Experiencing God or Nothing at All
Encounter: Read or listen and meditate on the words of David in Psalm 63 as he shares his deep longings to experience the presence of God. What words describe his desire to be with God?
In his book, God Is Closer Than You Think, John Ortberg writes about a friend whose mother and father had a mystical experience during an accident.
The offer of this with-God life has not expired in our day. When my friend Kim was a young girl, her dad pulled the car off the road one day to help a woman change a flat tire. While he was lying under her car, another vehicle accidentally swerved to the shoulder, and in the collision the car was shoved onto his chest. His right thumb was torn off at the joint, five of his ribs were broken, and his left lung was pierced and began filling with blood. His wife, who is barely five feet tall, placed her hands on the bumper of the car and prayed, “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,” and lifted the car off his chest so he could be dragged out. (Some weeks later she found out that she broke a vertebra in the effort.) Kim’s father was in a state of shock as he was taken to the hospital.
Doctors prepared for emergency surgery. “His thumb won’t do him any good if he’s dead,” one of them said. His survival was iffy. Suddenly, spontaneously, the man’s skin changed from ashen to pink. He experienced a miraculous healing. He invited a surprised surgical team to join him in singing “Fairest Lord Jesus.” They did not even bother to hook him up to oxygen.
He did not find out until later that this was the precise moment his father-in-law, who was a pastor, had his congregation start to pray for him. Sometimes these stories come from not-very-credible sources—such as publications sold in grocery checkout lines that also carry news about extraterrestrial creatures secretly playing third base for the Boston Red Sox.
In this case, however, the subject was James Loder, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary. His life was not only saved, but changed. Until then, although he taught at a seminary, God had been mostly an abstract idea to him. Now Jesus became a living Presence. Kim writes that her father’s heart grew so tender that he became known at Princeton as “the weeping professor.” He began to live from one moment to the next in a God-bathed, God-soaked, God-intoxicated world.
Kim’s mother and father had become modern mystics. The word mystic sounds like some odd mix of new age and crystals. But a mystic in the Christian sense simply means a person who seeks and at some level attains a direct experience within the mystery of God. This mystery Paul said, is Christ making himself known in us to reveal himself through us (Col. 1:26-28).
Brian Zahnd reminds us that “The Bible itself is a mystical book–it was produced by Jewish and Christian mystics filled with the Holy Spirit. The texts that became sacred Scripture did not come from people who were merely thinking about God but from people who had a direct experience with God. Those who wrote the Bible were not scholars but mystics.”
Because we are children of God made in the image of God we all have the capacity to experience God but we may have had a bad experience with religious fanaticism or have connected mystical experiences with the prosperity gospel preached through TV evangelists who, like those Jesus drove out of the temple, manipulate for money.
God promises, “When you search for me, you will find me: if you seek me with all your heart” (Jer 29:13). This Sunday we will spend some time talking about how God is always inviting us to seek after Him, not mystical experiences. Yet our lives with God are rooted in the Pentecostal experience found in the second chapter of Acts and so we should be careful not to box God in to what is familiar or comfortable for us.
Our faith is being reconstructed to hold strong even in the tsunami of secularism because as Brian reminds us, The faith of the future will be sustained by an experience, not an argument, as the old saying goes, a person with an experience is not at the mercy of a person with an argument.
Who knows what God would do if His church would so hunger and thirst for His presence that they would be caught praying with the same heart of the sons of Korah,
As the deer longs for the flowing streams,
So my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
For the living God
When shall I come and behold the face of God (Ps 42:1-2)
How about we find out together what it truly is to experience God. It will make all the difference.
Praying with you for more,
PS Don't forget your groceries for Christian Ministries
Reflect: David had been betrayed by his own son and left Jerusalem running for his life. This was one of David’s most challenging seasons and he found himself having to live away from his home and instead live in the wilderness of the desert with nothing to sustain him but his faith in the God who was not only his Creator but a friend. He was meant to live in the palace but life circumstances put him into the desert. What do you think David means by “Your love is better than life”? What had David experienced with God in the past that made him thirsty for more?
What does it look like for you to seek God? How does practices like disciplined Scripture reading, liturgical prayer, formative prayer, listening prayer, contemplative prayer, spiritual reading, and spiritual direction help to form our soul in healthy ways and increase our capacity to experience God? What would it take to encourage you to be more intentional with opening space in your daily lives for a few of these practices?
In your small group time, read through Psalm 63 and psalm 42 and discuss the questions above. Share with one another what would change for your faith if you experienced God in some mystical way. Share with one another what it is like to think of ourselves as modern mystics.