Experiencing God: A Freely Chosen Spiritual Life
Just outside the town’s gate, a starved widow gathered sticks to create a fire that would cook her last meal. She was starving to death. The prophet Elijah, after hearing God’s life-saving instructions, met her at the gate (1 Kings 17:7-16).
Upon meeting, Elijah instructed her to give him a morsel of bread and attempted to soothe her fears. Elijah, a male and prophet with social privilege, reiterated God’s reassurances for her and her life: “The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth” (1 Kings 17:14). The widow simply did as Elijah instructed.
Most likely, the widow was unable to read the Hebrew Bible, but she was, however, willing to rely on God. The widow was eager and open to experience God first-hand—she didn’t need social privilege to do so.
Many of us have felt adrift and nomadic in our spiritual lives. Wandering near the influential gates of our lives, where the safety of normalcy meets the open, bare wilderness of options, we find ourselves at spiritual thresholds. And sometimes we end up in the wilderness to gather sticks because we’re starving for something more. Our hunger forces us to confront the spiritual impasses, but then we negotiate within ourselves: to venture into the unknown landscape or remain in the safe confines of our comfort zones?
The laws of our internal cities, where we’ve forged a relationship with God, are often well-defined. They provide boundaries that stabilize peace and give us rubrics that guide our moral code. But sometimes, that which is safe doesn’t give us the option to experience what can be. The wilderness is where angels are wrestled, our names are changed, and Satan is confronted. It is also the place where God shows up (Genesis 28:10-17; 32:24-26, Luke 4:1-2).
The call to experience God might just take place when we choose to step beyond the boundaries of our comfort zones, so we can experience God internally, in our relationships, and in our everyday lives. The internal world where our spirituality is maintained has the potential to be bigger than we know.
Jesus was all about experiences: healing the sick, performing miracles, speaking to hundreds, and interacting one-on-one. Without needing to confirm any other facet than sheer belief, Jesus created experiences that convinced people of God’s presence.
When we are as eager to experience God as we are to rely on a theology about God, we will undergo a paradigm shift—just like the woman who, at one point, prepared for her last meal. The widow realized she wouldn’t get a farmer’s silo stocked with flour and a well full of oil. She received just enough, one day at a time. God is a daily-bread God (Matthew 6:11). She had found her life source.
In the same way, we are challenged to step into the experiences that expand our spiritual lives and allow us to tap into a different form of spiritual vitality. Although we must keep our experiences accountable to Scripture, we must also be open to walking on the edge—where the safe city meets the bare and unpredictable wilderness—to experience God. Thomas Merton, an influential monk and world-renowned theologian, would call this “contemplation.”
God is bigger than the Bible. God transcends doctrine, theology, and that which is known. Experiencing God gives us the courage to believe what we believe, not because others have taught it, but because our interactions with God have been the final proof.
In his interactions with those to whom he ministered, Jesus was good at getting us to move our gaze from ourselves and our theologies to life-changing experiences made possible by God; we participate by proclaiming, “I believe” (Matthew 9:28). We might be enamored with shiny theologies or want to joyfully engage doctrine, but what we really hunger is what Jesus pointed us to: God.
Questions for this week's devotional:
When have you been ‘gathering sticks’ to realize that God showed up just in time?
How might you be called to trust the ‘daily-bread God’ in this season of your life?
Is prioritizing an experience with God new (or require renewal) for you? If so, do you have any fears or biases that might color your interactions with God?
Is there an area in your life where you are seeking or needing an experience of God?