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The Water is for the Flowers

When I first became a Quaker, I thought that the point of my faith was to experience God’s presence. If I wasn’t experiencing regular encounters with the Holy Spirit, something was wrong.

More recently, such experience – the sense of spiritual ecstasy and mystical states of consciousness – has become much less central to my faith. Instead, I’m increasingly convinced that my relationship with God is validated less by my spiritual experiences than by the extent to which my life reflects the character of Jesus.

In my experience, most religion is primarily about experiencing a sense of God’s presence and comfort. That’s something we all want. Even those of us who aren’t keen on the idea of a personal God would like to feel more present, more connected, more grounded in a sense of something beyond ourselves. Religion in this sense comes naturally to us.

Discipleship is something different. While discipleship is not opposed to the religion of comfort, devotion, and self-improvement, it goes far beyond it. I not sure I ever would have become a follower of Jesus without the religious experiences of my early twenties, yet I know that those experiences alone are not enough to make me a disciple.

Feeling spiritual warm fuzzies – a sense of religious connection with God – is desirable, but it falls far short of the gospel of Jesus. The life of ecstatic, “peak experiences” is one that satisfies the thirsty soul, but Jesus’ way of discipleship leads us through the waterless wilderness and to the cross. I can never truly know what it means to walk in the way of Christ’s living water until I am ready to endure the desert.

I recently read a book called When The Well Runs Dry, by Thomas Green, which discusses what it means to pray and live a Christ-centered life even when life is painful and God seems distant. Green encourages us to think about the spiritual life as a garden. He says that the “water” of the Spirit’s felt presence is intended for the “flowers” of virtue and righteous living. It’s so easy to get stuck pursuing the water of religious experience, but the goal is not water, but flowers!

Sometimes I feel like I’m going backwards in my spiritual journey. As time goes on, my religious experiences seem less frequent and less dazzling. At the same time, I am increasingly aware of how often my life fails to reflect Jesus’ character. I’m like Peter, who thought that he was a great disciple, ready to go to the death with Jesus – but who soon found out that he was a coward, fleeing the cross even as his master was facing torture and death.

I want to be more like Jesus, and I know that all of my religion, self-discipline, and spiritual experiences won’t get me there. There’s nothing I can do, nothing I can give to bridge the gap between the person I am and the person that God desires me to be. Yet I also know that Jesus would not have called me to this way if he were not prepared to provide the strength, courage, and resources I need to walk it.

Give me this day my daily bread, Lord Jesus. Pour your living water on the stunted flowers of my heart. Teach me to be your friend, to take up your call, your cause, your cross.

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  • Randy Oftedahl

    Thank you, Micah. This speaks very deeply to me, for I have found this, too. It took me many more years to come to this. Yes, those lofty high mountain top experiences are wonderful should they come, but we get lost if those are what we are looking for instead of listening for the Voice that says to “now therefore go,” and follow our Shepherd, our Model, and our Teacher.

  • broschultz

    I have found myself discussing this on Quaker Quaker. The goal is to “be in Christ” or to “put on Christ”. We are blessed with His presence while doing that and experience various sensations in the process. Once that has been accomplished the goal is to stay there and Christ doesn’t stay still so we must move with him to stay “in Him”. At that point you know you are still in Him by your fruit and your becoming more like Him (The fruit of the spirit becoming real in your life).

  • Dorlan Bales

    I appreciate this message. It reminds me of Matthew’s story of the transfiguration (17:1-5). The disciples were having a mountaintop experience with Jesus, and an excited Peter was speaking breathlessly when a voice from heaven interrupted him with these words: “This is my beloved Son, with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”

  • Patrice Wassmann

    Thank you for this! This describes my Christian journey so well. I often wonder what is wrong with me that I rarely “feel” God’s presence anymore. This is reassuring…I’m going to print & save this post!

    • So glad this was helpful. Thanks, Patrice!

  • Mark Walker

    I read what you wrote and then I read what you wrote at the end.

    You sound like someone who has been married a long time and then says marriage isn’t about sex..

    Of course marriage isn’t about sex but a marriage without intimacy of any kind will not last…..

    You said the the measure of the relationship with god is how much like Christ you have become….

    But no matter what you say your being still desires that intimacy with god…trust me I know and with out it you are just a wind bag blowing out hot theological well reasoned air….

    The apostles accomplished what they did from the power of their first experience and then a continued daily intimacy with god…they felt god ..heard god followed god ..was lead by the Spirit….you can not encounter the Spirit and it result in no feelings.

    So if we are not “feeling” god like we know we should we have to ask ourselves why? Just like if you and your wife lost intimacy and not experiencing each other the way you once was then one would ask why?

    I don’t think the feelings of god’s presence should decrease with Christian maturity..rather…those feelings should grow become deeper and more profound…those intimate times with god should mature and become better not disappear….

    In my own opinion if I would have looked at “why” instead of turning to reason I would not have strayed from The path god set before me..

    I need those feelings…god is not limited in ability nor does god become tired of intimacy…it is us