Sunday, November 26, 2006

There is more!

Should the Christian seek spiritual experiences? Isn't simply reading, learning and obeying the Scriptures enough to satisfy our spiritual thirst? Or is there more?

There are those who would issue stern warnings against seeking spiritual experiences of any kind. They would point to verses such as Colossians 2:10 (NKJV)—“And you are complete in Him [Christ]"—with the assertion being that if we who are in Christ are complete, then we presently have all we need and don't need to seek anything else.

I would agree that to seek anything besides Christ is wrong. To seek anything besides Christ is to imply that Christ falls short as a Savior, and that salvation includes more than just "Christ alone". To seek any experience outside of Christ is to suggest that the one who claimed to be "the bread of life" (John 6:35) really cannot satisfy our deepest needs.

However, does the fact of being "in Christ" rule out seeking more? I don't think so. In fact, I believe Christians are encouraged to seek more—to seek spiritual experiences, if you will.

Consider what the apostle Paul wrote in that 3rd chapter of Philippians (verses 7-14):

7“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—10that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

12“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Notice: the apostle writes about gaining Christ. Now, Paul already knew Christ (verses 7, 8a), therefore, he was already saved and the Spirit of Christ already lived in him (cf. Galatians 2:20; Romans 8:7). However, though Paul already had Christ, he yet sought to “gain Christ” (verse 8b).

Paul wanted to be fully conformed to the image of Christ (verse 10): he wanted to “know [Christ]”, he wanted to experience Christ’s resurrection “power”, “share [Christ’s] sufferings”, be “like [Christ] in his death” and, ultimately, reach perfection at “the resurrection” of the body, at Christ’s second coming. It is this ultimate goal of conformity to Christ towards which Paul pressed (verses 12-14; cf. Romans 8:29).

So, we see Paul seeking more than he already had—seeking further spiritual experience. Yet, what Paul sought was not a spiritual experience detached from Christ, but rather, an ever-deepening, fuller experience of Christ himself. Christ is the “prize” (verse 14).

Christians should not be complacent in their spiritual lives. Christians should want and seek more; but the more we seek is more of the Son of God.

We see something similar in the letter to the Hebrews (chapter 11, verse 6):

“And without faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

Notice (And I must give credit to John Piper, through whose writings I came to see this truth): It is God who is both the Rewarder (“he rewards”) and the Reward (“those who seek him”). It is God that we are exhorted to seek. Notice, further, that God is pleased when, by faith, we seek him. I don’t think the act of seeking God is only for lost people who are seeking salvation. Absolutely not. God the Father wants believers to continually seek him and desire more of him. We are to seek more of the Father.

Finally, in Luke 11, we see Jesus teaching on prayer, giving his disciples the model prayer (verses 2-4), illustrated with a parable about the friend seeking bread (verses 5-8). What fuels my hope in the possibility of something more is what Jesus says at the end of that parable:

9“And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

The Amplified Bible translates the present imperative verbs in verse 9 this way:

“Ask and keep on asking…; seek and keep on seeking…; knock and keep on knocking…” The idea is one of continuous action.

And what is it that we are to be continually asking, seeking and knocking for? (verse 13):

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask [Amp., “and continue to ask”] him!”

Did you see that? Jesus encourages us to seek the Holy Spirit! Now, as soon as I mention the Holy Spirit, many evangelicals get nervous. Some of us picture fanatics participating in wild, out-of-control meetings, rolling in the dust and handling snakes. Honestly, some of us are more afraid of the Holy Spirit than we are of sinning. Child of God, let me remind you that the Holy Spirit is God. Let’s not give over this ground to the Pentecostals and Charismatics. Experiences of the Holy Spirit are meant for all believers in Christ. Peter exhorted the crowd at Pentecost, saying (Acts 2:39), “The promise [i.e., the gift of the Holy Spirit] is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” The Apostle’s Creed states, “I believe in the Holy Spirit”. Let’s act like we believe that, and seek the Holy Spirit!

In these brief examples, we see that believers are encouraged to seek God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We should never be satisfied with what happened “way back when” at the time of our salvation. Rather, we should seek ongoing experiences of that which God began in us at salvation. We should seek to experience more of God in all his fullness, which I understand to mean more of his gracious working in our lives: conforming us to the image of Christ, increasing the fruit of the Spirit, making vibrant our witness before an unbelieving world, deepening and making more effective our prayer lives, enlivening our worship, and increasing our knowledge of him through Scripture.

The “old folks” used to sing, “I wouldn’t have religion I couldn’t feel sometime”. I agree with that! I’m not satisfied with a cold, passionless, emotionless faith. And why should I? I don’t feel passionless about my wife. I don’t feel emotionally detached from my sons. As a musician, I have deep feelings about the music I perform. So, why shouldn’t I feel passionate about my faith in God? Why shouldn’t I seek to experience God in a deeper way than ever before?

“O God, you are my God;
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”
(Psalm 63:1)

“As a deer pants for flowing streams,
So pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
For the living God.”
(Psalm 42:1-2)

Do you feel this passion for God that David and the sons of Korah felt? Has God created a deep thirst for himself in your soul? Do you long for God to satisfy you with his very self? Don’t be indifferent about your relationship with God. Don’t become complacent and comfortable with a Christianity that has become cold and predictable. There is more. There is much more! It is biblical to experience God. Seek to experience God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

Remember, God “rewards those who seek him.”

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