I just started teaching through the Book of the Revelation. It’s a book that reveals Jesus, hence, “The Revelation”. Chapter one is all about Jesus introducing Himself via a vision to John. John had spent 3 1/2 years with Jesus during His incarnation, but now he was seeing the exalted Christ in all His glory.
Upon seeing this fresh vision of Jesus, we read of John in verse 17, “And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead”.
Each Sunday, at the end of the sermon, I receive questions via texts, and this last Sunday, someone asked me if verse 17 refers to what has come to be known as “being slain in the Spirit”. That is a conversation for a different time, but it did make me think about why some people pursue spiritual or so called spiritual experiences. I do believe that someone can be overcome by the presence of God, as John was here. Conversely, I also think that church leaders can manipulate desperate people into experiencing something that isn’t from God, but that is soulish, and in some instances, even devilish…but all that is secondary to the main point I want to make.
John didn’t go looking for an overcoming experience with Jesus. He simply encountered Jesus, and then was overcome with the person of Jesus. The experience was from heaven, and was real, and undoubtedly unforgettable, but the main point is this: John didn’t pursue the experience, he experienced Jesus, and an experience followed.
I have been in churches where “so called” spiritual things were happening: people being slain in the Spirit, groups of people speaking in tongues, healings, etc. I believe that some of it was real, but that a lot of it wasn’t. I have been “overcome” by the Spirit, and have been deeply touched by the Holy Spirit, but I was never “looking for a touch”. The experiences were memorable and life changing, but I never read in the Bible that we are to pursue an experience with Jesus, but rather, we are to seek after Jesus.
Some may ask, “Why does it matter”? It does matter.
First, the Bible says to “seek first after the Kingdom of God”. (Matthew 6:33) That is clear.
The Bible says to draw near to God, and He will draw near to you”. (James 4:8) That is clear.
Secondly, it matters because when Believers seek experiences, they can unwittingly be led astray because their focus is off. A Christian can have a legitimate “overwhelming experience” with Jesus, and be radically blessed, but the danger therein is that that same Christian can become an “experience chaser”, and that can be a very slippery slope that leads into unbiblical and even devilish pursuits.
In Acts 18, Simon the Sorcerer saw the Apostles ministering in the power of the Holy Spirit, and offered them money so he could experience what they experienced.
18And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, 19saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
Simon wasn’t seeking after Jesus, he was seeking after an experience, and he was sharply rebuked by Peter.
Why is that some Believers think passing around venomous snakes is a good idea, or even a Biblical idea? I cannot and will not judge their motives. Undoubtedly, some Christians are truly seeking God, but their lack of Biblical discernment leads them to pursue foolish and dangerous pursuits. There are a myriad of other examples, many of which are sanctioned by pastors in pulpits, but that are in no way sanctioned by God in His word.
My biggest concern is this: Both pastors and congregants can easily become people that chase experiences. Pastors hype up their congregations with either sinful or neutral props, words, and environments. The focus becomes chasing the experience, and everything starts revolving around duplicating a previous experience. This is foolish. It is the “tail chasing the dog”.
Pastors, you don’t need to hype up your church into a frenzy or even into a “feel good”. That isn’t the goal. Be a faithful pastor and study to show yourself approved, and then teach the Bible so well that the people have an amazing fresh and powerful revelation of Jesus. Jesus told Peter, “Feed My sheep”. (John 21:17)
Congregants, if you have had some amazing experience with Jesus, that’s fantastic, but we are not told to seek experiences, we are told to seek God. Be a faithful Christian, and seek Jesus. If He wants to give you an “overwhelming experience” then that is up to Him. Your part is to draw close to God.
It seems as though many churches today major in “chasing experiences”, and minor in seeking Jesus. We don’t need “soulish hype”, we need a “spiritual revelation” of the exalted Christ. Check your Bible: the men and women who encountered God were not people looking for an experience, but were people who encountered God, and as a result, had an experience.
We don’t need hype, we need revelation.