Updated: Jul 4, 2018
Many people that I meet, Christian or otherwise, seem to have a desire to know God. It may be expressed in different ways, it may be covered up by layers of materialism and existentialism, but it is there nonetheless.
Unfortunately, we’re not very good at knowing God. And the reason for this, according to the apostle Paul, is that “the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). Jesus put it this way: “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). One could say, “The only way to know God is to know him in spirit and truth.”
We struggle to know God because we are conditioned to perceive reality through the lens of our physical senses. Like Jacob, we often don’t recognise his presence until after the event: “God was in this place, and I did not know it!” (Gen. 28:16).
Some of you will remember the story of Jacob’s ladder from lessons at Sunday School. Enroute to Haran in search of a wife, he came to a certain place and camped for the night. While he slept, he dreamed, and in his dream he saw a ladder reaching from earth to heaven, and the angels of God ascending and descending on it.
When he woke up the next morning, a sense of fear gripped his heart, and he said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!” To seal the moment, he set up a stone as a pillar, poured oil on top of it, and called the name of that place Bethel, which means ‘house of God’.
Human nature is notorious for making shrines out of spiritual experiences – which, in essence, is a vain attempt to capture moments of spiritual awareness in material form so that they can be relived over and over again. However, as the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus observed, “You cannot step twice into the same stream.” It may appear to be the same stream, but in reality, the water you stepped in yesterday is long gone, never to return.
Even the apostle Peter displayed this fallibility on the Mount of Transfiguration. As he witnessed Jesus in a moment of transcendent glory, Peter blurted out, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
Apparently unimpressed, a voice interrupted him from out of the cloud, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Be quiet and listen to Him!” (Matt. 17:4-5).
What would have happened if Peter had managed to build three tabernacles? Well, for one thing, there would be a steady stream of tourist buses heading up the mountain, and a souvenir shop at the summit selling tabernacle-shaped fridge magnets, and a production crew recreating the event with laser beams and smoke bombs!
But returning to Jacob: true to form, his descendants turned the pillar of stone and the spiritual experience it represented into a shrine, and eventually into a centre of idolatrous worship, as epitomised by Jeroboam’s golden calf (1 Kings 12:28-29). Significantly, the Lord said to his people, “Seek Me and live; do not seek Bethel, for Bethel shall come to nothing” (Amos 5:4-5).
Here is the point: when we enshrine a spiritual experience in a physical object such as a building, a location, or an article of furniture, the physical object will eventually become an idol, displacing the spiritual reality that it is supposed to represent. In other words, ‘the house of God’ becomes more important than ‘the God of the house’.
Jesus highlighted this truth during his conversation with the Samaritan woman, held rather ironically at the site of another revered icon, ‘Jacob’s well’.
“Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life…
“The hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father ... The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him” (John 4:13-14,21-23).
Jesus was pointing out to the Samaritan woman that spiritual reality is not found in a physical place or a geographical location, regardless of its history or legacy. Spiritual reality is found within, and can therefore be experienced anywhere, at any time.
The ‘gate of heaven’ is a point of access – a moment of spiritual awareness – in which the spiritual realm breaks through and manifests itself in the physical realm … the eternal dimension imposes itself upon time and space … heaven bends low and kisses the earth. It has more to do with the state of one’s heart and one’s readiness to receive than with a particular time or place.
Potentially, Jacob could have experienced the heavenly ladder anywhere, and indeed, on multiple occasions. The ‘gate of heaven’ could have been an ongoing experience, something that accompanied him wherever he went. Like Paul, he could have experienced a continual stream of visions and revelations of the Lord (2 Cor. 12:1). But unfortunately, it was identified with, and therefore limited to, a particular time and place.
How to recognise “God moments”
I encourage each and every one of you to keep a diary or a journal of your walk with the Lord, just as you would if you were going on a world trip. The purpose of this journal is to record the ‘God Moments’ in your life in which the gate of heaven swings open and eternity spills over into time.
In your journal record what happened, how you felt at the time, and your reflections on what it meant and what God was saying to you through the experience. I guarantee that you’ll learn more from keeping a spiritual journal than from studying volumes of religious literature. Why? Because the more you recognise ‘God Moments’, write them down, and reflect on them, the more you’ll be attuned to the Spirit and live in a realm of vision and revelation.
To illustrate what I am saying, I would like to take the liberty of sharing three ‘God Moments’ from my own life. The first one took place way back in January, 1987, on my wedding day. As my bride, Heather, entered the church, I turned to watch her walk down the aisle. Our eyes met, and all of a sudden, something extraordinary happened.
I remember thinking, “This is it boy, there’s no turning back now.” In the midst of the joy, a solemnity settled upon me – an awareness of the enormity of what I was doing. I was committing the rest of my life to this woman – to live with her, to love her, to care for her, to walk with her in the purposes of God.
What was God saying to me through this experience? Upon reflection, I believe he was teaching me about the seriousness of entering into covenant. That marriage is indeed, ‘till death do us part’, something I still believe, by the way.
The second ‘God Moment’ took place in November, 1988. Our son, Jonathan, was born at precisely 8pm on a balmy summer’s night. After seeing Heather and the baby safely to their room, I left the hospital at approximately 11pm. Walking out to the car park, I looked up at the stars shining brightly in the cloudless sky. And suddenly it hit me, “I’m a father!”
Although I had known it intellectually for nine months, now I really knew it! “I’m a father!” And with that thought came the awareness that no matter what happened in the future, nothing could ever change the fact that I was a father. Once again, in the midst of the euphoria, a sense of solemnity settled upon me. It was like crossing the Rubicon. There could be no turning back, no abrogating of my responsibility.
What was God saying to me through this experience? Upon reflection, I believe he was teaching me about taking leadership and assuming responsibility. In other words, “Now you’re a father, you’d better act like one!”
The third ‘God moment’ took place in November, 2007. It was our daughter Hannah’s Year 10 graduation. Hannah had bought a special dress for the occasion, and like most girls her age, had spent an impossible amount of time doing her makeup and setting her hair. It was my job to take some photographs of her before she left for the big dance.
As she appeared at the top of the stairs, I felt like my heart missed a beat. I was stunned, not just by her beauty, but by her maturity. I remember thinking, “Is this my daughter? What happened to the little girl I’ve known for the past 16 years?” I was at once, proud and awed.
What was God saying to me through this experience? Upon reflection, I believe he was teaching me that my little girl was no longer a little girl – she was now a young woman and I had to start treating her as such. That meant more trust, more respect, and less interference on my part!
I share these stories hoping that it will inspire you to remember and record your very own ‘God Moments’. The goal is to live in spiritual awareness. As someone has eloquently said, spiritual awareness is the difference between saying “God is here”, and saying with certainty, “God is here now!”
Indeed, when you can say, “God is here now!” you’re living in spiritual awareness. And in moments like that, anything is possible!