"Experiencing God, not religion" has been the tag line of the church I grew up in. How awesome is that? Isn't that what this whole christian life is about? Experiencing God, knowing God, allowing that all consuming fire to possess us so that we can't help but express that love to our brothers and sisters as well as this broken world? I love that. I love that is the heart behind my church, behind the movement that I have been a part of my entire life. Praise God!!
What does that even mean? To experience God? Religion is substituting anything for relationship. God longs to have a relationship with us. That is His sole desire.
If I am going to be honest, the majority of my christian life, I have been content in experiencing religion and I didn't even know it. I know it was not because of anything I had necessarily been taught or the community I have been raised in. I had recently have been asking the Holy Spirit why I have been such a sucker for religion and why so many of my friends have found themselves in the same position. He gently took me back through my life and everything that had happened. For those of you who don't know me, I had the blessing of being raised in a christian home. For the majority of my life, I have been in church, going to youth group, bible camps and mission trips. I have been surrounded by christian friends. The Holy Spirit clearly spoke to me and said, "The biggest danger for kids raised up within the church is to be content with knowing about God, but not actually knowing God." Wow! I have been so guilty of that. Since I knew a lot about God, I knew a lot about the bible, the goal of my christian life was to become more like Jesus so that I can be used by God to do great things for the Kingdom. I turned my relationship with Christ as a list of disciplines I needed to maintain and things that I needed to do for God.
I didn't know what it meant to actually have an experiential relationship with Jesus. Since I was a kid, I could share the gospel with anyone, I could give you all the right "christian answers". I knew intellectually that we were created for an intimate, experiential, all consuming relationship with the person of Jesus, that only He can satisfy us, that only the Jesus can bring us life and supernatural joy in the midst of extreme hardships and tribulation. Was I experiencing this?
I was talking to my dad about this revelation and he said something that was profound. We were talking about people who have a radical conversion experience. People who come to Christ out of a place of brokenness and despair and Christ comes and restores them and radically transforms them. He said that those people come to know God before they know about God, where christian kids (like me) know about God, but its possible that we can never come into actually knowing Him in an intimate way.
God is a jealous God. He is jealous for our affections. He is jealous for our thoughts, our emotions, our time, our everything. He knows that only He can truly satisfy us so He longs for us to come to Him. There has been many times in my life where the Lord has brought me to a place where He has ripped an idol out of my life, and it tested my knowledge of God. From all those times, I felt His peace and love and it drew me closer to Him, but after a few months, I would quickly forget. I would go back to being content with knowing about God and going through the motions.
A few years ago, again the Lord ripped an idol out of my life and it shook me to the core. I don't believe it was any more intense than the other times but it led me to a place of humility, knowing that something in my relationship with Christ was not right. There was more than I was experiencing. I say that "only Jesus can satisfy" but why was this particular circumstance affecting me so much? It was very clear to me that I was not satisfied in the Lord. I was not content in simply my relationship with Jesus. So either God is a liar and he doesn't bring us all that we need, or I had a lot of head knowledge that I was not allowing it to affect my heart.
The Word says that "if you seek me, you will find me, if you seek me with all of your heart." I went out on a desperate pursuit of seeking Jesus. Not being content in knowing about Him, but actually coming to know this man. I want to be satisfied in Jesus alone so when the trials and hardships of life come, I will be founded on the rock and the JOY of the Lord, the joy of this relationship will be my strength. I want to find him in a way that I experience Him, and not be content to experience Him once a year at a conference or mission trip, but to experience Him every single day. Experience Him in a way that I can be His witness and testify to people out of a place of experience and not out of knowledge. To come to know the "love that surpasses understanding".
I began asking the Holy Spirit to lead me. Lead me to the truth of who He was. What was the role of the Holy Spirit in my life? How do I hear Gods voice? I'm not content in just hearing from God through the word of God or through circumstances. He is an intimate Father who wants to speak to His children. How do I hear His voice above any other voice and be led by His Spirit? I asked Him to bring people into my life who were radical lovers of Jesus, who simply longed to know Him more. He is so faithful!! SO FAITHFUL!! I praise God for the radical change He has done in me and is continuing to do. I praise God for the people He has brought into my life. He is the greatest reward. Knowing Him is what we were created for. If you haven't come to know Him, I encourage you to do whatever it takes to come into the knowledge of God and let it transform you to a love sick bride. When we are in love, we will go to great lengths to serve the one we love. It will consume our thought life, our emotions. We won't be able to stop talking about it. "For love is as strong as death, its jealousy as enduring as the grave. Love flashes like fire, the brightest kind of flame. MANY WATERS CANNOT QUENCH LOVE, nor can rivers drown it." (SofS 8:6-7). We will be able to endure whatever this life throws at us when we are in love.
My absolute favorite passage in the bible is in Hosea 2. The Lord gave me this passage when he took an idol from me and made this passage come alive. The first 13 verses of Hosea 2 talk about a women who is "running after other lovers" but has forgotten about the Lord. "When she runs after her lovers, she won't be able to catch them. She will search for them but not find them. (v7)." Everything else we pursue will not bring us the satisfaction we are longing for. I was doing this and just like he did it for her, He took that away from me and it brought me to the wilderness. But this is His promise when we are found in that place.
"But then, I will win her back once again. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her there. I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope. She will give herself to me there, as she did long ago when she was young, when I freed her from her captivity in Egypt. 'When that day comes,' says the Lord, 'you will call me 'my husband' instead of my 'master'(v14-16)..... I will make you my wife forever, showing you righteousness and justice, unfailing love and compassion. I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know me as the Lord." (19-20)
So let us strive to know Him. Let the goal of our lives be to become more intimately acquainted with Him and allow the love that we receive from Him in that place give us the power to love people with the supernatural love. When we are in love, it changes everything!
Just like Paul, I pray that this is the ambition of our lives!!
"[For my determined purpose is] that I may KNOW Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power out flowing from His resurrection [which it exerts over believers], and that I may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed [in spirit into His likeness even] to His death, [in the hope] That if possible I may attain to the [spiritual and moral] resurrection [that lifts me] out from among the dead [even while in the body]... I do not consider, brethren, that I have captured and made it my own [yet]; but one thing I do [it is my one aspiration]: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. I press on towards the goal to win the [supreme and heavenly] prize to which God in Christ Jesus is calling us upward." Philippians 3:10-11,13 AMP