How do we experience God?

If we are seeking God, then we desire to experience him. We want to know that he is with us and within us. Not just in a theoretical sense, but by actually discovering in some way that he is present in a transforming way. There are two aspects we can consider which are entirely practical but which make a difference to our experience. These are just a few brief thoughts.

The first aspect is about what we need to do. The second aspect is about how we do things. But in both cases we need to remember that we are seeking to actually encounter a person, not have a disconnected feeling. We want and need to enter into a deeper relationship with God, with the Holy Trinity of divine Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

In terms of what we need to do, we can usefully think about the Parable of the Sower. The Lord Jesus talks about four different types of soil which the message of life with God can fall into. God doesn’t withold this message of new life from anyone. But the fruitfulness depends rather on the state of our own life and heart.

We need to look at the state of our heart if we are not experiencing God, life in the Holy Spirit. It is only the presence of the Holy Spirit who produces spiritual fruit of peace and joy, love and hope, faith and perseverance. So we need to be sure that our heart is not in such a state that the Holy Spirit cannot plant the seed of the Word of God deeply and fruitfully.

So first of all, is our heart hard like a well worn path? Do we let anything and everything into our heart so that the surface has become compacted and we are not easily moved by anything anymore. We have seen it all. Nothing gets to us. God is just another aspect of a life that tramples over our heart and mind. Are we constantly on our phone or online or watching TV and everything just floods into us and over us so that we don’t have any sensitivity anymore?

If this is so then you need to make some time where you exclude these other influences. There has to be a time in the day when you are not connected and when your mind is not filled with images, sounds, thoughts being imposed on you. These all harden the soil of your heart. Start by setting aside 15 minutes in your day when you will not be connected, not be checking your phone or computer. Turn them off. Commit this little time to God (we can think about what to do in a moment). But all the while you allow anything and everything into your heart and mind you will become more and more desensitised, and less and less able to experience the presence of God.

In the second place, we can have a heart which has no depth. Yes, we get excited for a moment. Yes, it seems like we are going to really get into this. But after a very short while, we are bored, we are tired, we are thinking of moving on to something else. We are shallow and superficial. But we cannot experience God if we do not have any depth to ourselves and are just living on the surface of things.

What must we do? Just as the hard heart needs us to clear time in our day for God, and for God alone. So the superficial heart needs us to dig deep each day, making a real effort for God each day. We won’t experience God if we do not clear space for him. But equally we will not experience God if we make no effort and expect everything to bear fruit with no work, no sweat and no lasting commitment.

It’s not enough to clear time for God alone. We need to make a commitment to keep doing just that for days and weeks until we see fruit. Otherwise we will flit from one thing to another and never experience anything.

But in the third place, our heart might be fruitful but in the wrong way. We can be busy and active but we can find that all our time and attention, all the energy of our heart, is spent in doing other things that seeking to experience God for ourselves. They can be good things that crowd God out. Homework, studies, clubs, hobbies, a career, even church service. They can be things that worry us and push the presence of God away from us. Health, employment, bills, relationships. They can be sinful habits that we commit lots of energy to but which prevent us experiencing God’s presence.

What must we do? It is not enough to make time for God, even just 15 minutes. It is not enough to stick at it and keep making time for God over days and weeks and a month. It is not enough to turn off our phones. We need to start pulling up some of these weeds that fill our hearts and minds all the time and use up so much of our time and effort, especially the sinful habits of thought and behaviour. These have a lasting effect. Even when we sit alone with God, if we have done nothing about the weeds we will not easily encounter Him.

It is the fourth place, the heart which makes time for God and is easily moved by him which experiences him. It is the heart which makes a lasting effort to discover him which finds him. It is the heart of the person who has made effort to begin to remove the weeds of sinful thoughts, attitudes and behaviors, even only in a limited manner, which meets him. And in such a heart, the encounter with God fills us with a desire for more and more of God, so that our heart can become more fruitful in being more careful what we let in, so that it is not trampled hard. In being committed for the long term so that we do not give up before we have borne fruit. And in doing the workd of clearing the weeds from our heart, especially the sinful habits that choke our spiritual life.

These are things we must DO. But when we make time for God HOW should we act? This is only a beginning and only a brief reflection. But the warmth and energy we bring to our time with God is essential. Even if we feel distressed. Even if there are things we want to tell God about. It is the lukewarm person that will receive nothing from God. Our time with God, if it is 15 minutes of committed time with nothing else allowed to intervene, must have our whole attention. It must be the most important thing we are doing at that time. If we read the Bible, if we pray for ourselves, if we pray for others, if we pray from the Agpeya, it must be with warmth of heart, which is found in attention and focus. We must concentrate on this one thing we are doing, allow no distractions, and act with all of our strength and interior energy.

When we pray Lord have mercy it must be as if we really mean it. As if we were hanging by thread and needed God to put down his hand and grasp us. If we pray Lord have mercy as if it is just one more thing we need to do so that we can escape and get back to our phone or computer then we are not seeking God at all and will not find him. The more we pour our whole heart into our prayer and reading of Scripture the more our heart will be prepared for the coming of God at the right time for our salvation.

There must be an intensity about our seeking after God, a discipline about ourselves, a real effort to overcome habits of sin, and a genuine spirit of repentance. This is not possible for the lukewarm person. God sees our effort and strengthens us and then allows us to experience him. But not until knowing him has become our heart’s desire so that we do not despise quickly what we have received without effort.

More will be written about this. But do these things and with intensity, with warmth, as the beginning of things, as the necessary foundation of the experience of God.

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