Counterpoint: An Experiential Faith

‘Experience’: actual observation of or practical acquaintance with facts or events; event that affects one; state or phase of religious emotion  

By Allan Weatherall

My life so far has been a catalogue of miracles.

When I was 11 years old, while fishing one evening with my family, I made a private deal with God. I told Him that if He helped me to catch just one BIG fish I would believe in Him for the rest of my life. What followed next changed the course of my life. A microsecond after I said ‘Amen’ my fishing rod was nearly pulled out of my hands. Of the 24 fish my family caught that night, mine was the biggest catch of the evening. 31 years later I still have the photograph.

If that were an isolated ‘coincidence’ then perhaps that event would have been forgotten by now. At the age of 17 I had been searching the Bible for answers whilst at the same time exploring some eastern religious beliefs. In the midst of my confusion I got down on my knees beside my bed and prayed to the God of the Bible to reveal Himself to me. When I rose to my feet I had a strange feeling that my life was about to change. Soon after I met a Chinese Malaysian student who had been raised as a Buddhist but who had become a Christian. I had been to church for most of my life but somehow when he told me about Jesus and his experiences, I believed and received Jesus as my spiritual master. A little while later I had the most extraordinary experience of God’s incredible love. The lingering memory of that experience has not been forgotten after 25 years.

Years later I had another powerful encounter where God revealed his love to me in the midst of a very difficult trial. This deep experience of grace and comfort brought inner healing in a way that helped my overcome a huge disappointment without getting all bitter and twisted.

Today the answered prayers are too numerous to catalogue: I have seen many of my friends come to faith; I’ve seen myself and relatives healed from life-threatening sickness and injuries; I’ve had miracles of provision in the form of timely gifts, anonymous donations, and personal blessings. I’ve even seen God miraculously answer the prayers of my children.

In 1996 God spoke to my heart about going to Africa. He confirmed this through two letters from complete strangers and then provided the money to go. He even paid my taxes for me while I was out of the country through an unsolicited, unexpected and timely gift from someone who didn’t know about our need.

While in Africa a woman heard me speaking in her own language when I was praying in tongues*. I saw another woman bitten by a snake and suffer no ill effects after prayer. I’ve seen people healed instantly of malaria; people delivered from evil spirits, I’ve seen people walk long distances to our meetings because God told them in a dream to ‘go and hear the white man’. Back home in Australia I’ve had dreams and visions come true; I’ve had God reveal things about the future that have come to pass. These are just a few of the experiences that I’ve been blessed with.

Christianity is an Experiential Faith
So many of the verses in the Bible testify to the richness of the Christian experience. Jesus is alive, and if we do not know Him in our experience then perhaps we need to question what we believe. The Scripture says, ‘Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him’. And again, ‘Now this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Christ Jesus whom you have sent.’

This knowledge of Jesus that the Bible speaks about is not just a dry and distant knowledge of an historical figure through words on a dusty page. It’s the promise of a fully functional and interactive experience with a living Saviour who overcame death and who is now active and involved in your life! What could possibly be more exciting than that?!

Some Christians have denounced spiritual gifts because of some erroneous practices or bad theology in some churches, or because of dubious, unsubstantiated, or even ‘fabricated’ miracles. Others have just seen through the shallow experientialism of ‘happy clappy’ Christianity and hunger for the ‘real meat’ of God’s Word – something substantial upon which to base their faith. Some, in wanting to avoid shallow experientialism have done a pendulum swing away from experiential-ism towards rational-ism. These ‘isms’ are extremes at the opposite ends of the spectrum and both are wrong. True faith is rational and experiential. True faith girds the mind and warms the heart.

When Jesus appeared ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…’ Emmanuel, God with us, means exactly that. God is with us in our day-to-day experience.

For some reason God delights in using the foolish things of this world to confound the wise. That’s why Jesus chose humble fisherman and bypassed the religious educated elite of His time. I find it very interesting that humble and uneducated believers in some parts of the world today are seeing the church grow at a rapid and unprecedented rate. Many of these fruitful believers don’t even have a Bible of their own. Most of them do not have access to Christian books, magazines, Bible studies or commentaries. Nor do they have access to the recorded music, Christian radio or TV that we seem to depend upon so much to encourage our faith. Why is it that the gospel is advancing so much in the developing world and that we in the ‘educated’ western world are losing the fight for the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens?

It’s not what you know... but who you know
I think that many of us Christians in the developed world are suffering from ‘spiritual constipation’ We are so full of knowledge about God and are doing so little with that knowledge that one has to seriously question our spiritual health. What good is head-knowledge about God if our application of the truth begins to lag far behind? Perhaps we could call this ‘obesity of the word’. This is the spiritual health crisis facing the western world. We don’t lack for knowledge of the word – we lack in the application of it! Like a person who eats too much and doesn’t exercise, some believers get so fat on knowledge that they forget that God gave the word to inspire faith, love and good works.

Sometimes I think it’s far better to know just a little of the Bible and obey it than to know a whole heap and then to live like you don’t believe it.

God blessed us through His word so that we could experience Him, and then take that blessing to others. But, sadly, many struggle to have anything to offer others because they have not really known God first-hand in their experience. The key to having an experiential relationship with God is being prepared to seek Him. Jesus said, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened." Matt 7:7,8.

Allan Weatherall is the publisher of Worldview Interactive magazine

Thursday, November 9, 2006   printer friendly version | 9493 reads