Shepherding

         One of your most cherished roles as a leader will be in shepherding. This is just another word for encouraging and discipling. Jesus is our Good Shepherd, the Lamb of God, who gave himself up for his sheep. Ultimately, he is the women’s shepherd.  His promise is to search for his sheep, bring back the strays, bind up the injured, and strengthen the weak (Ezekiel 34:15-16). And of course, the elders are the women’s authority as shepherds. God will use the elders of the local church to fulfill these promises to his people.  

As the women study the Bible and share their lives, you are called to come alongside and support the elders in their shepherding. As female leaders, we have a unique perspective on the struggles women go through and so part of our support of the elders is to guide the women as they seek to grow in the Lord. As you pray daily for the women in your group, God will give you love and compassion for them.  When they realize you are faithfully praying for them and you are genuinely interested in helping them grow in God, they will bring you into their heartaches and victories. 

Colossians 1:28-29 gives us insight into what God is calling us to as leaders. “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”  Paul is telling us that he works very hard, he toils and struggles for the people he leads. Shepherding is not easy and will require energy on your part.  But the beautiful promise also in this verse is that it is with Christ’s energy we are given! We aren’t left on our own to muster up strength for the work God has called us to – he will powerfully work in us. Knowing and ministering out of this will combat sinful ways that we will be tempted to feel. We will be tempted by both fear and pride.[1] We fear that what we are doing is futile, or that it will actually be detrimental rather than encouraging.  We are tempted by pride when our ministry bears fruit.  Remembering that it is only through Christ’s powerful energy that we minister will demolish our pride. It is an amazing privilege to be a part of someone’s walk with God! 


[1] Mark Dever, Discipling (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 30-31.