Part 2c: That Can’t be God!
A number of years ago, when I was pastoring a church in Irving, TX, I saw a report on the news about a church in Houston that had received a package in the mail with no return address; and when the secretary opened it, the package blew up and injured her severely. A few days later, a large thick manila envelope came to our church, addressed to me, but with no return address. Well, great man of faith that I was, I immediately presumed that it was probably a bomb! After several hours of debating with myself over whether or not I should open it, if I should call the police, or if I should just throw it away, I finally decided to call a friend and get his opinion. He quickly calmed my fears and deflated my ego when he simply said that neither I nor the church was significant enough for anyone to want to send me a bomb! So I went ahead and opened the package (still a bit cautiously, I must confess), and what I found was a study workbook that I had ordered a few weeks earlier and that I was really looking forward to reading! I was quite relieved and very thankful for two things: 1) that I had not called the bomb squad, and 2) that I did not allow my fear of the “unknown” to cause me to miss out on receiving something that I wanted very much!
How many times have we shied away from God’s presence because of some freaky-looking manifestations that we witnessed in others, or because of horror stories we heard others tell, or because we allowed our imaginations to torment us with strange things that might happen to us in His presence? How many times have we looked at something that we did not understand and said, “That can’t be God!” and turned our backs, not only on what we saw, but also on Him? How many times have we missed out on something really good that God had planned for us to experience in His presence because we were afraid of the “unknown?”
Now, please don’t get me wrong! I am not in any way suggesting that everything that has been passed off as “from God” really is something that He did! But what I am saying is that we should not just automatically rule something out because it doesn’t fit into our understanding of what God does or what He is like. Many people in the Bible experienced things in God’s presence that were definitely outside of their paradigms! Think about what Moses must have thought when his rod turned into a snake; or what Aaron thought when he saw Miriam instantly covered with leprosy; or Jonah when he was swallowed by the huge fish; or the disciples when Jesus cursed the fig tree for not having figs, and it wasn’t even the season for figs; or what the early church thought when Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead; or Saul when the Lord knocked him to the ground and struck him blind! All of these people experienced something in God’s presence that was outside their paradigms; and besides that, there was no “scriptural precedent” for any of it! Someone may respond, “But back then God was establishing scriptural precedents that He no longer moves outside of!” If by that statement you mean that He does nothing now that He has not already done somewhere in Scripture, then you are trying to force Him to fit inside your box! The true scriptural precedent that He was setting for us to understand is that He is totally unpredictable and that He will NOT be made to fit into anyone’s box! If He never moved outside our paradigms --- in other words, if we could keep Him in a box and make Him predictable --- then He would not be God!
O.K., I know that some of you are thinking about some very specific things that you have witnessed or heard about that you would NEVER want happening to you! Tell me, do you believe (as I do) that God always has a purpose in everything that He does? If so, then it stands to reason that you would also believe that everything He sends your way is for your good, right? Then, whatever He causes to happen to you is because you need it! Let me give you a couple of examples of what I am talking about. One time when my wife was enjoying His presence, she began to laugh uncontrollably. This went on for about 45 minutes, and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t stop laughing! Afterwards, she felt a bit embarrassed by it and could not understand why God had done that to her. But a couple of weeks later she suddenly realized that the ever-present feelings of condemnation that she had suffered with for years were gone! God had removed them from her while she was on the floor laughing! For me, during that season when we were enjoying what we called “the river” of His presence, I would nearly always experience what appeared to be drunkenness in that I would weave and wobble when trying to walk or even while sitting in my chair. It was really embarrassing, but I realized later that God was dealing with an area of pride in my life --- I was always wanting to “look good” in front of others. I needed that experience! Whatever God has waiting for us in His presence is something we need!
But isn’t it possible to get deceived and experience something that is not from God? Yes, it is possible; I have seen it happen, and you probably have, too. But the way I understand it, that only seems to happen when we seek after some kind of EXPERIENCE or when we pursue MANIFESTATIONS instead of simply desiring to be in His PRESENCE! Things DO happen in His presence, but if we put the emphasis on those things instead of on Him, we make ourselves more vulnerable to deception! What I try to stand on is what Jesus said in Luke 11:11-13, "Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, 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!" There are two very important things to see here: 1) God will NEVER give us a counterfeit of anything good that we are asking for, and 2) what we should be asking for is more of the Holy Spirit in our lives instead of experiences and manifestations! It is through His Holy Spirit that we experience His presence, and in His presence we will experience only what He has planned for us!
Does that mean that we will always ENJOY everything we experience in His presence? No. Sometimes His presence produces conviction, Godly sorrow, and repentance. Or sometimes He wants to use some kind of experience to deal with something in our lives (like my pride). It may not always be a “fun” time, but it always bears some really good fruit! We need whatever it is that He has for us in His presence. And, yes, whenever we seek to come into His presence, we are facing the possibility of encountering something we have not experienced before, but let us not allow fear of the unknown to keep us away from that which He desires for us there!
I like the way C.S. Lewis puts it in The Chronicles of Narnia; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when the children are first hearing about Aslan from the Beavers:
“But shall we see him?” asked Susan.
“Why, Daughter of Eve, that’s what I brought you here for. I’m to lead you where you shall meet him,” said Mr. Beaver.
“Is – is he a man?” asked Lucy.
“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King I tell you.”
No, His presence is not a “safe” place for the areas of our lives that need to change, but it is definitely a GOOD place!
Next, Part 3: Can God Use THAT?!?