Thoughts to Ponder are my musings regarding community, things of the Spirit, and living as a Christ-follower. I don't offer the words of a professional or an expert; just a fellow traveler and explorer. Please don't take my musings more serious than I do. I've discovered a long time ago that I do not hold the keys of knowledge or wisdom. If I did, I misplaced them somewhere...typical.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Spiritual Experiences

The Holy Spirit and the task of the church: the two walk together, hand in hand. Despite what you might think from some excitement in the previous generation about new spiritual experiences, God doesn't give people the Holy Spirit in order to let them enjoy the spiritual equivalent of a day at Disneyland. Of course, when you're downcast and gloomy, the fresh wind of God's Spirit can and often does give you a new perspective on everything, and above all grants a sense of God's presence, love, comfort, and even joy. But the point of the Spirit is to enable those who follow Jesus to take into all the world the news that he is Lord, that he has won the victory over the forces of evil, that a new world has opened up, and that we are to help make it happen. (N. T. Wright, Simply Christian, p. 122)

I've often wondered how much of our desire for "spiritual manifestations" are primarily selfish. I've grown to wonder sometimes if even our search for "meaningful worship" tends to be not so much a search for the experience of God's presence as it is a search for a greater experience.

Think about it for a moment: who is being served by ecstatic experiences? Who is the center of a super-charged emotional high? Who is glorified by a mega-pep-rally-type assembly?

Consider these two assemblies: a huge crowd with great music, everyone is getting into it, singing their hearts out and clapping hands. You look around and everyone has a beatific smile on his or her face. Hands are raised, and the band plays on. Perhaps there are some displays of ecstatic behavior (tongues or something similar). Now, what if all of this was being done in a language you didn't know. How would you know if it were a pagan assembly or a Christian assembly?

Second assembly: A dozen people gathered in a home. Everyone brings a meal. The supper begins with prayer and the breaking of bread. Everyone takes of the bread and then the meal begins in earnest. People eat and visit, laugh, and cry. Someone at the table looks depressed. Another person asks what is wrong and she begins to cry and share a struggle with the group. Everyone reaches out to her with hugs and someone prays. Someone else gives the offer of some practical help during the week. At the end of the meal, a glass of wine is shared. The person at the head of the table blesses it and speaks of the sacrifice of Jesus. After this they read from a Bible--some discussion between everyone takes place. A child then stands up and asks if he can sing a song for everyone and the adults clap their hands. A few songs are sung by the group. Two hours have now gone by and people begin to leave. Hugs and kisses are exchanged.

Granted, I suppose if both assemblies were done in different languages we could argue neither are obviously Christian as opposed to pagan, Jewish, or Muslim (well, with the exception of the glass of wine). However, which of the two more obviously reflect the Spirit of Jesus? The ecstatic assembly where people have closed their eyes and seem focused on an experience or the simple assembly where people are more focused on each other? Is worship of Jesus, the one who emptied himself and became a slave to focus on me as opposed to focus on others? Am I to search for an individual emotional experience or to find an opportunity to serve someone else?

Maybe Wright is correct. Perhaps the gifts of the Spirit are not so much for our own personal experiences as they are to serve the rest of the body and to spread the news of Jesus' kingdom.

Just a thought to ponder.

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