Over the last few weeks I've tried to discover that place where belief in God turns to intimacy with God. Just because you believe in God, doesn't mean you maintain an intimate relationship him. Look at the earthly relationship of marriage. Exchanging vows and saying I love you signifies only the beginning of a long journey where intimacy is not achieved as much as it is deepened over time.
Some think intimacy is itself a goal, a relational destination, something we achieve. But this is where I think so many get it wrong.
Intimacy is the journey. We grow in intimacy daily if we remain in pursuit of our beloved.
If we look at the relationship of marriage as an analogy for our relationship with God, I think we can determine the things that either help us or hinder us in our journey of relational intimacy. Today, I want to begin a series of posts that look at three aspects of spiritual intimacy that have invigorated my own journey towards spiritual deepening.
This is a sticky one in this age of the icon--images and videos and music flood into our lives. And though I am no moralist in the sense of "legalism" I am a moralist in the sense that our desires in this world matter in that we should seek that they adhere more and more to God's desires for us.
It's important to consider how we each define "pleasure" in our lives. Is pleasure something we seek as an end? Or do we view pleasure as something that can be life-giving, expanding our world, inciting us to give praise for the beauty, wonder and glory found in daily pleasures?
Rather than operating as passive curators in the pop culture world, I think it wise to consider the words of Paul:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (4:8)
What a beautiful verse. We find Paul encouraging the Christians at Philippi and us as well. He gives us the gift of a measuring stick; a beginning framework for the things we should allow into our eyes and down into our hearts.
Each of my girls watch: they watch me and my wife, they watch movies and television. And it matters. It matters because the colors and sounds seep in their brains and into their hearts, affecting their souls. We are soul shapers, you and I. Shaping ourselves, and those under our care.
The great theologian J.I. Packer reminds us in Knowing God that we were made to run on soulish things, like worship and forgiveness, thanksgiving and praise. C.S. Lewis says that we lose our humanity when we lose our thirst for the "other," that "other" being a thirst for God.
What is it that removes that thirst from our lives? The unsoulish. The impure.
"Oh be careful little eyes what you see."
I was just explaining to my oldest daughter this weekend about the importance of making sure we constantly seek the beautiful things in this world--those things we allow into our eyes will ultimately affect our hearts, and the way we talk to one another, and even what we value.
Don't I know it! How different I respond to life situations when I drench myself in the Word. How content I am when I climb into God each day. How ugly I become when I saturate my soul with the muck of the world.
I was watching the first season of House of Cards last summer. A few people told me how well done it was (read: excellent, the new/old Christian buzz word), the great acting, the intense story and smart political commentary. But the show itself falls grossly short of Paul's beautiful reminder: whatever is honorable, just, pure, noble and excellent.
Some may argue for the "excellence" of the show (which is popular these days in the Christian world where "redeeming culture" seems to be the battle cry), but Paul is talking about a kind of moral excellence (arete - "moral excellence"), what the Greeks and Romans called virtue.
Paul's list was not meant to be exhaustive. It was actually quite popular for Roman, Greek, and Jewish writers to give such lists. It was meant to give us a guide, something for us to consider and apply with our wisdom and discernment.
Our goal, then, should be to live a virtuous life of moral purity.
We don't like to talk about censoring our entertainment, or employing moral taboos. But maybe we should discuss it more. I find when I prize virtue in my life, and pursue moral excellence, then the spiritual intimacy quotient spikes. The soulish part of me ignites and I hear God more clearly.
But it's not like he's talking any louder. I simply turned my "self" down. And when I can find the humility it takes to shut up, then I find myself overwhelmed in the hurricane of God's love.
Timothy Willard is the author of five books, including Longing For More: Daily Reflections on Finding God in the Rhythms of Life and the forthcoming The Life-Giving Adventure of Chasing Beauty (Eerdmans, 2019). He has collaborated on over 20 books and has written, consulted and served as spiritual director for organizations such as Chick-fil-A, Catalyst, Q Ideas and Praxis Labs. When he’s not riding the trails in the Appalachian mountains you can find him by the fire with his three daughters and his wife making up stories about Tom the back yard badger. He lives somewhere in the south Charlotte woods.