Today I am more connected than ever before. You can contact me via my three phone numbers, my four email addresses, instant messenger and my skype account. Did I mention that you can also facebook me, send me a tweet, or even comment on my blog? Oh, and I am also available for lunch today. But while there is this 360° communication field about me that is available 24 hours of every day and there is more information about me, the way I think and my preferences available for public consumption than ever before (just google john estorge or request me as a friend on facebook) I struggle more to be truly known and to truly know others than previous generations. Could it be that my virtual connectedness has become a substitute, even an unrecognizable counterfeit for true connectedness to others and to God?
As I talk and counsel with folks in their forties down to their teens, what lies behind all of their struggles is a lack of healthy inter-connectedness to God, self and others. What is missing is an experiential knowledge of God, self and others. A.W. Tozer comments, “We have substituted theological ideas for an arresting encounter; we are full of religious notions but our great weakness is that for our hearts there is no one there.” While I may know facts about God, do I really know Him? And when I need Him, which should be daily if I really knew myself, does my heart even know how to find Him? Once again in our relationship with God and others we have substituted the knowledge of ideas and facts for true experiential knowledge. Maybe I’m weaker than most, but my heart can’t survive in a world where ideas are substituted for experience. Johann Arndt adds, “There are many who suppose that Theology is merely a science, or an art of words, whereas it is a living experience and practical exercise. Every one now aims at acquiring eminence and distinction in the world; but no one is willing to learn how to be devout.”
My heart longs for a greater inter-connectedness and mutual experience of koinonia with God and others. I desire to participate with God and others in genuine, experiential ways. To have communion by intimate participation, to know and be known by God and others. This is what He desires for us. This is what is wrapped up in koinonia. And I’m afraid we’ve settled for less.
This Spring will mark a special occasion in my life when on my physical birthday I will turn 44 and on my spiritual birthday I will turn 22. It might not mean so much to you but it means a lot to me because 22 years ago the Holy Spirit chased me down to execute a plan of grace that was made at a Triune Table before the creation of the world. The occasion is also significant because it marks exactly half of my life in personal communion with Jesus Christ as well as a passage into Christian early adulthood.
I would define my early Christian life as one of ACTIVITY including disciplined scripture memory and initiative personal evangelism while my adolescent years were about IDEAS including the study of systematic theology, Greek and Hebrew, attaining a seminary degree and climbing a rigorous denominational ordination process. Reflecting back to my early years, I saw how easy it was for me to substitute spiritual activity for God in the place of a relationship with God. Now since the collision of middle age in my physical life and early adulthood in my spiritual life I see how easy it was for me to accept ideas about God as substitutes for an experience of Him.
Sadly most of us call ourselves Christians based on our belief system more than our experience. Even the celebrated Gospel Coalition movement in which I have participated and appreciate, speaks primarily of the Christian experience and even the Gospel in the forensic language of ideas and philosophy. I am struck by the words of A.W. Tozer who still speaks to our Reformed and Calvinistic churches today,
“We have substituted theological ideas for an arresting encounter; we are full of religious notions but our great weakness is that for our hearts there is no one there.”
We can even treat God’s love as an IDEA while being void of a personal experience of the heart that encounters His love. God doesn’t just want us to have correct views about him, He wants to make Himself Known to us Personally and Up Close. His heart through the Old and New Testaments was not just to be objectively known ABOUT. His self-revelation to the Israelites was always in the most personal and intimate language (Cf. Exodus 34:5-7). The God of the Bible, can’t be known from a distance which was why He bent down from heaven to send His Son to live among us so we could see Him, hear Him and touch Him (Cf. 1 John 1:1-4).
My heart’s desire for my life and the lives of those who will listen is to help navigate an authentic Christian journey that finds a direct, personal experience of God which results in a deep generosity to others.