Seeking God vs. Seeking Experiences

Keith KettenringChristian Living, The Uncommon Journey

Many people who begin to explore a deeper relationship with God discover a desire to have heightened experiences of God. Call these experiences “mystical,” “beatific,” or “ecstatic,” they often become the focus of their spiritual journey. Visions of God, ecstatic dreams, glowing lights, or euphoric feelings become the measure or goal of spiritual progress. Here are some thoughts on encountering God.  

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There is no biblical example of anyone seeking a religious, mystical, or ecstatic experience. However, there are many examples of people having religious, mystical, (not sure I’d call them ecstatic) experiences. The Holy Spirit descending on the gathered at Pentecost. Paul ushered into the third heaven. Abraham bowing before the unconsumed burning bush. Moses speaking with God in the darkness of Mount Sinai. Mary talking with the angel Gabriel about the birth of Jesus and an angel coming to Joseph in a dream. Paul struck down on the road to Damascus. Peter seeing a sheet filled with food. Isaiah’s seeing a vision of the Lord, angels, and having conversation with heavenly beings. 

None of these encounters with God were sought after by those to whom they happened. They unexpectedly happened…because God wanted them to happen.  

Seeking mystical or spiritual experiences can be dangerous leading to spiritual delusion and wrong thinking. A person can think they’re near to God into the realm of the divine or supernatural. They believe every event in their life has some kind of spiritual significance and direct intention from God. (these thoughts are from Sacramental Living podcast, Michael Haldas, Sept. 9, 2017) Much of life is “spiritualized” in a euphoric air wrapped in supernatural facade. 

In contrast, it is better to seek God than to seek an experience of God. For many, however, the line between these two is fuzzy. Since to know God is to experience Him, it’s easy to substitute the experience of God for God Himself. Therefore, you come to God with expectations. He’s supposed to heal, satisfy, communicate, shine, answer, encourage, or make you feel good; whatever it is that you need right now.

Yet, how you experience God is not yours to control. He can do, or not do, as He pleases. He is under no obligation to meet your expectations. 

This becomes even more troublesome as emotions take center stage in religious experience. 

Consider the few examples of encounters with God given above. I question whether any of these encounters involved elevated emotional experiences often associated with experiences of God by contemporary Christians and their leaders. I’m not saying that emotions weren’t involved. Unfortunately, our modern emphasis on emotions & feelings makes them the measure of our relationship with God. When we’re stirred or moved, we believe we’re close to God. When we don’t feel Him, we think He’s far away. Beware of emotions becoming an end in themselves. They are a fickle guide on our journey with God.

No doubt, experiencing God is essential to really knowing Him. You only truly know what you experience. When you seek God alone, no matter the outcome – emotional or informational – you find He is enough. Could this be what Jesus teaches when he invites us to go away by ourselves, shut the door, and pray to the unseen Father? “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret will reward you” or “be your reward“ (my interpretation). Matthew 6.6 

Seek God and Him only. Leave the results to Him. 

How are you seeking God today? 

Dr. K