Reading the Bible for the first time in my early twenties as a new Christ-believer, I was amazed at the intimate personal experiences which so many biblical characters had with Almighty God. In story after story it was evident that God is highly relational, welcoming direct interaction with the people He calls His own. Beginning with the God-walks and talks which Adam and Eve experienced in the Garden and ending with the revelations which John saw and heard on the island of Patmos, the Bible overflows with people encountering the living God. In fact…
“Virtually everything we know about God has come through believing other people’s experiences – from Moses, David and Isaiah to Paul and John.” (Bruce Demarest, Satisfy Your Soul, NavPress, 1999)
Child-Like Believing Those who pastored me in the early days of my salvation operated with an understanding that God has not changed His ways – if we will earnestly seek Him, respectfully wait in his presence and sincerely listen, God will communicate Himself to us. This activated my imagination and a child-like belief took root in my soul: God desires a personal relationship in which He saves us and invites us to experience His passionate, transforming love and His stunning, challenging holiness. God then validated my belief in an amazing way.
Diamond Windows Within days I would marry my fiancé and quickly relocate to Chicago where a job awaited me. I was concerned about a safe place to live in this city strange to us. How would we know where to settle? As I rested upon my bed, starring at the flat ceiling and praying about my concern, I saw, momentarily, in my mind’s eye a window glass with a diamond pattern. This was curious and unlike any experience I’d known before. I muttered an apparent rhetorical question, perhaps to God, “What is this all about?” Little did I realize the Lord was structuring an experience of His transforming love for us. Before I share the rest of the story, let’s take note of Apostle Paul’s desire for experience:
“Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. …I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead.” (Philippians 3:8-10)
Experiential Knowing Paul’s kind of ‘knowing’ includes but surpasses just believing information about Jesus. It’s an intimate kind of knowing, often referred to as heart knowledge – personally engaging, intimately relational and progressively life-changing. My exposure to the writings of Tozer helped me understand:
“Over against all this cloudy vagueness stands the clear scriptural doctrine that God can be known in personal experience.
The Bible assumes as a self-evident fact that men can know God with at least the same degree of immediacy as they know any other person or thing that comes within the field of their experience.
And always He is trying to get our attention, to reveal Himself to us, to communicate with us. We have within us the ability to now Him if we will but respond to His overtures. And this we call pursuing God!” (A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, Christian Publ., 1982)
Later my soul was further stimulated by reading McManus:
“We have become believers [only] rather than experiencers. To know God in the Scriptures always went beyond information to intimacy. We may find ourselves uncomfortable with this reality, but the faith of the Scriptures is a mystical faith.” (Erwin Raphael McManus, The Barbarian Way, Thomas Nelson Publ., 2005)
Mysterious and Mystical I needed further reassurance about the “mystical’ aspect of faith which McManus wrote about. I began to find it – the reassurance – in Bruce Demarest’s very helpful chapter, ‘Knowing God as Intimates:’
“In the words of Job, ‘God is exalted beyond what we can understand’ (36:26). Our knowledge of God, therefore, always involves a measure of mystery. Reason alone cannot fully describe realities such as beauty, love, or passion. Common sense tells us that intangibles such as these are ‘better felt than telt.’
Great Christian realities, such as intimacy with God, spiritual passion, and prayer must be framed by the mind and experienced by the heart. Christian mysticism, simply put, is the believer’s direct experience of God in the heart. …the believer’s unmediated experience of God, ministered to the heart by the Holy Spirit, which facilitates Christlike character and empowers for kingdom service.” (Bruce Demarest, Satisfy Your Soul, NavPress, 1999)
Love Relationship Spiritual formation and our needed soul transformations depend on experiencing a ‘love relationship’ with God. Jesus places primary importance on this very thing: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38). Yet we often minimize the experience of relational truth (love) and maximize the absorption of informational (doctrinal) truth. Demarest helps us see it:
“A spirituality that embraces intellectual truth without personally engaging Christ in relationship is not Christian enough! The Evangelists’ theology of Jesus in the Gospels is rather thin. But their experience of Jesus is rich…. Experience changed them from timid, lukewarm followers into tenacious, blazing disciples of the risen Lord.
Growing Christians should view God less as a proposition to be scrutinized and more as a glorious Person to be engaged in moments of loving awe and wonder. To know God is to cultivate a love relationship with Him. It leads to transformation of your entire being.” (Bruce Demarest, Satisfy Your Soul, NavPress, 1999)
Apostle Paul knew this truth and bestows a blessing upon his readers concerning the experience of God’s love: “May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19, NLT)
Behind the Curtain In Chicago we searched for a decent, affordable apartment. We settled for the last one available in a complex in a northwest suburb. Dealing with July humidity and stressed to get quickly settled, we resigned ourselves to a rental fee which exceeded our non-existent budget. We signed the lease and were about to begin unpacking when I glanced at the curtains hanging on each side of a window in the apartment. With sudden suspicion I pulled aside one curtain and stood with stunned amazement – there was a diamond pattern etched into the window glass, similar to what I had ‘seen’ in the vision-thing a few days earlier. Internally I was over-whelmed with a compelling sense of being loved by our ever-present God who delights in blessing His children. I felt my belief about experience was validated, my confidence in the Lord soared and my joy abounded. It was an unforgettable experience of direct interaction with our loving God. Experience matters.
Let’s conclude with Benner’s experience:
“…it is possible to know God’s love personally, beyond simply knowing about it. The fact that I am deeply loved by God is increasingly the core of my identity, what I know about myself with most confidence. Such a conviction is, I am convinced, the foundation of any significant Christian spiritual growth.” (David G. Benner, Surrender To Love, IVP, 2003)Certainly, apply the message of the Bible as a filter to your experiences and seek council from wise, street-smart, older Christ-believers about those experiences. But most of all be led by the Spirit to experience the love of Christ.