Question: "What is the key to truly experiencing God?"
Answer: Although extremely popular in Christian circles, the concept of “experiencing God” is not explicitly found in Scripture. There are numerous commands in Scripture regarding how we are to relate to God, but experiencing Him is not one of them. We are to love God with all our hearts (Deuteronomy 6:5), obey God (Deuteronomy 27:10; 1 John 5:2), trust God (John 14:1), fear God (Ecclesiastes 12:13; 1 Peter 2:17), etc. But nowhere does the Bible tell us to “experience God.” The dictionary definition of experience as a verb is “1) to participate in or undergo, 2) to be emotionally or aesthetically moved by, or 3) to learn by experience.”
What, then is meant by experiencing God, and how do we go about it? If we begin with the dictionary definitions of experience, put them together, and apply them to our relationship to God, we come up with something like “participating in the nature of God, being moved by Him, and learning of Him by familiarity.”
Before we can participate in God in any way, we have to fully come to terms with two inner conflicts. First, each of us is a hopeless sinner in a pit from which we cannot escape by our own efforts (Romans 3:12). Second, nothing we do on our own is acceptable to Almighty God—not giving our money to the poor, not volunteer work at the hospital, not church attendance, nothing (Isaiah 64:6). Scripture tells us that, in order to resolve these conflicts, we have to receive Jesus Christ in our heart as our Lord and Savior and turn our lives over to Him. Only then are our words and acts acceptable to God (2 Corinthians 12:9–10). So the first key to experiencing God is to be a “partaker of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), and that is done only through faith in the shed blood of Christ on the cross for our sin.
The second part of our definition of experiencing God is being moved by Him. The movement of God in the soul of man is one function of the Holy Spirit. From the very beginning of creation, when the Spirit of God “moved on the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2), to the movement of the Spirit in the hearts of unbelievers, drawing them to Christ, the Spirit is actively involved in moving us. We are moved by God in His drawing us to faith (John 6:44); the Spirit moves in our hearts to convict us of sin and our need for the Savior (John 16:7–9), and within believers, He directs, guides, comforts, and influences us, as well as produces in us the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23). In addition, the Spirit moved the authors of all 66 books of the Bible to record exactly what He breathed into their hearts and minds (2 Peter 1:21), and through the Scriptures, He moves within us to testify to our spirits that we are His children (Romans 8:16).
The third part of experiencing God is the lifelong process of learning of Him, becoming so intimately acquainted with Him that we joyfully yield our lives to Him because we have come to know Him and trust Him completely. This involves coming to understand that He is faithful, good, holy, just, unchanging, omnipotent, and sovereign over all circumstances. One very joyous part of experiencing God is the intimate knowledge of His love. The Bible tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, emphasis added). As we experience His love, we can begin to share our Christian love with others, regardless of circumstances, and this in turn will produce more and more love as others experience His love through us.
The key to experiencing God, then, is not expecting an “experience” or an emotional lift. Rather, it is a lifelong process of belonging to Him through Christ, being moved by the Holy Spirit by whom we are sanctified, and growing in the knowledge of Him.