It happened the other day while I was re-reading a book about Jesus that I have long loved.
Somewhere around the third chapter I just got overwhelmed with thinking about who Jesus is and what He did; I had to put the book down and just sit in quiet prayer for a while.
It sometimes happens when I’m out in nature, too: I’ll creep around a corner and see a doe emerging from a thicket into morning mist, or I’ll stand by the edge of the ocean in Doolin, Ireland, and I feel that strong sense of God’s presence and I think, wow.
Most recently, it occurred when I heard a psalm being sung in Aramaic for the first time, and the sound of it was so hauntingly lovely – and I was so stricken by the thought of how connected all believers are all over the globe – that I had to pause and pray.
“Meeting God” is the only term I have for these experiences where I feel strongly and powerfully connected to the Spirit. Certainly God is always with me and I am always talking with Him so we are perpetually together, but “meeting” with Him feels different, as though He is granting me a brief but intense understanding of His nature, a moment of super-strong connection.
The only thing I can liken it to is the disciples’ experience of seeing Jesus walking on the water toward them in Matthew 14:22-33. The disciples were with Jesus every day – they knew Him and talked with Him. Yet seeing Him walk on the water was different, in such a way that Peter felt moved to respond in kind. John Ortberg points out that in this passage of the Bible, Jesus’ revelation of Himself to the disciples – “it is I” – is the language of theophany, of God revealing Himself to mankind. It is Jesus speaking as the I Am: a powerful and profound moment. Times of “meeting God”, to me, have that same sense of revelation and wonder about them: they are moments when God pulls the curtain back, only slightly, and we have a brief vision of more of who He is.
And us modern believers aren’t exempt from these water-walking moments, these places where we meet God in a particularly intense or revealing way. Many people experience these moments in corporate worship, and I certainly have, especially at Christmas and Easter. I suspect that’s because my heart is already open and vulnerable to wanting God to move; additionally, it’s easy to be moved in the presence of believers all celebrating together at once.
But sometimes people don’t experience those moments in corporate worship. Maybe some haven’t experienced them at all. I don’t claim to know the mysteries of the Spirit, and I cannot promise how or when God will reveal Himself to believers in particularly intense ways, but I can say this: you probably won’t always find Him where you expect. And it won’t always happen in or near church. In fact, where each believer “meets” God in those rare and powerful ways is a unique place, and time, and circumstance: often one beyond our control, always meaningful in some sense to who we are and who we are to God.
I don’t think it was a coincidence that, of all places Jesus chose to identify Himself to His disciples as the I Am, He chose the stormy sea. Nor do I think it coincidence that Peter was the one who responded. The setting was significant. Peter knew the sea; Peter lived the sea. It was by the sea that Peter had some of his most meaningful moments in his relationship with Jesus, and it was Peter who was so moved by the presence of God that He wanted to walk on water, too.
Considering that, it isn’t any surprise to me either then that God would engage me at what otherwise seem odd moments: reading a book, walking in nature, hearing a foreign tongue. Those are the great loves He has given me; they are where I “live.” The part of my spirit that enjoys work and feels great passion settles in those things, and perhaps that’s why those places are where I am overwhelmed, even if only for a little while, by the barest glimpse of His glory.
I think many believers are disappointed when they go to church or a strong worship service and come away feeling…well, unmoved, or not particularly connected to God. But please take comfort in that fact that while God can reveal Himself overwhelmingly in those moments, He doesn’t always. If you are a believer, where you are, God is also. And where your great love and your great work is in His name, God rejoices. It is in those ordinary spaces that you stand the strongest chance of brushing up against glory.
Look for Him wherever your “sea” happens to be. Look for Him in the ordinary, in the things He has given you to love and that move you deeply. In a time of His choosing, He’ll reveal Himself in a way that will surprise and overwhelm and delight you – and that will be significant not just to Him, but to you: the one He loves.