Experiencing God Meets Sola Scriptura*
“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” Luke 8:5-8In my nearly 50 years of life, there has never been a time when I haven't identified in some way as a Christian: first as the nominal Lutheran I was brought up to be, then as a word-of-faith charismatic, then as a "regular" charismatic (during which time I attended an Assemblies of God college), then as a "backslider", then as a Calvary Chapel person, then as a "backslider" again.
It wasn't until around the time of my 40th birthday that I began to question, for the first time ever, whether I really was a Christian at all. I didn't doubt the truth of Christianity or anything like that. But I had seen the difference between myself and the handful of genuine Christians I had encountered over the years. I knew they had something I did not. I didn't know how they got it, but I also wasn't really sure I wanted it.
Later that same year, the life that I had created for myself rose up and stabbed me in the back. Within a month's time I found myself jobless, husbandless, friendless, and physically ill, in that order. I turned with my whole heart and with all of its sin, desperately, to Christ, and He saved me. A few weeks later, as I grieved my losses, I wept, wailing and groaning, begging God to show Himself to me. I wanted proof that He was with me, that He accepted me, and that He would rebuild my shattered life. All I got was silence.
It is hubris to expect God to reveal himself, because he already has. God HAS spoken to men. He has revealed himself.
"Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son..." Heb. 1:1-2aThe word of his Son was given to his apostles and recorded for all time, in that book we call the Bible. If we do not honor the words we have already been given, if we will not consider them as sufficient for life and godliness, then how on earth do we dare to demand or require special experiences in order to trust him?
I thank God for his patience with me through that time of desperation and ignorance. I wish I could say my change of heart was easy or instantanious. Though why would I expect it to be? After all, the first disciples saw him face to face, heard his teaching first-hand, witnessed his great miracles, his death, and his resurrection, and yet were slow to believe God's words. I was no different. Like them, I came into it with a lot of misguided ideas about Christ and what it meant to follow him. I had absorbed a lot of bad teaching, and even misunderstood some good teaching, during my decades in and out of church.
On my very first visit to a Word of Faith church I was taught to speak in tongues. (Yes, I said "taught". It didn't happen spontaneously, but with instructions on how to do it. My husband says he was taught to do the same in an acting exercise when he was in college.) The fact that I possessed the ability to do this led me to believe I was "still" a Christian for many years in spite of all evidence to the contrary. Oddly, when I did get saved, I never felt any need or desire to speak in tongues again.
But, my years as a charismatic had also led me to think I was supposed to be hearing from God and getting direct guidance, via still, small voices and the like, on a routine basis. I was supposed to "experience" God in all sorts of goose-bumpy ways. In those days people were always telling me the things God had told them, special messages or prophecies He had given them: "The Lord told me....The Lord led me to...The Lord put it on my heart...The Lord showed me...Thus sayeth the Lord..." Oh, how they treasured their experiences... and who was I to doubt them? So being a Christian meant hearing voices, picking up on signs, seeing visions, recognizing when "God is doing something". None of this had ever happened to me, so when I really did come to Christ, I had it in my mind that this was what it was like to be a real Christian.
In addition to those hold-over notions, after my conversion I began voraciously reading a variety of Christian literature, some of it good, some of it dreadful. I couldn't always tell the difference as they all claimed to be based upon Scripture. Some suggested that Christians should expect to have highly-charged encounters with God and personal experiences of His presence as a matter of course. Some suggested that if I were only more fully surrendered to God I would achieve a higher Christian life - that ethereal "abiding" with Christ - which seemed in the books like a spiritual bliss from which all sorts of lovely spiritual fruits would effortlessly flow.
My life experience with Christianity reads like the Parable of the Sower. I have been the hard-beaten path on which the word lands but is not understood, so the birds come and snatch it away. I have been that rocky heart, filled with exuberance at the word of God but withering when the going gets rough. I have also been that weedy ground, overgrown with worries and cares that choke out the word before it can bear fruit. I was, at different times, every bad kind of soil. But there finally came a time when the harsh realities of life had plowed my heart so well that when it met with sound biblical teaching the word could put down deep roots and grow.
"...the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth." Col. 1: 5b-6In the scriptures the Spirit gives me understanding of who God is and what his will for me is. His word really does bear "fruit in every good work" and I increase "in the knowledge of God" (Col. 1:10) on a daily basis as I commit myself to letting God lead and guide me through it. At long last, after all these years I really am experiencing God on a daily basis, only not in the way I had once been led to expect. My life and my relationships are being transformed as I meet him in his word. My faith has been shored up to withstand tremendous onsloughts. My hope is in Christ, and through His word I see into his face and am daily being transformed. Understanding Him and trusting Him through His word is how we experience God.