When I was a teenager I often called out to God asking Him to meet with me, to show up in dramatic ways, to change me and if I’m honest for Him to prove Himself to me. Angelic visitations, Jesus Himself showing up, money miraculously appearing… it didn’t matter – I just wanted to experience the supernatural testimonies I had heard about in the Bible and elsewhere. I was desperate for God to give me visions and dreams; to direct my life in powerful ways.
Having now lived in Peru as a missionary for 10 years, I can say that God has shown up in powerful ways at times – I do have visions and dreams, but they are not as dramatic as I imagined them to be and more often than not they are a result of positioning myself for God to speak. In fact, it is often the times that I am not taking the time to be with God that He has to speak louder to get my attention!Often when not taking the time to be with God, He has to speak louder to get my attention!Click To Tweet
Before looking at some ways we can position ourselves to have an encounter with God, let’s examine a few hurdles:
1. We are too busy and we don’t know how
We’ll talk about the how part later in this article, but let’s chat about the busy thing. It really doesn’t take long each day to position ourselves for a God encounter and we can do it anywhere. But to build a relationship with anyone takes a continued effort in the same direction! It is about being intentional to meet with God daily. Start with 5 minutes. Although it can be helpful to find a quiet space, encountering God is not just exclusive to those times we are locked in our room alone. You can encounter God easily whenever you are doing an activity which doesn’t involve speaking or thinking intensely. You might be doing things around the house, travelling somewhere, taking a shower, falling asleep at night…
Not having time is not a true excuse – it is about how you use the time you have, even when you are doing other things.
2. We are scared that experiencing God is not grounded in the Bible
One of the biggest arguments I have heard against seeking an encounter with God is that we shouldn’t be seeking experiences with God. This argument appears logical until you compare it with our other daily relationships. Could you imagine me saying to my husband on our wedding day:
“we’re married now but I am going to hand you my diary that I wrote telling you how to be a good husband and have a relationship with me – but I am never going to talk to you other than through that diary. And we may be married, but please don’t seek after experiences with me unless I initiate them and I won’t because I only speak through that diary from this day forward.”
It would be ridiculous!
Now, of course, God has blessed us with His Word and it is an absolute treasure trove to help us understand how to relate to Him and to understand His character (I would have loved a guidebook so complete of my husband when we got married – I would have even taken a one-sheet!). It is through His Word that we learn to recognize His voice – what it sounds like, the sort of things that might be from Him. But reading the Word does not automatically lead us to encounter God.
Jesus tells us in John 17: 3 that eternal life is knowing the Father, the only true God and Jesus Christ the sent one.
The word ’knowing’ here is the Greek word ‘ginóskó’. It means to know someone experientially, first-hand and intimately. It is the same word used when Mary asked the angel how it was possible for her to have a baby when she had never ‘known’ a man. It is translated in other verses to mean ‘to become aware of’ or ‘to perceive’. Life abundant, eternal life, is knowing God experientially and intimately. Knowing about Him is useless if it doesn’t lead us to encounter Him. Satan knows all about God but he avoids and hates all expression of Him.
But when we read the Bible we also see how God encounters individual after individual- and how He responds to His people’s desire to encounter Him. It was not God’s idea to set up a temple for people to meet with Him, but He responded to David’s idea with favour because He so desired to meet with His people. God’s idea was the Spirit indwelling in us as believers – so that we no longer have to go to a temple to meet with Him, but simply recognize we are the temple and encounter Him whenever and wherever we want to. (1 Corinthians 6:19).1
3. We don’t really know what a God encounter is
A God encounter is any time we meet with God that we experience Him. It may happen as we read the Scriptures and God speaks clearly into a situation we are facing. It might be a burning in our hearts as we worship Him and we come alive in a way we haven’t felt before. It may be a dream that we had last night that we know may be trying to say something but we’re not sure what yet. It may be a peace in our hearts when a friend encourages us. An encounter with God is anytime we recognize God’s presence in our midst. The Bible tells us that we live and breathe and have our being in Him (Acts 17:28). God is all around us, and as believers, we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. God’s presence is with us. But an encounter is when we recognize that Presence in a particular situation. When we experience God.An encounter with God is anytime we recognize God’s presence in our midst.Click To Tweet
So how can we position ourselves for an encounter with God?
1. Pay attention to life
When God met Moses from inside a burning bush, he first had to turn aside to notice. He could have walked right on by (see Exodus 3). When God sent an angel to Joseph after Jesus’ birth to tell him to escape to Egypt, he could have ignored the message and taken the dream to be something he had eaten the night before. God is trying to communicate with us all the time. All around us, there are opportunities to recognize Him and encounter Him. Romans 1:20 tells us that creation shows us who God is and Psalm 19:1 tells us that the heavens declare the glory of God. Electricity is all around us, but unless I plug in my device I will not benefit from the power. Equally, God can be speaking to us and display His glory all around us, but unless we are ‘plugged in’ and paying attention, then we will miss most of what He is trying to tell us.
There are times when God may speak to us in more dramatic ways, but these times often have a greater responsibility attached to them. I once heard Mike Bickle of IHOP say that the more powerful the prophetic encounter he had with God, the greater the opposition to the fulfilment of God’s word; the more faith he would need to stand in the face of adversity. Dramatic encounters with God are meant to empower us to keep advancing in God’s kingdom, but they are the exception rather than the rule and to look for them as the rule of our relationship with God means missing out on daily encounters.
God encounters are not accompanied by an angel holding up a flashing neon sign declaring ‘You are encountering God now…!’, most are about our willingness to pay attention. In our community in Peru, God often speaks to people and the church through dreams. People here take dreams seriously and pay attention to them and therefore it is one of the methods God is able to use to get our attention. I think we often assume that the dreams people had in the Bible were cinema-like encapsulations of feeling like being in an alternative-reality video game, but there is no proof that was the case. Most likely they were dreams which left strong impressions, but more importantly, the receiver paid attention to them.
2. Pay attention to your emotions
Emotions are never meant to be our compass but they are God-given tools to help us to pay attention. When we feel uncomfortable or at peace, or excited or angry and we are not sure why, we can use those emotions to ask the Holy Spirit if He is trying to tell us something. In Luke 24:32 the disciples on the road to Emmaus had an encounter with the Living God as Jesus walked along with them explaining the Scriptures. It wasn’t until later, however, that their eyes were opened and they realized that their heart had been trying to tell them something all along:
‘They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road…?”
Next time you feel strongly about something, ask God to speak to you through it. That brings us to the next point…
3. Ask questions
Don’t just presume something is God – ask Him and let His peace reign in your heart. Read the Bible and check that what you are feeling aligns with His character. Ask mature Christian friends or leaders to confirm whether they feel like something you feel God is saying may well be Him, especially if it is directional. God encounters are not just to make us feel good about ourselves – they have a purpose. What is God trying to say to you during this encounter? Is there something He wants to confirm to you? Is there something He is wanting you to do? When God meets us in relationship, we have a responsibility to respond. The role of the Holy Spirit is to lead us into all truth (John 16:13), so ask Him to lead you! If you ask your Father to give you the Holy Spirit, Luke 11:13 tells us He will!
Take a moment to encounter God now. Close your eyes and breathe deeply and just ask God to make you aware of His presence right now. Hebrews 12:1 tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus. In your mind’s eye, focus on Jesus and just invite Him to come close to you now. The Bible tells us that if we draw close to God, He will draw close to us. (James 4:6) Start by thanking Him for things He has done for you and then pause and allow Him to speak into your current situations. He is waiting to meet with you now!
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