Seeking God vs. Seeking Experiences

God Himself Is Reward Enough

Many people who begin to explore a deeper relationship with God discover a desire to have heightened experiences of God. Call these experiences “mystical,” “beatific,” or “ecstatic,” they often become the focus of their spiritual journey. Visions of God, ecstatic dreams, glowing lights, or euphoric feelings become the measure or goal of spiritual progress. Here are some thoughts on encountering God.  

There is no biblical example of anyone seeking a religious, mystical, or ecstatic experience. However, there are many examples of people having religious, mystical, (not sure I’d call them ecstatic) experiences. The Holy Spirit descending on the gathered at Pentecost. Paul ushered into the third heaven. Abraham bowing before the unconsumed burning bush. Moses speaking with God in the darkness of Mount Sinai. Mary talking with the angel Gabriel about the birth of Jesus and an angel coming to Joseph in a dream. Paul struck down on the road to Damascus. Peter seeing a sheet filled with food. Isaiah’s seeing a vision of the Lord, angels, and having conversation with heavenly beings. 

None of these encounters with God were sought after by those to whom they happened. They unexpectedly happened…because God wanted them to happen.  

Seeking mystical or spiritual experiences can be dangerous leading to spiritual delusion and wrong thinking. A person can think they’re near to God into the realm of the divine or supernatural. They believe every event in their life has some kind of spiritual significance and direct intention from God. (these thoughts are from Sacramental Living podcast, Michael Haldas, Sept. 9, 2017) Much of life is “spiritualized” in a euphoric air wrapped in supernatural facade. 

In contrast, it is better to seek God than to seek an experience of God. For many, however, the line between these two is fuzzy. Since to know God is to experience Him, it’s easy to substitute the experience of God for God Himself. Therefore, you come to God with expectations. He’s supposed to heal, satisfy, communicate, shine, answer, encourage, or make you feel good; whatever it is that you need right now.

Yet, how you experience God is not yours to control. He can do, or not do, as He pleases. He is under no obligation to meet your expectations. 

This becomes even more troublesome as emotions take center stage in religious experience. 

Consider the few examples of encounters with God given above. I question whether any of these encounters involved elevated emotional experiences often associated with experiences of God by contemporary Christians and their leaders. I’m not saying that emotions weren’t involved. Unfortunately, our modern emphasis on emotions & feelings makes them the measure of our relationship with God. When we’re stirred or moved, we believe we’re close to God. When we don’t feel Him, we think He’s far away. Beware of emotions becoming an end in themselves. They are a fickle guide on our journey with God.

No doubt, experiencing God is essential to really knowing Him. You only truly know what you experience. When you seek God alone, no matter the outcome – emotional or informational – you find He is enough. Could this be what Jesus teaches when he invites us to go away by ourselves, shut the door, and pray to the unseen Father? “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret will reward you” or “be your reward“ (my interpretation). Matthew 6.6 

Seek God and Him only. Leave the results to Him. 

How are you seeking God today? 

Dr. K 

Today Is The Perfect Day To Be With Jesus

Seek First His Kingdom & Righteousness

What’s on your schedule today? Get kids to school? Meet with your company’s CEO? Go grocery shopping? Take your dog to the vet? Make 5 sales calls? Have lunch with a friend? Attend your son’s soccer game? Prepare your Bible study lesson? Study for tomorrow’s exam? Drop off clothes at Goodwill? Fix dinner for the family? Mow the yard? Get a hair cut? Stop yelling at the kids? Help a neighbor? Pray? Today is the perfect day to do all of this with Jesus. 

How about, spend time with Jesus? Is that on your schedule? Today is the perfect day to be with Jesus. The good news is that you can accomplish what’s on your schedule while spending time with Jesus. It’s not “either/or but “both/and” – you can BOTH accomplish what’s on your agenda AND be with Jesus. 

While you are driving, meeting, calling, eating, preparing, watching, fixing, or mowing you can be with Jesus. That’s good news. 

Even greater news is that Jesus is already with you and in you. You just have to pay attention…something that’s challenging to do since there is so much in a day that preoccupies your attention and distracts your heart and mind from God. 

Jesus invites you to live like this when He says: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6.33). The priority of each day you live is God – His governance/authority/rule and His goodness/reality – in all things. When you live with God’s governance and goodness already present and active in and around you, you are assured of all other responsibilities being realized.

Schedules are best accomplished as you participate in God’s rule in union with Him. 

Actually devoting your every moment to Jesus Christ while doing everything else will take some concerted effort. Prayer is the key. 

You’re probably already connecting with God in prayer before your meals – three times a day. 

You can increase prayer times to the traditional “hours” of 6 AM & 9 AM, Noon, 3 PM, 6 PM, and 9 PM. Say the Lord’s prayer at these times drawing your heart to God. Set alerts on your phone for these hours as reminders to pray. You can pray silently wherever you are or whatever you’re doing at these times. 

You can “pray without ceasing” using the Jesus Prayer as the instrument played all throughout the day. Commune with God continually as you repeat the Jesus Prayer – “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” 

As you drive, don’t turn on the radio or CD player but use the time to pray the Jesus Prayer and commune with God…yes, even with children present. 

Do this same thing as you fix meals, mow the lawn, sit in meetings, watch games, or eat your food. 

You will discover joy, peace, goodness and love like never before. Anxiety and fear will lessen. You’ll see beauty everywhere. You’ll become more like Jesus.

It’s simply the best way to live each day. 

How will you commune with God throughout the day today? 

Dr. K

P.S. Here’s a little cliche to practice: Commune as you commute. 

Dealing With Personal Faults While You Can

Become Loving, Patient, and Kind Intentionally

When a young pastor, I visited an elderly church member at her private assisted living apartment. She didn’t know who I was so our conversation began with introductions and small talk. She’d often zone out, entering a private world detached from her surroundings. As our staggering conversation continued, to my shocking surprise, she’d sometimes yell out, “Damn it, you, damn it!” or “Damn you!” “Damn, damn, damn!” I was rattled and disturbed by her behavior. Yet, there was nothing I could do to stop her. Eventually I prayed with her and left. I’ll never forget it. 

This may be an extreme example of what I write about today. However, there are plenty of examples of ordinary people who, as they get older, are simply unable to deal with their internal, usually hidden, brokenness.  

Here’s the challenge. Seriously work on your faults, your relational and/or spiritual jaggedness, when you are able because there will come a time when you are unable. 

First, you must know that you have a fault – broken raggedness in your character or foolish passion – before you can work on it. That reminds me of this truth. You struggle to see your faults not because they are small but because they are characteristic. You are blinded to your faults because they are so much a part of your DNA or character not because they are nonexistent.

Seeing yourself for who you really are usually requires an outside perspective. A paid professional like a counselor or a trusted friend or spouse who can speak honestly and be heard openly, are able to help open your eyes to yourself. It is the rare individual who is able on their own to humbly admit to their own faults. Most of us need feedback from others. 

Second, when you honestly admit your brokenness, you better give serious attention to it because when you get older you won’t have the stomach for it. More accurately, you’ll lack the motivation, the emotional and inner energy, necessary to battle your passions and find healing for your brokenness. 

I’ve not studied any research on this. I’ve simply observed older folks. What seems tolerable when they’re younger gets magnified as they get older. Have you seen this, too? 

The majority of us can begin by seriously considering how often we give in to: 

  • Anger
  • Impatience
  • Judgmentalism 
  • Insecurity 

Please don’t quickly read this list and move on. Consider each word and tie it to your own attitude and behavior. You probably (as I do) allow these passions to express themselves in and through you way too often. 

I don’t know about you, but I want to become more kind, loving, patient, and tenderhearted as I get older. However, this transformation will not happen automatically. I’ve got to work at it intentionally while I can. There’s a good chance I’ll work at it the rest of my life. The point is to begin diligently now.  

Perhaps you’ve seen the hurtful, offensive, bitter, crotchety old man (or woman) out there. Maybe he or she lives in your house or the house next door. Let them be the model of what you don’t want to be. You become someone pleasantly and lovingly different. 

Start woking on it now. 

How will you become a more loving, kind, and patient person over the next few months? 

Dr. K 

Advocating The Use Of The Psalms as Prayer

Using The Words God Has Given Us To Pray

Lisa is struggling to pray. She’s tired of saying the same words day after day like a broken record stuck in the same groove. She wants to liven up her prayer life – giving it new substance and earnestness. She isn’t asking to get more “into” prayer, more emotion or passion. She senses that if she can sincerely and concretely connect to God her relationship with God can move to another level – deeper and spiritually sharpened. One excellent way to address her desire and enhance her prayer life is to pray the Psalms. 

From the Introduction to The Ancient Faith Psalter comes these words that encourage the use of the Psalms in prayer. I invite you to read them and then find a way to insert the psalms into your praying.

The Psalter is the prayer book of the Church. It has been so since before there was a Christian Church. There is an ancient saying, attributed to St. Athanasius the Great, that “the Psalms are different from the rest of Scripture in that while the rest of Scripture speaks to us, the Psalms speak for us.” When we pray the Psalms, we are praying the words God has given us to pray. It has also been said that the story of God’s dealing with Israel is an allegory of each person’s spiritual journey, the story of God’s dealings with every human soul. Therefore, in as much as the Psalms sum up and interpret the story of Israel, the Psalms also sum up and interpret the spiritual journey of every human being. 

The Psalms touch every experience of human life in our fallen world. Every joy and every terror, every fear and every hope are found expressed in the Psalms.Some psalms are beautiful, to the point of seeming sentimental; others are bloody and apparently vindictive. Such a range of emotion and experience is offered to us in prayer because in some inner or outer way, at some time in our life, we will all experience this full range of thoughts and feelings. In fact, because some of these thoughts and feelings are so extreme, so evidently horrible, it is only through praying the Psalms that we come to realize and then confess to ourselves and to God in prayer that yes, even such terrible things as these have at one time or another passed through our minds and perhaps even our hands. 

This literal reading of the Psalms, however, is only the beginning. As one prays the Psalms, one soon begins to realize that the enemy, the Amalekite or Philistine, the nations that rage against God, are not people or situations outside myself but are most poignantly referring to the wicked impulses and evil thoughts I must battle within myself. The Psalmist’s cry for deliverance becomes my own as I see within my own heart and mind the struggle between good and evil, the betraying thought, the accusing word, or the mocking laugh. The Psalms give us words, images, and metaphors by which we can cry out to God for help in the midst of our inner struggles. What the Psalmist describes externally speaks to our inner struggles because all our outer conflict is a reflection of inner struggle. Is this not what Jesus told us — it is out of the heart that murders and adultery flow (Matt. 15:19)? 

The Psalter is a prophetic book. It speaks prophetically of Christ, but it also speaks prophetically of all who are in Christ. Just as “strong bulls surround” Christ on the cross, so too all who pick up their cross and follow Christ experience, in one form or another, this attack of the strong and come to know their own weakness in resisting it, their own need to be delivered from “the power of the dog…the mouth of the lion…[and] the horns of the wild bulls.” Similarly, the prophetic declaration of the Resurrection of Christ, “Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered,” is also our declaration as we experience moments of deliverance and help over our inner enemies. The Psalms speak of God and man, Christ and Christian, inner and outer conflict, victory and defeat, heaven and earth, wisdom and foolishness. With few words and much meaning, the Psalms provide the images and words for every prayer, every need, every celebration on our journey through this world. 

          — from the Introduction to The Ancient Faith Psalter (pp. 5-7, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016) 

I urge you to pray the Psalms. You’ll be thankful that you did. 

Dr. K 

How To Enrich And Deepen Your Prayer Life With One Powerhouse Instrument

Using the Psalms as Prayer

Most evangelicals approach the reading of scripture with an intellectual mindset. They believe the scriptures have been given for the purpose of instruction and perhaps application. While there is certainly a need to comprehend aspects of scripture for our inner transformation, the scriptures have also been given to us as a means for prayer. Instead of trying to figure out what a passage means, figure out how to commune with God with the passage. 

Take Psalm 62 for example. Instead of analyzing Psalm 62, you can pray the words from your heart as if you had written them.

“Shall not my soul be subjected to God? For from Him comes my salvation. He only is my God and my Savior, my helper; I shall not be greatly moved…Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, and that to you, O Lord, belongs mercy. For you requite everyone according to his works.” 

However, not all Psalms lend themselves so easily to this kind of praying. 

Lately, I’ve been finding great spiritual benefit (so it seems) from reading the Psalms as part of my prayer ritual. Maybe you’ll find the same spiritual benefit. Here’s what I do: 

I begin by praying the Trisagion prayers warming my heart to the presence of the Holy Trinity. In this environment of communion with God, I read a few Psalms. Using The Ancient Faith Psalter,” which divides the Psalms into portions suitable for this kind of setting. I sit or stand before my icons and read/pray the psalms designated for that day.

The practice is simply to read each psalm with an attentive and prayerful heart. Put down the pen and close the journal. Try not to analyze or even meditate on what’s being read. This is a time for prayer from the heart allowing the words of the psalm to focus your heart on God. The point is communion not comprehension, transformation not information, oneness not analysis.

Then, I continue in my prayers. In this way, the Psalms provide an ancient residence of communion with God. They become part and parcel of prayer rather than an appendix.

I also try not to analyze how this practice is affecting me spiritually. It’s in the doing that something happens. It doesn’t even matter what I think about what I’m doing. Being with God in this way is its own reward.  

Over the next few posts, I want to share from the Introduction to The Ancient Faith Psalter. It communicates well the place of the Psalms in our prayer life.

It begins with this sentence: “The Psalter is the prayer book of the Church.” (p. 5) 

I want to explore this reality in the posts that follow.

Currently, what is the role of the Psalms in your prayer life? 

Dr. K