By Keith Simon
The perfect gift is an experience, not something to put on a shelf or hang in a closet. Steve Jobs didn’t want to sell you an iPhone but an experience. Millennials change jobs in search of a new experience. Mission trips have shifted from sacrificially serving others to experiences with indigenous people in the developing world.
We might not make it to the Age of Aquarius, but the Age of the Experience has arrived.
“Why settle for living life when you can experience it?” isn’t far from “Why settle for a relationship with God when you can experience him?”
What if I told you I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced God?
Maybe that takes the pressure off you? “If a pastor hasn’t had the big E, then maybe I’m not a failure as a Christian if I haven’t either.” But I no doubt lose credibility with others. “How can you be sure you’re a Christian, much less be a pastor, if your heart hasn’t been strangely warmed?”
The trouble with language about “experiencing God” is that it makes you focus on your experience. It puts you at the center of the story.
Are you wondering why you aren’t experiencing God? Consider starting there.
5 Things We’ve Gotten Wrong About “Experiencing God” (and One Simple Fix)
1. What does it mean to “experience God”?
Is it a feeling?
A sense of presence?
A warmed heart?
An audible voice?
“Experiencing God” is nebulous, isn’t it? It makes you wonder if “experience” is so elastic that it loses all meaning. Is it possible that maybe, just maybe, we’re looking to God meet our desires? Are we making this about us rather than him?
2. Is your emphasis on “experience” or “God”?
Idolatry is desiring anyone or anything more than God. What if you desire the experience more than God? Can experiencing God be an idol?
If you were confident in your relationship with God, confident that he loved you, heard your prayers, was guiding your life, but you never had a “God moment,” never got the chills, never felt all tingly at the thought of being in his presence… would you be okay with that?
Compare that with an alternative.
You feel close to God, you sense his presence in the mountains, or while you journal sipping your latte, or as you sing Hillsong’s latest anthem while driving with your windows down… but you discover that you don’t know God. Would you be okay with that? Is that even possible?
We sing: “I’d rather have Jesus than silver and gold.” Can we add experience to the list?
3. The commodification of the experience.
To experience God, you need to purchase a bespoke journal, pen, and Bible. The multiplicity of options means that you will never be sure you chose the right one. If you don’t get the warm fuzzies, maybe it’s because you should’ve chosen the recycled leather journal filled with inspirational Oprah quotes.
With the proliferation of Bibles which one says the right thing about your faith? Disciples Study Bible? Too churchy. The Recovery Bible? TMI. The Joel Osteen Study Bible? Is this abridged? Seriously, does it contain all the verses?
(Hint: The best Bible for you is the one you read.)
Our culture gives us a myriad of ways to express ourselves. From the car we drive to the clothes we wear to declaring our Enneagram number. Is it possible that we’ve made “God time” part of our self-expression?
4. There’s an app for that!
“I’m humbled to share that I’ve meditated for 324 consecutive days! To God be the glory!!”
Headspace and Calm are the leaders in marketing meditation. Today’s spiritual consumer can post their daily meditation and then check to see how their streak ranks. Meditation has never been so stressful, public, or competitive.
Pavlok sells a wristband that will give you a shock should you fail to fulfill your meditation vow. Beeminder allows you to punish yourself by making a donation to a charity.
Jesus’s disciples used to argue about which of them was the greatest. But why argue when you can check the leaderboard?
From one uber-competitive person to another, whenever I find myself competing, it’s a sign that I’ve made it about me.
5. Will this fix me?
I have a wise Christian friend who is a trained therapist. He told me that most of his clients hope he can fix their problems. I nodded as if I knew where he was going (although I thought that seemed like an entirely reasonable expectation of a therapist).
He continued, “Oftentimes it’s in the midst of the problem that they experience God.” Ouch.
Ask yourself: Do I want God? Or do I want my problems to go away?
Have you made God a means to an end? Would you rather have a problem-filled life with God or a comfortable, hassle-free life without God? Are you sure you’re being honest with yourself?
My therapist friend paid attention to what he read in the Bible. God meets his people in the wilderness, the fiery furnace, the lion’s den, and in a still small voice when the despair is so dark you can’t think straight.
Do you see the pattern? Is it possible we are too engrossed with ourselves and too concerned with our own problems to experience God in the midst of them?
One Simple Step to Experiencing God
Allow me to paraphrase C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. “A person seeking an experience is always looking within. And, of course, as long as you are looking within, you cannot see something that is outside of you.”
If you want Jesus, he isn’t hard to find. You won’t need money or a smartphone or the right journal or GPS. It’s not as if he’s hiding.
He wants a relationship with you.
For most of us, the difficult thing is to take our eyes off ourselves in order to fix them on Jesus instead.
Wondering how to take this step? My friend Dave Cover is a trusted guide who will help you fix your eyes on Jesus through Bible reading and prayer.
Subscribe to A Bigger Life and learn to meet a God who is better than an experience.