Our mission as a church is to “raise up fervent followers of Jesus Christ who will reach out and impact communities, cities and nations for the kingdom of God.” A “fervent follower” is someone who experiences God, engages with others, equips themselves and others, and expresses their life purpose. This is all about being and making disciples – something that God is doing all around the world. As we continue to rally together around this focus and align our efforts toward it, God will bless us beyond our expectation.
Whenever Paul communicated with the churches he oversaw, one of his priorities was encouraging them in their relationship with God. He wanted them to continue to grow in their experience of God so that they would know God more and more as time went on (see Col.1:9-10 as an example). This is a journey that takes place over time (much like any friendship or a marriage) through communication and shared experiences.
What's your story? What has been your experience of God? Maybe it occurred while out looking at creation, through an answered prayer, while using your gifts to serve others, during a time of reflection, through taking a step of faith, or even as a result of having had to endure difficult circumstances. In today’s message, we want to have a look at four common ways that people experience God.
1. The Scriptures
God speaks to us through His Word. The Scriptures are inspired by God, showing us what God is like, helping us to understand the story of redemption, and giving us God’s intentions for our lives (see 2 Tim.3:16-17). As we come regularly to the written word, the living Word, who is Jesus, will speak to us and reveal Himself to us through His Spirit (Matt.4:4. Luke 24:27, 32). Research, such as the REVEAL survey, has shown that a frequent connection with God through the Bible is one of the major catalysts for spiritual growth and experience with God for a follower of Christ.
God speaks not only through his Word but also through people. Of course, words through other people are not infallible and need to be tested (1 Thess.5:19-22). Prophecy is simply a bubbling up of a Spirit-inspired word or prompting for someone else. Paul encourages all believers to seek to prophesy (see 1 Cor.14:1-4) and clearly tells us that it’s purpose is for encouragement (to build up), exhortation (to stir up) and comfort (to hold or to bind up). Be naturally spiritual when sharing a word with someone (no need for old King James language!) and avoid directional prophecies (telling people what to do). Its intention should be as more of a confirmation of what God is already doing. Our motive is always to be for the benefit of others, motivated by genuine love, which is above all gifts (1 Cor.13).
3. The Baptism in the Holy Spirit
Jesus told his disciples about the Holy Spirit who he would send as their “Comforter” after he returned to heaven (Jn.14:15-18, 25-27; 16;12-15). Jesus desires that the same Spirit who comes to dwell inside all believers at their conversion will also fill them with power for living. Jesus is the one who “baptises” with the Holy Spirit (Matt.3:11. Acts 1:4-8) and on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out on all those in the upper room prayer gathering (Acts 2:1-4). They spoke with other languages, declaring the praise of God. Spiritual language or “speaking in tongues” continued to be a normal experience of followers of Christ from this time onward (see Acts 10:44-48; 19:1-7. 1Cor.14:5, 18).
The use of spiritual language is of great personal benefit to the believer (see 1 Cor.14:1-4). Paul tells us that it helps us: (1) to communicate directly with God (see also Rom.8:26-28 and Eph.6:18), (2) to edify or build ourselves up, and (3) to speak mysteries, or the hidden things of God that he desires to reveal to us (also 1Cor.2:7-18). Of course, in public gatherings, spiritual language does not build other people up (the purpose of all other spiritual gifts) unless there is an interpretation given (see 1Cor.14:1-25). That is why Paul encouraged prophecy more than speaking in tongues in church gatherings. However, for personal edification, Paul said that he spoke in tongues more than anyone, indicating its importance to his own spiritual experience and relationship with God (1 Cor.14:18).
[Suggested reading: a more extensive BLOG post on The Baptism of the Holy Spirit]
God is omnipresent, which means that he at all places at the one time. There is no place we can go where he is not already there. However, there are times when we become more aware of his present or when he reveals himself to us in special ways. Jesus tells us that when we gather together with others “in his name” he will be there (Matt.18:20) and activities such as praise and worship create a throne for God (Ps.22:3).
Music can be a helpful tool for worship as it adds emotion to words and can lift our spirits to God in powerful ways (see Ps.150). God delights in a “new song,” which can be a literal new song, a known song sung with fresh passion, or a spontaneous song (Ps.40:3). Of course, worship is ultimately a spiritual reality between our hearts and God’s (John 4:21-24). All outward expressions of worship need to be inward expressions of the heart (Matt.15:8).
1. Reflect on your own experience with God. What was the experience and when did it occur? Recall what God has already done in your past.
2. How are you experiencing God the most today? When do you feel closest to God?
3. What are some ways that you can position yourself to experience God more deeply in the future? Consider the potential impact of experiencing God through (a) Scripture (see SOAP Bible reading), (b) prophecy, (c) spiritual language, and (d) worship.
4. Join with others and pray for the infilling of the Spirit or spiritual refreshing. Be bold and share a prophetic word of encouragement with someone. Pray that you will experience God more intimately this year – both individually and with those in your small group or community.