Over the years, I have been asked more than once why and how I went from being a solely expositional, theological church leader to one who believes and practices the more experiential components of Christianity. I usually try to clarify that I have never been ONLY about theology. My very conversion in 1994 was one of profound and inexplicable power that transformed me in a single moment from a drunken, drug using, miserable human being into a clean, sober and hopeful man. It was not a theological exercise because all I owned at that time was bad, unbiblical theology. My conversion was a tidal wave of God’s unannounced grace hitting the shoreline of my heart and forever changing the landscape. Even after my conversion, as I became driven to know and understand the written Word of God, I experienced moments of intense emotion and awareness connected to the actual presence of God. While those moments were not frequent in those days, they were legitimate and deeply satisfying. I should confess that most of my interaction with God was between my ears for many years, yet it would be untrue to say that I was some sort of cold academic. I loved what I knew of God and always wanted to know more, but I had little guidance from anyone else in how to pursue and joy what I now call a “full contact faith” with the One who had saved me. These days, one of my passions is to help people who are currently living out most of their Christianity between their ears as an intellectual exercise so that they might step into living out more of it beneath their sternums where their hearts are located. I want you to experience frequent personal encounter with God.
Fact: all Christians should expect genuine, impactful moments of personal experience with God that leave us touched in mind, heart, body and spirit.
Do you feel God? If so, what is it that you feel from Him? If you do not feel God, do you wish that you did? Someone may have taught you that, because feelings are subjective, they should not be prioritized in one’s relationship with God. I taught that very early on when someone was brave enough to let me speak in their pulpit. I wish I could find any and all of those cassette tape recordings of those sermons and burn them. It was poor theology coming from a place of my ignorance. Think with me: is there any other significant relationship wherein we are actually counseled by someone to pursue a primarily cognitive interaction while managing downward any potential for emotion? Could you imagine if we were taught to approach marriage in that manner? If we raised our children with the goal of limiting our and their emotions, they would be greatly disadvantaged as they became adults as they moved into their own marriages and parenting. While marriage and parenthood are extremely vital relationships, they are clearly not as important as our relationship with our God. Yet, some streams of Christian thought turn the Father who loves us with immeasurable intensity into the Puzzle who challenges us to figure Him out and explain Him to others. Why does feeling God get downplayed and dismissed?
I cannot, in this moment, think of anything sadder than to reduce our relationship with God into a theological exercise that results in heated intellectual dogma about Him married to chilled emotional distance from Him.
God speaks to His children. God touches His children. God warms and stirs those whom He has spiritually birthed. Jesus is the High Priest who is touched with the feelings of our infirmities – this is hardly a description of a primarily intellectual relationship. God’s children can feel the weight of His glorious presence that actually results in physical manifestations that make little objective sense in the moment as they are occurring. I will risk it by writing here that there have been a handful of occasions during prayer or worship where my legs cease to function properly, feeling like they weigh 400 pounds each, and I am unable to stand or walk. At other moments I have been left unable to speak and find myself weeping hybrid tears of the joy of the Lord and the fear of the Lord. He has surged in me to where I have shouted at the top of my lungs and disturbed the peace of those around me. In different settings, He has seemingly placed His arm around me and led me out of the jubilant celebration in a worship center in order to process heavy feelings of prophetic insights. Now, please do not make the mistake of thinking that these are the normative day-in, day-out realities of my Christianity. It is not like this all the time and I do not panic when I go weeks or even months without any obvious indicators of high-impact encounter with Him. I have NEVER chased experiences with God. Instead, my pursuit has always been to chase God himself – to draw near to Him as we are instructed in Scripture. As I have drawn near to Him over the years, He has fulfilled what He has pledged: to draw near to me. This is the essence of personal encounter with God.
When God draws near to us, whatever the purpose is in that moment for His drawing near begins to manifest. He ordains the process. He chooses the outcome. He orchestrates the moment. My job (and yours) has always been to pursue Him. We do that with our minds, our hearts, our souls and our strengths. Love for God refuses to accept a chilled, gapped reality as our norm with Him. It is a love affair and it is gloriously interactive.
So, when the tide of His presence comes rushing in and knocks me off my feet, I am beyond blessed. Yes, those tides do eventually recede. The surge leaves. The moving waters still again. I do not fret over that. Just because the tide recedes, the surge leaves and the waters eventually still does not mean that any of it was imaginary. You see, at the beach when the strong waters pound the shoreline they also eventually recede. Those powerful tidal experiences eventually calm. If you look closely enough, however, you will see that the landscape is always different once the waves return to the sea. The shoreline that was impacted will never be exactly the same. The force of the tide brings changes.That is the way it is in our experiences with God. His presence and power move in at the appointed time. We experience the crest and the crash of what He designs in that rising tide of His being there in that moment with us. The intensity subsides eventually, but the shoreline of our hearts has been impacted and changed. He is shaping us in those moments and He will shape us again. When all is said and done, the outline of our coasts with resemble a beautiful shape.
It is a Cross. A full contact faith always brings the Cross into the forefront. That is the reason for personal encounter with God. So please do not let anyone talk you out of it anymore. Risk it. Tell Him that you are ready. You can be nervous if you want, but do not let that presence of uncertainty keep you on the shore. Step out from there. Welcome Him to crash over you. Surrender to whatever timing and terms He desires. I’m just encouraging you to do what is written in James 4:8 – draw near to God and He will draw near to you.