Experiencing God is rarely how we think it will be. We hope for a booming voice, maybe an eye-popping miracle, or even an instant solution to all our life problems. What actually happens is something quite different. This all-wise, all-powerful Ruler of the Universe does indeed touch the lives of his followers, but in this day and age, he typically does it in a way that is very private and very personal. |
Millions of people imagine God is working in every good circumstance that happens to them. While it's true that God is concerned about the minor details of our lives, it is probably overreaching to believe getting the biggest ice cream cone is a sure sign of God's favour. Still, events happen that have no logical explanation. We manage to avoid a traffic accident at the last second. We get a job we desperately needed against incredible odds. We get healed of an illness after our family and friends prayed for us.
On the other hand, often we do not get what we pray for. Only after years of maturity are we able to look back and see that our desire may have destroyed us. God was working in our life by denying our request but we were too narrow-minded to see it at the time.
So here's the question: do we experience the presence of God more fully as individuals (on the proverbial mountain top by ourselves) or in community? We can build a pretty good case that we need to get away to experience God. Because when we are alone, there are no noises, no distractions, no one to interrupt our raw communion with God. Yet biblically the scriptures speak of the vitality and intensity of the presence of God that is manifested in the community of believers. Here are a few observations:
Ephesians clearly says that the full, life-giving, vibrant presence of God dwells in the church, the community of believers. Ephesians 1:22-23 says that God "put all things under his [Jesus] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all." Notice, the church as the body of Christ is "the fullness of God." And your local church as the localized manifestation of the universal church is "the fullness of God." Crazy. But that is what Paul says. So if you want to experience that life-giving, soul-transforming presence of God, go hang out with that group we may call messed up, high maintenance etc. they constitute your local church, or a manifestation of it. The irony is comical!
One anticipated argument. Did not Jesus give the model of our meeting God in isolation by getting away from the crowds to meet with this Father? Well, perhaps. And maybe this would be one piece of evidence that it is acceptable at times to have an individual encounter with the presence of God. But note Jesus' ministry is "pre-Pentecost." In other words, Jesus Himself said that it is to your benefit that I go so that the Spirit will come (John 16:7). There will be something new, something greater that will happen when He leaves; namely, the presence of the Spirit who will indwell the gathering of believers (Eph 2:19-22). Interestingly, but according to His own words, Jesus' situation on earth does not give us the complete picture of our relationship with God. Our relationship is made greater, more intimate, when the Spirit comes to dwell in us.
Rev'd. Fr. Colin Humes