Biblical Perspectives in Spiritual Direction: What is an Experience of God?

Biblical Perspectives in Spiritual Direction: What is an Experience of God? September 3, 2021

In spiritual direction, we explore a person’s experience of God. What we discover is that God loves showing up in really diverse ways!In spiritual direction, we explore a person’s experience of God. What we discover is that God loves showing up in really diverse ways! Don’t ever let anyone tell you that an experience of the Spirit always or only happens in a way they find acceptable. Just look at all these ways we find people in the Bible encountering God.

Jacob’s dream at Bethel. Genesis 28: 10-17. This is Jacob’s first experience of God, and it includes a promise. God makes no request of Jacob, and simply promises to be with him. Are your dreams a source of information from God? What has God promised you?

Hebrew midwives feared God. Exodus 1: 8-22. Shiphrah and Puah are ordered, by the King of Egypt, to kill all the Hebrew baby boys at their births. But the two women trusted God and not the king, and cleverly lied their way out of a horrific situation. This is not an example of God speaking directly to a human, but of a human response to evil based on great faith in God. How does your faith determine your loyalties?

Moses’ Call and Conversation with God. Exodus Chapters 3 and 4. God hears the misery of the Hebrew people and visits Moses, commanding him to lead his people out of slavery. Moses resists God in many ways, and at each turn, God provides what Moses needs — even when God gets peeved at Moses for saying “Please — send someone else.” How has God provided you with what you need to do what God asks of you?

Young Samuel runs to God. 1 Samuel 3 – 4:1. Samuel doesn’t recognize God’s voice but thinks the person he is hearing is his mentor Eli. When Eli tells Samuel it is God who is speaking, Samuel eagerly listens, only to find out he has to relay a terrible message to Eli. How have your mentors helped you listen to God’s voice? With God’s help, are you able to speak the truth, even when it is hard for others to hear?

Ruth responds from deep desire and love. Ruth Chapter 1. Ruth clings to her mother-in-law Naomi and follows her to a foreign land, responding from a deep sense of commitment and love. Ruth’s loyalty results in a marriage to Boaz and a child that becomes the grandfather of the future king David. Have you ever allowed such deep desire and passion to lead you in a direction that changed your life’s path?

Naaman thinks God’s will should be harder. 2 Kings 5:1-19. Naaman, a military commander with a terrible skin disease, is told by the prophet Elisha to go wash in the River Jordan seven times and he will be healed. Naaman wanted more theatrics or at least a task more substantial. His servants say to him “if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, wouldn’t you have done it?” Naaman sees their point and does as Elisha commanded, and he is healed. Have you ever stumbled in following God, or been surprised because you expected that what God would ask of you would be more difficult than it turned out to be?

The Call of the Prophets of Israel. Check any of the prophetic books in the Hebrew scriptures and you will find “call stories” that fit a general description:

  1. God appears unmistakably to the person with a message for a specific person or nation. It is frequently a message of woe, which puts the prophet in physical danger. He then has to defend against the question: “How do we know God has uttered this message?”
  2. The prophet resists what God asks of him. Many times, a supernatural event occurs to reassure him (as in Jonah and the whale). This event helps the prophet change his mind or build a case so that when he approaches the powers-that-be he can say something like, “of course this word is from God. Do you think I would be masochistic enough to come up with this on my own? It is not I who speaks, but I am only a representative of the Lord.”
  3. The prophet reluctantly does what God commands and takes his lumps. He is only recognized as a prophet if what he proclaims comes to pass. So, he has a time of anxiety and waiting.

How is it that you know God is giving you a task? Do you react like the prophets?

Jesus calls Levi. Mark 2:17-17. Much like Simon, Andrew, James and John, Jesus merely says to Levi (the tax collector), “follow me,” and Levi gets up and follows Jesus. The scandal of the story is that Jesus called a tax collector to be one of his followers — a profession reviled and hated by most people. Are you surprised when God chooses you for a task even though it may seem you are not quite a “fit” for that task? How eagerly do you get up and follow?

Perhaps you resonate with one or more of these stories. Or maybe your experience of God is very different. Since we’re all made so differently, it stands to reason God meets us where we are and how we are. Just because our experience isn’t reflected in a biblical story doesn’t make it less real.

Teresa Blythe is a Phoenix based spiritual director, author and trainer of apprentice spiritual directors. To learn more about spiritual direction, check out her book Spiritual Direction 101. For a primer on spiritual practices, look at her first book, 50 Ways to Pray. Her website contains a lot of information about the art and practice of spiritual direction.

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