One thing I observed in those meetings [in Lakeland, Florida], I have observed ever since I’ve been a Christian. Namely, a large portion of the Christian population is seeking a fresh touch from God. They are seeking to experience His presence.
Some, however, appear to be almost pathologically dependent upon trying to “feel” God’s presence. For these souls, “feeling” the presence of the Lord becomes a benchmark to measure their spiritual condition.
I spent most of my early Christian life drinking deeply from the wells of a particular movement that stressed the miraculous power of God. While I learned many valuable lessons in that movement, I also have a few reservations. One of them is that the propensity to seek “the felt-presence of God” in that movement is central and overwhelming.
I watched many Christians struggle with this quest to the point of concluding that something was wrong with them — that God loved them less — all because they weren’t “feeling” or “sensing” His presence on a regular basis.
On the other hand, I have known Christian women and men who were utterly devoted to the Lord, extremely gifted, spiritually insightful and fruitful. Yet in private, their confession was that they had never “felt” the presence of God.
I’ve also personally known Christians who were in dire spiritual straits. Some were living double lives. Yet they didn’t wince at their poor condition, because during the worship service or prayer times they regularly “felt” the presence of God.
This being said, I believe there’s a great deal of confusion over the matter of God’s presence. Part of it is rooted in semantics. Another part is rooted in bad theology…
The Semantics of God’s Presence
Some Christians have a way of overstating their experiences.Others understate them. Multiple people may experience the exact same phenomenon — whether it be a church meeting, a conference, a retreat, a convention, a particular manifestation of the Holy Spirit, or a shared encounter.
One person may describe it as “unbelievable!” … “incredible!” … “awesome!” … “beyond description!” Another may describe it as “refreshing” …”enjoyable”… “encouraging” … “delightful.” Still another may describe it as “good” … “fine” … “a blessing.”
Point: People often use very different vocabulary to express the exact same thing. For instance, Watchman Nee used a unique phrase when he referred to his fellowship with the Lord. He called it “touching the Lord.” Others use the phrase “sweet communion.” Others use “divine encounter.” Others use less phenomenological phrases.
To describe fixing one’s heart upon the Lord, some people use the phrase “turning to the Lord.” Others use the word “gazing.” Others say “beholding” or “looking into the face of God.” Still others say “contemplating,” “centering,” “abiding,” or “partaking.” Others describe it as “meditating.” By and large, it’s semantics.
I’ve observed this phenomenon all my Christian life. People express the same experiences differently. This is due to many varied factors, some of which are the person’s temperament, the specific vocabulary of one’s religious tradition, or a specific “effect” they wish o have on those who hear them testify. (Sometimes this isn’t so well motivated.)
(Revise Us Again: Living from a Renewed Christian Script by Frank Viola, Published by David C. Cook, 2010, Chapter 6)
I recommend Frank Viola’s Revise Us Again. It’s a great book.
(Continued in Part 6…the full series to date can be read here.)