Imagine you’re a kid. Two bright eyes looking out at the world while you’re face is plastered to the window like a suction cup. The golden rays of the sun fall on the emerald yard making the whole scene more like a painting than real life.
“Hey Johnny (insert whatever classic name you want),” someone says. “That big ol’ ball in the sky is warm. It’s made up of gasses n’stuff that heat the earth.” You look up at the person you trust and try to believe them. But the truth is that you’ve never been outside so you’re not really sure if what they’re saying is true. You have the head knowledge Bill Nye gave you but lack heart conviction.
But one day you muster up some courage, put on big boy pants, and step outside. Your face stretches tight as a grin takes over and you laugh in delight at the warmth spreading over your body. The sun is warm. It’s become a conviction because you’ve experienced it.
[That you may really come] to know [practically, through experience for yourselves] the love of Christ, which far surpasses mere knowledge [without experience]; that you may be filled [through all your being] unto all the fullness of God [may have the richest measure of the divine Presence, and become a body wholly filled and flooded with God Himself]!—Ehpesians 3:19 (my emphasis)
Well, thank goodness they let little Johnny outside. Poor little guy.
I think that many of us have a tendency to disregard experience. Or maybe throw it at the bottom of what’s important. You can’t have a theology based on experience we say (wag finger appropriately). I used to be one of those people but I’ve come to understand that it’s impossible to have a theology without experience.
None of us have arrived at the beliefs we hold without experience to back it up. We can choose to believe that God heals the sick but when we actually experience it something changes. The belief falls down into our hearts and we begin to live from a new reality. On the flip side, one who is convinced that the gifts aren’t for today has probably never experienced them personally.
I remember one story from the book, Following The Fire in which the author’s mother was certain that speaking in tongues was from the devil. She’d never experienced it personally until one night the Holy Spirit filled her and every time she opened her mouth the gift of tongues came out. From that day forward her beliefs changed and they did so because of what she experienced.
Someone who doesn’t think that gold dust and gemstones are from God would probably do a 180 if they’re sitting alone and get plunked in the head with a gem.
And it’s true outside of spiritual specific situations. Someone who doesn’t believe in family probably experienced a broken home. Another who believes material accumulation is king probably experienced an environment where that was true. And so on.
Experience isn’t something to be belittled or spit on. It’s something to be coveted because it’s the only teacher that has the ability to turn head knowledge into something that can add to the abundant life Jesus came to bring.
The word of God, whether Jesus’s ministry or the apostles, came with a demonstration of power. We are a show me people. Talk is cheap and what not. God knows that and I think he’s happy to oblige. Signs and wonders are always for the purpose of drawing us into relationship with Father. The miracles worked through Jesus and the apostles and many today are for our benefit. They are intended to give us the experience of God’s love that Paul says in the passage above far surpasses mere knowledge.
And that’s the most important thing, the experience of God’s love. Many times I’ve sat with people who parroted, I know God loves me but the words rang hallow. It’s because their experience proved the opposite and the opposite is what had settled in their hearts. Now the reason for that are beyond the scope of this blog but I will say that when those same people personally experienced the love of God, beliefs changed…dramatically.
“God’s not there,” my friend told me. “I’m not even sure he’s real.” He dropped his eyes and drummed the table with his finger.
I placed my hand on his shoulder. “Well, let’s ask him to show you.”
A moment later his head popped up and his eyes were plates. “What did you do to me bro? I’m warm all over.” He made a sound that was mostly a laugh. “This is crazy.”
I smiled. “That’s Jesus loving on you.”
Theological flip flop. It was great. More and more I’ve come to crave the demonstration of power (whatever that might look like) because more and more I’ve come to understand its importance. Nobody will be argued into the kingdom as C.S. Lewis once said. But let them experience the true nature of God and they’ll run into his arms.
Jesus told Thomas that those who believe without seeing are blessed. But we forget that Thomas travelled with Jesus for three years and witnessed countless demonstrations of God’s power. He had all the experience necessary to have confidence that Jesus was alive. And thus we have 1 John 4:17 John sharing with us that we need to rely on his love that we’ve come to know by experience. While we are a show me people, we shouldn’t be a what have you done for me lately people.
Now a balance. We need the word because it provides a context for our experiences. Experience with nothing else would just give us a bundle of paperwork we don’t know how to file. I don’t think we can have a theology based solely upon experience. But, like I’ve been saying, we can’t have one without it.
Jesse and Kara Birkey
Jesse and Kara Birkey are committed lovers of Jesus who seek to show others the extraordinary life of Jesus is available for everyone. They have authored two books, been featured in films and seek to serve the Lord in whatever ways they can. Follow their blog here.
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Life Resurrected, Extraordinary Miracles through Ordinary People has been endorsed by Sid Roth and Mark Virkler and is a collection of inspiring stories making it clear that the extraordinary life of Jesus is available to all who love Him. It’s also the testimony of Jesse’s life, the road he travelled bringing him into the arms of Jesus. Get the paperback here. Get the Kindle Version Here. View the trailer here.
Marriage What’s the Point? One couple finds meaning in a crazy mess is the story of their marriage—The tragedy and the restoration. They bear their hearts in an attempt to get others to bear theirs and finally receive the freedom they’ve longed for. Get the paperback here. Get the Kindle Version Here.