Hello Church Family,
I’ve been praying for you this week, that God would pour out his comfort and mercy on you.
In the early 1990s, Henry Blackaby and Claude King wrote a best-selling (and somewhat polarizing) book called Experiencing God. It was hailed by many as a “revolutionary treatment” and “fresh new look” at an under-realized spiritual practice; it was also panned by some critics for its “careless eisegesis” and “theological holes.” I read the book and found plenty to agree with, as well as a few dubious (and somewhat troubling) assertions.
One benefit of reading the book, though, was that it sparked a question in my own mind that I wanted to answer, namely: What does it mean to “experience God”? I’d heard people use the phrase, and even uttered it myself. In fact, I still pray on a regular basis that God would enable us to experience him. Even David used experiential language in the Psalms, imploring followers of God to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). But what does that mean?
In his first letter to a cadre of scattered and weary exiles, the Apostle Peter commends a rag-tag group of Jesus-followers for this: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8). These erstwhile followers of “the Way” had been through a tremendous amount of suffering and abandonment, yet, somehow, they were able to rejoice with inexpressible joy that was filled with glory. This was, at least in part, because of something they had believed, Peter says.
Verses 3-5 of the same chapter tell us what truth they had been rejoicing in: They had been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus” (verse 3); they had an “imperishable, undefiled and unfading” inheritance waiting for them (verse 4); and, best of all, they were being constantly “kept by the power of God through faith” (verse 5). The reality of their present positional holiness and future glorification gave them an unwavering confidence in who God was and who they were to him. That experience of God sustained them through devastating trials and setbacks.
Based on Peter’s letter and other passages, here’s what I believe is the answer to the question I posed above:
To experience God is to enjoy a Spirit-enabled, acute assurance of God’s loving presence and his complete acceptance of us in Christ.
It’s not exactly “catchy” but that the best I could do! Notice that there are two words I did not employ: knowing and feeling. The experience of God is certainly mediated through knowledge and often accompanied by feelings, but it transcends both knowing and feeling.
Feelings are fickle. Experiencing God shouldn’t be equated with having an emotional high, or sensing a tingling sensation down your spine. Nor is experiencing God simply about grasping information about God. We can know any number of propositions about God and still be plagued by fear, guilt, and anxiety.
There is, however, an acute assurance of God’s unconditional love and acceptance in Christ that leads to inexpressible joy and a peace that defies logic. We may be weeping when it hits us. Or we may feel as happy as we’ve ever felt. Conversely, we may not feel very much of anything. But we have this confidence that God is with us and for us, and that’s enough. That’s what we have when we experience God. And that takes the Spirit of God to get there. But he gets us there through humble and dependent prayer.
When the cares of this world threaten to demolish us, and our own fleshly hearts fail, when the great deceiver fills our head with doubts and self-loathing, incredibly and almost inexplicably we’re able to say, “It’s ok. God is here. I belong to him, and he has good things in store for me even through this storm. He will keep me by his power and never let me go.” To rest assured in those realities is what it means to experience God.
By the way, that’s what our hearts long for. That sort of assurance. And as we mediate on the person and work of Jesus, and the promises he made and guaranteed by his death and resurrection, God will grant us that experience of him.
Resting in his grace,