As I am still working my way through Francis Chan’s Forgotten God, I am seeing so much of my past mirrored in what he writes. This quote really stood out to me, and helped me to figure out something that has been bothering me for about 10 years now.
It used to be that if I had a great worship experience, I asked God to duplicate it the next time I came to worship. Like the kid impressed by a silly magic trick, I would pray, “Do it again!” One thing I’ve learned about God over the years, however, is that He rarely “does it again.” He’s the Creator, which mean that He is (among other things) creative. If we expect God to perform certain miracles, or to give us a particular experience, it will be tempting to manipulate or even fake experiences of the supernatural. (p. 89)
Growing up in a charismatic church, this was what I saw lived out. Experiences were what showed that you were a true Christian. It was a well-taught doctrine in that church that if you had had some sort of experience, such a speaking in tongues or prophesying, that you had reached some higher level of Christianity. You were part of the elite. You were accepted as a mature Christian and now everything you did had some value, because you were one of the more “experienced” Christians.
To a 15yo girl who wanted to be accepted, this was a poison. And that holds true for anyone who needs to feel accepted for themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family. I love them with all my heart. But when I was 15 and 16yo, I was starting to want people to see me as me, not just part of that big family with all the kids who homeschools. And when your social circle is limited to church, well, that really limits your options of how you are going to shape yourself.
So, I became that kid that Chan talks about. I became the kid so wrapped up in experiences and the highs that I failed to see the harm it was doing to me. I wanted to do great things for God. I wanted to see Him work in my life and work through me. Which are all good things. But I started to feed off of the high. I wanted more experiences. I thought that the more experiences I had, the closer to God I was becoming. I would stand in awe of people who had spoken in tongues, or who had prophesied. And as this went on, I began to struggle with a lot of stuff.
The first struggle, which I didn’t realize until years later, after leaving that church, was pride. I thought I was so much better then the other teens in my church because I was seeking things they were not. I thought, surely my desires to draw closer to God has scored me some points with Him, and He looks at me as a more worthy servant then these other teens who just sit here. I thought that because I had the approval of man (the leaders in my church), I had God’s approval and was somehow better then others in my age group. I know that I offended many of those people and today, I am truly sorry for that.
The second struggle was my salvation. I was saved when I was 7yo. I know that without a doubt now. I understood what it meant to be saved and what I need to do. I trusted Christ then and I see were He has lead me and guided me for the past 20 years.
But during that time as I sought those high, mountain top experiences, I really begin to doubt if I was really saved or not. Because such an emphasis was placed on experiences, I thought, well, if I am not experiencing anything, I must not be saved. This lead to many sleepless nights as I wondered, God, am I really saved? I began to doubt the work that God had done in my life. I began to see my doubt as an attack from Satan and started to feel sorry for myself. But ironically, I see now where this lead to more pride, because I would think that if Satan was after me to make me doubt my salvation, then I must be really special.
This whole doctrine of experiencing the supernatural had lead to nothing but building a spirit of pride in my heart.
After we left that church and moved across the state, I felt lost. The church we started attending was much more low-key then the one we had just left. I no longer had that encouragement to seek the experiences. And that was when I really knew what it was like to be in the lows. I was no longer experiencing the highs and I felt far from God.
This took years for me to get out of. Every once in a while, I would get the highs back and I would want to hold on to it. I did the outward things that I thought would help. Even my choice of where I went to college was partly based on trying to find something that would give me back that feeling of being special and having people look at me and think, wow, what a great Christian she is. (And for those who know where I went to college, while it seems like a complete 180 turn, it was just looking for that feeling again. I thought maybe I would find it in a different environment.) That pride is a hard beast to kill.
Lately God has shown me that it wasn’t in the low times that I was far from Him. It was in the highs. Because that was all I was grasping for. The high. I wasn’t truly seeking God, I was seeking the experience. The lows were when I was really closer to Him, because it was in those lows that my spirit and pride were slowly and painfully being broken. It has only been in the past year or so that I can finally say I understand my standing before God. I am His child, but I am no better then anyone else. I am a servant whose duty it is to hear her Master’s voice and obey. I do not draw up the terms and conditions of my relationship with God. He does. He has different purposes and plans for everyone, but that doesn’t make one Christian better than any other.
But more then that, God is showing me that my identity is in Him. His grace is what make me worth anything. I am nothing without Him and all of man’s approval or all the supernatural experience in the world cannot fill the void that only God can fill.