Our church follows the Narrative Lectionary, and yesterday's Gospel reading was Luke's record of Mary and Joseph losing track of Jesus after the Feast of the Passover. In this account, Jesus famously asks Mary, "Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?" (Luke 2.49 NKJV). As our pastor pointed out yesterday, Mary and Joseph were seeking Jesus but were looking for him in all the wrong places.
If we pause and reflect, we must acknowledge that we are prone to this very same error. We tend to look for God far and wide. We also tend to look anywhere but where he has promised we would find him.
Mystics and those influenced by them tend to look for God in our experiences--prayer retreats, contemplation, breathtaking nature scenes, and the like. God may reveal himself to us in these, but nowhere in Scripture has he promised to do so, so we should not look for him here.
Charismatics and those influenced by them tend to look for God in new revelation, God 'speaking' to them, the movement of the Spirit, and similar things. God may reveal himself to us in these, but nowhere in Scripture has he promised to do so, so we should not look for him here.
Evangelicals and those influenced by them tend to look for God in our feelings--brought on by a praise song (rarely, if ever, a hymn), the 'leading' of the Spirit, what a given Scripture passage 'means to me,' the warm love of a church gathering, and things like these. God may reveal himself to us in these, but nowhere in Scripture has he promised to do so, so we should not look for him here.
It is clear that American Christianity is very seriously influenced by each of these three groups. The esoteric practices of each tend to seduce us with their mystery and intrigue. They may be more 'exciting' or interesting than the means God has given us in Scripture, but they all have the dangerous potential to lead us away from Christ to completely subjective and fleeting practices that have no basis in Scripture. God may certainly use any or all of these in our lives, but he hasn't promised to use any of them, so we must not build our Christian lives around them or depend on them. In none of them do we have the promise of Christ's presence, revelation, grace, or assurance, for he has only promised to be found in his Word and the Sacraments, as the Church has historically maintained and taught.
In God's Word (i.e. Scripture), we have his complete and infallible revelation to us. While we wrestle to understand and apply it to our lives and situations, we need no more direction, instruction, guidance, explanation, etc. His Word is a lamp to our feet and light to our path (Psalm 119.105). In the Sacraments, by virtue of His word of promise, we find new birth (Titus 3.4-6; 1 Peter 3.21-22) and continued forgiveness (Matthew 26.26-30; 1 Corinthians 11.23-26). These do not depend on our feelings or anything subjective that can mislead us. These means are all outside of us. They can be experienced by all five of our senses and are objectively tied to God's promises in Scripture that we can we cling to when we don't 'feel' anything. Let us build our faith on a firm foundation of God's promises, and not on any of these shifting sands, which will ultimately lead us to despair.
Photo by Florencia guerra on Unsplash