A Fresh Encounter With God
God is always ready to speak into your life. The question is, are you ready to listen?
By Charles F. Stanley
Does your spiritual life feel dry and empty? Have you lost interest in gathering with God’s people to worship and fellowship? Is reading the Bible more of an obligation than a delightful time of communion with the Lord?
The daily grind of living in this fallen world has a way of dulling our spiritual senses. Instead of longing for deeper intimacy with Christ, many believers find their pleasure and fulfillment in the things of this world. The result? We move from day to day and week to week, robbed of the joy and satisfaction that are possible through a close relationship with the Lord.
The sad truth is that some Christians are satisfied having a distant relationship with God. From their perspectives, Jesus is far away in heaven, and they’re stuck here on earth. They may offer up a prayer once in a while, but they have no idea how to experience the type of relationship they once thought possible. What they don’t realize is that God desires so much more for them. And He desires more for you, too.
What is an “encounter” with God?
Although the Lord usually communicates with us through prayer, the Bible, and quiet nudges from the Holy Spirit, sometimes He comes to us in a more dramatic way, as He did with the prophet Isaiah (see Isaiah 6). Such moments are:
Unexpected. The word “encounter” conveys the idea of an unforeseen meeting. When Isaiah went to the temple one day, he had no idea that something life-changing was about to happen. It was just an ordinary day—until the Lord showed up with a dazzling display of His glory.
Initiated by God. We cannot manipulate this kind of experience. Our responsibility is simply to keep our spiritual ears open and be receptive. Then, when God has something to tell us, we’ll be ready to listen.
Still happening today. Bible accounts describe God having unexpected and life-changing interactions with people. Since the Lord never changes, He continues to deal with humanity in powerful, unanticipated ways.
What hinders an encounter with the Lord?
This kind of experience isn’t reserved only for pastors or biblical figures. God wants to communicate intimately with all of His children. But sometimes, we’re too busy and preoccupied to hear Him. If you can’t remember any encounters with the Lord, perhaps it’s because your ears are attuned to the world’s sounds and voices.
To emphasize my point, consider how much silence you experience in a typical day. Is there a time when you’re quiet and receptive to the Lord? Or is your day filled with voices and commotion from morning until night? When God has to compete with all the activity and clatter in our lives, His voice is drowned out.
If you feel disconnected and distant from the Lord, it’s not necessary to stay that way. He desires closeness; but you’ll have to draw near to Him, quiet your spirit, and listen for His voice speaking through His Word. Then, when He comes with a special message for you, an open door of communication and intimacy will already be in place. The time to begin drawing near is now, not when you desperately need to hear from Him.
What can you expect in an encounter with God?
Although the Lord wants to talk with you every day in constant fellowship, sometimes He has something so important to convey that He’ll step into your life in a more dramatic way. Isaiah’s experience shows what to expect when the Lord pays us an unannounced visit (Isaiah 6:1-9).
An overwhelming awareness of His presence. An encounter with God can happen anywhere—at home, in church, during a walk, or while driving—but wherever He shows up, you’ll always feel an awesome sense of His presence. Isaiah “saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple” (Isa. 6:1). Although your experience will probably not be this dramatic, anytime God wants to grab your attention, He’ll make His presence obvious.
An awareness of His holiness. When the Lord appeared to Isaiah, He was accompanied by angelic beings who covered their faces in utter reverence for His absolute purity and perfection as they cried out, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts” (Isa. 6:3). This glimpse into the spiritual realm overwhelmed Isaiah with an awareness of God’s glory and holiness.
Living in a fallen world keeps us from truly comprehending how vast the difference is between us and the Lord. Too often we attempt to bring Him down to our level. But an encounter with God opens our eyes to recognize His unapproachable superiority.
A sense of our own unworthiness. One result of an encounter with God is an immediate awareness of our own sinful condition. That’s why Isaiah cried out, “Woe is me, for I am ruined!” (Isa. 6:5). In God’s presence the contrast between His holiness and our sin is magnified—not to condemn or produce feelings of self-loathing, but to help us see our wrongdoing from His perspective so we’ll confess and repent.
The sight of the Lord immediately reminded Isaiah of his own area of weakness: “I am a man of unclean lips” (Isa. 6:5). Although believers have full forgiveness through Christ, our lives should never be dominated by sin. As we grow in our faith, the Spirit progressively reveals behaviors and attitudes that don’t fit our new identity in Christ.
An awareness of God’s gracious forgiveness. After encountering the Lord and facing our sins, we need to know that we’re forgiven. To cleanse Isaiah’s lips, one of the seraphim touched his mouth with a burning coal from the altar. The hot coal symbolized the sacrificial system of atonement through which God granted His people forgiveness. For believers today, forgiveness has been accomplished once for all time by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
This was the greatest act in human history, but sometimes we don’t truly appreciate His sacrifice. We’ve heard about it and sung about it, but have we wept over it in gratitude? If the thought of God the Son hanging on a cross doesn’t move you, something’s wrong in your relationship with Him. When familiarity has made our hearts grow cold, an encounter with Jesus re-awakens our love and gratefulness for the magnitude of His sacrifice.
A call to action. When the Lord appeared to Isaiah, He asked, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” (Isa. 6:8). He had a job for Isaiah, just as He has assignments for each of us. And sometimes, in order to move us in the right direction, God has to interrupt our lives with an overwhelming sense of His presence. That’s what happened to Moses when he was tending sheep in the desert. Suddenly the Lord appeared to him in a burning bush and turned his life in an entirely different direction.
How should you respond?
During the course of my life, I’ve had several encounters with God. On one occasion, I was singing a hymn when I was suddenly overcome with the awareness of His presence. I didn’t hear an audible voice, but His conviction was loud and clear in my spirit. I went back to my office and wrestled with Him in prayer about something He wanted me to do. I had been resisting that path for quite a while. But here He was making His direction so emphatically clear that I could not refuse without walking in outright rebellion.
Though the settings, timing, and situations have varied, the encounters with God I’ve experienced were always unexpected. Now, whenever I sense the Lord’s presence, I immediately fall on my face before Him and wait in silence to hear what He has to say. Usually, He reveals something very specific that He wants me to do. Sometimes what He’s asking seems totally illogical to me, but when I’ve obeyed, He’s always worked it out just as He said He would.
If you long for an encounter with God, begin today to cultivate an intimate relationship with Him. He loves you and wants you to be aware of His presence, but you must make yourself available to be with Him. Spend time each day reading Scripture and praying so that your spiritual ears will become attuned to His voice. Ask Him to speak to your heart, and wait for His instructions. Then, when He comes to you with very clear direction, respond the way Isaiah did: “Here am I. Send me!”
Do You Know God?
If God is speaking to you in the quiet of your heart and you haven't yet responded, learn how to accept His gift of new life here.