How do you really experience God?

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When our church dived into Henry Blackaby’s book Experiencing God I reacted with my usual lack of expectation that it was really worth the excitement. I thought it was a typical, off-the-shelf, Christian self-help book until I read a few reviews. I then discovered a much bigger problem.

Blackaby’s book undermines the authority of Scripture only to replace it with subjective measures of the work of God, mainly our perceptions and feelings. He does a lot of harm to Christians by leading them to expect God to provide a special revelation, or assignment, just for them. It’s bad enough that many Christians have an unbiblical worldview (most according to many surveys). We need the kind of clarity that can only come from the Bible which is the word of God.

I thought it was a typical, off-the-shelf, Christian self-help book until I read a few reviews. I then discovered a much bigger problem.

I have heard people talk about the will of God in a mystical fashion my whole life. They told me to seek after it and ask God for it. I was supposed to follow the Holy Spirit’s “leading.” Of course, nothing ever happened and I wondered about what it took to gain this knowledge. And with each decision point I would reach where I hoped God would show me the way I was disappointed and increasingly frustrated.

The problem is that this is an unbiblical way of living the Christian life. I don’t know where it came from but it certainly didn’t come from Jesus. If we want to know the will of God then we must know the word of God. A healthy spiritual life is one where the believer is growing in the knowledge and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is not passing from one emotionally stimulating experience to another.

Blackaby wants you to hear God’s “voice” and that includes the scriptures but is not limited to them:

“God speaks to us through the Holy Spirit. He uses the Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church (other believers). No one of these methods of God’s speaking is, by itself, a clear indicator of God’s directions. But when God says the same thing through each of these ways, you can have confidence to proceed.”

What?! The Bible, by itself, is not a clear indicator of God’s directions? Has Blackaby not read what Paul wrote to Timothy?

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

Not only is the Bible a clear indicator but it is the ONLY clear indicator of God’s “directions.” Your goal is not to develop a spiritual 6th sense that will indicate when God is “leading.” Everything we need to know in order to live a Godly life is found in the scriptures. Whatever help we get from others only supplements what is in the word of God. It is never a substitute for the revelation of the Bible.

Lest you think that I’m just being a negative it’s important for me to say that we are so blessed to have the Bible as our guide. Peter himself said as much:

For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.  

And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.

We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts…

Peter had an actual mountaintop experience. He saw things that you and I should never expect to see in our lifetimes. And yet, years later, he would go so far as to say that the word of God was far more valuable than any of those miracles he witnessed. It is so important that we understand this because of our temptation to think that if we see a sign then our faith will be solid.

The Bible is explicit, specific, and true. Spiritual maturity comes through time spent in the scriptures. Taking Blackaby’s approach means forever attributing your gut feelings to the Holy Spirit. You can see the fruit of that approach in your churches and among your family and friends.

If God did not reveal Himself to us through His word we would know nothing about Him. Hold fast to the word. It is the only firm foundation.

How firm a foundation you saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in his excellent Word!
What more can he say than to you he has said,
to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

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How To Know That You Know God

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And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 1 John 2:3

Although John’s writings (his gospel, Revelation) are often focused on the spiritual things above nevertheless he is very practical in his epistles to the church. I get the impression from his letters that John is the type of person who is concerned about the real world application of the gospel. Missouri is the “show me” state; John is the “show me” apostle. If he were alive today I think he would love the saying, “the proof is in the pudding.” In this passage John gives us three tests which determine whether we know and love God.

Knowing God is not a matter of acquiring information but of obedience. We do not come to know God by reading the bible, studying theology, or memorizing scripture. We do it by putting Jesus’ teachings into practice. I like this because it is practical and straightforward, not some esoteric mystery. It requires us to have an attitude that sees Jesus as our Lord, that is, our superior who commands us in all things. Jesus said that it is the doer of the word that loves Him. If you believe that Jesus is Lord and His commands are binding on you then you know that you know God.

Anyone who claims to know God must follow Jesus’ example as the model for his life. In verse 6 we read, “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.” The Christian’s mandate is to be a disciple of Christ. Jesus commissioned His disciples to make disciples of all the nations. Disciples reflect their masters like children resemble their parents. A disciple wants to be like his master. He follows the same thought process and has the same priorities. Those who think that Jesus’ example is irrelevant today are not His disciples and it is no surprise that they bear no resemblance to Him. If you are seeking to emulate Jesus’ life then you know that you know God.

You cannot know God if you do not love His people, your brethren. Gandhi said that he likes Christ but not Christians. He was clearly clueless about Christ because you cannot separate the two. Unfortunately, there are many Christians who share a similar sentiment. They claim to love God but they have no love for the church. The problem with this attitude is that it fails to understand an important part of God’s character. He loved us first when we were still His enemies. If we want that love to abide in us then we have to begin to see people the way God sees them. It shows that we appreciate and thank God for His grace and mercy towards us. You love much when you know you’ve been forgiven much. In John 13:35 Jesus said that our love for each other would be the defining characteristic of the church and mark us as His disciples. If you love the church, for whom Christ died with all its imperfections, then you know that you know God.

This passage has a very encouraging message that gives hope to everyone and reveals God’s wisdom and glory. It teaches that God is not known only to the priest and theologian, or even the literate. He is known by those who obey Him, follow His example, and love the brethren. The Lord makes us equal in that He reveals Himself to all, rich and poor, strong and weak, famous and anonymous, male and female, old and young, healthy and sick, Jew and gentile, clergy and layman, without distinction or favoritism. We have hope in that we know now what we must do to know God. We know the way and we can walk in it and be assured of success. There is no excuse for not knowing God.