A personal spiritual experience
When I was in college, I decided to go overseas as a missionary for one whole year. For safety and security of those who are still there, I won’t be able to mention where I went. And during that year, there were many things we saw God do but personally, there was one powerful experience of encountering the presence of God that I’d like to share.
One day, we had an opportunity to accompany another seasoned missionary to the airport and many of us joined her. I initially decided to go with her not only to say goodbye but also because the only Burger King in the city was at the airport. I did come back home with a bunch of whoppers to freeze but more than that, the conversations we had with the missionary inspired me more to continue dwelling on thoughts about the kingdom of God.
When I came back home, I began to just worship and pray in my room. It was during this time that I experienced the most incredible spiritual encounter I’ve had in my life.
My face was already on the ground but in a moment I felt the literal presence of God for the first time in my life. I felt like I was prostrated under a brightness like the warm glow of a heat lamp. It was a brightness you could feel.
Looking back, I wish I could have said something awesome like, “Lord, let me remain here for a little longer,” but that honestly just reminds me of what Peter said when he saw the transfiguration of Jesus. All I could utter was a few oh’s.
What sustains your faith?
I wanted to share this experience to say that my faith is not contingent on continuing to have similar experiences. Honestly, this unique experience doesn’t even come to mind when I preach about the power of the Holy Spirit or persevering in the faith. I don’t think its as helpful in most contexts. It is merely a sweet memory and if anything, it is a marker in my life that I can reflect on whenever I pray to be near God and invite Him to come and fill the room.
The reason why it is dangerous to place experiences as the foundation of our faith is because experience is unique to each person and ultimately unverifiable except to the extent that maybe something similar happened in the Bible. And by reason, if the experience were to occur in another setting, whatever context it was in would ultimately define the experience. If I had this same experience while visiting a Buddhist temple, I may have turned out to be a monk if I had no other foundation for my faith in Jesus Christ.
However, I fear that many self-professing Christians have their faith built mainly on experiences. I believe this is a huge reason why there are many Christians continue to allow sin to enslave them where no matter how many experiences they’ve had, they always seem to return to their original state, lost and confused. On the other side of the spectrum, I fear that many others have their faith built on knowledge. This becomes dangerous when the world proposes a knowledge that overwhelms the knowledge of their faith or when their knowledge of faith cannot explain or help understand a certain reality in life.
In the end, the only thing that can continue to assure us of our faith is God himself. The Christian faith is not sustained by its fruit, or in other words by its effects. The Christian faith is sustained by its source. It is sustained by God. God alone can sustain it, but the beauty of this is, God did not leave it to us to figure out who He is. He gave us His Word. And the things God reveals to us are reflected in our obedience but the things that God keeps hidden, we entrust to Him.
In saying all this, I do not mean to say that experience doesn’t matter. It actually does matter tremendously. With our assurance of faith reflected by our obedience to God, the experiences that God provides us are simply His blessings, a fruit, a product of the life in obedience.
When we chase after the fruit of faith, we easily lose sight of the source of faith. But when we chase after the source of faith, the fruit automatically follows. What I mean by this is, if our faith is truly rooted in God, we must live expecting to experiencing the fruit of it. It may not always bear fruit in the way we anticipated, but there is no doubt that the fruit will bear as it is written in Scripture.
We need to get that right at the very begin or else our hearts will look very different as we continue to live as Christians. We don’t obey to get God to do anything. It is because of what God has done for us that we can live in obedience. We aren’t Christian and do Christian things to become children of God. We get to be Christian because God has adopted us and bought us to free us from slavery to sin and death and because God calls us children of God!
Experience matters not because it gives us faith. Our faith was given by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Experiences matters because it is the rightful fruit purchased by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for a life that is living in that new reality of redemption.
And he (Jesus Christ) gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.Ephesians 4:11-16