In the book of Genesis, way back at the beginning of time and the beginning of the world, God established some basic principles in the universe. One of those principles is the cycle of seedtime and harvest. We call them “seasons”, and it’s not just spring, summer, fall and winter. There are seasons of life, seasons in your career. Churches have seasons, too.
Lincoln Christian Life Center is in a season of planting. Planting the Word of God. Planting our presence in the community. And specific to this series of blog posts are our efforts to plant seeds of friendship and intimacy to grow stronger, healthier relationships.
Whether you think you want “intimacy” or not, you need it. You are uniquely made in all of God’s creation to require intimate connection with God to fulfill your design. That “God shaped hole” inside you? God’s idea. But even more, He made us to fit together with the rest of the God-family like puzzle pieces. Or, as the Bible puts it, we are all parts of one body with Jesus as the Head.
…So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. ~ Romans 12:5
…but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ… ~ Ephesians 4:15
That’s why understanding the mechanics of intimacy is worth our time, and worth a little study. The way God made my brain, I like to boil things down and make them as accurate as possible while simplifying them so I can remember them. The “equation” I’m sharing here isn’t “everything you ever needed to know about intimacy”, but I hope it’s something that will help us in our journey to “grow up” in Jesus together.
Awareness Comes First
Last week I shared how intimacy (knowing and being known) is an exchange of seed (words) that has the potential to bear fruit (good or bad). Understanding what’s happening when we take in ideas and let them take root in our minds and hearts is the first step. You can’t guard against something you don’t know is a problem. You can’t create environments that encourage intimacy if you don’t know what it involves.
Now that you’re aware of the constant exchanges of ideas that are happening in your life (when you watch TV, when you chat with a co-worker in the break room, when you’re with family around the dinner table, when you’re talking in the lobby before church), let’s look at two other things that heavily influence intimacy.
It can be hard to relate to someone who doesn’t seem to have anything in common with you. Have you ever met a stranger, and every topic you introduce you’re met with, “No, I don’t do that,” “I’m not a fan,” “Never been there,” “Haven’t heard of it,” “Not much into that scene”, “Can’t stand it”? There’s not much to build on there.
But there are many situations that provide a chance to know each other because you’re already sharing the experience of the situation:
Standing in line somewhere
Conference or convention
Depending on the amount of time shared or the depth of passion for the shared activity, this can create a wide possible range of intimacy. Shared experience can be used as an opening to share good seed (God’s love, grace, and truth). Shared experience can also open up the risk of getting entangled through exposure to bad seed (immoral suggestions, crude jokes, addiction, bitterness, complaining, harassment, insults).
How much time do you spend in one of these scenarios? Is that time overall positive or negative, based on the seeds that are being planted?
CHALLENGE: Look for ways you can be more intentional about sowing good seed into others. At the same time, watch out for bad seeds that are landing in your heart’s garden. Do a little weeding, if necessary.
When it comes to something like a church Life Group (also sometimes called a ”small group” or “cell group”), it’s an opportunity to share an experience over a period of weeks or months. As we read God’s word and plant that seed together in our hearts, as we discuss how it applies to life and share past experiences, we have a chance to develop strong, healthy relationships. People we only briefly see at church on Sunday morning may become people who will see us through life’s tough times and help us overcome the issues we’ve been struggling with for years.
We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God's Good News but our own lives, too. ~ 1 Thessalonians 2:8
Commitment is motivating. When paired with a shared experience, it multiplies the results. Going to the gym is one thing, but joining a team sport and playing games where your teammates rely on you deepens the relationship a lot. There’s motivation to help each other through rough spots, lend a hand when someone needs a ride or share a babysitter during practices.
In a friendship, you may feel that you can opt out of the relationship when things get tough. You can say, “I don’t want to talk about it”, and move onto another subject. But in a marriage, the shared commitment — to each other, to your children — creates pressure (in a good way, usually) to work things out, to wrestle with the hard questions until you find unity.
In a marriage where both are Christians and both are committed to the relationship, there is a miracle that happens when both people keep their eyes on Jesus and keep trusting God with their hearts and with the other person. Things are still tough sometimes but because you both know that you’re not going to give up and that God isn’t finished yet, you continue to open up to each other and to God, to let the seed planting and pruning and pulling of weeds do what’s necessary to bear fruit.
But this sort of commitment isn’t reserved only for marriages. I’ve had a similar relationship with a woman friend where God said, “Stay committed to this person”, and God told her the same thing. And because God is at the center of that relationship, calling on us both to stick with it, we’ve both grown a lot. I think this is similar to the bond that David and Jonathan had in 1 Samuel 18 before David became King of Israel. Even when Jonathan’s own father King Saul was trying to kill David, they remained friends despite the risk.
Awareness + Shared Experience x Commitment (- Risk) = Environment for Intimacy
Okay, so am I a nerd for coming up with some kind of equation here? To be honest, I originally thought it would be something simple like Shared Experience + Commitment = Intimacy, but the more I’ve explored this topic, the more we’ve discovered about it.
START WITH AWARENESS: Knowing others and being known involves an exchange of thoughts. These thoughts are seeds that will either take root and grow or not, depending on various factors. Awareness of the exchange and recognizing the seeds is the first part of the equation.
ADD SHARED EXPERIENCE: Shared experiences give us common ground with others and tends to open hearts.
MULTIPLY BY COMMITMENT: Commitment multiplies the motivation to invest in each other even when it isn’t easy.
REDUCE RISK: When you are settled in your understanding of your identity in Christ and God’s work in the other person, using discernment to see if they are someone to open up to or not, you reduce the risks of a negative experience.
= GOOD ENVIRONMENT FOR INTIMACY: Now you have a situation where you have the best possible chance for the kind of relationship God designed you to have with another human being. A Godly intimate relationship is one where both your strengths will benefit each other, where you can help each other overcome difficulties and pray for each other’s weaknesses, and where the Spirit of God can flow through each of you to build up the body of Christ.
But more on that next week!