Editor’s Note: Today’s blog entry is the third of four posts that digs into the concept of “knowing God.” Each post explores a theme from the biblical text that helps to explain what it means to know God and how that theme impacts the journey of following Jesus today. Here is part 1. Here is part 2. (Here is part 4.)

When I was in college, I learned about three levels of relationship. A mentor said an “acquaintance” is someone you’ve met but don’t know well, a “buddy” is someone you like to hang out with, and a “friend” is someone you are really close to. You share your life with them, and they share theirs. Then, he said something that surprised me. Most of the people in your life are either acquaintances or buddies. You’re blessed if you have even two or three true friends your whole life. You’re lucky if you have as many as five. That teaching gave me a ton of perspective on friendships.

Which of these categories describes your relationship with God? Is Jesus an acquaintance you’ve met, know a little about, but rarely talk to? Is He a buddy you enjoy spending time with? Or is He a friend you open the deepest areas of your heart to?

Intimacy is another powerful theme that arises from the biblical concept of “knowing God.”

To really know God is to experience deep intimacy with Him through His Spirit—the same Spirit who came into your heart when you believed in Christ and the same Spirit who knows your deepest longings and prays for you when you can’t pray for yourself. This biblical vision of walking with God is not that He is a divine acquaintance but an Intimate Lover. Knowing God is about union, security, and transparency.

Does this feel strange to you? I wonder sometimes if we tend to overlook one of the most important images God gave in Scripture to reveal Himself. Marriage. God presents Himself as a Husband who deeply loves His bride and longs for her to love Him in return.

“Therefore, behold, I [God] will allure her [Israel], and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her…And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband’, and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’…I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord” (Hosea 2:14, 16, 19-20 ESV, emphasis added).

This is a powerful image, if we’ll let it sink into our hearts. God used the single most intimate human relationship to reveal how He wants us to relate to Him. We are married to God, and in Christ, we are invited to pursue a relationship with Him that is just as intimate as marriage—perhaps even more intimate. This is good news, especially if your marriage has been painful or if marriage is not an option for you right now. We can know God and be known by Him completely, perfectly, and unconditionally (that’s way better than any human relationship). We can come to God with all our wounds, struggles, and doubts. God doesn’t see us through the things we do, or in the ways we struggle or have failed. He sees us in Christ and in the New Covenant. When He thinks of you, His heart “yearns” for you with “great compassion” (Jeremiah 31:20).

For many of us, this is a massive change in our view of God. We need this.

How do you foster a relationship with Christ that you would describe as “intimate”?

Years ago, I ran into a quote from a French priest in the 1600s, Francois Fenelon, who described how we can seek intimacy with God. I think he pretty much captures it.

“Tell God all that is in your heart, as one unloads one’s heart, its pleasures, and its pains, to a dear friend. Tell him your troubles, that he may comfort you; tell him your joys, that he may sober them; tell him your longings, that he may purify them; tell him your dislikes, that he may help you to conquer them; talk to him of your temptations, that he may shield you from them; show him the wounds of your heart, that he may heal them; lay bare your indifference to good, your depraved tastes for evil, your instability. Tell him how self-love makes you unjust to others, how vanity tempts you to be insincere, how pride disguises you to yourself and others.

If you thus pour out your weaknesses, needs, troubles, there will be no lack of what to say. You will never exhaust the subject. It is continually being renewed. People who have no secrets from each other never want for subject of conversation. They do not weigh their words, for there is nothing to be held back, neither do they seek for something to say. They talk out of the abundance of their heart, without consideration they say just what they think. Blessed are they who attain to such familiar, unreserved intercourse with God.” —Francois Fenelon (1651-1715)[1]

Can you picture relating to God in this way? Read it again and think about each concern, struggle, and area of your heart that Fenelon encourages us to explore with God. Imagine doing that not in fear of how God will respond, but in total confidence that He loves you and is with you. Imagine setting aside your accomplishments for God and getting real about your wounds, desires, frustrations, and dreams. Imagine replacing your “reverent” prayers with what’s really on your mind. Then, imagine listening and letting God speak into those struggles and joys to bring deep transformation.

I believe this how intimacy with God is developed: ongoing, regular, honest time with God, sharing your heart and listening to His heart in return. It’s even more powerful when you can do it with a few trusted friends who help you discern what God is doing in your life and speak words of truth and love when you need it.

As we walk in this intimacy, we will never be the same.

[1] Swindoll, Charles R. The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart. (Word Publishing: 1998), p. 309.