What does it mean to encounter God?
My upbringing and my experience as a student informs me that an encounter with God is something to be had in a large gathering of self-confessed Christians; usually with the backdrop of intense and loud music – to help me to focus on the presence of God – and to then somehow be transformed and changed by this presence.
Six months or even six weeks ago, my cynical self would say that the above description is exactly what is wrong with the Church today (particularly Evangelical or Charismatic parts thereof). I think perhaps the cynicism throws the baby out with the bathwater. I have had genuinely transformative moments – realisations if you will – whilst engaging in sung worship in a large church context. I think it can be all to easy when in a state of perplexity of faith to forget the conveniently simple stories. Sometimes, a bit of power praise (to borrow a phrase from my friend James) is really rather good for the soul.
It can remind me that there is a God and that there is hope. It has worth in its power to get to my emotions, to my spirit, to my thoughts, and to unify them in a sort of rallying cry of the hope that is given to the world in the good news of Jesus and the Kingdom of God.
It can also be very, very misleading.
I don’t want to take away from those kinds of experiences. They are to be affirmed as much as any other experience. But the key thing is that previous sentence – there are other kinds of experience, ones which I have only been exposed to because I chose to explore faith and varying expressions of it. Experiences which should be a part of many a Christians life.
I highly recommend that you read Richard Foster’s A Celebration of Discipline. In it, he makes the case for spiritual practices such as fasting, or meditation. I have written previously about the benefits I have found in meditating – stopping and making time for God to be actively present within myself each day has been truly eye opening. For one thing it has made it hard to doubt God as much as I perhaps used to!
So there’s singing, and there’s being.
There’s also loving. I love what people like Shane Claiborne have to say about meeting with Jesus – that we can do it by looking into the eyes of the poor. That doesn’t mean we can just go up to a homeless person and suddenly we will see Christ. There is something deeper than that. When we form relationships with people there is an exchange of love between us. That love is God (God is love) and in serving and loving others, we love them, love God and can find that our inner being is enlightened and more alive.
So there’s singing, and being, and loving.
In recent weeks I have begun attending my local Anglican church more than the other church community that I am a part of, which is more traditionally charismatic. The Anglican church is primarily just traditional! However, I have enjoyed the lack of cheesy songs and long, complex talks and moving emotive films and the like (again, not that they do not have their place nor their captive audience). I have come to really appreciate the power of liturgy. Being able to affirm to myself and in front of others what I believe, why I believe it, and what I am going to do about it.
So there is singing, and being, and loving, and saying.
In my place of work I have found that when I am kind towards others, when I am considerate of the world around me, when I try to steer my business towards ethical ways, things go well and I feel a sense of completeness, of rightness, about things. My soul says ‘amen’ to the way things are. I think that is another experience of God. Work is supposed to be good. It is supposed to be rewarding. It is supposed to make the world a better place. It is mean to help towards the ongoing, unraveling creation and re-creation and re-creation again and again of all things.
So there is singing, being, loving, saying, working and creating.
In each of these things we can encounter God. We can sense the divine at work in our lives and in the lives of those around us. The good news folks is not that Jesus died on the cross for our sins that we might be forgiven and have eternal life. No, that’s not it. It’s some of it, yes. But the good news is also this:
Jesus came to earth to show us a way of life where we could encounter God in every moment. In our singing, in our stopping and being, in our speaking, in our working, in our making, in our experiences of the world around us as we play and relax and socialise and enjoy life.
The challenge is to live in the fullness we are afforded by God. The way to show people the love of God is not just by loving them but by loving ourselves enough to want to continually know and enjoy the presence of God. The biggest challenge of all is to break out of our Christian sub-culture and realise we don’t need loud flashy music to do it (though let me again state that it is not necessarily a bad thing to worship in that way).
This then is our call: instead of them filing into our one-size-fits-all-lets-all-approach-god-this-way tendencies, we must be more open and more accessible to more people.
And we won’t even need to talk to them about the Alpha course to do it! 😉