What do all these have in common?
Wiccans drawing down the moon in a midnight ritual
Two Mormon lads in nice white shirts and ties knocking on a door.
The Jihadist strapping a vest of dynamite around his chest.
The Catholic grandmother fingering his rosary beads.
The Japanese Buddhist nailing a prayer card to a sacred tree devoted to her ancestors.
The Baptist Christian poring over an open Bible on his lap.
What do all these have in common? They are each searching for an experience of God. When Isaiah cried out in 64:1 – “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you!” he was speaking for all seekers and worshippers over the ages who have looked up to the skies and felt a yearning for their Maker.
If we make an idol out of needing an experience, we may risk missing out on God entirely in our journey, or – and this is scary – replacing him altogether.
We live in a day and age when people yearn for an “experience”. It’s no longer enough just to go to the movies. Today theaters are scrambling to come up with new ideas to put people in the seats – recliner seats, and gourmet sandwiches and 3-course meals brought straight to you. The movie is no longer enough. And talk about the movie: if the first three minutes don’t grab you by the throat in some fashion, its ranking on Rotten Tomatoes will dive.
Even my health insurance provider has added a new page when you log in to pay your bill. It reads: Your experience is about to begin. (Provide credit card number. Ooooooh! Click “Pay Bill”. Aaaaaaah!)
Churches also have caught this experiential wave. We now have countdown clocks leading us to the opening greeting. And high octane (and flawlessly played) music to bring us into “worship”. I was in a church recently where I accidentally got a hold of the soundman’s itinerary. Literally every beat of the service was timed out in advance to the minute. Scripture reading by 9:28, the Message by 9:31, and Benediction by 10:09.
These things aren’t necessarily a bad thing. “All things decently and in order,” the Bible instructs for our worship services. As a worship leader, I don’t want to be sloppy in my playing or singing. But…with this type of experience-management, a wise pastor should recognize that if we’re not careful, we are oh-so-close to evicting the presence of God straight out of our sanctuary and replacing him with a human-concoction.
Frankly, the “experience” of God cannot be managed. And when you begin to study all that Scripture teaches about experiencing God, we learn that a genuine spiritual life is not one experience after another, but instead has long gaps of time where we “walk by faith not by sight”. If we make an idol out of needing an experience, we may risk missing out on God entirely in our journey, or – and this is scary – replacing him altogether.