I am rarely shocked but often saddened by the numbers of those both outside and inside the faith, who have no expectation that the Christian life should or could be in any sense ‘experiential’. I have often reflected upon this and have come to the conclusion that there are some key reasons for this…
Firstly: We are children of our culture – the Enlightenment. Our cultural norm being reasoning and the need to be able to explain everything using purely material measures and terms. One eminent scientist put it this way “Let us see how far and to what extent we can explain the behaviour of the physical and material universe in terms of purely physical and material causes-without invoking the supernatural.”
Thirdly: Fear. It seems to me that many are fearful of the ‘experiential’. What if my experience is at best just human & emotional and at worse deceptive and demonic? One globally prolific leader recently hinted that some 500 million charismatics will likely miss heaven because of their blasphemy! His charge: ‘They rely on experience… subjective, mystical, false, deceptive and ultimately demonic.’
Wow! Heady words indeed. Its probably a good moment to stop and recalibrate…
Although this 6 minute snippet on from Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones was preached in 1959 (to mark the centenary of the Welsh Revival), I believe it is a powerfully prophetic reminder of our first priority… pursuing God’s manifest presence.
Did you catch those words?
Do you know God?
Is He in the camp?
Is He in the midst?
Is He with you?
Is He really amongst us?
Are we aware of His Glorious Presence?
Here is the challenge. Whilst still acknowledging God’s omni-presence we must foster a recognition that He also manifestly presents himself in a manner that is real, tangible and experiential. This is the key to understanding how He could be everywhere but not with the Israelites in the Land of Promise.
Why do I take the time to write this? To call us back to authentic practice. Our God is a God of experience. His Word is a record of encounter after encounter. Why should He stop encountering His people now the book is finished? After all it is the menu but He is the meal ().
He is the God of intimate garden strolls; of pillar of fire and cloud; of trembling mountain and whispering voice; of water in the desert; of ‘sacrifice consuming’ inferno; of angelic visitation; of tongues like fire; of dreams, visions, trances and even out of body experiences; of shaken prayer meetings. Not forgetting His LOVE poured out in our hearts; His PEACE which goes beyond human reasoning, His JOY the marker of the Kingdom and His SPIRIT welling up like torrents of living water from within.
Friends… I want to come clean. ‘Experience” is my dirty little secret. I live by His Word and have done for some 20 years but it is a Word that points me ‘…to know the love that surpasses knowledge’ not to just know about it. Its words are the rails my relationship runs on, the fence that keeps me in safe pasture and the signpost to how I can meet with Him. As David wrote ‘..My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.’
This issue is vital for one reason… The Kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. That was the apostolic mandate… to communicate and establish a collision of kingdoms; and when those kingdoms collided, God was revealed. The Apostle Paul admitted that he ‘…did not come with wise and persuasive words but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.’ The New Testament Church was literally birthed in ‘what does this mean’ events ()!
I finish with this quote from American author Annie Dillard. She claims no religious allegiance yet certainly seems to have a more profound grasp of the issue than many preachers…
‘On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does any-one have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return…’
That is my prayer; that the waking God may draw us out, to an awareness of the reality of His presence which does not diminish and from which there is no return… Selah
3:1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (ESV)
33:1 The Lord said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ 2 I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”
4 When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments. 5 For the Lord had said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, ‘You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do with you.’” 6 Therefore the people of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward.
7 Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp. 8 Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise up, and each would stand at his tent door, and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. 9 When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. 10 And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. 11 Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.
12 Moses said to the Lord, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ 13 Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” 14 And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”
17 And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” 18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21 And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” (ESV)