Friday, January 7, 2011

When God Gets Personal

At some point our relationship with God must get personal. While we can draw strength and encouragement from our corporate experiences with other believers, discipleship cannot deepen without God going one-on-one with us. That personal interaction will be distinct or unique with each person. Since I have shared with you my experience in making a profession of faith, I want to focus today on my one-on-one with God. I have never shared this experience publicly before, and I don’t intend to imply that it is a standard by which you should measure your own experience with God. It is solely a part of my pilgrimage of faith.

I ended my post on January 3 with the statement that “It took three or so years before I began to recognize that there was more to this business of being saved than I had realized.” My story picks up again at the age of thirteen or so. I say “or so” because I don’t have a specific date or age in my memory; I only have a personal experience. Quite frankly, the memory is embedded in two lasting impressions that have continued to influence my personal understanding about God’s relationship with me as an individual. The two impressions are the warmth of God’s love for me personally and God’s knowledge of me personally.

The season was winter. I was at home alone. The house seemed cold and chilled to me; and although my father frowned upon our fiddling with the thermostat on our home’s gas furnace, I turned the thermostat higher. As I was walking back toward the living room in our house, I “heard” a voice that sounded somewhat like my father say, “Michael.” One word only. That was it.

The tone of the voice was not reprimanding; it was beckoning. I did a quick search to make sure that my father was not actually in the house; and then a sudden sensation swept over me that was simply this. God had spoken my name. God knows my name. God knows me individually and personally. And then the new sensation of warmth in the house surrounded me, and I sensed that God loves me and cares for me.

This was no Samuel-in-the-Tabernacle kind of experience. It didn’t happen three times; in fact, it has never happened again. But I have never felt it needed to happen again, because it taught me something that through the years has become the foundation of my faith and of my relationship with God. Karl Barth often is quoted as saying that the greatest truth he ever knew was learned in the song he sang as a child, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” This was more than the Bible telling me so. It was more like the President of the United States walking up to you and calling you by name. God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, knows my name.

Through the years this personal experience has gained further dimensions and taken new shapes. If God knows my name, God must have a purpose for me and my life. If God loves me, God must be working to bring about good in even the most difficult circumstances in my life. When God gets personal with you, it changes your life.

Some who have never had a personal encounter with God might poke fun at giving such importance to such a childish experience. For others, your personal encounter likely was much different. Maybe your voice of God came through a sermon you heard, a Bible passage you read, or a word from a concerned friend. How it happens doesn’t really matter. The truth is that some kind of personal experience with God will move you from the corporate experience in the family of God to the personal experience of recognizing that you yourself are a child of God. God knows you personally. God loves you. That personal one-on-one brings you to the point where you realize that you must make some kind of personal response to God’s grace. You must become a disciple.

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