Marriage is a revelation; or, better said, a series of revelations. And a Christ-Follower, whether married or single, is greatly helped when he or she discovers how much our spiritual union with Christ is like a great marriage. As a matter of fact, Paul the apostle encouraged his readers to make the connection and to ponder it when he said that the "object lesson" of marriage is "a profound mystery (Eph. 5:32a)." Let's consider the mystery a bit.
When love captures two hearts they both find out soon that there is much to discover. Usually the relationship begins with the first date or two. The revelations begin immediately; the intensities and time-tables of disclosure vary depending upon the couple.
There is a revelation of common ground.
A revelation of irresistible interests.
Then, things start to get thicker.
A revelation of two paths that could become one.
A revelation of shared hopes and aspirations.
Then, after the wedding, comes the wedding night.
A revelation of intimacy, physical and emotional.
A bed to share; a soul to embrace.
Then, forging a new life together.
A revelation of each other's strengths, weaknesses and struggles.
All in all, a good marriage occurs when a man and a woman learn how to bare their souls to one another. The union is strengthened when they are able to become melded together into a commitment of ideals shared amidst a challenging world of realities. When that happens, intimacy occurs. In like manner, a relationship with God is built upon this process of revelation.
From the time of Abraham on, God has been revealing more and more of himself to those who love him enough to call upon his name and to seek his face. When Moses first inquired of the Lord's nature at the burning bush, he discovered God as the "I am." In a sense, that said it all. In another sense, the sentence was incomplete. The self-existent and self-sufficient nature of God disclosed to one of his followers that day was just the start to a sentence which God has been completing in the lives of true seekers ever since.
In a religiously pluralistic society such as ours, it is easy to become confused over the way in which we should or should not approach God. Should we crawl to him on our knees with fear and trembling? Or should we pull up a chair, a nice devotional book and a warm cup of coffee? Does God desire blind oblations from us or a heartfelt conversation with us? Is it fear he wants or love? Are we to hide our faces in his presence or spill our guts? Is it reverence or a relationship he is after? Awe or affection?
Clearly the picture of our approach to God in the Old Testament is quite different from the new. Even the words for worship carry a quantum difference. The Old Testament word, shachah, means "to bow down and worship with awe and reverence; to fall prostrate in the presence of the Lord." The sense is one of great awe and reverence. However, the New Testament word, proskuneo, is much more intimate. It literally means "to kiss towards." The people of God in the Old Testament saw themselves as the "servants" of God. As we have observed, one of the changes Jesus brought about was the actual identity of his followers, choosing to refer to them no longer as "servants" but as "friends."
"I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you." (John 15:15 NIV)
Without surrendering the importance of the awesomeness of God and the need we have to reverence him in our lives, Jesus calls us to come closer. While the Old Testament concept of God served as a bit of a line drawing; the New Testament teachings of Jesus added color, description and depth. Jesus calls us out of the formality of mere servanthood and into the intimacy of friendship with him. And yet, how does a man or woman propose to be a friend of Jesus Christ? How is such a friendship strengthened and maintained? Again we must return to the image of marriage and the process by which intimacy is built in that sacred bond; we must revisit Paul's "mystery", his invitation to discover something more.
First of all, intimacy is maintained in a marriage by one thing -- responsiveness. In a good marriage, when we recognize needs in our spouse's life or soul, we respond. When we detect concerns or struggles, we engage them. And even when we recognize dreams and desires brewing within our spouse's soul, we respond to them. This response forms the caring give and take within a marriage that somehow powerfully translates into intimacy, into a sense of closeness and connectedness. Relationships are built upon responsiveness to one another.
When a marriage partner ceases to respond to the apparent needs and desires of his or her spouse, the marriage begins to shut down. On paper, the covenant still exists; but in experience, it has atrophied. Responsiveness is what makes or breaks the relationship.
So it is in our relationship with Jesus. If we love him, we recognize his desires and we respond in obedience. We recognize his commands, and we respond. We recognize his words and respond.
The Lord, in turn, recognizes our requests in prayer, and He responds. He recognizes our struggles and our desires and by his grace he responds to us...sometimes so specifically. Have you noticed? Somehow the Lord's engagement of our lives via his grace and our engagement of his life via our obedience, cultivate a living relationship between our hearts and the heart of Christ. This is intimacy with God.
He speaks. I obey.
I pray. He answers.
That's the way it works. It is a cycle of response, actions and reactions that cause heaven and earth to touch, to engage, to "kiss towards".
The most important questions may be: Do I count on him? And can he count on me? As Jesus feels the response of our drawing closer to him, he moves in our direction. As we feel the response of his answers to our prayers and his words of direction and comfort, we move in his direction. A spiritual bond is built. Intimacy is created. A covenant is confirmed. The relationship becomes far more than a doctrinal belief; it becomes a living experience and a transforming one at that.
It becomes a match made in heaven.
A love language is learned.
A revelation is experienced.
A friendship is formed.
Intimacy with God happens.
Adapted from Robert Crosby's book, More Than a Savior: When Jesus Calls You Friend (Multnomah Books.)
Follow Robert C. Crosby, D.Min. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rccrosby