Experience is the final filter in our sifting of life’s meaning.
Like freshly ground coffee beans, experience colors and flavors the life we choose to live.
Tennyson wrote these words in “Ulysses”
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
We interpret the past, perceive the present and prepare the future by our experience.
Some Christian theologies shun the use of experience to decide what we should expect from God. Experience is too subjective, too subject to personal interpretation—as Peter warns:
“…that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation,…”
A Book of Experiences
With these very real dangers in mind, we must admit that the Bible itself is a series of narratives about the experiences people had with God or without Him. These stories link us to the ancient book. They remind of us our own hearts and provide examples of how to please God. Narrative (experience) cannot be dismissed as a dubious source of truth. In the Bible and in our own lives experience is a part of God’s plan, a tool the Spirit uses to “transform” us by “the renewing” of our minds.
As my brother used to say, we have to deal with “the things we have done and the things that have been done to us.” These experiences can be doorways into the plan of God for us or barriers to keep us out of His plan.
- The adult child who was abused or abandoned by a father may have a tough time seeing God as his/her Heavenly Father.
- The musician trained in the entertainment world may have difficulty being transformed from a performing star into a minister with music.
- The worshiper who grew up in a formal worship may either fear demonstrative worship or desire it.
- The worshiper who grew up in free, emotional worship may resist the use of planned liturgy, thinking that anything planned is inherently insincere.
- The leader whose experience is rooted in manipulative leadership techniques will find servant leadership the greatest challenge of all.
Through faith in God’s Word we can trade our bad experiences for the truth we read, believe and obey.
- The fatherless adult child can find his/her heavenly Father.
- The performer can become a minister.
- Worshipers can grow in the use of worship forms foreign to them and
- leaders can learn to put down the sword and take up the cross.
A Wise Warning
Wise and wary leaders will warn Christians not to seek experience but seek God and there is a great truth in this warning.
- We must always seek the Lord Himself, not just His benefits. He is a covenant-keeping God whose promises are dependable. He is not a cosmic vending machine into which we place our prayers and then wait for the answers to fall to the receiving tray.
- He is Almighty God who deserves to be sought, to be pursued, to be engaged and to be enjoyed in spirit-deep fellowship.
A Warm Challenge
Seek God like the deer pursued by the predator, for that, indeed, is our experience. Interpret the things you do and the things done to you in the light of the Scripture and in the light of God’s call on your life.
- Listen for His voice in His Word.
- He speaks through the voices of others, also.
- He sings to us through His marvelous creation and invites to sing along with a sunset or a rising storm or a gentle rainbow.
- He warns us through the daily news and through our careful observation of events surrounding us—the experiences of others.
These practices and others like them will open the door the future God has for us and keep it open.
They are the coffee in the filter that makes the morning fresh and flavored with promise.
Psalm 42:1-6 NIV
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng. Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
Romans 12:1-2 NIV
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.
2 Peter 1:19-21 NKJV
And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 10:11 NIV
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.
1 John 1:1-3 KJV
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
Lord Jesus, following You is more than following a philosophy—it is an ongoing experience of relationship. Your truth is real and dependable but, more than that, You are standing there with us. Like the ancient prophecies, You are with us! Your touch is real and healing. Your presence is a reality, not a psychological phenomenon. You have changed my life in amazing moments of grace. You have molded my life in steady steps of discipline. I can look forward to more moments of grace and more blessed processes of grace—experiences of growth and maturation. Help me sift the experiences of life to determine what is from You and what is not. Help me cling to Your grace. Thank You, Jesus. Amen.
He Touched Me
Words and Music: William J. and Gloria Gaither
1. Shackled by a heavy burden,
‘neath a load of guilt and shame;
Then the hand of Jesus touched me,
And now I am no longer the same.
He touched me, O, He touched me,
And O, the joy that floods my soul.
Something happened, and now I know,
He touched me and made me whole.
2. Since I met this blessed Savior,
Since He cleansed and made me whole;
I will never cease to praise Him,
I’ll shout it while eternity rolls.
© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved