Prime Time with God
As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the Lord spoke with Moses. Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to their tent. The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. (emphasis mine) (Ex 33:9-11 NIV)
I would like to speak to something in this article which I believe to be relevant to the majority of believers who are sincerely following Christ and desiring to please him in all their ways. It has to do with our prayer life but more specifically with the degree of intimacy that we are bringing into this particular and essential aspect of our relationship with the Lord.
Getting into this discussion I want to issue a caveat right from the onset. I am going to be addressing our alone time with the Lord specifically here. However, the biblical ideal in our relationship with the Lord is that we would develop the ability to practice his presence in, with and through us cognitively and sensorially at all times and in an uninterrupted manner. You may have read something of the experience of Nicholas Herman, an uneducated former soldier and later servant, who entered a Carmelite community where he lived out his days serving in the kitchen. In his devotion to the Lord, he developed the ability to maintain a sense of the presence of God regardless of whatever activity demanded his attention. You may remember him as Brother Lawrence (1611-1691) whose teachings are preserved in a work called Practicing His Presence. I encourage your consideration of this fine book.
That being said, and knowing that we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and therefore never apart from the Lord, it is still essential that we develop what I would call unperturbed and unencumbered one-on-one time with God. Prime time. By emphasizing this aspect of our relationship with the Lord, I just don’t want to convey under any circumstances that we should forsake the development of the reality of his ever-present place in our lives. It’s kind of like the “building syndrome” where a lot of Christians live as if they only connect with God when they meet with him in a building on Sunday mornings.
The first thing I would like to establish is that Prime Time doesn’t just happen. Quality, substantive and intimate time with God is the result of our intentional, planned and instituted meeting with the Lord. Although there are serendipitous times with God which are truly meaningful and spiritually profitable, we need to purposefully create an environment which ensures our face-to-face time with him. To do this I recommend the following: establish a place, a time and a duration to meet with God regularly. In other words, make this a daily discipline in your life.
Your “place” should be what is particularly appealing and comfortable for you. For me it is a corner desk in our living room which has floor to ceiling windows on one side looking out over a valley, woods and mountains. As I commune with the Lord, I watch the sun rise and gloriously display his awesome creation right before me. At my desk are innumerable study tools should I desire to check a Scripture or research something in the Word the Lord is stressing to me. My time is always first thing after getting up which is normally a little before light. Since I am not punching a clock workwise, my duration is basically open ended. Whatever works for you, just make sure you personalize it to make it the most attractive place you can think of going to in your time with the Lord. I mean a comfortable chair, a cup of coffee, etc. Make this place, time and duration sacrosanct, do everything to ensure you have an uninterrupted experience with God. Please remember that without a specific place to go to at a prescribed time and with a minimal commitment in duration, your chance of staying successful in this discipline is greatly reduced.
In thinking about our Prime Time with the Lord, let’s consider first the fundamental reason we pray. For starters, try this simple exercise. On a piece of paper draw a horizontal 6 inch line labeling one end “intimate” and the other end “remote.” Then consider your relationship with God in terms of these two extremes and plot your position on the line. I think it is important from the onset to have an honest perception of our sense of nearness or remoteness with God. I am going to argue that the primary and most important function of our prayer life is relationship with the Lord. Obviously there are many other reasons we pray, but it is all built on the rock solid foundation of our growing intimacy with our heavenly Father. Another good exercise is to actually analyze what constitutes the content of most of our prayer. It could be that more than anything else, our prayer is asking God for something. This could be to fill some need in our lives or maybe to mediate some situation we are dealing with. Another major subject of prayer is intercession. Many also devote much of their prayer to praise and worship of the Lord.
In considering these reasons for prayer I can’t help but compare it with the beginnings of my relationship with my wife. Thinking back on that, a span of over 56 years now, I realize that our initial times together were always about getting to know one another in an ever increasing measure. It was never about so called external things. We simply were fascinated with one another and connecting on an ever increasing level of intimacy. Now here is a real important key, after all these years together, continually connecting in a deeply personal manner remains uppermost in our relationship. In other words, we never take one another for granted. The feelings, thoughts and concerns of one another is always up front so our relationship remains ever fresh and viable.
Seeking God, knowing God, loving God just for himself is the starting point and the matrix out of which everything else arises in our relationship and walk with the Lord. Establishing this relationship with God as the bedrock reason and foundation for all our prayer is hugely challenging to many sincere believers. For most of us, the culprit behind this challenge is found in the history of our parental relationships growing up. Honest, wholesome relationships come out of having a sense of authentic personhood, a ground of being that is initially conveyed from one’s parents.
Parents stand in the unique and high position of being the first and principal players in their children’s lives who have the responsibility to convey and reflect the awesome nature and character of God to their children. When children are loved and affirmed unconditionally for just who they are, when they are made to feel they are persons in their own right, when they are encouraged to rise up into the fullness of their God ordained potential in Christ, they are released to discover a loving, affirming and forgiving heavenly Father they can trust and follow with all their life.
Because all parents, the initial authority figures in a child’s life, are themselves yet imperfect, because many have been absent or neglectful or even abusive, many children grow up transferring to God the source of their woundedness and are unable to find trust and intimacy with him. In such cases it becomes necessary to build a solid life of spiritual discipline through which one can ultimately break through to the loving embrace of the Lord. Sometimes personal counseling can further this endeavor. Certainly a loving church fellowship sans judgment and criticism and filled with love and acceptance can foster wonderful healing and nurture that conveys wounded persons into the bosom of him who laid down his life for them.
Connecting with the Lord relationally requires coming into his presence in an open, transparent, honest and sharing manner. This is another area of life that many believers find difficult or nearly impossible to fulfill. Ever since Adam and Eve went for the fig leaves, man has been covering up. We live in a world that fosters persons always putting forth what they believe others will most readily accept and admire. Everyone naturally desires love and acceptance in their lives. All advertisement works on this principle basically implying that you are less than you could be without a given product which can bring you greater happiness, satisfaction and success. Just as clothes are designed to make us look better regardless of our size or shape, we have learned to dress up our true nature and character in the hopes we will be more pleasing and acceptable to others.
One of the greatest challenges of the church is to become that spiritual milieu where persons feel safe to be their true selves. If there is any hint of being ridiculed, rejected, shamed, embarrassed or de-personalized in any manner, most persons will respond in a defensive manner seeking to protect their sense of who they really are. When this happens in the body of Christ, it is a shameful stain on the church and brings hurt to the heart of God. I believe this is partly why the Bible cautions us regarding course jesting. Too frequently someone is the butt of what passes for humor and few stop to think about the inner hurt and shame that it causes. I started losing my hair when I was in high school, so by my mid-thirties was obviously well into baldness. I can tell you for a truth that I hated going bald and the careless jokes related to that subject that I was subjected to cut deeply with me. Had I grown up with a better formed ground of being I would have simply passed it off, but at the time this was true in my life, I lacked that level of maturity.
One of the principal biblical mandates for the church is building one another up in Christ. Everything about our interpersonal relationships in the body should redound to calling one another more and more into union with Christ. The biblical concept for this is edification. Our personal goal in this should be that through our interpersonal relationships within the body we should always leave others more encouraged in their personal pursuit and walk with the Lord. If this were being practiced as a general rule within our churches, they would be very attractive places to be. They would be the safest grounds people could find themselves on. When we bring the prejudices and biases of the world into our churches, we are literally destroying one of the highest callings God has given the church. I love Henri Nouwen’s reflection on these thoughts in his following:
“Only in the context of grace can we face our sin; only in the place of healing do we dare to show our wounds; only with a single-minded attention to Christ can we give up our clinging fears and face our own true nature.”
Reading the Psalms, particularly those of David, are especially helpful in encouraging us to come before the Lord with a greater personal integrity revealing our true nature. David had obviously failed in his life in more than one way, but he was also described as “a man after God’s own heart.” In those Psalms attributed to David, we see his heart as he pours out his soul to the Lord. In doing so, he always affirms the true character and nature of God and declares his absolute dependence on him. If we are unable or unwilling to expose before God our fears, anxieties and failures, our disappointments and vexations, our sins of commission and omission, and the deepest feelings of our hearts, we are still choosing the fig leaf option. It is not that the Lord doesn’t already know all these things about us. It is that we are creating obstacles and barriers to building true fellowship and intimacy with God. This is part of the rationale for obeying the injunction of James 5 when it tells us to confess our faults to one another and pray for one another that we may be healed. Some of the greatest healing in this regard is in our relationship with the Lord.
You may have noticed in this article that I have scrupulously avoided giving some kind of structured guideline or methodology for establishing our Prime Time with God. This is indeed intentional since I am not interested in a canned program or possibly slipping into some kind of legalism. I want what you take away from this to be your own creation, your own labor and pursuit of God for yourself. I am only attempting here to provide some helpful road signs along the way that hopefully encourage your personal endeavor.
A biblical marriage is such an awesome portrayal of our relationship with God. Ephesians 5 reflects on this thusly:
For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Eph 5:31,32 KJV
Our marriage is meant to reflect Christ’s relationship with the church. This is another way of conveying the intimacy of our oneness with the Lord. Without question or reservation, my relationship with my wife is never about getting something from her. It is always about the absolute joy of being with her. I would rather be with and spend time with and do things with my wife than any other person on the face of the earth. She is my friend, my buddy, my helper, my confessor, my confidant, my encourager, my lover and the everlasting joy of my life. She walks with me through the trials and tests of life and faithfully calls me ever onward and upward into Christ. Our relationship is built on openness, integrity, faithfulness and love.
God so wants us to bring the essence of all of these qualities into our relationship with him. He wants to fill our lives with the fullness of his life. He wants to express himself through us in ways that leave a deposit of his life with others. Prime time with God is all about intimately knowing him who knew us before the foundations of the world were laid. God wants to speak with us face to face.