Spiritual Experience and Doctrine

“Drama is life with the dull bits cut out”- Alfred Hitchcock 

I love to travel and experience all that God has created.  Road tripping to see the crystal clear, blue water of Lake Tahoe, cruising on ATVs on the never-ending, golden sand dunes of Pismo Beach, falling asleep on a houseboat with a view of the magnificent night sky on Lake Shasta, enjoying a midnight run for delicious burgers at the In-n-Out restaurant are some of my favorites experiences.  The week often feels like a nuisance in anticipation for the weekend when I can enjoy life and explore the wonders of California with friends. 

2020 continues to be an experience that nobody was planning for. This pandemic has interrupted normal life, many things that we have taken for granted.  It feels like life has been put on hold.  I can’t believe it’s already the end of the year, because it feels like the 53rd week of March. The prescription of simply waiting, hoping, praying, and doing life while wearing a mask is hard to follow. 

At its worst, the culture of the Bay Area is marked as  frenetic, results-orientated pursuit of extreme sensation.  Many Christians, including myself, feel like our spiritual walk is going nowhere if we are not changing the world.  I find myself guilty of seeking out the most awe-inspiring Sunday Church experience.  I complain when Sunday service is hosted on Zoom. I complain when the worship music is not matching up with my mood.  I complain when the coffee I’m having is stronger than the convictions in the pastor’s sermon.  I complain when my plan for  life is not being danced out to the moves and pacing I want.  Over time, I found myself treating God and church as something that needs to impress me and meet my desires. If they don’t meet my expectations, I harbor resentment, or more often, search for another community in hopes of finding what I want.

Why should I check another virtual sermon? What’s in it for me? What will I get out of it? 

We frequently approach church as consumers;  we want to be spiritually fed and often end up feeling we are ones pursuing God.  Joshua Ryan Butler reminds Christians in his book, The Pursuing God: A Reckless, Irrational, Obsessed Love That’s Dying to Bring Us Home,  that “our problem is not that we’re reaching out for God and he’s refusing to be found. It’s the opposite: God’s reaching out for us, and we’re scattering in other directions”. Understanding how God is already pursuing us requires deep reflection and self-awareness, as well as realizing how God communicates with us.  In 1 Kings 19, Elijah has a personal encounter with God; however, it is not in the way Elijah is expecting.   

God commands Elijah to, “‘Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.’ And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind and earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.  And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”

The presence of God was not revealed through the dramatic manifestations that Elijah was looking for. God was not in the wind, earthquake, and the fire; God  appeared as dramatic displays of power and nature, but He often appears in more ordinary circumstances.  Powerful preaching, perfect community, and our church experience won’t change my life- rather,  a relationship with God communicating to us, and more often than not, in a still  small voice. 

How is God pursuing me during these times where life feels put on hold?

An honest Christian faith involves attention, awareness, and discipline in mundane, unsexy ways-during and outside of Covid.   My faith must be rooted in the unseemly hallowed day-to-day trenches of adult life; calling me to community and privacy, vocation and Sabbath, experience and doctrine. God invites me into new life into “which we are baptized,  is lived out in days, hours, and minutes. God is forming us into a new people. And the place of that formation is in the small moments of today.” Worship and praising God should not be an expression of our feelings for God, rather they should be acts that develop feelings for God.  Everything we do and say should reflect our essential need to be in relationship with God. 

 

An honest Christian faith involves attention, awareness, and discipline in mundane, unsexy ways-during and outside of Covid.   My faith must be rooted in the unseemly hallowed day-to-day trenches of adult life; calling me to community and privacy, vocation and Sabbath, experience and doctrine.

 In our workaholic, impatient, instant-gratified, and busy culture, we have been conditioned to the assumption that anything can be done efficiently in a short time frame.  Eugene H. Peterson remarks, “There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.” It is tremendously difficult to sustain the interest for an ancient faith in a fast paced society. The decision to accept Christ can give us a rush of excitement, but it’s dreadfully hard to take up our cross daily when the rush of excitement is gone.  Biblical scripture and parables speak volumes when read for the first time, but after time the scripture and parables slowly become boring and outdated.  

Tish recommends that  when our spiritual nourishment becomes dry and stale, “We keep listening and learning and taking our daily bread. We wait on God to give us what we need to sustain us one more day. We acknowledge that there is far more wonder in this life of worship than we yet have eyes to see or stomachs to digest.”  We must have hope for what God’s will on earth will be.  She goes further with this acknowledgment, “If all the cathedrals on earth were gone, all the most glorious art were lost, and all of the world’s most valuable treasures were thrown out, Christians could and would still meet for worship around the Scriptures and the Eucharist. To have church, all we need is the Bible and sacrament.” The  Christian’s core identity is not that of a consumer or thrill seeker: we are a body of image-bearers that worship and praise God, created to know, enjoy, and glorify God and love others.  It will not be easy.  It will involve attention, awareness, and discipline in mundane, little unsexy ways,  every day during and outside of the latest pandemic.

In conclusion, a modern bent of a benediction for the young adults like me living in the Bay Area:  

Glorify God when you are eating In-n-Out Burgers or  eating leftovers.  

Glorify God when hanging out with friends on a road trip or stuck in traffic after a long day.  

Glorify God during the weekend and throughout the week.  

In all circumstances, slow down to find Him, pause life to hear His still voice, and glorify God.   

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