Some books you read primarily for pleasure, others for information, others for penetrating insights on deep subjects, and still others for inspiration. This is one of those books in the latter category. It’s one that will inspire you because you’ll get a glimpse into the heart of a man who is totally obsessed with knowing God. Passion for God is written all over this book!
Therefore, it gives me tremendous joy today to introduce you to this book written by my friend and mentor, Dr. Benjamin A. Sawatsky, retired Executive Director of the EFCA International Mission, now known as ReachGlobal. It was a unique privilege for me to serve as an administrator in the mission under Ben’s leadership for all of his twelve years as our senior leader. I learned so much from him – both from his teaching and his life! Ben is a man who truly models the hunger for intimacy with God that he writes so passionately about in this book.
This 220-page work includes three sections: Section I – nine chapters on intimacy with God and the Holy Spirit, Section II – ten personal prayers on intimacy with God, and Section III – 21 various topical essays related to the subject of intimacy with God. If you need one chapter to whet your appetite for this book, you might want to start with “Intimacy with God and Our ‘First Love’” on pages 126-131. It’s based on Jesus’ letter to the Ephesian church in Revelation 2:1-7.
To understand the context for this book, I’d like to quote from the preface. In December of 1997, Ben’s vacation was interrupted by a very serious challenge to our Moscow-based workers, so he made an emergency trip to Moscow with one of the board members, Pastor Noah Palmer. While there he had a moving experience that forever changed his life:
“In the middle of one of the five nights in Moscow, I was awakened by what seemed like a voice asking simply, ‘Will you walk more closely with Me?’ I answered in the affirmative and immediately fell back into a deep sleep. Awhile later I heard the same ‘voice’ asking the same question, ‘Will you walk more closely with Me?’
“This repeat of the same question awakened me completely. In my heart I knew that this was the Holy Spirit nudging me toward a closer walk with God. I was not afraid or curious, but neither did I know where this intensified pursuit of intimacy with God would take me.
“Once back in Minneapolis, I cleared my desk and computer of a sizeable list of important matters needing my attention. Muriel flew to San Diego ahead of me to prepare for Christmas celebrations with our daughter, Kimberly. I intended to take with me a book on the history of Uzbekistan to read over the holidays. I could not find it, but instead my eyes fell on J. Oswald Sanders’s book entitled Enjoying Intimacy with God.
“Over the following weeks I noticed with delight a growing hunger for time alone in the presence of God – more time in the Scriptures and more time in prayer. The Holy Spirit was helping me to make good my commitment a few weeks earlier in Moscow.
“For a period of over twelve years leading the Mission, I wrote a monthly four-page memo to the family of missionaries of the Evangelical Free Church of America International Mission. In January 1998, I began to write the earliest essays on intimacy with God – only a month after my Moscow trip. I felt compelled to share thoughts on intimacy with God with the members of our growing staff of international workers. Most of the essays noted in the table of contents (of this book) reflect an edited version of essays on this topic.
“Now in retirement, I can see the fruit of the Moscow encounter with my Lord. It wasn’t long before I perceived a subtle but clear shift in my leadership focus. I was at the halfway point in my twelve years as executive director of the Mission. I see the first six years as focused on strategic planning and vision casting. These two emphases were both enjoyable and essential, but the Holy Spirit’s promptings in Moscow underscored the need for greater balance in my kingdom leadership. If the operative word the first six years was strategic, it shifted more to the relational during the final six years – my relationship with my sovereign Lord and with my fellow kingdom workers. I embraced the truth that what my fellow missionaries needed most from me was a personal intimate walk with God. … “
Though some of what Ben has written in the preface may sound rather mystical to the reader who doesn’t know him personally, I can attest that Ben’s theology and his life are both rooted soundly in the revealed truth of God’s Holy Word. You will see that as soon as you begin to read this book. In fact, this work is really a practical study of the biblical doctrine of sanctification.
One of the powerful themes that appears over and over again in this book is the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification. One thing that Ben stresses more than some Bible teachers is the leading or nudging of the Holy Spirit. He comes back to this theme many times. For example, he writes, “At the most common and frequent level, there are multiple daily promptings, nudgings, impressions, and visualizations. I have come to recognize these as the work of my Divine Instructor, my Tutor who has taken up permanent residence in me. It has been my goal to cultivate immediate recognition of the Holy Spirit’s nudging and promptings.” (I don’t know about you, but this is area in which I still need much growth!)
Reading Intimacy with God touched me in many ways, but I think Ben’s heartfelt prayers scattered throughout the book touched me most of all. They’re passionate, biblical, eloquent, yet simple. Perhaps one reason they struck me is because this is the area in my Christian life in which I want to mature. As Ben wrote, “Who among us has not lamented weakness in prayer; struggled with wandering thoughts; felt smitten with guilt over an erratic prayer life; or like Peter, James, and John in the Garden of Gethsemane, succumbed to drowsiness? It may be true after all that prayer is the final discipline for the mature Christian to learn.”
Let me close with a sample of two types of prayers in the book. First of all, there are what Ben terms “sentence prayers” that the Holy Spirit writes “on the wall of my heart.” For example, often before preaching Ben prays: “My Lord, as I preach the Word, grant me joy, liberty, passion, power, a conscious sense of your presence and fruit that will last.”
Secondly, there are those longer prayers inspired by his Bible reading, prayers that Ben writes in his wide margin Bible during his quiet times. For example, a prayer prompted by Mark 12:30 on loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength: “Almighty God, loving heavenly Father, You are the Creator of the universe with its billions of galaxies. You are infinitely good and great; I am utterly sinful and small. I marvel that you ask me to love you, that You have made loving You the greatest of all commandments. The amount of love that flows from one so small to one so great is a trickle. How could You notice my tiny drop of love in the vast ocean of Your own compassion? Even if I loved you supremely with my entire being, my capacity to love You is microscopic. I do long to love You with the core of my affections, with each of my emotions, with all my intellectual powers, and with every ounce of my physical strength. … .“
One more prayer that you MUST read and pray is “A Prayer about the Pharisee in Me” on pages 113-114. It’s based on Matthew 6:1. If you’re like me, it will convict you to the core of your being.
How should we read Intimacy with God: Drawing Ever Closer to the Almighty? Personally I’d suggest we read it slowly, meditatively, prayerfully, and maybe more than once as I did. As Jenni Key penned in her Foreword, this book could be read as one man’s search for intimacy with God, and that would certainly make for an inspiring read. However, it would be much better to read it “with an open heart, asking the Holy Spirit to interpret each principle, make each Scripture personal, to allow Him with all humility and openness to have free rein.”