Had to write a reflection on how I had encountered God in my life. The experience was more cathartic for me than I had anticipated. Here it is for you to read. And Bob, it’s more than 1,000 words.
Throughout my life, I have encountered God in many diverse ways. God never seems to stop surprising me with how he allows me to encounter His presence and being in my life. I have chosen the three encounters of God’s presence that have most impacted me in my perception of God, my day-to-day praxis and in my execution of ministry. My very first experience was my conversion experience at the age of 5, where I experienced God through joy and hope. Several years after that in junior high, I experienced God through a charismatic lens of prayer, worship and the tangible experience of the Holy Spirit. In college, I experienced a season of desolation when I had to search for God and experience Him even in the lack of tangible experience. Each of these three experiences of God deeply impacted my perceptions of ministry, God and myself.
One of my earliest encounters of God was my conversion experience as a 5-year-old child. I had become sick with the flu. In my five year old perception, it was the most ill I had ever become. Strangely, at this young age, I began to have thoughts of death. I sincerely did not think that I would survive this flu. One night during my sickness, as my father tucked me into bed, I asked him what would happen if I died. He told me that if I accepted Jesus into my heart, that I wouldn’t have to be afraid of death because I could go to heaven. Out of fear, I invited Jesus into my life that night. The next morning, I my sickness had lifted and I was filled with uncontrollable joy as I woke up the house exclaiming that I was now a Christian. I believe that the joy I felt that morning was one of my first experiences of God. This still holds true today in my experience of God and in ministry. I know that an encounter of God results in joy, and that any approach towards God, although it may come with pain, also comes with the promise of joy unspeakable.
Several years after my conversion experience, I was in a summer camp as a junior higher and experienced God through a charismatic encounter with the Holy Spirit. During this season, my church was beginning to experience the Holy Spirit in new ways as strains of the Vineyard movement’s influence had spread to our church. I had seen some encounters from a distance, but had not yet experienced it myself. One night, as we were having a session, the speaker led us into a period of extended worship. I don’t quite remember the challenge or call, but I remember being on my knees asking to the Holy Spirit for an encounter with His presence. During worship, I felt something happen to me that made me start to weep. I then began to shout out loud and pray. I began to pray for those around me, and as I prayed for a group of girls, all of a sudden my mouth began to move and form words that were completely foreign to me. I had no idea what was happening, but it was real. It took a debriefing with my camp counselor to learn that I had just spoken in tongues, of which was not within my realm of experience. I had learned from this encounter of God that the Holy Spirit is real and tangible in a wild uncontrollable way that can be emotional at times. It has instilled upon me a value for the charismatic encounter of God’s Spirit. It has given me faith in my ministry to see God work beyond human ability in any person, even a junior high student. This pattern of encounter held through high school until my early years in college and grew my passion for prayer and worship.
In the middle of my years in college, however, I had to encounter God in the silence and the dark night of the soul. An unhealthy perception of God began to develop as I continued further in my charismatic expression and interaction with God. I had a belief that if I emoted harder or shouted louder, God’s power would increase. Beneath this perception was a deeper false belief that my emotional expression controlled God and dictated what He would do. God would not leave this alone. When He stopped answering my loud and emotional prayers (about a girl I was infatuated about), my world seemed to crash down. Thus began a very angry season in my life with many middle fingers and swear words yelled at God because He would not do what I wanted. I stopped experiencing God in a charismatic way. Prayer meetings were torture for me. There was even a month I became an agnostic as I told God I was becoming an atheist because He wasn’t coming through for me. My InterVarsity staff worker at this time began to invite me to experience God in a new way- silence. During that season, I spent many long hours on the beach surrendering my angry questions and frustrations and sitting in silence staring at the ocean. Slowly (sometimes very slowly), the anger would melt away and I would feel peace surround me as I stared at the ocean. I didn’t hear any words or pictures- I just sat and let God deal with my heart. A year and a half into my period of desolation, my fist stopped shaking at God. I was at peace with God. From the total of two years that I was in this season of my life, I learned that God could speak to me quietly. I learned that I was not in control of anything but my choice to surrender to God. Most importantly, through the experience of this peaceful silence, that God was patient and could handle my angry swear words, my middle fingers, my sin and my brokenness. I experienced grace.
Today, although I still experience the joy of assurance and the tangible charismatic experience of the Holy Spirit has returned to me, the season in which I encountered God in the midst of silence shapes my perceptions of God and ministry the most. I could experience the peaks of joy or the intensities of prayer and worship, but what God desires most in me is the surrender of my heart and character to His transformative work. Heart and character transformation have become my highest priority in my ministry in every student I interact with. If I lead a student in experiencing physical healing, tongues, and the joy of conversion, but not into the transformative heart work of total-life surrender, my job remains incomplete. There is joy and there is power, but without the experience of surrender, one has not really encountered God.