Is it possible to experience God personally in your daily life? How?
If you believe in a benevolent, personal God, you likely want to hear from him and experience his presence in your everyday life. We all do, don’t we? We want to be assured that we follow a God who is dialed in—that he has our numbers and uses them.
Thankfully, he is. And he does.
A Communicative God
If God were a God who simply once reached out to man, who once spoke to us, we could rely on history alone, finding our assurance in what others claim God has already said and done. If our God were a deity who always communicated in the same way, or who could only be known and experienced by “professional” God-followers, then we might be excused from trying to experience him ourselves.
But the God of the Bible, the Father of Jesus Christ and the giver of the Holy Spirit, has been speaking to and communicating with men and women since he first created them. God has never stopped sharing himself with his people.
He is, after all, the God who conversed with Moses through a burning bush;1 the God who directed the prophet Balaam’s attention by using the very donkey on which he was riding;2 the God whose voice and glory knocked Saul to the ground;3 the God who called to young Samuel in his sleep;4 and the God who came to dwell among his people as a man.5
From the beginning, God has spoken to humankind. The writer of Hebrews tells us that “in the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son.”6
The Bible—what Christians believe to be the Word of God—records for us the very words and acts of God the Father and God the Son. The Bible also promises still more godly communication from the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit: “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.”7
The Bible assures me that the God I love and follow is still speaking, still communicating, still involved in human life—and I can experience him through whatever means he chooses to use. For this reason, I should be expectantly attentive in every moment of every ordinary day. I should expect to experience him.
“Human life—all of it—is the precinct of epiphany: of God’s showing, of God’s constant speaking and breathing,” says Father Michael Downey.8 God shows up. We should not be surprised. We should expect him.
First we must learn to be expectant by being attentive to our surroundings and anticipating God’s presence. We hear what we listen for, after all; I’m sure we’ve all suffered from “selective hearing” at least once or twice in our lives.
But something must happen in our hearts for us to be open to and aware of his presence. That something is relationship. “My sheep listen to my voice,” Jesus said, “I know them, and they follow me.”9 Belonging to God—and knowing God—makes experiencing him possible. A relationship with him grows through time and trust.
We can experience God in ordinary circumstances: in a stunning sunrise or a quiet subway ride. We can sense his power in creation and his sovereignty in its order. We can see his uprightness when mercy is shown for the weak and when justice prevails for the wicked.
But he is just as real and present in your particular struggles and your specific pain. When we feel a peace that “transcends all understanding” in the midst of tough circumstances, we are experiencing the presence of God in our lives.10 As we’ll learn, God “shows up even when we’re not ‘on retreat’ or ‘having a quiet time.’ He invades grocery lines and football stadiums, cry rooms and cafeterias. He speaks in ways we expect, and in ways we do not.”11
Though we expect to experience God through spiritual leaders, we must recognize that we can receive his wisdom, care, love, and correction from ordinary folks—people just like you and me. From the insightful words of a friend to even the chastisement or correction of a stranger, God can communicate with us through those around us.
Author Ken Gire calls such moments “windows of the soul,” and maintains that God is certainly behind them: “He comes to us in ways that our senses can take Him in without injury, which is always less than He is. [His glory] must be veiled or it will blind us.”12
Pages and Pictures
As a writer, I’ve often experienced God through the written word. God has been present to me in the words of poets like John Donne, Emily Dickinson, Mary Oliver, and Wendell Berry. I’ve encountered him in the novels and essays of Frederick Buechner, in the fantasy fiction of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Even in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series I have tasted the great struggle between good and evil, and I have celebrated the love of unselfish friendship. In all this, I see glimpses of the goodness and glory of God.
Similarly, a walk through an art museum can remind me that God is the Creator of all creators. Any beauty I see is but a replica of the intricacies of his divine design, and no matter how stunning, I know it would pale in comparison to the true glory of God.
Community and Worship
God promises he is present among his people. When we gather together to worship him or simply to love and encourage one another, he is there. “Where two or three gather in my name,” Jesus said, "there I am with them."13
Imagine that! God is with us in our work, our worship, our celebrations, and our shared sorrows. How different our experiences with one another might be if we imagined Jesus Christ as a guest at every meal, a trusted colleague in every endeavor, a co-celebrant in every glad gathering.
If we know God through his Son, Jesus Christ, we are already in relationship with him. Connected to God the Father by grace, we can experience him in real, tangible ways. But we must be attentive; we must be ready to recognize his presence in our lives.
“We do not have to live in a monastery to experience God’s embrace,” writes professor and worship leader Robert Webber. “The spiritual life is not an escape from life but an affirmation of God’s way of life in the struggles we meet in our personal thoughts, in the relationships we have in the family, among our neighbors, at work, and in our leisure. The Christian life is an embodied life. It affirms that all of life belongs to God, and God is everywhere in life.”14