(Based on the “Seven Realities of Experiencing God” from Henry Blackaby’s book, Experiencing God.)
“One of the greatest tragedies among God’s people is that while they have a deep longing to experience Him, they are experiencing God day after day but do not know how to recognize Him.”
So how do we recognize and, therefore, experience God? Blackaby writes about “seven realities of experiencing God.” These are not steps to knowing and doing God’s will, but ways God involves people in his will and work. He goes on to explore them using Moses as an example.
We are going to look at these realities using the life of Abram to help us answer the question: how can we better experience God in this new year?
A Godless Culture?
(11:27-32) – We begin by looking at the landscape around us. At first glance (2nd, 3rd?), it looks like a God-less culture, hard to find God. But is it really God-less?
The story of Genesis so far is of God’s creation, humanity’s fall (but also a promise of redemption: Gen 3:15), the first murder, the sin of the world being so great as to cause God to bring flood, but save Noah. This new beginning eventually ends up in the Tower of Babel, where people forget about God and build a monument to themselves; God punishes them by scattering them into a variety of nations and languages. Then God is silent.Eventually onto this scene comes the family of Terah, who moved from Ur to Haran, a place known for the worship of the moon-god. Joshua 24 tells us that Abram’s father worshiped idols, so it is not unreasonable to think Abram did too. Then, in the midst of the genealogy, a sour note is introduced: Abram’s wife is barren (11:30). Genesis 1-11 illustrates the downward spiral of human race. As Abram is introduced, there is no reason for hope: he just seems like another dead end (he’s older, his wife is barren). Where’s God in all this? Has he simply given up on his creation, on his promise to redeem the world?
As we look around the landscape of our own lives, do we have similar questions: Where’s God? Is the world spiraling out of control? Does God even care? Is life meaningless? Is my life meaningless? What about the church? Why do fewer and fewer people attend? Is church irrelevant or is God still working through the church?
God at Work
Despite appearances, his seeming silence, God is at work: in Abram’s day and in ours. God is always at work to redeem the world, to draw people to himself (Reality #1).
We can see it in the life of Jesus. While on earth, he always looked for where the Father was at work. He looked within the crowd for the harvest field, for individuals in which the Father was working. In Jericho, he saw Zacchaeus in a tree. Jesus may have considered that the work Zacchaeus went through to see Jesus—climbing a tree—indicated the Father’s work in his life. So Jesus pulled away from the crowd and called Zacchaeus to invite Jesus to dinner. What happened? Salvation came to his household that night. Jesus always looked for the work of the Father and joined Him, which often resulted in salvation.
God Takes the Initiative
(12:1) – We also see it in the life of Abram (not yet called Abraham). God likes to work out of hopeless situations: he created world ex nihilo and now redeems his people by choosing a 75 year-old man with a barren wife to create a new nation! Abram’s an idol-worshiper, has a tendency to lie, later has an affair with his wife’s maid — he’s not a sterling character. And it’s safe to say that it wasn’t Abram’s idea to launch out to an unknown world, start a family at 75 (actually 100), and begin a new humanity! We might say: why Abram? God said: why not? The only thing Abram had going for him was that he was open to what God was doing!
Are we? God is at work in our world, our community (job, school) whether or not we acknowledge it. He’s drawing people to himself, working for the redemption of humanity, and he’s looking for people to join him! All we need is an openness to God’s work, no special qualifications (God equips us when he calls us), and regardless of age. There’s a bad habit in churches: people retire and say: I’ve done my time. Or youth say we’re too young! But the Bible doesn’t restrict us by age; look at Abram & Moses; or David, Mary, Daniel.
Blackaby tells the story as a campus pastor. He had told his campus leaders: “If someone starts asking you spiritual questions whatever else you have planned, don’t do it. Cancel what you are doing. Go with that individual and look to see what God is doing there.”
Later that week one of the girls reported, “Oh pastor, a girl who has been in classes with me for two years came to me after class today. She said, ‘I think you might be a Christian. I need to talk to you.’ I remembered what you said. I had a class, but I missed it. We went to the cafeteria to talk. She said, “Eleven of us girls in the dorm have been studying the Bible, and none of us are Christians. Do you know somebody who can lead us in a Bible study?’”
“As a result of that contact,” writes Blackaby, “we started three Bible study groups in the women’s dorms and two in the men’s dorm. For almost two years we tried to do something for God and failed. For three days we looked to see where God was working and joined Him. What a difference that made! Over the following years many students trusted Christ as Savior and Lord. Many of those surrendered to full-time ministry and are now serving as pastors and missionaries all over the world.” (Experiencing God 71)
God Gives His Promise
(12:2-3) – God then gives Abram a promise, a vision of what’s going to happen. Nothing could have seemed more absurd at time, that Abram would become a great nation, a great name, a blessing to other nations. Notice some truths about Abram’s call:
- Abram certainly couldn’t pull this off (though he tried at times). That’s true of everyone called by God. Moses couldn’t speak well. David was the smallest and youngest in his family, not a prerequisite for a king. Ezekiel and Jeremiah balked at being used by God as a prophet. Gideon’s army was weaned to 300 men.
- This was God’s agenda, not Abram’s—a God-sized vision!
- Abram will be blessed through God’s redemption plan by taking part.
God loves to bless us by allowing us to be part of his work. I believe that’s the main way God blesses us: through our involvement with Him! Paul writes:
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (2 Cor. 5:17-20)
Notice two things about this passage. First, it tells us that God is at work, reconciling the world. And, secondly, if we have been saved, it is for the reason of being Christ’s ambassadors, joining God in his reconciling work. God didn’t mean for us to retire from ministry or to be too young or busy for ministry. To be in relationship with God means to be at work with him, and blessed through it:
- blessed by being in a love relationship with God
- blessed by being part of something real and eternal
- blessed by seeing lives changed
God Leads His Ambassador
(12:4-20) – So, in faith, Abram signs on with God. But God doesn’t sit down and spell out all the plans, or give Abram a detailed job description. He calls Abram on a journey of faith, with no map or master plan. The only directions (12:1) are: Regarding the past: LEAVE IT! – Regarding the present: GO! – Regarding the future: I WILL SHOW YOU!
And Abram goes, Hebrews 11 says, “not knowing where he was going.” Now, just because he was doing God’s work doesn’t mean it was easy. He arrives in Canaan (the land flowing with milk and honey) and there’s a famine! So it’s off to Egypt, where his plans to pass off Sarai as his sister (to save his own hide) backfire. But still he goes.
Do we? If our spiritual wish for the new year is (as it should be) to really grow closer to God, know his will and join him in his work, will we go when God calls?
Of course, it’s easy to say: “Well Abram was a saint (he wasn’t), an extraordinary person (he became one through God’s grace). I’m just an ordinary person.”
Join the club!
Dwight L. Moody, the great evangelist, was a poorly educated, unordained shoe salesman who felt the call of God to preach the gospel. He had attended a prayer meeting in which a man named Henry Varley said, “The world has yet to see what God can do with and for and through and in a man who if fully and wholly consecrated to Him.”
Moody was deeply moved by those words. Later he listened to the great preacher CH Spurgeon. Moody’s biographer described how he responded:
“The world had yet to see! With and for and through and in! Varley meant any man! Varley didn’t say he had to be educated, or brilliant, or anything else! Just a man! Well, by the Holy Spirit in him, he’d [Moody] be one of those men. And then suddenly, in that high gallery, he saw something he’d never realized before,—it was not Mr. Spurgeon, after all, who was doing that work: it was God. And if God could use Mr. Spurgeon, why should we not all just lay ourselves at the Master’s feet, and say to him, ‘Send me! Use me!’”
Through this one ordinary life, God began to do the extraordinary. Moody became one of the great evangelists of all time, preaching in revival services across America and Great Britain where thousands came to Christ. (Experiencing God, 44-45)
Experiencing God: Lessons Learned
You might say: “Well I’m not a Dwight Moody”—he wasn’t either until God got hold of him. Or “I’m not an Abram”—he was a idol-worshiping nobody until God called him. What lessons can we learn from Abram’s story?
- When God is silent, he’s probably just thinking his higher thoughts (Isa. 55:8-9)
- God is always at work redeeming his people
- He calls us to be about that work (not our own agenda) as ambassadors
- God uses faulty people, ungifted, old, young, busy people and equips us
- We can’t do it ourselves (Abram failed every time he tried)
God is at work around you. He wants you to join him in that work. He calls you onto a journey of faith with him; will you go?
(from Experiencing God, 78)
Dear God, I know that you are always at work around me. Thank you that you are redeeming this lost world through Jesus. I want to be a participant in that work. Thank you that you have chosen to work through ordinary people like me. I am ready to work. Let me see where you are working. I seek your invitation to join you in your work. I wait for you to take the initiative. I want to work with you because I love you and I want to continue is this wonderful love relationship you have started with me. Make me attentive to your Holy Spirit. Show me your assignment for me. I am reporting for duty when you are ready. I know you will work through me to accomplish your perfect will. Amen.
-presented to Cutlerville East Christian Reformed Church