I remember spring break in 1999. I was at South Padre Island with 80,000 college students having the time of my life. Nothing can beat the beach when you are young and spring break is in full spring. While 98% of the college students crowded into South Padre Island and were intent on substance abuse and casual relationships, I was one of around 400 there for a different goal. Yep, we were there to evangelize and reach out to our peers for the sake of Jesus.
I sorted out many things that week, and I had the very first life altering encounter with the Holy Spirit. I can look at many parts of my life which find their origin on the trip. Worship leadership, vocational calling, dependance on Christian relationships and prayer. They all found their beginning during spring break. It was the most important week of my life.
I truly believe most people have events such as these. They might not be as deliberate or even Christian, but they are primary spiritual experiences. And once we have them, we can easily base everything off of them for the rest of our lives. This especially holds true in the Christian life.
Primary Spiritual Experiences become our mold and model for what we think proper worship is.
I am a big fan of pizza. I like to frequent the slice blog. It is part of the seriouseats.com family. Part of the slice blog is a routine engagement with what they call the “pizza cognition theory“, the first pizza anyone remembers from childhood is their primary idea of what constitutes pizza. Every slice of pizza they eat will be subconsciously measured up to their childhood definition of pizza.
We have the potential to do the same with our primary spiritual experiences…after all, they are primary! We use these stories as the basis of our own personal story of God working in our lives. It’s downright biblical. Read the Old Testament and see how Israel always brings it back to a few key events; the exodus, the temple and Abraham. Think about how Paul relates his testimony to the experience on the Damascus road. Part of the Christian life is understanding these moments where we first met with God and allow them the proper place of shaping things.
The dangerous part is when we begin to think of primary as permanent.
When we think God will no longer move in our life. When we think the best has already come. When we think God can never do something like He did once before. We take every single experience and try to mold them around those first ones. We can slowly begin insisting on others spiritual experiences conforming around ours. I think this is the basis for nearly all conflict in church.
As a worship leader I think many disagreements stem from a projection of primary spiritual experience. Music selection, instrumentation and many other things. As a pastor I have seen it play a part in conversations regarding building usage, fiances, staffing and strategic planning. Our idea of worship isn’t necessarily the best idea of worship.
Please don’t hear me wrong. Primary spiritual experiences are the foundation of a life with God. We should treasure them. But we can no way let them be the permanent idea of what the spiritual life should be, especially as we get older.
It’s dangerous to not let Jesus be the God of our future. It’s terribly frightening to place radical dependance on the cross. The only thing is…we can’t have a faith existing and only grounded in the past. Belief in Jesus is a belief in the future.
So the challenge is to learn to tell the story. To tell the story of the past and to become people expecting to experience in the present.
How would you describe your primary spiritual experience.