I don’t experience God like I used to.
That isn’t to say that I don’t experience God. I do. But not like I used to.
My heart used to speed up. Excitement would make it nearly impossible to sit still. Strangers would hear my enthusiasm for what Jesus meant to me. I have vivid memories of talking very loudly in a 7-Eleven so everyone could hear how much I loved Jesus. I was a 22 year old man-child of excitable joy as I treated most experiences in life as a game. Jesus was simple. He was my friend. He was with me. He made things better. When I experienced Jesus a smile came to my face and I became an annoying bundle of energy fueled like a chipmunk on crack.
Don’t ask about the picture. I just thought it was spectacular.
But I don’t experience Jesus like that anymore.
That isn’t to say I don’t experience Jesus anymore. I still do. They are deep experiences where intimacy and nearness are experienced, but they aren’t the same. And I am thankful for that. I believe that means I am growing.
I can’t tell you the number of people who sit in my office telling me they don’t feel, hear, or experience God like they used to. If that is you, please know you not alone. It is a common feeling for many people. At one time I worried about the fact that I didn’t experience God like I used to, but I have moved passed that and embraced the ways in which God reveals himself to me. In many ways I experience God in ways that are more rich. They are more nuanced. Because they are no longer rooted in emotionalism.
During college I went to a charismatic church. It was a drastic departure from the conservative, liturgical church I grew up in. I didn’t rebel in college with drugs, alcohol, or bad grades. I rebelled by raising my hands in worship and going to church where they danced in the aisles. While much of it was refreshing and helped me see the third person of the Trinity was not in fact “Holy Scriptures,” I also found a lot of emotionalism. It became difficult to discern whether I experiencing God or a feeling of elation as people around me ecstatically shouted to the Lord.
And then the engagement to my fiancé at the time fell apart.
Suddenly I needed God to be near when I didn’t feel joy. I didn’t need ecstatic feelings of elation, I need to be comforted when I wept.
I am thankful I don’t experience God like I used to. Because that wouldn’t be enough.
Luke, in chapter 9, tells the story of the transfiguration of Jesus. Peter, James, and John go up on a mountain with Jesus to pray and before their eyes Jesus is transfigured. The text says the appearance of his face changed and he clothes became bright like flashes of lightning. Peter, James, and John respond by wanting to build tents. In other words, “This is an awesome experience! Let’s stay here so we can experience it over and over again.” Staying on the mountain, would have been a horrible mistake. They would have missed out on the rest of Jesus life and the, more incredible than what they just saw, the empty tomb.
Or as Dallas Willard said:
It was not easy, however, for me to see that our most sacred experiences often blind us. The light that makes it possible for us to see may also dazzle our eyes to the clearest of realities and make it impossible for us to see what lies in a shadow.
I have begun to wonder if our inability to hear from, feel, or experience God isn’t more rooted in us wanting to stay on the mountain. And when Jesus gets off the mountain we are left standing there wondering why we can’t get the feeling back. So we sing the same songs we used to sing. We reread the old books. We make sure and have the quiet time like we used to. We change churches to reignite the flame. We do what we used to do when Jesus was close hoping they will work, but all too often we are left wanting.
Maybe Jesus is calling us to something new.
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When i became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
I think there comes a time when we need to grow up. I don’t say that to be demeaning, but to acknowledge that Christ doesn’t want us to stay where we are. He wants us to grow up into his likeness. Not only does he want us to grow up, but he wants us to see face to face. If I only experienced my wife physically you would not say we had intimacy. In the same way, we cannot know God intimately if we experience God in one way only.
There is a park near our house with a very large play set. To get to the highest slides on the play set you have to climb a ladder into this “nest.” Last year we would take my son there and we would follow him diligently around the structure making sure he didn’t fall and bounce on the recycled tire ground below the broken-arm-marchine/play-structure. Today I took him to the same structure. I followed him up once, and then let him go. Yes, I stood at the bottom and let my son climb and slide and climb again all by himself. Why? Because I think it would be weird if I stood on a ladder next to him when he was 23. At some point he has to do things on his own and I have to let him experience my support and protection differently. So today, my son experienced my cheering him on and directing him from the ground rather than having my hand on his back supporting him.
I do not believe God ever leaves us. But I do think he changes where he stands. Sometimes he is next to us with his hand in the small of our back. Other times he is on the ground yelling support. Other times he gently whispers into the quiet places of our soul. There are moments in which we are overcome with joy and emotions. Who doesn’t get a push/shove in the back at times?
Other times he hides behind something we are holding on to. Ezekiel 14 says, “When any Israelite sets up idols in his heart and puts a wicked stumbling block before his face and then goes to a prophet, I the Lord will answer him myself in keeping with his great idolatry.” In other words, “I’m standing behind this thing in your heart and when you remove it you will see me. But I haven’t gone anywhere.”
I don’t experience Jesus like I used to. And I’m thankful. It means I am growing up.
More importantly, it means I know God more fully.