15.2.15 – Who Experiences God? – Peter Cheyne

This year we are looking at experiencing God. Can we experience God? Should we expect to? When we look at the scriptures, people obviously experienced God in very real ways and we sometimes wonder why them and not us to the same extent? Can it be different? Can we experience more of God?

Last time we talked about knowing God –being able to talk about our personal experience of Him.

Today I want to ask who experiences God?

Let’s start by thinking about who experienced Jesus. I want to suggest eight categories of people who had different levels of experience of Jesus. [Start from the bottom.]

Three Peter, James, John Closest of the close. Some experiences no others had e.g. Transfiguration (seeing Jesus in all His glory), healing of Jairus’ daughter
Twelve The Disciples Huge intimacy e.g. Last Supper, Garden of Gethsemane. Saw everything Jesus did. Extra teaching (e.g. explanation of parables). Personal interaction including challenging questions.

Involvement in ministry e.g. feeding 5000,

Ministering Those included in mission teams

E.g. the 72 of Luke 10

Greater intimacy. Probably received training etc

Experienced being used by God. Lk 10:17 72 returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

Followers Those who followed Jesus out of love for Him

Examples: the women who supported Him (Lk 8:1-3) (although maybe they should be in the next category of contributors.)

Saw a lot more of what Jesus was doing.

More time with Jesus = greater intimacy

Opponents Examples: Pharisees; religious leaders, Romans Challenged, condemned (e.g. Mt 23)

Also grace and acceptance (e.g. Nicodemus)

Recipients Received God’s goodness/grace; healed etc

Examples: Bartimaeus, haemorrhaging woman, Zacchaeus, Jairus’ daughter/Jairus, fed crowds

Healed; delivered; forgiven; befriended
Observers Came to hear the teaching and see the miracles Saw and heard incredible things
Absent No personal contact with Jesus

Were there any people in Israel who didn’t, at least, hear about Jesus? Maybe some but He went to every town and village (Mt 9:35)

Lk 24:18 – amazed that Jesus didn’t know about the events in Jerusalem

Indirect. Heard about Jesus

What I am suggesting is that there were various levels of experience. Being in that inner circle of three was very different from simply being in the crowd and observing. Being healed would have been amazing but not as amazing as being involved in ministry and experienced God working through them.

Of course, it is exactly the same today. Some people experience much more of God than others. Let’s think about that. I have chosen some different categories but the idea is the same.

The first level I am going to call “society” – society at large; the people in the houses in this suburb.

How do they experience God?

We might think they don’t at all but actually they do – even if they don’t know it.

Matthew 5:45      He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous an the unrighteous.

God is good to everyone – even those who are “evil”. Our food, our health, our relationships – all good gifts come from God (Jas 1:17).

Many will also be experiencing God’s Spirit drawing them to Him. God is at work in us long before we are interested in Him.

God’s goodness, God’s calling and everyone will, unfortunately, experience God’s judgement. At one level, everybody experiences God.

The next level I am calling “the saved” – those who have put their faith in Jesus.

How do they experience God?

Their experience of God is hugely different because they have been adopted into God’s family. They are children of God who know God as their Father. They have been forgiven. They might have experienced some form of healing or whatever.

Read Galatians 3:1-5

The Galatians had put their faith in Jesus but then had been persuaded that salvation really depended on obeying the Jewish Law. Trust in Jesus or obey the Law? Oh, we had better obey the Law. Paul is horrified that they have turned away from faith to law-keeping as the means of their salvation. “You foolish Galatians”! One of the ways he tries to get them to see their folly is by referring to their experience of God. Look at v.5: Does God give you His Spirit and work miracles among you by your observing the Law, or by your believing what you heard?

The answer is obvious: there is a level of experience of God that comes with faith in Jesus. Good, law-abiding people don’t receive the Spirit or experience miracles. That is the experience of children of God.

But sometimes their experience is all past tense. Some Christians had an experience of God in the past – had a salvation experience of God – but they don’t continue to experience God. They may have a vague awareness that God loves them and looks after them. That is comforting but they couldn’t point to any actual experience of that. It is general, not specific. They couldn’t tell personal stories of God’s provision or of prayers answered because they are not really experiencing those things. God is real but He is in the background, not in the foreground of experience.

So another level called “Seekers”. These are the people who are hungry to know more of God.

Ps 42:1-2         1 As the deer pants for streams of water,
                            so my soul pants for you, my God.
                        2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
                            When can I go and meet with God?

Two weeks ago we thought about Paul’s words: All of the things I once took pride in I now consider revolting muck for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ… I want to know Christ.

These are the people who read their Bibles longing to know God better; who pray; who read other Christian books; who meet with other Christians so as to learn from them.

How do they experience God?

God makes promises to seekers.

Jeremiah 29:13   “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord… (See also Deut 4:29; 1 Chron 28:9, 19)

That was spoken to the Jews in exile. It applied to that particular context but I believe the principle applies. There are many passages about seeking God.

2 Chron 7:14       if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

Hebrews 11:6      And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

God rewards those who earnestly seek Him. It is pretty obvious, for example, that those who pray will be the ones who see prayers answered. Those who ask receive; those who seek find.

The submitted. It is one thing to seek God but the next step is obeying Him. James tells us not to be hearers of the word only but to be doers of the word. The submitted are those who say “yes” to God.

How do they experience God?

Ps 24:3-6             3 Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
    Who may stand in his holy place?
4 The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
    who does not trust in an idol
    or swear by a false god.

  5 They will receive blessing from the Lord
    and vindication from God their Saviour.
6 Such is the generation of those who seek him,
    who seek your face, God of Jacob.

These are people who come into the presence of God and who are blessed by God and vindicated by God – those who seek Him and submit to Him; who have clean hands and pure hearts.

Those who serve – those who respond to God’s call on their lives and are doing what God has asked them to do. Those who are using their spiritual gifts to serve others and who are engaged in mission.

How do they experience God?

Remember how we saw earlier that the disciples who were sent out on mission around the towns and villages came back rejoicing because even the demons had submitted to them in Jesus’ name. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that those who are out serving will see God doing things that those sitting in front of their TVs will never see? Those who are using their spiritual gifts will see God at work through them. The disciples in Acts saw God do incredible things because they were out on the cutting edge of mission. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples and I will be with you.”

Those who serve have the thrill of knowing that God is using them. They are co-workers with God.

Where are you on that list? What is your experience of God? Do you want more? What might you do to go further with God?

We are going to be talking about this a lot more because I want to experience more of God and I’d love for you to experience more too. To some extent those categories of saved, seeking, submitted and serving will form the framework for what we look at. But what could you do now to experience more of God?

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