I love the experience of God’s manifest Presence. Maybe that is why God spoke to me one day over thirty-five years ago as I was worshipping Him: “Seek Me. Do not seek experience.”
Notice that the directive does not say, “Seek to experience Me.” It simply says to seek God, not experience.
Little did I know then how important this directive would be, but many times over the years, these words have surfaced just in time to protect me from some deceptive practice, strange doctrine, or devilish snare.
We now live in a cultural milieu that glorifies experience. Sociologists call it post modernism. Because the Church lives within culture—much in the same way that a goldfish lives in water in a fishbowl—the Church tends to think and act in ways similar to its native culture, which in this case, is post modernism. From its native culture, the Church tends to adopt those norms that make people feel warm and fuzzy and either powerful or safe under the care of the powerful. As a result, today’s Church prizes experiential “spirituality,” as opposed to genuine Holy Spirit living based on the Culture of God.
This “spirituality” comes at a price. Christians unwittingly cash in their worship of the True and Living God in exchange for the worship of Experience. Experience becomes the idol of their worship.
In such a climate, Christians seem to lose their ability to discern between the Holy Spirit and the flesh. They become self-absorbed with their spirituality. They might even find themselves pursuing spiritualist stigmata and bizarre manifestations rather than the Lord God.
This deification of Experience has opened wide the sanctuary doors, bringing age-old deceptions into our midst, especially in popular movements such as the Prophetic Movement, the Revival Movement, and the Spiritual Formation Movement, for example.
EXAMPLE 1: THE PROPHETIC MOVEMENT. Prophecy is not solely a Christian practice. It was the most prevalent religious practice of the pagans of the New Testament era (and continues to be a popular pastime under various guises.) This is probably one reason Paul cautioned the believers at Thessalonica to test everything, including prophecy. He knew that not everything that a believer claimed as a Word from God, was or is, in fact, from God or of God.
Is it possible today that we are not operating in the same Holy Spirit acuity that Paul did? For example, sometimes people get a creative flow of mental words or pictures inspired by their own desires, perceptions, and physical or emotional state, and because we are Christians, we assume this flow is a Word from God. At best, these “creative flows” are exhortations (cluttered with our pet doctrines) that make us feel good and that tickle the ears of our colleagues, giving us, we hope, increased status among our peers. Is this God’s purpose in prophecy?
May we also recall the girl who “prophesied” about Paul (Acts 16:16-18.) He rebuked her! In the Greek, it says she had a “python” spirit. (For further clarity on this event, see Eddie’s Bible Study at the end of this article.)
In the same vein, may we remember Paul’s stern rebuke of the Colossians who had lost their focus (Jesus) and who had become enamored with experience and angel worship (Col. 2:18.) (For a discussion of this, see The Colossian Heresy by Eddie Hyatt).
For our own well-being, may we all be humble enough to remain teachable and to accept informed correction. May we remember that true Words from God tend to be brief and that they are always initiated by Him for His purpose: to lift up Jesus.
EXAMPLE 2: THE REVIVAL MOVEMENT. Revival thrives on experience, making those of us who love revival especially vulnerable to deception and the bizarre. This is why it is important that we be as the Bereans who were commended by Paul for testing everything according to Scripture (Acts 17:11).
Is it not troubling when hungry souls are pursuing Spiritualist stigmata and various unbiblical manifestation, such as the manifestation of gems, lights, gold dust, blood, feathers, oil, and practices such as lengthy (psychic?) exhortations and pagan dream interpretation? Is it not enough to let the Holy Spirit decide when to “break in” or flow quite naturally in the course of daily life with Biblical charismata, such as words of wisdom and knowledge, healings, discerning of spirits, and other practical helps for everyday life?
Compared to many among us today, the Jesus of the Bible seems so unspiritual.
EXAMPLE 3: THE SPIRITUAL FORMATION MOVEMENT. This is an ecumenical movement popularized by leaders such as Richard Foster, a Quaker psychologist who founded Renovaré, ( and ) and who was mentored by the late Gerald May at the Shalem Institute in Maryland (). Important in this movement are spiritual directors, guides or mentors (priests?) trained in guiding naiv? experience-seekers through cult practices that are dangerous and damaging, but exciting and enticing, and highly unbiblical (). A friend of the movement is Eugene Peterson, a former Pentecostal who has written his paraphrase of the Bible called The Message.
The Spiritual Formation Movement does not claim to be Christian or biblical—just ecumenical and spiritual. It draws heavily from the mystics of the Roman Catholic Church of the Middle Ages and encourages various techniques for experiencing The Presence. Many of the techniques of the mystics were adopted from Buddhism. Is this the path to God?
If techniques of any sort to conjure up or bring God’s Presence into manifestation were in order, wouldn’t Our Lord have taught them? Wouldn’t those who walked the earth with Him, have recorded them?
THE BIBLE WAY Jesus promised to be with us and in us and never to leave us, so we have no need to pursue techniques to bring Him or to enter into His Presence. Based on His Word, we know we are already there all the time and that we believers have become His permanent dwelling place, His Temple on this earth.
Jesus also gave us a model prayer, a template that included no techniques to induce spirituality or soul-realm experiences. Should this not cause us to question the practices of contemplative prayer?
What is it that we crave in our pursuit of Experience? Is it Power and Position? Recognition and Preeminence? Release from Fear, Loneliness, Pain?
Jesus said that if we seek first the Kingdom of God (righteous, peace, joy) and His way of being right, that everything we need will be added to us. For most of us, knowing we are “okay” (with God and with ourselves) and living in peace and joy are the things we need and want. We seem to look for them everywhere and to search for ways experiencing them.
Jesus said, that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He said, My peace I give you. My peace I leave with you. It is done. It is not something we create or conjure up. It flows as we acknowledge Him and go about living responsibly. It is something we receive by faith—like salvation and everything else that God has promised us. And we walk it out in all of our attitudes and actions in the mundane responsibilities of living. His strategy is that in all of our ways we are simply to acknowledge Him and He will direct... (Prov. 3:6). It is His Word.
Jesus is our Peace. Is He not enough? Is His Promise not sufficient? Dare we help Him by using soul power and physical techniques to induce an Experience we call His Presence or His Word?
What does our pursuit of Experience say about us? Probably more than we care to know! It betrays us, revealing that we do not trust God——God, forgive us! We repent of pursuing Experience. We choose to believe You. You alone are God. You are enough!
God’s will is that we honor Him and fulfill our responsibilities, being good stewards in life, having a good testimony that would reflect on Who He is so that others would want to know Him. We are to go about living with the knowledge that He is in us, with us, and for us. Our part is to trust Him; His part is to give us what we need. We are not spooks, flakes, or attention seekers. We are those who choose to believe God and to rest in Him.
Experience is a powerful lord and master that is not easily dethroned, but the Lord Jesus said that we would know the Truth and the Truth would set us free. Jesus is a Wonderful Savior. So we have hope.
In Acts 16:16-18, Paul cast a demon spirit out of a young woman who had followed them for days proclaiming, These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation (NKJV). Where the NKJV calls the demon a spirit of divination, the Greek reads spirit of python.
Those present at the event and the earliest readers of Acts would immediately have made a connection between the spirit of python in this young woman and a famous prophetic site in the city of Delphi in Greece. This pagan site was known as The Oracle at Delphi. At the height of its popularity, a continual stream of individuals, including government officials and army generals, trekked to Delphi to get a word from the three resident prophetesses who reportedly gave revelations from the pythian spirit.
According to legend, the Greek god Apollos killed a large python snake on that site, where the spirit of the snake remained and functioned through prophetesses, giving them supernatural knowledge and insight. Luke probably uses the expression spirit of python because something about the young woman’s prophesying reminded Paul of the spirit of the prophetic python demon at Delphi. Interestingly, what she said was positive and true.
How many believers today would have discerned that this woman’s prophetic gift was of a demon and not of the Spirit of God?