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Recently I heard a preacher say that people don't need doctrine. They need an experience. The reasoning is that, "A person with an experience is never at the mercy of a person with an argument." People are told to lay aside their doctrine and to seek an experience. The question is posed, "Are you hungry for an experience with God? Then come to the altar and have an experience with God tonight!" Granted, any true believer who has faith will also have experiences with God. No one can claim to be saved who has not had encounter with the Savior. But the growing emphasis on experience highlights a common misperception about how we can have a true relationship with God. The truth is that we are not saved by an experience. We are saved by faith. And it is not faith in an experience that saves us. It is faith in God's Word--the Gospel--that saves us. Seeking an experience apart from doctrine is dangerous. Why? How do you know that the experience you seek is of God? Experience cannot validate itself. Experience only validates that we have had an experience. Experience cannot be the criteria for determining truth or else truth is at the mercy of experience. Unfortunately this gets real confusing because people are having many contradictory experiences and, of course, they all argue that their experience is real. Why? They experienced it. People are claiming religious experiences today on every hand and yet Christians are departing from the faith in record numbers here in America. Christians swoon at the altar of experience and live like devils the rest of the week. Preachers are falling left and right. Churches are full of people who live no differently than the world. What is the problem? People are basing their spirituality on faith in subjective experiences and opinions rather than on faith in God's Word. People are living their lives based upon what they feel. Their life is built on experience rather than on the solid rock of God's Word. They cannot stand in the time of difficulty and storm. They are blown this way and that way because their spirituality is not built on the Word of God but on the changing winds of experience. They move from one experience to another. If they can't get an experience in one place, they move to another place. Because they build their lives around experiences, it is easy to justify the experiences of the flesh. They are like the man who leaves his marriage when the romance fades. His idea of marriage is based on experience rather than a covenant. He doesn't need another experience. He needs to commit to the relationship. When he does, he will experience the benefits and blessing of the relationship for which he seeks. In the same way, it is that the Word of God rather than spiritual experience that is the basis of our relationship with God. An experience cannot not validate itself. The Word of God is the only reliable criteria by which to judge and evaluate our experience. When Christians pursue experience at the expense of God's Word, they forfeit their only means of discernment and fall into the deception of embracing every kind of questionable experience simply because they or someone else experienced it. Can you see the end of this kind of experience based spirituality? The Scripture pattern for bringing people into a true knowledge and relationship with God is for God's ministers to preach the Word of God. Why? Because the day will come when people will not endure sound doctrine but will heap up to themselves teachers who will tell them what they want to hear (2 Timothy 4:2). In other words, the time will come when people will depart from the faith as they hunger for teachings and experiences found outside of God's Word. As the faithful minister preaches the Word of God, people are sure be encountered by the God of the Word--the God of Truth. That encounter will be either positive or negative depending on their response. Preachers must preach the Word in such a way that people are brought into an encounter with the God of the Word. Because of their subjective nature, it is misguided to seek after experiences. We are to seek after God. As we seek the God of the Bible, experiences often--but not always--follow. Those who seek after God in Biblical ways will be granted all of the godly experiences they need. These genuine experiences will become a testimony to the truth of God's Word rather than a testimony to the experience itself. God's Word validates experience and not the other way around. Therefore the truth is, "A man with the Word of God is never at the mercy of a man with an experience."
John 10:4 (NKJV) "And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice."
Recently I was reading through some of my journals. One thing that stood out to me was how as a growing Christian I struggled to discern the voice of God. I was listening but was often unsure if what I was hearing was the Lord, my flesh, or the devil. Have you ever felt the same way? As a young man I struggled to discern God's voice in areas of who I was to marry, true or false prophetic words, if and where to go to Bible school, where to live, what church to attend, and direction in ministry. I often vacillated back and forth, thinking I was hearing God and then finding later that it was not God or that I was not hearing God clearly on the matter. I asked God to help me know His voice. What I discovered in reading back over these journals is that hearing God clearly had a lot to do with where I was in my walk with God. I found that being open and transparent with God was important when things were unclear. Most of all I now see how the sovereign hand of God was involved in the course of my life. In areas that I thought were the will of God but were not, the doors closed. At other times when things weren't going like I believed they should, I sometimes blamed the devil or other people. Looking back now I see God was in control of the details of my life. These lessons are still fresh for me today. I have learned to hear and discern God's voice more over the years but I must say that hearing and discerning the voice of God is still a big challenge especially when, as a pastor, I must discern between the many voices claiming to speak for God. I am here in East Texas because I obeyed the voice of God. I am convinced of that. Is it possible to be in the will of God and still have doubts? To be honest, there have been a few times I have questioned the Lord when things got tough. However, when I read back over my journals, I see the sovereign hand of God at work in my life--His fingerprints on my life--those unexpected and divine moments that convince me once again that I am not here by accident. God has a plan and I am privileged to be a part of it. This confidence gives me renewed faith to embrace the vision He has given me. When I am assured that I have heard from God, it infuses me with a fresh desire to pursue holiness, pray, fast, stay in God's Word, remain submitted to divine authority, to be obedient, and to trust God's sovereignty which are all keys to knowing God's voice. Holiness removes the mixture of sin that distorts our hearing. Prayer puts us on the right frequency to hear God's voice (including praying in the Spirit). Fasting brings the appetites of the flesh under submission so that we are able to hear the voice of God above the competing voice of our flesh. The Word enables us to know and discern God's voice clearly. Submission enables God's voice to be confirmed to us by legitimate God-appointed leadership in our lives. Obedience enables us to attain the blessing of hearing God's voice. Faith in God's sovereignty enables us to stand firm during times of testing and uncertainty. In looking back, when I violated any of these principles, I struggled to hear the voice of God. I hope you will make it your aim to hear and discern the voice of God in your life. The ability to hear and discern the voice of God is the most important thing you will ever develop. Everything else that is worthwhile hinges on that one thing.
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