Experiencing God

Posted on 05/04/2008 by Rev. Benjamin R. Faust D.D.

AUDIO: dialup - broadband - podcast

TRANSCRIPT: (may not contain everything found in the audio above)

Good morning! I'm not sure what it looks like outside of your windows, but this is a beautiful day, the day that the Lord has made, and we have a reason to rejoice!

A special welcome to our visitors. I hope you'll experience the presence of the Lord here today, and I know you will if you just seek after him. Make sure you touch the welcome sign in the foyer before you leave.

Let's all stand to our feet and go to the Lord in prayer.

Lord God, thank you for giving us this day so that in it we could seek after you, draw closer to you, learn about you, and point the world to you.

We want to take just a moment to join in agreement on behalf of our brothers and sisters who have asked us to pray together for their needs.

We pray for Marcia and for her relationship with Jude. We ask first of all that their central focus would be on you in all things. We ask that your will would be done in their relationship, in their lives, and in the path you have set before them.

We pray for BudzGirl and for her family. We ask that you would become the center of her family, that each one of them would be drawn closer and closer to you. Bring peace and healing to this family, and may it become a household of peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

We pray for Rikku and for the life changes through which Rikku is going. We ask for peace, direction, wisdom, and guidance from your Holy Spirit and your Word, in Jesus' name.

We pray for Zowiie, that she would seek a love that is good and that is of you. May Zowiie first of all find your love through Jesus Christ, fellowshipping with you daily and walking intimately with you; and we ask that you prepare Zowiie for the godly man that you have in mind for her.


*** other requests or prayer needs ***

*** prayer for the service ***

Please remain standing. Let's take a moment to turn around and touch one of the offering plates by the door, as we worship God with our giving.


Touch the pulpit for a notecard, and let's sing to the Lord; let everything that has breath praise the Lord!


I WALK BY FAITH

I walk by faith
Each step by faith
To live by faith
I put my trust in You
I walk by faith
Each step by faith
To live by faith
I put my trust in You

Every step I take
Is a step of faith
No weapon formed against me shall prosper
And every prayer I make
Is a prayer of faith
And if my God is for me
Who can be against me

YES LORD YES

Yes, Lord, yes, to Your will and to Your way
Yes, Lord, yes, I will trust You and obey
When Your Spirit speaks to me, with my whole heart I'll agree
And my answer will be yes, Lord, yes!

YOU ARE CROWNED

You are crowned with many crowns
And rule all things in righteousness
You are crowned with many crowns
Upholding all things by Your word

You rule in power
And reign in glory
You are Lord
Of heaven and earth

You are Lord of all
You are Lord of all
You are Lord of all
You are Lord of all


Lord, thank you for your presence here with us. Thank you that as we enter into your courts and gather around your throne to worship you, we can experience your presence, experience your power, experience your voice, and experience your love.

I ask that you speak to us today by your Holy Spirit. Open our ears, our minds, and our hearts to learn just a little more about our walk with you.

Thank you Lord.

Amen.


You can be seated.


The title of today's message is, "Experiencing God." This message is partially in response to a conversation last week in which the idea was set forth that our experiences with God are overrated and potentially dangerous. So today we're going to open up the Word of God and see what the Bible tells us about personal spiritual experiences with God.


First, let's ponder the problems with experience. People from all walks of life and all religions have experiences.

People have reported experiences of hearing God tell them grand, not to mention unbiblical, things.

People have reported seeing angels, spirit guides, and mystical (not to mention unscriptural) visions.

People have reported an "inner witness" when presented with cult teachings and false doctrines, telling them those things were true.

There is no shortage of experience. And there is no shortage of misleading experience.

Even Christians are led astray by following their experiences. Consider the Emergent Church movement in which any experience is considered valid, even if it does not agree with the writings found in the Bible.

So the question begs to be answered: Should our relationship with God be one in which we experience him, or one in which we simply live by what the Bible says and throw our personal experiences to the side?


Let's read about an experience with God in Acts chapter two, beginning with verse one.

Acts 2:1-13

1 When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.
3 Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.
4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
  
5 And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven.
6 And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language.
7 Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, "Look, are not all these who speak Galileans?
8 And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?
9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,
10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,
11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God."
12 So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "Whatever could this mean?"

Of course this goes on to tell us how this opportunity brought about the salvation of a large number of people. Now we don't have time to go into the topic of speaking in tongues, but I will point out that this is the only example I see in Scripture of people speaking in another human language. We see examples of an unknown tongue being interpreted through the gift of interpretation, and a prayer language of tongues in which the one praying is speaking mysteries to God.

But although I've heard of modern-day examples of people speaking to someone in their native language which was unknown to the one speaking, there are no more examples of this in Scripture.

I believe, and the end results would seem to confirm, that this particular part of their experience that day was for a very specific purpose. In fact, EVERY part of their experience had a purpose, and I'd like for us to take a quick look at what those purposes may have been.

First of all, they heard a sound coming from heaven, a sound like a mighty rushing wind. I believe this served the purpose of getting their attention and announcing the coming of the promised Holy Spirit.

Perhaps this brought to rememberance the words of Jesus recorded in John 3:8, "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit."

Here, Jesus compares the Holy Spirit to the wind, saying it blows where it wishes. You hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes.

And on this day in the upper room, they heard the sound as of a mighty rushing wind. Since it did not come from any earthly place they could discern, they knew it was coming from heaven.

And it filled the place where they were. Jesus said that it goes wherever it wishes. And so by filling the place where they were, I believe the Holy Spirit was reinforcing the fact that he desired to meet with them. He wasn't there because he had to be, but because he desired to be. "I want to be here with you, and I want you to have a real and living experience with me."


Next we read, "Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them." Notice this does not say that a large bonfire appeared over the building, or the room was filled with a firey explosion. No, it says, "And there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and ONE sat upon EACH of them."

So the first message we see from this experience is that God wanted to be with them and he wanted them to experience him in a real and living way.

And the second message we see here is this: Not only did God want to be with them and have them experience him corporately, he also wanted to be with them and have them experience him INDIVIDUALLY.

So we see here these two purposes of this Day of Penticost experience: God expressing his desire to meet with and share an experience with them corporately, and God expressing his desire to meet with and share an experience with them individually; and now we see a third purpose: To get the attention of others, so they could hear the great things God has done in their own language, and because of this bizzar experience, listen to and accept the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ.


The purpose of such an experience is not just so we can have a warm fuzzy feeling or have goose bumps. At least that purpose isn't laid out for us in Scripture. So why didn't the Holy Spirit skip those first two steps and instead just cause the people to start speaking in other languages? What was God's purpose for giving them this incredible experience?

The Bible doesn't tell us why, over and over again in Scripture, men and women are given experiences. And, except for brief, surface-level mentions, we don't even see what those experiences were.

In Acts chapter 16, we read this -- Acts chapter 16, beginning with verse 6:

6 Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.
7 After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.
8 So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.


First this says that they were "forbidden" by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. Now this opens up a can of worms. First of all, why would God tell someone to not preach the Gospel? And second of all, HOW did Holy Spirit forbid them to do so?

There are no answers here, nor elsewhere in Scripture. And I believe this is so for a very important reason. If this said, "but we had a vision of Jesus telling us not to go," then we would say that God speaks like this only through visions. Or dreams. Or through a prophet. Or through Scripture. Or through a still small voice.

Yet this simply says they were "forbidden" by the Holy Spirit.

And again in verse seven we read, "After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them."

How did the Spirit not permit them? And if it was by some external means, in what way did they know it was the Holy Spirit?

I realize these questions can be frightening. After all, if we don't have a cut-and-dried, set-in-stone guide for knowing when we're hearing from God, won't we be misled and deceived?

And yet it appears as though the Holy Spirit cannot be predicted by a select few experiences and definitions. Rather, we cannot tell from where he comes or where he is going, and he goes where he wishes; but we hear the sound, we feel the wind, and we can see the trees blowing.

If you haven't received the infilling with the Holy Spirit talked about in Acts and other New Testament books, something that was clearly separate from Salvation, then this topic should frighten you. Not because the Holy Spirit is dangeous to the true believer, but for the same reason that if you haven't tasted cheddar cheese, you might be able to be fooled into thinking something is cheddar when it really is something else.

The disciples weren't told to go seek experiences and start hearing silent commands from heaven and talking in other languages. Rather, they were told to go wait for the promise of the Holy Spirit. And just as Jesus promised, he came; not in a subtle way that could be dismissed by anyone as just a feeling or just an imagination, but in a real, tangible way, a way that those who experienced it could never deny, and it completely turned their lives around.

For those who come from a church background that does not believe in and therefore does not experience these things, the thought that God is not present in the way he desires to and could be in their church isn't really acceptible. It's a hard thing to accept. It sounds too much like an indictment.

But when the Holy Spirit filled those who were already born again believers, they knew it. It was an undeniable experience given to them as tangible evidence that God had given them something very special and very alive.

And this continues to be the case today. There are those who insist they have had this infilling with the Holy Spirit simply because they are born again and the Spirit of God is within them. But once again, this is not the Biblical example. When you are filled with the Holy Spirit, it will be a tangible, real, undeniable experience. That's how it happened in Scripture. And that's how it happens today. God is the same today as he was back then, he hasn't changed. And he still fills with the Holy Spirit those who seek after that filling, and when he comes, he still comes bearing the gift of an experience.

This experience was not evil or dangerous in the Bible, and this experience is not evil or dangerous today. Jesus gave the example of a child asking a father for something, and the father giving only good things, and said that God will give not evil but only good, the Holy Spirit, to those who ask and keep on asking until they receive.

And it's important for us to realize that God has a particular spiritual gift or gifts for every one of us. If you don't see any of those gifts active in your life, it's not because they have passed away -- that would be taking your experience over the Word of God; rather, the gifts of the Spirit come with being filled with the Spirit. So if you don't see the Holy Spirit working by any spiritual gift in you, seek after that filling.


Let's jump down to verse 16, still in Acts chapter 16.

16 Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling.
17 This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, "These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation."
18 And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." And he came out that very hour.


So here we see another experience, a "word of knowledge" being given to this fortune teller. She was speaking the truth. If her words were simply compared with Scripture, she would pass the test. Using that measure alone, we would have to say God was speaking through her.

And certainly if what she said was not in perfect harmony with Scripture, or anything you feel or hear is not in perfect harmony with Scripture, we would say without hesitation that it is not from God.

But she passed the test of Biblical comparison. Yet her word was not from God, but from demons.

Why was Paul greatly annoyed? It says, in one breath, "but Paul, greatly annoyed," and in the next breath, "turned and said to the evil spirit."

How did Paul know? It was the Holy Spirit. He had been filled with the Spirit, and had walked in the Spirit. By his experiences with the Holy Spirit, he knew when what he was hearing in the spirit man was God. And what he heard that day coming from the mouth of the fortune teller was NOT God.

What would have happened if Paul had rejected his experiences and had not accepted this separate infilling with the Holy Spirit, insisting he had it already?

Or what if he had thought, "Well, I feel this leading of the Holy Spirit that this is a demon speaking through this girl and isn't God, but her words match up with Scripture, so I'll keep my mouth shut"? The girl would not have been set free.


So to follow your personal experiences regardless of how they line up with Scripture is mysticism. But to throw aside personal experience is foolishness. If both weren't important, we would have been given only one or the other. But both are very important.

It is not personal experiences with the Holy Spirit that mislead, but a lack of true experiences coupled with a desire for them. So don't back away from that which will give you the level of wisdom and discernment to deliver you from that which you fear. Seek after God, seek after that filling with his Holy Spirit, and you will encounter him and experience him in a way that will change your life forever.

The Word of God gives us our foundation, our guidelines, and our clear and absolute standard, and our experiences which come from God enforce and often reveal the written word to us, validating our personal relationship with God, who wants us to experience him corporately and personally, and then share our experiences and our personal testimonies to show others that we are not involved in just another religion, but we have a real and living relationship with the true and living God; who gave his Word to us in 66 books written over thousands of years in perfect harmony, who sent his Son to die for our sins and then rise bodily from the dead, and who is very much involved in our lives today in real and tangible ways, bringing us peace that we never knew before, joy that we cannot put into words and which is filled with the glory of God, and fellowship with his Holy Spirit who leads us, guides us, and has chosen to give us personal and corporate experiences with him.


The ministry team can come to the front now.

Do you want a fresh, living experience with God? Do you want to know his voice, and distinguish his voice from all others, even when they use the same words?

Seek after him. In the example Jesus gave, he said we should keep seeking, keep asking, and keep knocking until we receive. So let's start seeking, asking, and knocking today, and continue doing so until he pours out his Spirit upon us and we experience the promised gift of being filled with the Holy Spirit.

You're all invited to come to the altar and seek after God. Just get out of your seats and come stand or kneel at the front. If you want someone to pray or minister with you, instant message someone on the ministry team. If you need to go, you're free to do so, and if you want to carry on a conversation, please do so outside.

Come, and let's seek after more of God, being open to experience him with more than our intellect; and just see what God will do.