Soul Resonating Truth in the Twenty-First Century
Scripture: 1 Timothy 1:1-9b
I was sitting in a coffee shop when over the sound system something powerful happened. I know it was just a recording. I know it was just a song being played from an internet radio station. But the sounds coming forth were reverberating deep within my chest. Emotions that had laid dormant in my heart and in my gut were suddenly stirring from their long slumber. The song was calling to me. It was calling to a ‘me’ that was more real, more raw, and more restless than I had been previously aware.
Sometimes your soul needs Ray Charles to sing it into awakening.
I was astonished how a song that I had heard again and again had reached into my being and shaken me into a deeper gear of awareness. I didn’t have to argue if it was true, but I was left searching for how it was true. What submersed internal longings, understandings, and experiences had this evoked? What themes from this song were the opened programs running in the background of my soul? What was the lived authenticity released in every note which let me know he sung from experience not merely information?
I was left in that coffee shop trying to discern the truth of my experience and what its implications were for my life. Centuries ago, men and women left the power-wielding, financially backed, bureaucratic centers of their faith and went out into the desert. These men and women went out into the desert to live lives of solitude and prayer in hopes to reconnect with the passion and experience of God the early church had encountered. These Christian desert mothers and fathers were seeking how to experience the way of Jesus for themselves. They did not reject the doctrine and councils with which the church of their times had become enamored. They did long for a faith that encompassed and transcended those statements. A faith that could find them and stir them to passionate action in caves, valleys, fields, and mountaintops.
Many in the twenty-first century long for this mystical experience of God to find them in coffee houses, Silicon Valley, medical fields, and while taking in nature from panoramic mountaintops. They welcome spiritual tour guides who lead them into deeper understanding of the significance of their personal experience and into an encounter with God’s ultimate reality. But we can’t lead people where we have not been.
If we have settled for a faith only built on information, then it’s possible we have a faith that’s a head trip cut off from the rest of our being. We can construct an intellectual cathedral of orthodoxy, but lack the real world lived out missional orthopraxy to embody our faith. Sometimes I wonder if we are suspicious of others’ spiritual experiences, because our lives are so devoid of them. Our coworkers, family members, neighbors, and friends talk about mystical experiences staring into the eyes of their newborn children, gazing into the stars, sharing life with someone from another culture, and from yoga meditation.
What if instead of suspicion of these experiences, we were empowered with lived experience to help others discern their longing for beauty, goodness, wonder, passion, virtue, otherness, intimacy, and truth? What if we didn’t cede the realm of mystical spiritual experiences to other faith traditions? What if we reconnected to the rich Christian heritage of Christian Mysticism and could help people resonate with the truth of their experiences without getting distracted by the detours and dead ends?
In the longer of the two letters the Church has addressed to Timothy, the Apostle Paul starts off addressing the reality that so many are going off course in their spiritual lives by teachers who instead of focusing on the reality of God’s work through “love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscious and a sincere faith.” Instead of focusing on the reality of a transformed life centered on Jesus, these teachers were bogged down in the unreality of endless speculations and meaningless talk. How can we know the difference?
We have to be willing to experience Christ in the desert places of our lives and our world. We have to join other trusted and mature followers of Jesus with the faith that he will lead us in biblically grounded encounters. John Stott gives us a helpful summary of the beginning message of the Pastoral Letter of First Timothy. I believe it’s also a helpful guide in discerning our spiritual experiences:
“Does it come from God, being in agreement with apostolic doctrine (so that it may be received by faith), or is it the product of fertile human imagination? … Does it promote unity in the body of Christ, or if not (since truth itself can divide), is it irresponsibly divisive? ‘Faith’ means that we receive it from God; ‘love’ means that it builds up the church.”
May we venture out of our cathedrals and into coffee houses, PTA meetings, athletic events, and corporate board rooms with our spiritual eyes wide open, and our spiritual hearts ready to respond to God encounters all around us. When we do, we’ll be able to help others respond to the God longings and God encounters they are finding in their everyday lives as well.