Intimacy with Christ: beyond information and involvement

Most churches are great at sharing information about Christ and many are good at providing opportunities for involvement for Christ. But according to Willow Creek Association network of thousands of churches, “63 percent of the most active and committed church members are so discouraged with church and its ability to support their faith that they are considering leaving the church.” I believe what’s missing is intimacy with Christ.

Intimacy with Christ: Classic Devotions by Brother Lawrence, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, and More looks at seven disciplines that help believers develop a deeper relationship with him:

    Community
    Discipline
    Obedience
    Solitude
    Meditation
    Servanthood
    Suffering

Here’s the Preface:

Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
Ephesians 3:17-19


Most churches do very well in sharing information and fairly well in providing opportunities for involvement. However, according to Willow Creek Association network of thousands of churches, “63 percent of the most active and committed church members are so discouraged with church and its ability to support their faith that they are considering leaving the church.”

I believe what’s missing is intimacy with Christ.

Jesus reveals the purpose of the church in his last earthly prayer:

    “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me” (John 17:21).

As a Pharisee, the apostle Paul excelled in information. Jewish children—both boys and girls—began the study of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, at age five. At ten, they were expected to master the Mishnah, the interpretations of the Torah, and at fifteen to be able to make Rabbinic interpretations of the Law. The brightest students went on to Beth Midrash, “graduate school,” under the instruction of the best rabbis. Paul boasts that he studied under Gamalia, one of the most honored rabbis of the time.

Memorization was an important part of education, so like most high-ranking Pharisees, Paul probably had memorized all five books of the Law. That’s a lot of information.

And as far as involvement in religious activity, Pharisees fasted two days a week, tithed not only money, but produce down to the last mint leaf, and kept 613 laws of the Torah, but also hundreds of so-called “fence laws” which were designed to prevent the devoted from trespassing the laws of Moses.

So, as far as information and involvement, Paul could proclaim:

    If others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more!
    I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault (Philippians 3:4b-6).

But the apostle continues:

    I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith (Philippians 3:7-9).

Without intimacy with Christ, all the information and involvement for him may result in our hearing, “I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws” (Matthew 7:23).

During the Middle Ages, a group of Christians desired to know Christ and his presence in all areas of life. Like many churches today, information and involvement were the main emphases of the Church of the time—with little intimacy. Rote memorization of the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostle’s Creed often took the place of a living relationship with Christ.

In a previous book, I introduced readers to the writing of Thomas à Kempis and his classic book, The Imitation of Christ. This collection of devotionals follows the same format with excerpts from some of the most popular writers of that time—who are still revered today by Protestants and Catholics alike. Let me introduce you to these classic devotional writers who were passionate about experiencing intimacy with Christ.

Anonymous (Late fourteenth century)
This unknown writer ironically wrote The Cloud of Unknowing. The title derives from the belief that God is beyond human knowledge and wisdom. From internal evidence, it appears he was an English monk devoted to a cloistered, contemplative life. He is also credited for writing three lesser known works including An Epistle on Prayer.

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)
Bernard founded and oversaw over one hundred and sixty Cistercian monasteries, which emphasized manual labor and self-sufficiency by supporting themselves through agriculture and other businesses. Education and academic pursuits were also emphasized, but primarily lectio divina. This method of praying while contemplating the Word did not treat Scripture as a mere book to be studied but as the “Living Word” intended to transform the reader’s life. This inspired On Loving God, his most popular work.

Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)
Catherine served as a lay member of the Dominican Order and was recognized as a great influence in Italian literature. She and Teresa of Avila were the first women declared a Doctor of the Church, a title recognizing one for making a significant contribution to theology or doctrine through their research, study, or writing. Her most popular work is The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena.

Francis of Sales (1567-1622)
The Bishop of Geneva was honored as a Doctor of the Church for his deep faith and writings on spiritual formation. His motto was, “The one who preaches in love, preaches effectively.” His Introduction to the Devout Life and Treatise on the Love of God rather than being addressed to the clergy—as were most books at the time—were specifically written for laypersons. In his books, he stressed the spiritual reality of a life lived for God.

Francis of Assisi (1181-1226)
Francis was an Italian friar and ordained deacon, as opposed to a monk. Friars took the same vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience as monks, but served outside of a sequestered monastery. He believed that nature was a reflection of God and called all creatures his “brothers and sisters.” His poetry is considered some of finest by secular literary critics. (Unfortunately, the most famous poem attributed to him, “Make Me an Instrument of Thy Peace,” was actually written in 1912.) His works were collected in The Writings of St. Francis of Assisi.

Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon (1648-1717)
At a young age, Madame Guyon was forced into an arranged marriage to a wealthy thirty-eight-year old. Despite the unhappy marriage, the death of two children, and being imprisoned from 1695 to 1703 for her beliefs, she firmly believed in God’s perfect plan and that she would be blessed in her suffering. Her works, A Short and Easy Method of Prayerand Spiritual Torrents, became popular among Protestants in her native France, as well as Italy and Spain and now worldwide.

Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556)
Ignatius began his career as a Spanish knight, but underwent a spiritual transformation while recovering from serious battle injuries. He abandoned his military career and devoted himself to serving God, studying theology and gaining much from the writings of Francis of Assisi and Thomas à Kempis. In 1539, he founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). His most famous writing, Spiritual Exercises, was written as a group study for finding God’s will in one’s life and discerning between good and evil desires.

John of the Cross (1542-1591)
The Spanish friar and priest is best known for his poetry, which is revered both in the Church and secular literature. John was encouraged by Teresa of Avila to join her reformation of the Carmelite order in returning it to its strict origins. John was accused of disobedience and sentenced to prison in a monastery where he endured a diet of bread, water, and fish scraps as well as weekly public lashings. While imprisoned, he wrote some of his best-known poetry on paper spirited to him by a guard. After nine months, he escaped and went on to be revered for his books, Ascent of Mount Carmel and The Dark Night of the Soul. He was later honored as a Doctor of the Church.

Julian of Norwich (1341-1416)
We get this unknown woman’s name from her life lived in self-imposed isolation in a tiny room attached to the wall of the Church of St. Julian in Norwich. She was viewed as a spiritual authority, serving as a counselor and advisor, and is now revered by the Anglican and Lutheran churches. Her Revelations of Divine Love is believed to be the first book in the English language written by a woman.

Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471)
Thomas Haemmerlein served as a canon regular. Unlike a monk, who limited his ministry within the walls of a monastery, this title describes a religious cleric who lived in community and served in local congregations. He spent his time writing biographies of members of his order as well as copying the Bible by hand at least four times. He also was in charge of instructing young members of his order. In that capacity, he wrote four devotional booklets, which were later combined into one of the world’s best-selling books: The Imitation of Christ.

Brother Lawrence (1614-1691)
Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection served as a lay brother in a Paris Carmelite monastery cooking and scrubbing pots and pans. He famously wrote, “For me, the time of business is no different from the time of prayer. In the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several people are calling for different things at the same time, I experience God in as great tranquility as if I were on my knees in Holy Communion.” His book, The Practice of the Presence of God, was compiled after his death and is revered by Catholics and Protestants alike, including John Wesley and A. W. Tozer.

Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)
Along with St. John of the Cross, Teresa founded the Discalced (Barefoot) Carmelite order that stressed modeling the life of Jesus by not owning property, but holding everything in common with other members. Rather than living in isolation, they stressed praying together and working in public ministry. She is considered an important part of Spanish Renaissance literature with her autobiography, The Life of Teresa of Jesus, and her most-famous and revered work The Interior Castle.

The chosen passages are what C. S. Lewis would classify as “mere Christianity” that will be helpful for Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant believers alike. I’ve carefully updated these authors’ works with modern and inclusive language that remains faithful to the original message. Special thanks to my friend and Catholic lay theologian, Michael Fraley, who compared this Protestant’s modernization with the traditional English translations and made valuable suggestions to assure accuracy. I have also included biblical passages that introduce and reinforce the theme of each devotional. Passages taken directly from Scripture have also been attributed.

Most of the works included can be found in early English translations online at the Christian Classic Ethereal Library (http://www.ccel.org).

And so, for this generation, I humbly offer the life-changing messages of these devoted believers who desired to experience true Intimacy with Christ./B>

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jameswatkins

Author and speaker

2 thoughts on “Intimacy with Christ: beyond information and involvement

  • October 15, 2021 at 3:41 pm
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    I’m reading Intimacy with Christ and appreciate getting a glimpse into these classics. Thanks for organizing them into an orderly fashion for our pleasure. Today’s selection from John of the Cross suited a situation I’m dealing with, “Giving Up Our Own Way,” for I want to be a selfless follower of Christ.

    Reply
    • October 15, 2021 at 3:58 pm
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      Thanks, Ann! I love, love, love the early devotional writers–especially St. John of the Cross. So glad it met your need!

      Reply

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