Knowledge Versus Intimacy
In Luke 7:36-50 there is the story of Jesus eating at the house of a Pharisee by the name of Simon. Simon knew a lot about Jesus. He would have known much of the Torah. As a young boy growing up, he memorized the books of the Old Testament. He heard hundreds of the prophecies passed down over the years concerning the coming Messiah. He should have had full knowledge of Jesus and His coming. Luke’s story reveals a woman of sinful reputation entering the banquet hall. She stood behind Jesus and began weeping, tears falling on Jesus’ feet. She dried them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with expensive oil. Simon thought this act of worship was improper. Jesus brought light to the situation by pointing out the fact that she did what Simon should have had his servants do since he was the host.
Simon had at his disposal great knowledge of the Scriptures. He knew much about the reality of the Christ coming to earth. The woman had little knowledge of the Torah. She only knew of forgiveness. She understood her sin. Despite his knowledge, Simon did not comprehend his sinfulness. The woman’s awareness of her sin brought her to the place of intimacy with Jesus. The out-pouring of gratitude to Jesus through tears and sacrifice found her in an incredible intimate moment of worship.
We are told to gain knowledge in the Scriptures. However, knowledge is useful only if it draws us to a place of neediness and intimacy. God desires knowledge to bring us to a full understanding of His greatness and our neediness. This sinful woman took her little knowledge of Jesus and fell dependent upon Him.
Like everything else in the American church, we have done well writing books and having seminars and conferences on prayer. We have learned to dissect prayer into sections of worship, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. Prayer has become another good study course. I regularly question my congregation and myself as to whether we need another summer Bible study, another Beth Moore series, or another men’s rally. If the last Bible study did not bring us to intimacy with Jesus, why do we pursue another knowledge-filled study?
There are many definitions and understandings of prayer. A simple definition of prayer for me is brokenness and dependence on Jesus. It is desiring to call on Him with gratitude and desperation without worry of proper words, phrases, or clichés. It is the ingraining of continual, intimate conversations throughout my day, acknowledging my need of Him in every situation. Prayer is a relationship. Thus, we cannot isolate it to just certain times in our day or specific places. As I work, walk through a mall, drive home, or talk with people, in my heart I am saying, “Jesus, I need you.” It is like a child who longs to be with his father. There are no set patterns, just cries of, “Abba Father, I long for your help. I am needy.” It is taking what I know of Him as God and me as a sinner in need and, like the woman in Luke, pouring out my gratitude to Him. They are my words and no one else’s. Thus, there are no wrong prayers or phrases – just intimate expressions to Him from a needy heart.
Again I turn to Paul Miller’s book, A Praying Life, to help illustrate my fumbling thoughts today:
Let’s imagine that you see a prayer therapist to get your prayer life straightened out. The therapist says, “Let’s begin by looking at your relationship with your heavenly Father. God said, ‘I will be a father to you’ (2 Corinthians 6:18). What does that mean to you?”
You reply that it means you have complete access to your heavenly Father through Jesus. You have true intimacy, based not on how good you are but on the goodness of Jesus. Not only that, Jesus is your brother. You are a fellow heir with him.
The therapist smiles and says, “That is right. You’ve done a wonderful job of describing the doctrine of Sonship. Now tell me what it is like for you to be with your Father? What is it like to talk with him?”
You cautiously tell the therapist how difficult it is to be in your Father’s presence, even for a couple of minutes. Your mind wanders. You aren’t sure what to say. You wonder, ‘Does prayer make any difference? Is God even there?’ Then you feel guilty for your doubts and just give up.
Your therapist tells you what you already suspect. “Your relationship with your heavenly Father is dysfunctional. You talk as if you have an intimate relationship, but you don’t. Theoretically, it is close. Practically, it is distant. You need help.”
Prayer is a relationship. It is not based on how many names you know for God. It is based on the intimacy of desperation and dependency. It is the child holding tight to the Father’s hand as he walks. It is the woman from her great sinfulness and forgiveness standing with tears washing the feet of Jesus without words.
I am sure I do not need to read another message on prayer. I am sure my church does not need another series on prayer. We need to take what little we know and speak to our Father because our need drives us to intimacy. Knowledge is good. Intimacy is ultimate.
About Dennis Henderson: Dennis’ background includes over 35 years of pastoral ministry. He currently serves as lead pastor at Sherman Bible Church in Sherman, Texas. Before coming to Sherman, Dennis served at Church on the Hill in San Jose, California, Calvary Community Church in Manteca, California, and Marsh Lane Baptist in Dallas, Texas. He also has 12 years of experience in youth ministry and has taught at three colleges: Dallas Bible College, Liberty University, and Pacific Coast Baptist College. Dennis is the founder of Monday Morning Ministries, and also serves as a Founding Resource Leader for The 6:4 Fellowship.