Experiencing God by obeying him.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 July

Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God.
By Henry and Richard Blackaby, and Claude V. King.
326 pages. B&H Books: 2021 edition.

May as well start by plugging the book Experiencing God, a book that’s been out since 1976 and has been through a few editions and updates. It’s about taking your Christianity beyond being just an intellectual exercise—beyond merely believing you’re saved, and Jesus is Lord and orthodox Christianity is true, and all the assorted beliefs connected with that.

Because Christians discover these beliefs, by themselves, are completely unfulfilling. What we want is real live contact with God, not a series of things to accept, verses to memorize, rituals to practice, and motions to go through. We want what the first apostles had. We don’t want to just believe, but see. Because that’s the testimony we see throughout the bible: People saw stuff. It was never enough for the folks in the bible to give testimonies without concrete experiential evidence.

Yet somehow, that’s become okay for many 21st century Christians. Some of ’em will even insist we’d better expect nothing more—that seeking signs and wonders is somehow devilish, and lacks faith.

Do read the book. But like most books written by pastors, Experiencing God takes a powerful pile of words before they finally get to the point. I was trained as a journalist, so I won’t. You want to experience God? It’s ridiculously simple: Obey him.

Yeah, it’s really no more complicated than that. We make it complicated… because we’re trying to find loopholes. We want excuses to not obey him.

“But that’s so hard.”

Too many Christians preach lawlessness: Since we’re saved by God’s grace, instead of being saved by obeying God and being good people, too many of us claim we don’t need to obey God. Which is a dirty lie: We do need to obey God. Of course we need to obey God. How on earth are we gonna claim we follow Jesus when we don’t do a thing he says? Jesus himself commented on how ridiculous this very idea is:

Luke 6.46-49 NRSV
46 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you? 47 I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. 48 That one is like a man building a house who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it because it had been well built. 49 But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, it quickly collapsed, and great was the ruin of that house.”

You want a wreck of a life? Keep ignoring Jesus, yet imagining you still follow him.

“But we’re not saved by works.” True. But neither I nor Jesus are talking about being saved. We’re talking about what we Christians are to do next. Now that we’ve been saved, what ought we do? Duh; follow Jesus.

“But I don’t know what Jesus’s will for my life is.” Well that’s to be expected; you haven’t looked it up in your bible. Read your bible.

“No; I mean I don’t know what his will for my life is.” Oh, you want the personalized version of God’s will. You want the “Leslie, I want you to become a Tik Tok celebrity, and in between teaching people ridiculous dance moves, share my gospel. And I will make you famous and wealthy, and you can buy all the cars you want—but I forewarn you now, never, ever buy a Tesla” type of will. In other words you don’t wanna know his will; you wanna know your fortune.

Well, sometimes God actually does tell people such things. But he tends to share this stuff with advanced Christians, with mature followers. Not beginner Christians. Beginner Christians gotta read their bibles and follow him. Once we’ve learned to be faithful to Jesus’s teachings, God may tell us what our future lives will entail… because once we become mature, we’ve usually realized celebrity and wealth are stupid and a hassle, and either don’t mind at all when God tells us they’re not in the plan, or know how to handle it if it turns out they are.

If beginner Christians wanna skip all that self-discipline and obedience, what point is there in God telling us what he’s gonna have you do? Such people are showing him they’ll only obey him when they find it convenient. So why bother to give them assignments when they’ll second-guess and undermine God their whole lives long? Why not go with one of the billion other Christians who do trust and obey?

“But the commands in the bible are too hard.” Or they’re too out of date. Or they were nullified by Jesus. Or they don’t save (which we’ve already been through; that’s not the point!). Or whatever excuse makes it so we needn’t do them. Too many Christians honestly don’t believe Jesus when he teaches,

Matthew 11.28-30 NRSV
46 “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

It’s not easy and light and rest, they insist; it’s so hard. Besides, wasn’t this one of the commands Jesus canceled out by his death?

Look, following Jesus can be a struggle sometimes. I won’t pretend it’s not. It’d definitely help if we lived in a culture where all our fellow Christians were likewise making the effort, and supporting and encouraging one another. But we don’t. Not even in our churches. We live among Christians who don’t give a crap about obedience. Who wanna claim all “the promises of God” for themselves (regardless of the actual context of their favorite bible promises) but ignore the fact these promises are nearly always conditional, and apply to the obedient, not the saved. I live among Americans who prize independence and individualism and being one’s own boss, who believe submission to anyone is slavery, and submission to others is socialism. When we’re caught being obedient, these people’s first reaction isn’t, “Good for you!” but “You think you’re better than me? You ain’t better than me. That’s just dead religion. I have a relationship.”

Ultimately all our lame excuses really mean: “I don’t consider obedience to be worth my effort. I want God, but on my terms: I want him to show up and bless me, and tell me I’m good. But I don’t want to change, don’t wanna grow, don’t wanna give up my favorite vices; actually I’d rather God gave me more of these vices. And shouldn’t he?—I’m his kid. I believe in him. Isn’t that enough? I was told it’s enough for heaven.”

And people wonder why Christians lack experiences of God.

Anyway. Six-sevenths, probably more, of Experiencing God leads up to that point—it helps make you ready to obey—but there it is. God blesses those who obey by interacting with us. You want a God-experience? Crack that bible, read Jesus’s commands, and follow them. It’s just that simple… and that hard.