In my line of work I occasionally have meetings with people who have decided to leave church.
After a little discussion around why they’re ‘leaving church’, I generally I go one further and ask them why they don’t leave faith altogether…
I ask; “So what stops you from packing in this whole ‘faith thing’ altogether?”
Some people may feel that this is a dangerous question, but I think it’s healthy that we all ask ourselves from time to time.
Dangerous questions usually bear the best fruit from my experience.
What’s fascinating is almost always, I hear responses that have the same flavour;
“Well… I’ve had these experiences…”
“Sometimes God speaks to me, and it feels like He knows me better than I know myself.”
“I asked God a question, and I felt like the words that were coming towards me were kinder than words I would use on myself.”
The reason I find these responses so interesting and am writing this piece about it, is because it’s so familiar to my own story.
I can’t help but wonder if there’s a universal pattern here?
See, on the journey of faith, at some stage, or even regularly, most of us have strange inexplicable moments of spirituality that we can’t simply ignore, or rationalise.
I’m not talking about hearing audible voices through the clouds. (although some claim to)
The majority, however, have had somewhat more subtle experiences, but they’ve been enough to have left a mark on their lives.
Serendipitous circumstances, Gut instincts, Dreams, Visions, Prophetic insights, that sort of stuff.
In the church I lead we do this thing called ‘Soaking.’ It’s basically a mix of mindfulness and meditation, where people lay down and embrace the quietness of the moment in hope of having a ‘spiritual encounter’, of sorts.
It looks like we’re a strange cult to be honest.
I’m determined to bring out a massive jug of red cordial labelled ‘Kool-Aid’ one day and offer people a drink.
Should be a good laugh…
For me though, soaking is more than prayer because talking to God is powerful, but when God talks back, it’s a game changer!
Therefore, we tolerate the craziness of how soaking looks because many of these ‘spiritual moments’ people in my world have had, happened on our blue carpet at Encore.
People have left career paths, and gone in new directions.
People have forgiven those who have caused them pain.
People have forgiven themselves and cried many tears.
One person even went away and changed their name!
People have heard the voice of the living God, and it’s humbled them.
Soaking can be life altering for some, and for others not much more than a quick nanna nap.
Some snore, some score…
On the same carpet I believe I have heard the Lord say things to me that have left an imprint.
One time I asked God if He wanted me to stop an addictive behaviour. I expected to hear “YES, stop that you idiot!”, but I didn’t. What I heard was a quiet still voice say; “James, you don’t have to do that.”
I was perplexed…
Another time when I felt like my role as leader was beyond my capabilities, I the Lord; “I’m not the right person for this job”, only to hear; “James, I trust you with this.”
Another time I had a vision where I was in a mining cart with Jesus travelling deep into some kind of mine. We were both wearing mining helmets, you know, the ones with torches on top, and I looked at Jesus and said; “Ahh I know! We’re going deep because that’s where the pain is.” only to hear;
“No, it’s where the Gold is.”
I know it sounds like I’ve been on the Kool-Aid myself, but I’m not making this stuff up!
Trust me, I’ve got better things to occupy my time with than laying down on blue carpet every Saturday evening recreating a scene from Jonestown.
There’s something in this, and that’s why I participate.
So James, how do you know for sure that this is God talking to you?
Truth is, I don’t. I can’t prove it, and I won’t try.
There’s just something it I can’t ignore.
And I’m not alone…
Here’s what I can’t ignore;
The only times I see a more generous image of James than I would normally afford myself, is when I enquire of the Lord.
When I ask God, I hear things I wouldn’t say to myself.
It’s a different voice to mine.
It’s more kind, more encouraging, and more compassionate than my own voice.
Like a lot of us, I tend to beat myself up a bit over my short comings.
Sad to say, but I’m just not that kind, encouraging or compassionate towards myself.
There’s a counter intuitive nature to what I see and hear in these moments that grabs my attention.
If the bible is anything to go by, then it could be observed that ‘counter intuitive’ is the signature of God.
You may not have picked this up, but 52 times alone in one translation of the gospels (first four books of the new testament), the text begins with; “But Jesus…”
And every time we read “But Jesus…”, it’s because Jesus had a counter intuitive response to the situation at hand.
But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me.”
But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.
But Jesus was silent.
and my favourite…
But Jesus was asleep
It was the counter intuitivity of Jesus that got the people’s attention back then, and I believe it’s still what gets our attention today.
How often has the Lord had a counter intuitive version of your reality?
What are your “But Jesus…” moments?
Here’s 3 tips for those reading this who don’t feel like they’ve experienced hearing from God.
- Create space in your life so you can experience a “But Jesus…” moment, whatever that looks like.
- Try soaking.
- If you pray, then talk less & listen more.
At the end of the day, I understand church life can be a painful experience for all of us at times, for a variety of reasons, but mainly one; There’s other people involved.
Doing life with other people is difficult no matter what the environment is. School, Work, Footy Club, Taxidermy association…
Welcome to life!
We can stay in community or leave, it’s our choice, but staying will always involve growing and stretching.
Leaving any community is more often than not, just the path of least resistance.
I personally think we all need a community.
However, it would appear that it’s easier to leave a community / church than it is to leave Jesus.
Who you’re friends with, what you do, what you value, and how you see the world will change over time, but your encounters with God will always remain your encounters.
Your “But Jesus…” moments are your rock! Your true north.
Some things don’t change…
For me, my own personal “But Jesus…” moments have been what’s kept me in the game through the hard times of faith and the dark nights of the soul, when it felt like there wasn’t much else to hang onto?
“But Jesus…” moments will impact your life way more than anything you will ever learn in church no matter go many great communicators you listen to, or great songs you sing.
Once you’ve seen, you can’t un-see.
Once you’ve tasted, you can’t un-taste.
So let me ask you; “What stops you from packing in this whole ‘faith thing’ altogether?”
Would love to hear your thoughts.
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