Wednesday, January 10, 2007

What is a deeper and more intense experience of God?

My friend Alan recently posted some comments on his blog (The Assembling of the Church) about an article released by the Barna group called "House Churches Are More Satisfying to Attenders Than Are Conventional Churches." The article is interesting, and I recommend reading it. My comments here, however, are not about the subject of the article itself, but are related to a comment made within the article. When talking about the segment of the population that is attracted to the house church model, the author writes: "The older participants, largely drawn from the Boomer population, are devout Christians who are seeking a deeper and more intense experience with God and other believers." The phrase that catches my eye is the one about "seeking a deeper and more intense experience with God."

I have both heard and felt this sentiment many times, and I would be absolutely shocked if there were any Christian in the history of the world who had not felt it at one time or another. I recently heard an opponent of the emerging church movement say that "[he too] yearn[s] for deeply moving worship experiences." Yes, he is an opponent of the movement, but he made the comment in an attempt to identify with an attitude which he felt was common among the proponents of the movement. From the literature that I have read (which admittedly isn't very much), it seems that a more profound and meaningful worship experience is at least part of the emerging church conversation, especially for those who are ready to throw off what they consider to be the shackles of the institutional church.

I commonly yearn for "deeply moving worship experiences" and a "more intense experience with God" as well. I often wonder, however, what I mean when I think or say such things. What is a deep and intense worship experience? What is a deeply moving worship experience? I find that I am afraid to answer these questions from somewhere inside myself. I know that I am fallen. I fear that I will get caught up in some sort of hyper-emotionalism of my own creation. If a deeper, more intense, and more meaningful worship experience is possible, then its form, substance, and nature should most certainly be derived from Scripture.

I believe that the yearning or desire that we have for a deeper worship experience occurs for a number of reasons, all of which are directly related to God's nature and the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit. First, we realize that God is worthy of our worhip and that He is the proper object of our worship, and we long to give Him what He deserves. Second, as Christians we realize to a great extent (even if not fully) how separated from God that we truly are, and as a result of this knowledge we desperately long to be reunited with Him. Although we are saved, guaranteed by the indwelling Spirit, there still remains a gulf between us and God that will not be completely bridged until we are glorified in the eschaton. Third, the Spirit within us desires to be in that perfect fellowship with the Father and the Son, and His desire carries over to us. He is our Counselor, and in this matter, he counsels us in the beauty and meaningfulness of perfect fellowship with God.

Our relationship with God cannot and will not be fully repaired until our glorification. In effect, we long for that which we cannot have, and in realizing this we must exercise great caution. It may be that our attempts to experience that for which we yearn so deeply, that which we are incapable of satisfying, may result in an emotionally driven "worship" experience of our own manufacturing, and ironically, become detrimental to the profoundly meaningful relationship with God that is our heart's desire.


Isabel said...

Hmm, interesting idea in the last paragraph! One I want to think over. A question, though; you said:

If a deeper, more intense, and more meaningful worship experience is possible, then its form, substance, and nature should most certainly be derived from Scripture.

If Scripture was all that was necessary, then why did He send the Holy Spirit? The OT people had Scripture. The twelve apostles even had The Word right there with them and they still didn't do so good until they had the Holy Spirit inside them. So a deeper experience/relationship would be based on Scripture AND more yielding to the Holy Spirit, wouldn't it? Or am I missing something obivous here (not unlikely...)?

Heather said...

Great points Gary ... I popped over here from Alan's blog.

I find it interesting that Barna's article uses the phrase: "...seeking a deeper and more intense experience with God ...". I have a couple of thoughts about that.

My first thought is that worship is deeply personal. If one is seeking a deeper experience with God, then they are seeking the wrong thing. God tells us to seek *Him* and we will find Him (when we seek with our WHOLE heart). I am guilty, I must honestly say, of seeking a deeper experience with God in the confines of a "worship service" or particular church environment. I have only very recently come to realize that *my* worship is very personal and not related to the service or church itself. This is so freeing ... but all too often the "worship service" or church itself is equated with one's worship of God.

My second thought is that perhaps Barna mis-worded that sentence and meant to say that people are seeking depth ... period. He probably didn't mis-word it, but as for me -- that is where I am -- seeking more depth. I've had "deeper and more intense experience with God", so that's not it. It's depth & growth in all areas of the church that I seek, if that makes sense :-)

Thanks for your thoughts!


Gary Harris said...

Thanks Isabel! I really appreciate your comments. Now to your question:

I was trying to say that Scripture should provide us with a description of a proper worship experience. Let’s assume for a moment that you are correct in your notion that “a deeper experience/relationship would be based on Scripture and more yielding to the Holy Spirit.” What I am saying is that Scripture would tell us just that. After close investigation of the Word, we might say, “The Word tells us that a deeper worship experience/relationship is based on Scripture and more yielding to the Holy Spirit.”

I fear that some people are looking so desperately for that deeper experience (for the reasons I shared) that they begin to manufacture it, and ultimately become addicted to it. In trying to get closer, they move further away. I think you took it to the next level in starting to think about the actual criteria for a deeper experience and/or relationship. Personally, I think you are on to something.

Isabel said...

I knew I was missing something. :) I should have thought of that: (What I am saying is that Scripture would tell us just that...“The Word tells us that a deeper worship experience/relationship is based on Scripture and more yielding to the Holy Spirit.”) I've only recently started grappling with taking things apart logically (most of my left brain is missing, if left is the logic/math side).

Gary Harris said...

Thanks for the great comments Heather, and I really appreciate your candor.

I especially agree with the comment you made about worship not being related to the service or the church itself (I am assuming you mean the church building). I think that all too often people think that worship only takes place between 11:00 & 12:00 on Sunday mornings within the confines of the structure that we unfortunately refer to as the "church." In my mind, worship has far more to do with a life lived in obedience to God than anything we can do with our hands or any feeling/emotion that may or may not manifest itself within us.

nurturing notes said...

Coming late into this discussion, some biblical examples of "deep" worship experiences are when people saw the face of God (e.g. Moses - Ex. 3, Isaiah 6, Peter, John & James - Luke 9, Saul - Acts 9, John - Rev. 5). The factor in common is that these people experienced fear or acknowledged their unworthiness to even see God. The Holy Spirit also does that work in our lives. I have the impression that some of these people surveyed didn't mean that deep.