Rev Dr Edgar Mayer – Living Grace Lutheran Church, Toowoomba – Date: 1 May 2016

For more sermons and other writings, please check the following homepage: www.livinggracetoowoomba.org

 

 

Feeling Your Faith

 

Does God love you? How much does God love you? This is what the Bible says:

 

Romans 8:33-39: … It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one … Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?No … neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

The love of God is stronger than even death, and the love of God is sticky. Not even the worst demons can pull us away from him. There is no condemnation. None. And there is no end to the generosity of his love.

 

Romans 8:32: God who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

 

God loves you – and this you know because the Bible tells you so – but are you allowed to feel and experience what it is like to be loved by God? Or are you simply meant to grasp the truth in your head, gain a clinical understanding of salvation, and be happy about getting it right? Do you have permission to feel anything? Clark Taylor, who spoke at last year’s Renewal Conference, said that he wanted tofeel his faith” – to feel the truth of his faith – but, growing up, I have never heard any preaching on feeling the love of God, despite the centrality of the concept and the enormity – the sheer quantity and depth – of God’s love.

In February, one of our chuch leaders offered somegeneral reflectionson the church to the pastors of the church, and (under the heading of “renewal”) he made some uncertain comments about the value of experiencing God:

 

“The Lord and the Spirit are one and the same, and the Lord’s Spirit sets us free. So our faces are not covered. They show the bright glory of the Lord, as the Lord’s Spirit makes us more and more like our glorious Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).

 

I have always lived in a society where people have craved ‘real’ experiences. Young people do wild and crazy things just to feel they are alive. People take drugs to help them really ‘feel’ stuff. Quite normal things like finding a mate, planning a wedding, or cooking a meal are amplified on TV and in magazines so we can dwell over every second. Seniors develop ‘bucket lists’ of experiences that just have to be had before it’s all over.

It should not surprise us that modern Christians want to ‘feel’ their faith more. In our world, experience equals what’s real. Faith without feeling and experience is considered a dead faith. Whether or not this is true theologically, that’s how many people feel, and they have a point. The Bible doesn’t teach a faith that is dead and dry—it teaches a living faith that affects everyday living and makes a real difference among those it meets. In Romans 6:4 St Paul wrote, ‘When we were baptised, we died and were buried with Christ. We were baptised, so that we would live a new life, as Christ was raised to life by the glory of God the Father.’

Renewal which claims a more intense and immediate experience of God has long been part of the Christian church and we are hearing once more about renewal in the LCA. We have an inbuilt caution stemming from our belief in undeserved grace, God’s work in Word and Sacrament, and a reserved nature which doesn’t like us to get too excited about things. We want to make sure that renewal doesn’t distract us from trusting God’s promises in His Word, baptism, and Holy Communion.

Renewal is a great blessing when it reminds us all to take our faith seriously. We worship a living God who is present among us. The most profound form of renewal, however, is a healed and transformed life that is dedicated to Christ and to others, loving and serving with all that it is and has. Sometimes we barely notice people who live that type of renewed life since they don’t tend to draw our attention.

 

In this particular reflection, there does not seem to be a ringing endorsement for experiencing God – actually encountering the realness of God in our faith. At least, there are suspicions about wanting to experience much (maybe too much):

 

Excerpt: I have always lived in a society where people have craved ‘real’ experiences. Young people do wild and crazy things just to feel they are alive [and consider the rest of the quote] … It should not surprise us that modern Christians want to ‘feel’ their faith more. In our world, experience equals what’s real. Faith without feeling and experience is considered a dead faith. Whether or not this is true theologically, that’s how many people feel, and they have a point …

Renewal which claims a more intense and immediate experience of God has long been part of the Christian church and we are hearing once more about renewal in the LCA. We have an inbuilt caution stemming from our belief in undeserved grace, God’s work in Word and Sacrament, and a reserved nature which doesn’t like us to get too excited about things. We want to make sure that renewal doesn’t distract us from trusting God’s promises in His Word, baptism, and Holy Communion.

 

There is a warning here: Be cautious! Intense and immediate experiences of God may undermine our belief in undeserved grace and may distract us from trusting God’s promises in his Word. But (I don’t understand) how does not-experiencing God (or experiencing God less) help in understanding grace – help in understanding his love that is undeserved – and how does experiencing God distract from trusting him and his promises. Wouldn’t the opposite be true? The more we experience God confirming his love and faithfulness and promises (not just knowing about it but experiencing the same) – the more we experience God confirming the promises of the Bible – the more we trust him and the more we understand the incredible nature of his love.

This morning, I ask you again: Do you have permission to feel your faith? Are you allowed to experience God – his love – beyond just knowing about it?

There are testimonies of people who have literally been overwhelmed by the love of God which touched their emotions to breaking point:

 

John Pollock: Moody Without Sankey, Fearn: Christian Focus Publications 1995, p94-101: There was no disputing that Moody was empty in his soul … Two women in his congregation noticed this … while Moody preached they prayed in an obvious manner. ‘We have been praying for you,’ they said afterwards. This nettled him. ‘Why don’t you pray for the people?’ ‘Because you need the power of the Spirit.’ ‘I need the power?’ And Moody puffed.

He had not a chance. ‘No opportunity was lost after that in urging upon him his great need.’ … he hid from them … but they set him thinking. [He said:] ‘I asked them to come and talk with me, and they poured out their hearts in prayer that I might receive the infilling with the Holy Spirit. There came a great hunger into my soul. I did not know what it was. I began to cry out as I never did before. I really felt that I did not want to live if I could not have this power for service.’ [But] it would not come: because he refused [his call to preach all over the land] … [One Friday] ‘Mr Moody’s agony was so great that he rolled on the floor and in the midst of many tears and groans cried to God to be baptized with the Holy Ghost and fire.’

Rolling on the floor in prayer was un-Moodylike … at that time Moody had been ‘continually burdened and crying to God for more power. He was always wanting to get a few praying ones together for half a day of prayer and would groan and weep before God for the baptism of the Spirit.’ The heavens remained brassy … For Moody would not place himself on the altar [not yield to God in his determination to stay in Chicago] …

Moody began to pace New York streets at night, wrestling, panting for a Pentecost. In broad daylight he walked down one of the busiest streets … while crowds thrust by … The last chain snapped. Quietly, without a struggle, he surrendered. Immediately, an overpowering sense of the presence of God flooded his soul. ‘God Almighty, seemed to come very near. I felt I must be alone.’ He hurried to the house of a friend … ‘I want to be alone. Let me have a room where I can lock myself in.’ His host thought best to humour him. Moody locked the door and sat on the sofa. The room seemed ablaze with God. He dropped to the floor and lay bathing his soul in the Divine. Of this Communion, this mount of transfiguration, ‘I can only say that God revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand.’ … The dead, dry days were gone … Moody became the man of God.

 

Adapted from RC Sproul Doubt and Assurance (Baker Books, 1993) and Charles Kummel, The Galileo Connection (IVP, 1986), http://storiesforpreaching.com/pascals-coat/: When the seventeenth century French scientist Blaise Pascal [French mathematician, physicist, and religious philosopher] died in 1662 his servant found a small piece of parchment sewn into his coat. At the top of the paper Pascal had drawn a cross. Underneath the cross were these words.

 

In the year of the Lord 1654 / Monday, November 23 / From about half-past ten in the evening until half-past twelve.

 

Fire / God of Abraham, God if Isaac, God of Jacob / Not of philosophers nor of the scholars.

 

Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy, Peace. / God of Jesus Christ, My God and thy God.

 

“Thy God shall be my God.” Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except God. He is to be found only by the ways taught in the Gospel. Greatness of the soul of man.

 

“Righteous Father, the world hath not know thee, but I have known thee.” Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.

 

Jesus Christ. I have fallen away: I have fled from Him, denied Him, crucified him. May I not fall away forever. We keep hold of him only by the ways taught in the Gospel. Renunciation, total and sweet. Total submission to Jesus Christ and to my director. Eternally in joy for a day’s exercise on earth. I will not forget Thy word. Amen.

 

That was Pascal’s record of an intense two-hour religious experience that he kept secret until his death. It was an experience of God that gripped his soul and changed the course of his life. He stored his record of it in the lining of his coat, close to his heart. For eight years he took care to sew and unsew it every time he changed his coat. It was a treasured experience, something he could return to again and again.

 

Isaac Moody couldn’t handle the intensity and asked God to turn it down a little – less of his love or he would explode – but the experience changed him and his ministry. And Blaise Pascal literally carried the experience around with him (a written record of God’s fire sewn into his coat). When he had this two-hour encounter with God, he learned to know God by experience which was completely different from grasping God with the mind only: “Fire / God of Abraham, God if Isaac, God of Jacob / Not of philosophers nor of the scholars. / Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy, Peace. / God of Jesus Christ, My God and thy God.God, not of philosophers or scholars – God, not of theories and classroom teaching only – but the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the God of human history (hands-on) – the God who makes me encounter him and live with him.

Testimonies are interesting, but – before we allow them to stir us up and seek this for ourselves – we better settle the question of experience so that we are absolutely crystal clear about the mandate – the invitation – the absolute necessity – to pursue the experience of God for ourselves. According to the Bible and our Christian heritage, unless you experience God, there is no salvation. This is radical and so important. Unless you encounter God, there is no relationship with him and no saving faith.

In the Bible, when the apostle Peter preached his very first message, he said – Acts 2:22-36: “People, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him … be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

Peter confronted his listeners: “… you … put him to death by nailing him to the cross … the one, whom you crucified, God raised him from the dead and made him both Lord and Christ.” And Peter kept challenging the people in front of him – Acts 2:40: “With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’And the crowd came under conviction – Acts 2:37: “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart …”

From the beginning, God does something to our hearts. The people before Peter were cut to the heart which means that they experienced a crisis, understanding how lost they were without Jesus (they had rejected him on the cross). And they were feeling this crisis in cutting emotions [“they were cut to the heart”], and asked him – Acts 2:37: “What shall we do?And he answered – Acts 2:38: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

This is how it works for everyone. Some feel greater distress, others experience this more as a hunger for God, but God shakes all of us out of pride and self-sufficiency. A pastor writes: “Conversion is not the smooth, easy-going process some people [original: men] seem to think … It is wounding work, of course, this breaking of the hearts, but without wounding there is no saving …” (John Bunyan, quoted in John Piper: Tested by Fire, Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 2001, p65). [Charles Spurgeon: Lectures to His Students – On Conversion as Our Aim: Spare not the sterner themes, for men must be wounded before they can be healed, and slain before they can be made alive. No man will ever put on the robe of Christ’s righteousness till he is stripped of his fig leaves, nor will he wash in the fount of mercy till he perceives his filthiness. Therefore, my brethren, we must not cease to declare the law, its demands, its threatenings, and the sinner’s multiplied breaches of it.]

Unless you experience thewounding”, you don’t experience how God binds up thewoundof a repentant heart (feeling the peace of God and his consolation of a worried conscience) and if all of this remains foreign to you, there is the question whether you have actually come into a relationship with Jesus.

At least, this is how Lutherans, together with others in church history, have seen this:

 

Augsburg Confession, Article XX: Of Good Works, 15: But, although this doctrine [justification by faith] is despised by the inexperienced, nevertheless God-fearing and anxious consciences find by experience that it brings the greatest consolation, because consciences cannot be pacified through any works, but only by faith, when thev are sure that, for Christ's sake, they have a gracious God. Paul teaches [Rom. 5:1]: “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God.” This whole doctrine is to be referred to that conflict of the terrified conscience; neither can it be understood apart from that conflict. Therefore, inexperienced and profane men judge ill concerning this matter, who dream that Christian righteousness is nothing but the civil righteousness of natural reason.

 

 [Apology of Augsburg Confession, Article III: Of Love and the Fulfilling of the Law, 229-231: How often conscience is aroused, how often it excites, even to despair, when it brings to view sins, either old or new, or the impurity of our nature? This handwriting is not blotted out without a great struggle, in which experience testifies what a difficult matter faith is. And while we are cheered in the midst of the terrors, and receive consolation, other spiritual movements at the same time grow, the knowledge of God, fear of God, hope, love of God; and we are “regenerated,” as Paul says (Col. 3:10 and 2 Cor. 3:18): “in the knowledge of God,” and “beholding the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image,” i. e. we receive the true knowledge of God, so that we truly fear him, truly trust that we are cared for, and that we are hearkened to by him. This regeneration is as it were the beginning of eternal life, as Paul says (Rom. 8:10): “If Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” And (2 Cor. 5:2,3): “We are clothed upon, if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked.” For when the present sin is mortified, and when, in the midst of temptations, we learn to seek the aid of God, and experience God’s presence, we acknowledge more and more distrust in [our own] hearts, and comfort ourselves by faith. Thus newness of spirit increases, as Paul says: “Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed.”]

 

John Piper also preaches about the necessity of feelings and experiences in one of his sermons:

 

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/fact-faith-feeling: Minimizing the importance of transformed feelings makes Christian conversion less supernatural and less radical. It is humanly manageable to make decisions of the will for Christ. No supernatural power is required to pray prayers, sign cards, walk aisles, or even stop sleeping around. Those are good. They just don't prove that anything spiritual has happened. Christian conversion, on the other hand, is a supernatural, radical thing. The heart is changed. And the evidence of it is not just new decisions, but new affections, new feelings.

Negatively, the apostle Paul says that those who go on in the same old way of “hostility,” “jealousy,” “rage,” and “envy” “will not enter the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:20-21). These are all feelings. They must change. The train won't get to heaven without them. Positively, Christians are commanded to have God-honoring feelings. We are commanded to feel joy (Philippians 4:4), hope (Psalm 42:5), fear (Luke 12:5), peace (Colossians 3:15), zeal (Romans 12:11), grief (Romans 12:15), desire (1 Peter 2:2), tenderheartedness (Ephesians 4:32), brokenness and contrition (James 4:9).

Moreover, faith itself has in it something that most people would call feeling. Saving faith means “receiving Christ.” “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). But receive as what? We usually say, as “Lord and Savior.” That's right. But something more needs to be said. Saving faith also receives Christ as our Treasure. A non-treasured Christ is a non-saving Christ. Faith has in it this element of valuing, embracing, prizing, relishing of Christ. It is like a man who found a treasure hidden in a field and “from joy” sells all his treasures to have that field (Matthew 13:44). [Cf. Here also consider the greatest commandment according to Jesus – Mark 12:30: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”]

 

How much a person feels varies – John Wesley just felt his heart being “strangely warmed” – but something happens:

 

The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, Article II – Free Will, paragraph 70: For it is once for all true that in genuine conversion a change, new emotion [renewal] and movement in understanding, will and heart must occur, namely, that the heart perceive sin, dread God’s wrath, turn itself from sin, perceive and accept the promise of grace in Christ, have good spiritual thoughts, a Christian purpose and diligence, and strive against the flesh. For where none of these occurs or is present there is also no true conversion.

 

[Formular of Concord, Solid Declaration II – Of Free Will, Or Human Powers, paragraphs 55-56: Now, although both, the planting and watering of the preacher, and the running and willing of the

hearer, would be in vain, and no conversion would follow it if the power and efficacy of the Holy Ghost

were not added thereto, who enlightens and converts the hearts through the Word preached and heard, so

that men believe this Word and assent thereto, still, neither preacher nor hearer is to doubt this grace and

efficacy of the Holy Ghost, but should be certain that when the Word of God is preached purely and

truly, according to the command and will of God, and men listen attentively and earnestly and meditate

upon it, God is certainly present with His grace, and grants, as has been said, what otherwise man can

neither accept nor give from his own powers. For concerning the presence, operation, and gifts of the

Holy Ghost we should not and cannot always judge ex sensu [from feeling], as to how and when they are

experienced in the heart; but because they are often covered and occur in great weakness, we should be

certain from, and according to, the promise, that the Word of God preached and heard is [truly] an office

and work of the Holy Ghost, by which He is certainly efficacious and works in our hearts, 2 Cor. 2, 14ff;

3, 5ff.]

 

[The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, II – Free Will, paragraphs 65-66: For conversion is such a change through the operation of the Holy Ghost in the intellect, will, and heart of man that by this operation of the Holy Ghost man can accept the offered grace. And, indeed, all those who obstinately and persistently resist the operations and movements of the Holy Ghost, which take place through the Word, do not receive, but grieve and lose, the Holy Ghost.]

 

Are we in agreement? We must feel something – at least sometimes. When God convicts us of sin – “wounds” our conscience – this is experienced and when God consoles thewoundedconscience with his peace and love, this is also experienced. God is experienced in this way from the beginning (from conversion), but how much can we experience him? Should we settle for the bare minimum required for salvation (few experiences and nothing more than feeling “strangely warmed”) or can we aim higher and cry out for an abundance of God experiences – an experience of immersion in his presence?

I remind us of the nature of God’s love – the Bible reading which began this message:

 

Romans 8:33-39: … It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one … Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? No … neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers … will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

The love of God is stronger than even death, and there is no end to the generosity of his love:

 

Romans 8:32: God who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

 

Then, in another Bible passage, a church leader prays that the Christians in his congregation – together with Christians everywhere – will actually grasp – fully experience – the enormity of this kind of love:

 

Ephesians 3:16-19: I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

 

Ephesians 3:16-19 [AMP]: May He grant you out of the riches of His glory, to be strengthened and spiritually energized with power through His Spirit in your inner self, [indwelling your innermost being and personality], so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through your faith. And may you, having been [deeply] rooted and [securely] grounded in love, be fully capable of comprehending with all the saints (God’s people) the width and length and height and depth of His love [fully experiencing that amazing, endless love]; and [that you may come] to know [practically, through personal experience] the love of Christ which far surpasses [mere] knowledge [without experience], that you may be filled up [throughout your being] to all the fullness of God [so that you may have the richest experience of God’s presence in your lives, completely filled and flooded with God Himself].

 

The experience of this kind of love – grasping its truth – is absolutely needful.

 

Rolland Baker: Keeping the Fire: Mission has often been taught by others as unromantic; as disciplined obedience to the Great Commission. They teach that prayer is hard work, feelings are irrelevant, and getting the job done is what counts. They at least imply that we don’t need spiritual experience to proclaim the Gospel. We can’t expect immediacy and intimacy to be normal. We can function without the manifest presence of God.

At Iris we feel the exact opposite. Weve gone through enough fire and hardship to know that without actually finding God, in fulfillment of Jeremiah 29:13, we cannot do what we do.

We cannot love with supernatural, unstoppable love unless we first experience the love of the Father ourselves. [Cf 2 Corinthians 5:14: “For Christ’s love compels us …”]

 

Jesus does not put limits on experiencing God. On the contrary, he promised:

 

John 4:14: Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

 

John 7:37-39: Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.

 

Jesus said: “Come to me and drink from the Spirit which I will put in you. You will never thirst. Rivers of living water will flow from within you.” Does this sound like we will experience little or much, as we come to Jesus? And by this Spirit (which Jesus promised), so another Bible passage, we pray to God with loving confidence – Romans 8:15: “The Spirit you received does not make you … live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’

This is like an incident which Kirsty shared at a recent Prayer Watch (Thu, 7 April). 6am in the morning, Sam (their youngest) jumps onto the bed of his parents, crashing down between them (waking them?), fully confident that he is welcome and that nothing but cuddles and love will come from Mum and Dad. This is what we are like when the Spirit makes us cry to God at 6am in the morning or any other time (as we please): “Abba, Father.” There is an experience of feeling cocooned in the love of God – an absolute confidence in his care.

There are many more Bible passages which prove and encourage feelings and manifold experiences as we put our trust in Jesus:

 

Romans 14:17: For the kingdom of God [belonging to God through faith] is a matter … of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

 

Romans 15:13: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him [as you exercise faith in him], so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

1 Thessalonians 1:6-8: … you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere.

 

Colossians 3:15: Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.

 

Philippians 4:7: And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

 

Hebrews 9:14: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

 

Romans 9:1: I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit.

 

Galatians 5:22-23: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control …

 

However, now that the value of experiencing God is settled – (we have permission, a mandate and a need) – how do you experience God? On the one hand, it is simple because you are not manifacturing this yourself. God – through the Holy Spirit – provides the experience, like a parent giving something good and undeserved to a child – Luke 11:13: “If you … know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” But, on the other hand, we may struggle with receiving more of God because God calls upon us to appropriate [take hold of] his promises – God calls upon us to enter into the experience of his promises – by receiving them as people of faith.

For instance, this is how Jesus encouraged and admonished us to pray for the Holy Spirit – Luke 11:9-10: “So I say to you, ask and keep on asking, and it will be given to you; seek and keep on seeking, and you will find; knock and keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who keeps on asking [persistently], receives; and he who keeps on seeking [persistently], finds; and to him who keeps on knocking [persistently], the door will be opened.” Everyone will receive from God. This is the promise, but faith trusts the promise and faith takes hold of the promise by praying and persistently pursuing what God said that we would receive. “Ask and keep on asking, and it will be given to you; seek and keep on seeking, and you will find; knock and keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.”

Isaac Moody prayed unlike he had ever prayed before. He was rolling on the floor in agony, groaning and weeping, and finally surrendered everything to God (repented of all of his own designs) before he was filled with the Holy Spirit and experienced God’s overwhelming love. Sometimes the search is intense and active and radical in its desire. And this is what faith makes us do because we know what God promised and we know that he will keep his promises.

God – speaking through the Bible – is quite clear: “I love you! Don’t be timid! Come!”

 

Hebrews 4:14-16: Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

 

Hebrews 10:19-23: Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.

 

With these words, God encourages us to be bold and come into his most holy presence (the Holy of Holies whose dividing curtain was torn by the death of Jesus on the cross), precisely when the human impulse is to run away from him or hide from him because of sin (like Adam and Eve, after they had disobeyed God, hid behind a tree when they heard God approaching, Genesis 3:8-11). But Jesus sympathizes with all of our weaknesses because he was tempted like we are, and even though he did not sin, he understands our struggle and invites us to come closer despite everything. Be bold and come.

 

[We are never doing anything good in our own strength. God empowers us but then asks us to follow his promptings and take the initiative – Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” / Ephesians 5:18: “… be filled with the Spirit.” / James 4:8: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you …”]

 

God taught Clark Taylor a lesson on how this could look in practice when he suffered from feelings of failure and unworthiness, and absolutely struggled to feel the presence of God and his love and acceptance around him.

 

A few years back, he was doing ministry in Alaska and was about to give up the ministry. He felt a failure and was deeply ashamed of his moral failings (divorced from his wife, Anne) which cost him the leadership and even membership in the Christian Outreach movement. He felt unworthy to preach, and was overcome by these feelings of worthlessness, shame and failure. He didn’t sense, feel or experience God in prayer. The cloud only lifted when he was preaching.

However, then God intervened and he had a visitation of Jesus for three days. Jesus talked to him about many things. [He could not see Jesus but was so aware of his presence as a person. He could not hear his voice audibly but every fibre of his body and being heard what he said.] Clark brought up his struggles of experiencing the closeness of Jesus.

In response, Jesus taught him to ask the simple question: “If I could be aware of you Holy Spirit, what would it feel like? If I could be aware of you – if I could feel the peace of God in me – what would it feel like?” Then Clark was meant to listen to the “still small voice” of the Holy Spirit and engage with the promptings of the Holy Spirit (thoughts, words, pictures, etc.), such as imagining love and lingering on images of love – such as the strong, secure and stable love of Jesus as our rock or the breathless embrace of the Father welcoming home the prodigal.

Clark was meant to ask the question: “I don’t feel anointed now. How would I feel, if I could feel it coming over me?” And then listen to the flow of thoughts and pictures which the Holy Spirit was giving through the spirit, not the brain first. For instance, the Holy Spirit may prompt the picture of coming upon him like a mantle (e.g.: Elijah; Lk 24: “clothed” with the Holy Spirit) or tongues of fire, and Clark was meant to “taste” these pictures also in his emotions. He was meant to be bold, expect that he was allowed to experience the truth of God’s presence and love, and enter into the experience, taking his emotions with him (bringing them into alignment with the truth).

 

[God gave me an image and vision in a dream. There was Jesus flying a stunt airplane (flying cap on, open air cockpit) and there was a long rope trailing the airplane and at the end of the rope was a basket (big enough to provide an enclosed seat up to half the torso) and in the basket I was sitting with my hands holding on to the ropes on my left and my right. The ropes of the basket seat were coming together above me and were connected to the rope trailing the airplane.

Jesus was providing a wild ride, and first I became anxious because I could hardly hang on as the basket was flung round corners and wild loops. It did not take long and I realized that this was safe and fun, and Jesus was enjoying this too. He loved me and took time to do this for me. I also understood that this was about ministry and the wild ride that was coming up and that I was already in. Despite heartaches, Jesus showed me that he was having fun, rejoiced in thrilling me, loved me and made the wildest experience safe.

This was a dream one night, but the reality of the dream remained current, and Jesus encouraged me to remain connected to the vision in my imagination and remain connected to the experience and emotions of the ride. This was to become part of my conscious reality in his relationship with me.]

 

God works with the imagination which captures people’s excitement and emotions. God makes us imagine the truth – paints the truth in rich colours and images – so that we feel what we believe. We feel our faith. For instance, God had promised Abraham to give him countless descendants, but when he struggled to catch the vision, God helped him with two simple object lessons which helped him to take hold of the promise in his mind and emotions:

 

Genesis 15:1-6: After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

 

Genesis 22:17: I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore …

 

At night, God took Abraham outside of his tent, made him look up and experience the futility of counting the stars. As numerous as the stars, so his offspring would be. And Abraham understood and believed, not with his head only but also with his heart which includes the emotions. And God impressed the same lesson using sand.

When a church leader prayed that the Christians in his congregation would actually grasp – experience – the enormity of God’s love for them, he prayed for God to give them power of understanding through the Holy Spirit and he appealed to their imagination:

 

Ephesians 3:16-19: I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

 

When you don’t feel loved by God, pray for the Holy Spirit and his power, ask the question,If I could feel the love of Jesus for me, what would it feel like”, and then linger on the words which talk about the spatial dimension of his love – “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ”. How high is the love of Christ? As high as Mt Everest? Higher? Wow! How deep is the love of Christ? As deep as the pit that I have dug for myself? Deeper? Wow! Be bold and take hold of Jesus’ promise that he will quench all of our thirst for him. “Come boldly to the throne of grace.”

Jesus taught Clark this simple lesson of asking the question, If I could be aware of you Holy Spirit, what would it feel like? If I could be aware of you – if I could feel the peace of God in me – what would it feel like,when he was feeling dejected and struggled to break free of his shame. When we struggle less with emotions and feeling our faith, experiencing God is even easier. The key is again our imagination and awareness. I quote again Clark Taylor – what he learned before his crisis of later years:

 

Transcript (edited) from a message by Pastor Clark Taylor, given at the Lutheran Renewal Conference, Toowoomba (21 November 2015): My mother was a widow. Dad was killed in a tractor accident. And she moved to Brisbane. By now I was a preacher and I had quite a large church. And I was so very busy. And I was driving to an appointment that morning and I thought to myself: “I haven’t seen Mum in about two weeks.” And I felt really bad. I had been too busy to see my mother. What a dreadful man I was. And as I thought of Mum a warm feeling came over me. I had a great mother.

Mum was professional mother. That’s all she wanted to be, a wife and a mother. And she loved us children. She lived for us. When I was young [older teenager and maybe a little older] came in from a stock camp – (three weeks at a time at a stock camp, rough tucker, corn beef, damper, golden syrup, three times a day and seven days a week) – I was hungry for a feed that Mum cooked. I loved Mum’s baked rice pudding. When I was younger, I fought with my four siblings about who would receive most of the edgings. It had to be fair.

And I thought about Mum’s baked rice pudding and had this warm glow of a feeling over me. I had an analytical mind and said: “God, why did I feel that warmth that I just felt.” I loved Mum and loved her always. But I felt this rush of emotional warmth and I felt that God said: “It was because you became aware of her.” I am not that slow and he said: “Jesus, how often haven’t I been aware of your nearness to me, of you being joined to me.”

And so Mum may have given me rice puddings but Jesus Christ has given me his presence. I don’t know how many times – thousands I guess – times of intimacy I had with him. Sometimes, on one occasion, I felt like my ribs would blow apart with the pressure with his presence that had descended and filled me. And I didn’t say: “God, stop.” I wanted to because it was sort of painful. My ribs felt like they couldn’t contain any more. But after that the healing power God increased. The miracles increased. I could remember that or I could forget about it. I could be aware of that experience with God.

All of us have experiences of God or would have wanted them. How often have you been aware of them or have you let them go? When I was learning the ways of the Spirit, we would have a wonderful meeting. We were televising live around a fair section of Australia, crowds of people were coming, we were averaging 120 first-time decisions for Christ per week, and then crusades (usually mid-week somewhere) starting churches. And I had a great Sunday – fantastic Sunday. I would go home and say: “God, this was so good. You’ve been so good tonight.” There were some great healings that occurred. Then I would say: “God, that was this Sunday. God, next Sunday.” I was for ever starting again. Next Sunday was a different Sunday. I would forget. I didn’t forget mentally but I didn’t remember in the Biblical way of remembering. To remember is to live again, to relive the experience. Had I relived it and said: “God, you did this and that man walked or whatever. This deaf person got healed or whatever. You did this.” Had I relived the power of God flowing through me, had I relived the graciousness of Jesus that was using me, had I relived it all through that week, I would have gone into next week’s meeting catapulted from the week before.

Does this make sense to you? But if I left last week and now I start from scratch again which I did for ages because I didn’t know the Biblical use of the word remembering. It’s a wonderful word and you should practice it. If you have experienced in this conference as I trust you have – in the worship, in the speaking, in the power of God that flows – don’t forget it. Go home to your place, sit with God and relive what it felt like. Your soul has to be converted. Our soul feels something – the flesh or the Spirit – worry, trouble, success, joy, sadness. You feel something. You are a feeling being. The Word of the Lord is perfect converting the soul. The church has done something of a job converting the spirit but we haven’t set about to systematically convert the soul of our people. So we have left a war going on in the inside, a struggle against the feelings that come into our soul, the wrong feelings.

 

Clark felt a rush of emotional warmth toward his mother when he became aware of her, and her baked rice pudding. And he learned that the same principle holds true for feeling emotional warmth toward Jesus. If we just pause and remember him and what we have experienced with him and through him – what he has done for us – if we remember and relive his goodness in our lives, the feelings come and, with our growing awareness of him, our emotions are also being converted to the truth of Christ’s love which iswide and long and high and deep”.

I come to a close. Do you have permission to feel your faith? Are you allowed to experience God – his love – beyond just knowing about it? Yes, this is a must from the beginning. Noone is saved without experiencing first the wounding that comes when the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin and then experiences the peace of God as he calms our conscience and gives us the joy of salvation. Jesus also promised: “Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst” (John 4:14). Therefore, be bold and come. Take hold of the promises, enter into the presence of God, and let the Holy Spirit help you to experience the truth: If I could be aware of you Holy Spirit, what would it feel like?” Listen to the words and pictures that the Holy Spirit is giving you. Linger on them. Take time imagining the truth until you feel your faith and experience thatneither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). Amen.