As a child, hot days meant hose water. After spending hours out in the hot sun, I would grow thirsty and long for a cool glass of water. However, entering the house meant leaving the fun as well as stairs, doors, cups, and mom questions. The hose, although not the most glamorous of water dispensers, provided a wet enough drink for my need.
Do you remember your hose water days? Did you care that the water came from a hose?
The water was the most important — not the way in which you obtained the water.
As adults, we care a lot more about the dispenser. No adult walks out to the hose to quench their thirst. Hose water is for the plants and the car.
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. Psalm 42: 1
I may have lost my desire for hose water but the memory of my longing for it still remains. As one Christian camp goes and another one comes, I’m reminded of my hose water experiences.
It’s easy to become enamored by the bright lights, great music, and wonderful experiences of a conference or, in some instances, church services that we forget why it’s all put together in the first place. We can start to base our Christian walk on those experiences instead of the encounters with God. We can forget that it’s the watering from Christ that bring us life instead of the dispenser it comes in. Do I long and even pant for God? Or do I long for the experience?
I want to encounter God and not be addicted to the experiences that are created around Him. I want to long for Him, like a deer for flowing streams, and not the presentation of Him.
It is easy to confuse the two. Intentions seem good but an experience addiction can quickly replace the desire for an encounter.
As I’ve studied scripture, examined my own life, and walked in leadership, witnessing experience jumpers, I’ve found several signs that someone is addicted to the experiences and not the encounter.
1. The experience pumps you up or lets you down.
Do you frequently walk away disappointed if the worship band wasn’t what you expected? Do you feel elated when the speaker was charismatic, even if his message was weak? When you leave, are you joyful that you encountered God or are you complaining about the presentation?
And he said, “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 an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. 1 Kings 19: 11-12a
There is nothing wrong with lights, bands, and fantastic presentations but they should be a result of God. They are not God. Our desire to worship God can bring about a longing to create a show but God is not in those experiences. Experiences are just experiences. God caused the wind, the earthquake, the fire, and the desire to create a professional quality show but God is not in them.
When the show can sway how God is perceived then it is a problem. Those feelings of closeness to God will fade with time because they are dependent on the experience.
The experience can help facilitate an encounter just as the wind, earthquake, and fire captured Elijah’s attention but it wasn’t the encounter. The encounter happens when our attention is focused on God and we are listening for the still, small voice.
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. 1 Kings 19: 12b – 13a
A God encounter will never disappoint. Only an experience can do that.
2. You think and talk about the environment rather than the encounter.
Are you more excited for the worship band’s show or the way in which God will use the worship band? When the experience ends, are you already talking about the next experience or are you sharing how your life changed because of the encounter?
Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. Matthew 7: 20
For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Matthew 12: 34b
It’s not a bad thing to talk about the experience but when it’s the only things you can talk about then you need to check your heart. If there is nothing you can add to a conversation about God encounters and if your fruit is no longer showing when the experience has faded, then it’s time to evaluate where your heart is.
By your words, the signs are clear that you have an experience addiction problem.
3. You don’t encounter God when you’re alone.
Do you feel disconnected from God when you’ve gone to long without an experience? Are your private times with God lacking or non-existent? Do you still long to worship and praise God even when the music has stopped?
Be still, and know that I am God. Psalm 46: 10a
An encounter with God happens when you are still before Him. It is in stillness that you can know Him. It’s in the quiet that God meets his people.
There should be a longing to meet with God even when the experience is gone for it is then that God speaks.
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?” 1 Kings 19: 13
God is in the still, small voice. He speaks when you are listening and waiting for the whisper. In fact, Jesus tells His followers to go into the secret places to pray.
But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6: 6
If you are not meeting God in the secret places, without the wonderful band, the powerful speaker, and the great experience, then you have an experience problem.
God can and will bring about an encounter with the loud experiences but He desires us to encounter Him in the quiet places, the secret place, the still places.
The most powerful encounters should happen when we are alone and quiet.