Sunday, February 19, 2012

How Do We Experience God?

We no longer see the church as a place to learn about God but a place to experience God. Likewise, discipleship has been replaced by therapy; meditation on Scripture has been pushed aside by meditation on our inner states and visualizing God. Brennan Manning writes:

·        “The first step in faith is to stop thinking about God in prayer…” “Contemplative spirituality tends to emphasize the need for a change in consciousness…we must come to see reality differently.” “Choosing a single, sacred word…repeat the sacred word inwardly, slowly, and often.” “Enter into the great silence of God. Alone in that silence, the noise within will subside and the Voice of Love will be heard.” (The Signature of Jesus – Quoted from Ray Yungen, A Time of Departing, 83).

Ironically, “thinking about God” is the essence of all prayer and worship. We endure the hard times by thinking of Jesus (Hebrews 12:2); we reconfigure our lives according to our Scriptural understanding of God (Phil 3:3-8); we are even transformed as we contemplate God (2 Cor. 3:18 – 4:6). Jesus promised that we are freed by this truth of God:

·        To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8:31-32

We are never admonished in Scripture to meditate on a magical “single, sacred word” but on truth:

·        Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (Joshua 1:8)

According to Scripture, we grow and are transformed, not by any techniques or visualizations, but by truths that the Spirit applies to our heart and mind:

·        In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. (1 Tim. 4:6)

·        Like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation. (1 Peter 2:2)

·        And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

Why did God devise salvation – a saving relationship with Him – through acknowledging the truth instead of through spiritual techniques? A Samaritan woman informed Jesus that the essence of their religious differences were a matter of geography. The Samaritans worshiped on Mt. Gerazim and the Jews worshipped on Mt. Zion. However, Jesus insisted that true worship – true relationship – had to be based on truth, the nature of God:

·        “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:22-24)

Consequently, we are not free to worship or approach God in any manner that feels right to us. We have to approach the Almighty according to the truth of His Being.

This should be obvious to us. I am not even free to love my wife in the way that feels right to me. I must love her according to who she is. I cannot love her because she might remind me of my first flame. Such a “love” is not an adequate foundation for a relationship. Nor can I love her by visualizing a sexier woman or through the repetition a sexy word or through pornography. I must love her as she truly is. Love has no other foundation apart from truth.

If we are going to connect to God, we have to do it through the truth that He has revealed to us.  Instead, the church has been seduced by all manner of mystics. One popular one is the deceased Henry Nouwen who wrote,

·        “The quiet repetition of a single word can help us to descend with the mind into the heart…The way of simple prayer…opens us to God’s active presence.”

However, “the quiet repetition of a single word” does not follow the pattern of Scripture. Instead, it is the truth of Scripture that transforms us. The Apostle Paul affirmed this truth in many ways:

·        "Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32)

In fact, Jesus had warned against mindless “repetition[s] of a single word”:
·        And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. (Matthew 6:7)

According to Jesus’ thinking, the church is returning to paganism – the pursuit of the ultimate experience. Interestingly, Moses had had the ultimate mountain-top experience. It was so intense that his face literally glowed. However, it didn’t glow because he had merely been with God. Instead, it glowed “because he had spoken with the Lord” (Exodus 34:29). He had been transformed by truth.

Knowing the primacy of God’s truth as the basis of transforming experience, Moses didn’t share his feelings and experiences with his brethren, the Israelites. He didn’t give them a how-to course on “Experiencing God.” Instead, he conveyed to them the very Words of God.

I don’t mean to demean feelings and experiences. We all crave them. However, I hope to understand them in their proper context. I have never been able to conjure up an experience of God. However, I often do feel very intimate with Him when I contemplate who He is and what He has done for me. It is because of these truths that I feel grateful and energized. Likewise, when I think about all that my wife is and what she has done for me, I treasure her.

I certainly don’t want to limit the experience of God to just these experiences. Actually, I even thank God for the severe depression I had undergone for many years. Sometimes it was so crippling, that I was only able to crawl into bed with my Bible. Sometimes I was so tormented that I couldn’t read or even pray. At other times, it felt like I was reading mere empty words. However, there were also times that the words of Scripture became magically alive for one moment. For example, I might read a very simple verse – “And the Lord heard his prayer.” Light came bursting down upon me so miraculously, so intensely, that the depression was driven away as the sun drives away darkness.

I have no formula for this or a technique to bring about such an experience. I just have my God and the knowledge that He loves me and is working in my life even when it feels like He has abandoned me.

I also learned lessons from my encounters, bringing me back to the primacy and the all-sufficiency of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Cor. 4:6-7) and the Spirit who works through it.

Our God cares about truth. That’s why He has ordained that all spiritual blessings would be conferred through the medium of Scripture:

·        Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:2-3)

Meanwhile, Manning and the other mystics assure us that if we “enter into the great silence of God. Alone in that silence, the noise within will subside and the Voice of Love will be heard.” However, our Lord doesn’t require mystical techniques, but repentant souls who are willing to love Him by meditating on His Word:

·        Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him…If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. (John 14:21-24)

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