Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Cultivating Intimacy with Christ

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss says everyone who has a relationship with Jesus is tempted to drift away from Him.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: I face every day of my life the danger of neglecting intimacy with Christ. Here’s the thing about intimacy with Christ—it doesn’t just happen. 

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Monday, June 16.

How do you keep your relationship with Christ from becoming dry and predictable? You’ll get insight on that from Nancy as she begins a series called “Potential Pitfalls of Ministry.”

She delivered this message at a Revive Our Hearts conference for women’s ministry leaders. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a leader, I think you’ll get a lot out of today’s message. You have a lot of influence whether you’re officially called a leader or not. You also don’t know what kind of leadership role you may be given in the future. And all of us need to be cultivating intimacy with Christ. Here’s Nancy.

Nancy: Lord, I thank you for grace, and for Your grace to me—for this calling. I’m also so mindful, even as I’ve been working on this message, that a lot of these pitfalls I’ve been in, and some of them, today, I am perilously close to the edge.

So I pray that You’d speak to me, and that You’d speak through me, to these women. I pray that it would be You speaking and that You would just “do business” with our hearts and rescue us where needed; that we might be faithful to You over the long haul.

May the words of my mouth and, even more importantly, the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in Your sight. Lord, I just want to speak for an audience of One here, ultimately. May it be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and our Great Redeemer, amen.

I consider it a great, great privilege to be involved in serving the Lord. Every Christian is supposed to be involved in serving the Lord, but the privilege of being set apart for gospel ministry—ministry into the lives of others.

I was actually saved, at the age of four—it’s my first conscious memory. By the time I was six or seven, maybe eight, I just knew that God had put His hand on my life and set me apart to serve Him in some way. I had no clue what that would look like, what it would mean, whether it would be vocational or not, but I just knew that my life was His and that it was to be made available for His kingdom purposes.

I’ve been blessed all through my high school years. I taught my first Sunday School class at the age of eight (just one Sunday). And from that point on, I’ve loved teaching the Word. I got out of college, and have been in vocational ministry ever since.

I consider ministry, at the heart of it, with all of its challenges—and it does have those—a great privilege. It is a high and holy calling, and I’m not just talking about paid staff positions—I’m talking about the call to serve the Lord by serving others. We’re doing that in a lot of different ways.

So ministry’s a privilege. I also realize, though, that ministry is a heavy and weighty responsibility. The longer I’m in ministry, the more I realize how vulnerable we as leaders are to falling, even while serving, to not finishing well. The older I get, the more I think about finishing well, and the more friends I have who are coming to that stage of finishing well—or not—and I think about these things more now that I’m in my fifties.

I realize that it is only by the grace of a faithful God that we can stay faithful and finish well. There are days when I’m thinking, “O Lord, I just don’t think I can hang on any longer.” Have you been there? You feel like you’re hanging by your toenails. It’s the pace, it’s the schedule, it’s the demands, it’s the people.

I would love ministry if it weren’t for people! There are times when I just wish God would call me to the uninhabited regions of the world, and I think, “I could do a great job there!”

I don’t know if you’ve ever felt that way, but in those challenging times when I’m thinking, I don’t think I can hang on, I’m reminded, it’s not me hanging on to Him that determines whether I end well. It’s the reminder and the assurance that He is hanging on to me. It’s not my faithfulness; it’s His faithfulness that we count on. I need that reminder repeatedly.

I’m so grateful for the example and the encouragement of people I have known who have run the race well and faithfully, all the way to the finish line. One name comes to mind. Most of you have probably heard that Evelyn Christenson went home to be with the Lord.

What a faithful servant of the Lord. I’ve had the privilege of knowing her over the years, of interviewing her. She’s been on Revive Our Hearts, and we talked about aging. I asked her about her walk with God, and ministry, in the later years of life.

She’s been such a prayer warrior and an encouragement to many of us on our journey, and now she’s with the Lord! I just think, Thank you, Lord, for the encouragement of an Evelyn Christenson. And perhaps someone else comes to your mind who has run the race and has finished well.

On the other hand, I’ve also seen some servants of the Lord, at least they started out that way, who ran the race well for a while, but ended up, for some reason, becoming disqualified, getting out of the race. It may have been through discouragement, through exhaustion, through pride, through sin. For some reason, they’re not still running well today.

In many cases, they’re out of the ministry. Sometimes they just keep going and doing things in ministry, but they are not being effective. But in some cases they have actually ended up discrediting Christ and the message that they once loved and served well.

I don’t know about you, but when I see that, it makes me think real hard. It prompts me to just say, “Lord, please, don’t let me ever bring reproach to the Name of Christ. Give me grace to run well and to finish well.”

The problem is, we have an enemy, and he’s active, he’s tireless, he’s relentless, and he’s determined to cause God’s servants to stumble. I think about this, not every day, but I think about it often. I realize that if I renege on my commitment to Christ, if I am not faithful to Him, if I bring reproach on His Name, it’s not just my own walk with the Lord that will suffer—there will be a whole lot of other people who will be impacted by the fallout.

That’s certainly not the highest reason to stay devoted to Christ for a lifetime, but it’s sure one reason. You realize that we affect other people, and when we fall and stumble we bring others down with us, others are impacted.

So over the years as I’ve been on this journey and in this race, I’ve done a lot of thinking about, “What are the pitfalls? What are the things that can keep us from running well, and keep us from ending well, as servants of Christ?”

I want to put a spotlight on nine of those pitfalls. We obviously won't have time to spend long on any of them. This list certainly is not exhaustive. I've talked with Moody Publishers over the years about someday writing a book from this message, "Potential Pitfalls of Ministry." Our publisher, Greg Thornton, brings it up every once in a while, "Are you ready to write that book?"

I've told him that I don't want to write that book until I'm at least sixty. Because I want to make sure, by God's grace, that I'm still running in the race. I'm a lot closer to sixty than when we first started having that conversation.

This is a list of pitfalls that I have found are the most recurring ones in my own life. You might make a different list, but as I’ve looked around and talked with others, I’ve found that these are pitfalls and temptations and vulnerabilities that many of us have in common, in ministry.

The first pitfall—Losing the Wonder . . . the wonder of what it means to be a child of God, of the great theological truths of our faith . . . these truths that we repeat so often that we cease to be amazed by them. We lose the wonder of the God we serve, of what we’ve been called to do, of the message that’s been entrusted to us . . . losing the wonder of the fruit of ministry.

There’s a danger of the supernatural becoming commonplace: one more person saved, one more marriage restored, one more person growing in the faith. If you see a lot of fruit in the ministry, it’s easy for the supernatural—things that would have just astounded us when we were young in ministry—we start to just . . . it’s one more conference, one more event.

It was good, yes. People were helped and blessed. We lose the wonder of the fact that God is at work, and He is letting us participate with Him in what He’s doing. Heaven rejoices every time a sinner repents. Do I? Do you?

You’ve heard it said that “familiarity breeds contempt.” I think that’s true, but I think it’s also true that familiarity can breed complacency or neglect. Just becoming familiar with these things makes them no longer sacred to us, no longer holy, no longer special.

When this happens, ministry becomes a “job,” a job versus a passion for a person, Christ Jesus. Do you know the difference? Sometimes we go from the passion for the Person over to the job, and we don’t even know where or how it happened. It happens subtly. We don’t just wake up one morning, having gone to bed the last night full of wonder, and this morning we wake up and we have no wonder.

It doesn’t usually happen that way. It’s usually maybe more of a slow leak. We gradually lose the wonder. I think one of the biggest things in my life that leads to losing the wonder is busyness. Do I hear an “Amen!?” Yes, just tasks and tasks, and I find that when my life is wall-to-wall tasks, I lose the wonder.

I start churning out the ministry; I start churning out the work; I start just doing the mechanics. When I get really scared is when I realize I’m operating on “autopilot.” I’m going through the motions; I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, but I’ve lost the freshness, I’ve lost the passion, I’ve forgotten why I’m doing this and for whom I’m doing this. I’ve lost the wonder.

I thank the Lord that I had a dad, Art DeMoss, who’s been with the Lord now for thirty-some years. He died on the weekend of my twenty-first birthday, so I never knew him as an adult. But as I think back to my dad, I think of a man who never lost the wonder of the fact that God would have saved him and would use him in ministry.

He was a businessman, but he had a heart for people and for ministry, and he never ceased to be amazed that God would use Him. That’s the wonder that I want to have. The apostle Paul never lost the wonder, as far as we can tell in Scripture.

First Timothy chapter 1, verse 11 talks about the “glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.” Does that sound like wonder? Using those kinds of adjectives, he says, “This is a wonder that I’ve been entrusted with the glorious gospel of the blessed God.” Do you feel that way about the gospel? Do I?

I confess that lots of times I don’t feel that way. We’re not just talking about feelings. The gospel is glorious, whether I feel like it is or not, and God is blessed, whether I feel like it or not. But do I have a sense that it’s a wonder to be entrusted with that gospel?

Paul considered ministry a great privilege. He said in verse 12 of 1 Timothy 1, “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service.” When was the last time you stopped and thanked the Lord for the privilege of ministry?

Some of you remember the name, Pastor Ray Ortlund. There’s a second pastor Ray Ortlund, who is “junior,” the son, who pastors in Nashville, Tennessee. Pastor Ray Ortlund, his father, was my pastor when I was in college at the University of Southern California. I can remember Pastor Ray encouraging us about the wonder. A number of years after I got out of college, Pastor Ortlund sent me a letter—and I can’t even remember now the occasion for the letter—but I remember  a line in that handwritten letter that I highlighted, and I’ve taped it up over my desk.

He said in his letter, “Keep pointing us all to Jesus in your writing and in your speaking, and keep thanking Him, remembering that ministry is a great privilege from the Lord.” We forget it’s a privilege, and on those really hard days, it might just do us good to stop and say, “Lord, thank you for choosing me to serve You. That is a great and high and holy privilege.”

So, we ask these questions:

  • “Do I have a genuine passion for Christ, and for ministry, or have I lost the wonder of my relationship with Christ, and of the call to ministry?”
  • “Am I just going through the motions?”

Here’s a second pitfall—Neglecting Our Personal Relationship with the Lord. I can tell you that this is connected to the first one, because if we neglect our personal relationship with the Lord, we will lose the wonder. Those two are tied together. I love that verse in the Song of Solomon, chapter 1, verse 6, where the bride says, “I’ve tended the vineyards of others, but my own vineyard I have not kept.”

Does your heart resonate with that at all? I think it’s a picture of what it’s often like for us in ministry. We’re constantly tending the vineyards of others, counseling, teaching, encouraging, exhorting, administering, serving, blessing, giving, praying for others and their needs . . . tending the vineyards of others, but neglecting our own vineyard, our own spiritual wellbeing.

What am I talking about here? You know what I’m talking about. It’s the failure to maintain and cultivate and prioritize our own personal walk with the Lord. It’s taking shortcuts. I want to just tell you, the reason I know a lot about some of these points is because I’ve been there so many times.

In fact, I’ve found myself within the last week—I’ll just be honest here—as I’ve been preparing for this conference, feeling like I don’t even know that I really can give this message. These things are so autobiographical for me. In differing degrees and in differing seasons—and I have been living a pretty marginless life over the last several weeks. I find myself taking shortcuts—not wanting to, not intending to, not setting out to lose the wonder or to neglect my personal relationship with the Lord.

But I look around and I realize a whole day has gone by, and I haven’t really spent time with the Lord. You can do that for a day or two or three and probably no one else in your women’s ministry is going to know (partially because we have such a low state of Christianity today that we don’t even recognize backsliding very easily).

The people in your family, the people who work closely with you, they may recognize it a little sooner but you’re going to be, hopefully, the first to know it, and to be able to say, “Lord, I need to stop.” I need to stop taking shortcuts and make a beeline to His presence. Trying to live on yesterday’s manna and yesterday’s experiences with God is not the way to do it.

We cannot stay faithful in the race if we’re trying to live on past experiences with God. It’s the danger of service without devotion. You know the classic passage on that. We all know it, we’ve taught it, we’ve taught it to others: Luke chapter 10, the two sisters. One of them sitting at the feet of Jesus, the other—Martha—is serving without devotion.

What happens? She ends up high strung, critical, impatient, exhausted, frazzled, frenzied, the way some of us find we are when we look in the mirror . . . service without devotion. Robert Murray M’Cheyne said it this way: “No amount of activity in the King’s service will make up for neglect of the King Himself.” Remember that. That’s why I put it on your notes, so you could remember it.

In the Song of Solomon, the bride describes her relationship with her beloved, and it’s a picture of intimacy. She says in chapter 1, “Draw me. We will run after you. The king has brought me into his chambers” (v. 4)

Chapter 2, she says, “He brought me to the banqueting table, and his banner over me was love.” She says, “I sat down under his shadow with great delight and his fruit was sweet to my taste. His left hand is under my head and his right hand embraces me. My beloved is mine, and I am his” (v. 4–6).

I know that this is a picture of intimacy in human marriage, but human marriage is intended to be a picture of that eternal relationship that we have with our heavenly Bridegroom. I see here a description of the kind of intimacy that we’re intended to enjoy with the Lord Jesus. It’s a picture of our relationship as the Bride of Christ with our Beloved.

I face every day of my life the danger of neglecting intimacy with Christ. Here’s the thing about intimacy with Christ—it doesn’t just happen. It has to be cultivated. You don’t drift into intimacy with Christ, you drift away from intimacy with Christ. If we’re not being intentional in cultivating that love relationship with Him, we are going to drift away.

I find, I don’t know about you, I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older or if it’s because the things in this world are changing, or both, but I find it increasingly difficult to get a quiet place and a quiet heart to seek the Lord.

For me, the biggest intruders have to do with technology. I heard a little bit of a groan there. It’s not that technology itself is evil. It’s a tool, but I find that the more tools I have that you have to plug in to charge, the more difficult it is for me to have an undistracted time with the Lord. I’ll be honest—I struggle with email, with Facebook, with Twitter, with these things.

There are days when I think, Maybe I just need to get rid of all of it. Let me say this, we ought to ask ourselves, if that’s what it took for me to be where I need to be in my relationship with the Lord, would I be willing to unplug? Like, get rid of it?

I’m not saying God’s asking that of us, but I sure think we ought to ask the question, “If that’s intruding, if it’s stealing . . .” Wouldn’t Satan love to just keep us busy doing ministry, but not have relationship with the Lord? We will be of great service to his efforts if that’s true of us.

So we have these constant distractions, and we have to be willing to be ruthless in eliminating unnecessary clutter. I think we need to be willing to challenge one another to eliminate anything that is encroaching on our relationship with the Lord.

I want our staff and the people who I live and do life with to have the freedom to say to me, “Is this stealing your heart for Christ?” When they see the time stamp on my emails, I want them to have the freedom to say, “Have you had time with the Lord today, without email?” We need to do that for each other, because sometimes we just lose objectivity, and we need to have these intrusive relationships—it got really quiet in here! You don’t want those kinds of relationships?

I don’t want those kinds of relationships, but I need them.

  • “Do I have a vital, growing relationship with the Lord Jesus?”
  • "Am I nurturing my vineyard through daily time in His presence . . . in the Word and in prayer?”

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been showing you how common it is to let your relationship with Christ to become too routine. She’s been encouraging you to cultivate more intimacy with Him.

Nancy delivered that message at revive ’11, a conference Revive Our Hearts held for women’s ministry leaders. Encouraging women’s ministry leaders is so important to Revive Our Hearts.

The next event like this for women helping other women is October 9.  Before the start of the True Woman '14 conference, we hope women’s ministry leaders will join us for a pre-event gathering.

It’s an opportunity to hear from Nancy and from Leslie Bennett, who has a lot of experience in women’s ministry. We want leaders in women’s ministry to come away better equipped, energized, and encouraged.

Space is limited and disappearing fast, so get all the details at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss says that people who have obvious gifts and abilities face a certain type of danger. Find out what it is when she’s back tomorrow. Please join us for Revive Our Hearts. 

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

About the Speaker

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love …

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