Do you feel far away from God? Like He is there but inaccessible? In your mind He exists, but He doesn’t really care? You’ve been trying, but failing, and an actual relationship with Him is starting to feel indistinct, inapproachable, and unattainable? Or, at best, like something “everyone else” will always have, but never you?
If so, this is for you.
Remember, we do not gain a relationship with God on the basis of sheer will power alone. We do not and cannot force Him to do anything, nor ourselves for that matter. So, its a good thing will-power, talent, and brute force aren’t required here. All we really have to do is show up like we mean it!
This post is about how to show up…
10 Necessary Habits for Cultivating True Intimacy with God
Notice these are called habits. They are not single, big, heroic feats of strength or intelligence, but rather simple things you implement into your lifestyle one by one until they become second nature. A relationship with God is not a random affair or a singular event, it is a day to day process, made possible and upheld by all the little things.
A Couple Details Before We Dive In
- While these are listed in the order of importance and “practicality of implementation” starting from wherever you are, there is naturally some overlap in the areas you will be focusing on at any one time.
- The first habits never drop off once you get to the once you get to the latter ones, they are simply maintained and built upon. They become the “foundation” for the later ones so it is very important to stay consistent while still approaching the entire process from a place of peace and rest. It is extremely important to seek grace, and breathe and pray your way through it. White knuckling will only cause you more pain.
- Be honest with yourself about where you are. Its ok to be a beginner. Its actually much more effective to admit your reality and start at the beginning then try to pretend you are ready for something you are not. As my friend, Emily P. Freeman says, “Humility looks good on you” 😉
- This is not an exclusive list. You will almost certainly develop many personalized ways of carrying out these habits in your own life that do not appear here. And that’s a GOOD thing.
- Don’t overcomplicate it! Make sure you keep the way you are implementing these habits challenging but still compatible with your state in life. God doesn’t expect you to “change your life for Him” – He expects you to invite Him into your life, so that He can change it.
Necessary Habits for a Life of Intimacy with God
#1 – Be Quiet
WE MUST SEEK SILENCE.
We must not fear the sound of our own hearts or God’s voice. We must learn not to fill our days with pointless chatter, music, entertainment, and bustle.
I spent 2 years back to back diving into this concept of silence and listening, not to mention physically moving our family across the country to build a homestead in rural Vermont to get away from the noise. We simply MUST unchain ourselves from our dependency on electronics and stimuli, and get back to nature, to beauty, to noticing the world around us, to quiet not just in our ears but in our hearts. Quiet not for it’s own sake, not for the sake of emptiness or silence, but for the sake of being able to hear.
When I think of this topic I love Emily P. Freeman’s concept of “creating space for our souls to breathe“. Plus, John Eldredge wrote an entire book on “Getting our Lives Back” (from the noise) – not to mention creating a helpful app.
- 5 Practical Tips for Cultivating a Quiet Heart
- Overcoming the Fear of Silence
- Any of the rest of my series on Quiet and Listening to God
#2 – Practice Humility
In other words be open. Be vulnerable. Be teachable, willing, flexible.
Humility has two primary parts: regarding knowledge and regarding worth.
First, it’s ludicrous to think we know everything, and yet, it STILL seems to manage to be the one thing that keeps us from learning the most. We literally know we don’t know everything and yet we still refuse to accept truth when it is staring us in the face, only because we didn’t already know it! It’s part of the human condition, yes, but that doesn’t make it a good thing.
We must take possible life lessons to prayer and ask God for the necessary clarity to discern the truth.
Secondly, you, my darling, for all your belovedness, are not the center of the universe. My friend once said, “If I’ve learned anything in my life it is this: It’s pretty much, almost always never about you”. Not in love, anyway.
And isn’t love what it’s all about?
We don’t really deserve anything.
You’re just a person. Just like everybody else. And, if everyone is special… well, you know what they say.
But, that’s kind of the point! That’s what makes being beloved so incredible. That’s what makes it overwhelming and life changing. God doesn’t HAVE to love us. He just DOES! It’s what makes this love elicit a response of desire from us. When we think we are deserving, it causes us to respond to the love we receive with entitlement rather than gratitude. Entitlement kills joy. Entitlement destroys intimacy.
Being loved and loving is a completely gratuitous experience that can never be expected or repaid, and the more selfless it is, the more costly it is, the more of yourself that it entails, the greater the proof of the depth of that love.
- Beloved Affirmations
- 2 Prayers to Keep us Humble
- 4 Attitudes Preventing Your Strong Relationship with God
#3 – Be Generous
You don’t “not have time to pray” – Rather, you don’t have time NOT to pray!
Stop counting the costs. Stop worrying if you have what it takes. Stop questioning what He is asking from you. Just do it. Step out of the boat.
The generous want for nothing.
Disclaimer: Remember there is a difference between generosity and mindless wastefulness. All generous actions must be taken very seriously, prayerfully, and intentionally. They must always challenge you to grow in some way, and never be an excuse for bad stewardship of the means He has given you to live your calling.
Err on the side of generosity! – Becky Kiser
“Do not worry about tomorrow…” – Matthew 6:25-34
#4 – Use Wrote Prayers
Yes, PRAY “wrote” prayers (those prayers that have pre-scripted words).
They teach us how to pray.
Lord, teach us to pray. – Luke 11:1
Especially scriptural prayers like the Our Father and the Rosary (GabiAfterHours) are beyond rich in opportunities to go deeper in our understanding of how to pray and the relationship we are to have with God. You do not have to be Catholic to pray these ancient and powerful prayers. (Listen to Emily P. Freeman’s Podcast episode Borrowed Prayers ).
Remember, there was a time when there was no such thing as a division between Catholic and Christian. To be Christian WAS to be Catholic. There is no reason whatsoever to think that the prayers that sustained the Church for over 1500 years, all of a sudden need to be reinvented. If we don’t need to reinvent the wheel, why should we reinvent prayer?
Have you listened to all the Christians raving about how powerful it is to pray the name of Jesus? Savoring all His attributes, His titles, and His facets. Well, my friends, Congratulations! You have rediscovered litanies. Aren’t they incredible?! Yes! That’s why they’ve already been around for centuries upon centuries.
Lectio Divina – It’s just a prayerful way of reading scripture slowly and savoring the verses so that we can glean more from them.
The Sign of the Cross – It’s just a remembrance of the Passion which frames every thought, every action, and every prayer in the name of God. It is a statement of faith and trust accompanied by surrender to the divine plan. Um, isn’t that pretty much the entire goal of the Christian life summarized in only 15 words and a simple gesture? How could it get more fundamental than that?
We must not bury the beauty and the power of ancient prayers that sustained the early Church through persecution upon persecution under a baseless prejudice against the Faith that was the foundation them all.
- Using the Our Father to learn How to Pray and What to Pray for
- What your Prayer Postures say about your Prayer Life
#5 – Pray Spontaneously
Sporadic ejaculations of prayer based on your everyday moments are very healthy and important to a vibrant spiritual life. They remind us always that God is near, that He hears, and that He is part of our day. As you might well imagine, this is one of the most powerful ways to feel intimacy in relationship with Him.
For as critical as wrote, and time tested ritualistic prayers are, exclusive emphasis on formality and structure will kill intimacy and create pharisaical Christians. It is important to keep a healthy balance – formality not to forget who God is and who we are in relation to Him, but intimacy not to forget the closeness He desires to have with us, all questions of “worthiness” aside.
- “Good morning, Jesus.” – Try that one every day for 10 days (minimum) before your feet ever touch the floor and see what happens. (Thanks, Mother Theresa)
- “God, I need you” / “Help!”
- “Oh God, Have mercy on me a sinner” – Luke 18:13
- “Thank you.”
- Simple glances or smiles count here too. “Did you see that?” “You’re funny”. Etc…
Don’t overcomplicate it or overthink it. God is close and and He listens. Express your joy, your pain, your sorrow, your weakness, your fear, exactly how it is in the moment. Never holding back, never trying to be more or less than you are.
#6 – Be Contemplative
This goes along with silence so much, but contemplation is utterly essential to the Christian life.
This sincere and peaceful quietude of the heart, is essential for contemplation, and contemplation is essential to understanding God.
We need to spend time with His Word, just taking it all in. Think about creation. Think about your life. What has He allowed you to experience? How might He enable you to grow from it? We need to think about all of it as we go about our days, asking Him for wisdom and what He would have us learn from whichever particular moment of prayer.
Sometimes we can mull over things for years, and then one day we read something new (or read the same thing differently) and all of a sudden that concept we never thought we would grasp becomes obvious. Like a light switch was flipped inside and there is no going back.
And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her Heart. – Luke 2:19, Luke 2:51
#7 – Pay Attention to Posture
Our exterior is almost always a reflection of the state of our interior.
When we are happy we smile. When we are sad we slump. It is truly human to mirror our mental and emotional states with our physical body. This is beautiful and good.
It also means that it can go the other way around.
It means that if we desire to pray with more alert attention, our physical frame should be strong, attentive, and erect. If we are cozying up at His feet or experiencing some desperation then curling into the fetal position while crying over a journal entry is absolutely appropriate. When we are learning, we should sit attentively, pen in hand, paper at the ready. Hands open, eyes up or closed. No closed arms and closed souls. No sloppy laziness.
Not because God doesn’t “love us as we are” but because we love God, and nobody ever showed love for anyone by being a slovenly ingrate.
#8 – Get Dressed
I watched a video on YouTube several years ago called something like “How to Get Things Done”, or “7 Common Traits of the Most Successful people”… I don’t exactly remember, but the title is irrelevant. The point is, one of the first tips that “made the cut” was, “Put on pants!” I laughed at the time but I’ve never forgotten it.
Put on pants! Real pants, not sweat pants. “Wear the pants!” And, note, this isn’t about actual pants. A skirt or a dress could actually be the “pants” you need. The point is, dress like you mean it, like you have a purpose. Like the God you are pursuing God is real and you plan to be interacting with Him. Choose your clothing intentionally, like are doing something, going somewhere, taking it seriously.
Also, our clothing is our armor. We must put on our armor every day (Ephesians 6:11). Have a little self-respect. We need to think about what our clothes say about us. What do they say about who we are and whose we are? What do they say about what we are trying to accomplish with our lives and who we want to be?
We choose different clothes for different places we go and different people we go with. Why not get intentional about wearing them for what we want to accomplish with our life as well?
Disclaimer: I’m not talking about vanity here. We are talking practical, functional, and purposeful clothing that fits properly and isn’t obnoxiously trying to call attention to itself, thus distracting everything from the purpose at hand.
#9 – Seek Grace
Grace is real and grace is incredible. It is practical and accessible. It is the gift that makes us feel seen and loved by the Creator of the Universe. It is the sweetness that sustains the suffering. The ultimate Christian life is like a dance that is the perfect balance of desiring grace, seeking grace, believing in grace, intentionally tapping into the various sources of grace, and then cooperating with grace.
It is the lifeblood of Christianity. It is what brings faith even in tragedy, joy in darkness, and strength in weakness. It is “pure gift”, and “unmerited favor”, yes, but it is also objective reality. Like oxygen, it may be all around us, but now we must learn to breathe like an athlete.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race – 2 Timothy 4:7
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. – 2 Corinthians 12:9
#10 – Lean In to Suffering
We must learn to distinguish between crosses and consequences. Consequences are obviously simply results of our poor choices, but crosses on the other hand are all “unfair”. They come in the form of uncontrollable circumstances, poor health, other people, and natural disasters. We find ourselves asking ourselves WHY? But, really that’s not the question. The realization we need to make is that suffering is really just an opportunity to love. It is a sign of favor, more of a chance for intimacy than tears. I know this is super hard to swallow and nearly impossible to understand, but that’s why contemplation is so important.
No servant shall be greater than His master. – John 13:16
Can you drink the cup I am to drink? – Matthew 20:22
Sporadic commitment will get you sporadic results. Much like healthy and sustainable weight loss, there is no quick fix, no magic pill. We must treat the underlying causes of the symptoms, surround ourselves with healthy support systems, and retrain our brains to think differently about life. If we want to grow closer to God we may have to prove that we desire Him enough for Him to entrust us with His heart. Is it worth it to you to have skin in the game? To step out of the boat? To let go of that safety net you are holding long enough to see if He will catch you?
How badly do you want this intimacy with Him?
You must keep on staying faithful until you stop counting the cost.
That’s when you can be rewarded. That’s when love becomes free, not demanded. If we are asking for help or answers we do not get to determine what those answers will be. Why bother asking if there is no freedom of response? We must wait until we are fully surrendered to letting God be God before He will deign to show us His face.
You have proved me and you know me. – Psalm 139:1
One last thing…
I mentioned my friend Emily P. Freeman several times in this article. It just so happened that she has lots of beautiful things to say about relevant topics. Please do not think that just because she is my friend or just because I reference some pieces of her work, that necessarily everything she has ever thought, done, or said is perfect just because she is famous. She is still human, just like the rest of us. Any of her words, as well as mine and EVERYTHING else you read on the internet should be taken with a grain of salt and prayerfully considered in correlation with Scripture before adopting it for yourself as gospel.
Seek truth over popularity, my friend. Always.