Seeking an Experience of God
Posted on October 15, 2012 by Bishop Ken Carter
Men and women, increasingly, are seeking a direct experience of the faith. In relation to God we can describe this as spirituality or mysticism. In relation to each other, we often speak of service or mission.
We are drawn to those who seem to have this direct experience: Thomas Merton, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Shane Claibourne, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr. You could add to this list.
We often hear the phrase "I am spiritual but not religious." This is most often not a statement of commitment to a set of spiritual practices, such as prayer or scripture reading or tithing or fasting; it is rather a rejection of the institutional church. In one respect it can be a flight from community--an avoidance of people who challenge us, who merit our forgiveness, who need our gifts. But on a deeper level, we sense at times that the church is an obstacle to the direct experience of God, or at least it does not seem relevant.
A generation of seekers is oriented to an experience of God. These (younger) women and men are searching for communities that will mentor or disciple them in a walk with God: reading scripture, learning to pray, defining and discovering realities like grace, forgiveness and reconciliation. They also sense, in an almost instinctive way, that another path to God is found in connecting with the real human needs of people who live in their communities, who have no voice in the realities that shape their lives, and whose access to basic needs---- food, health care, shelter and education--- is often in question.
A congregation of any shape or size can offer these experiences of connection. Indeed, if it is faithful to the great commission (Matthew 28) and the great commandment (Mark 12) of Jesus, it is offering these experiences, where we come to know that God is real. And if we do not offer these experiences, people (for better or worse) will piece all of this together on their own.
People yearn for a direct experience of God. They know that justice without compassion is not of God, that love without justice is not of God, that righteousness without love is not of God. Justice without compassion degenerates into self-interest; love without justice becomes sentimentality; and righteousness without love is self-righteousness.
Because we are created in the image of God, who is love, there is something in us that longs to be made whole. The apostle Paul calls this the new creation, and John and Charles Wesley described this as the path to holiness.
So, today: How can you be attentive to an experience of Jesus in everyday life (Matthew 25)?
And, this Sunday: How can you offer worship which has a singular purpose---to lead those present into an experience of the living God (Isaiah 6)?