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  • Writer's pictureRusty McKie

Spiritual Experience Isn’t An Enemy

Spiritual direction is an experiential style of care.

  • You share what’s on your mind or heart.

  • We pray.

  • We listen.

  • We discuss what you’re noticing in yourself and your sense of the Lord in this struggle.

The experiential nature unites what we know to be true of the gospel with our experience of that truth. We get to taste and see that the Lord is good in the particulars of our lives (Psalm 34:8).

However, this isn’t easy or natural for most.

For too long, we’ve bought the lie that transformation comes from informational transfer, even though the Scriptures are clear that change comes as we encounter Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Sadly, our skepticism of spiritual experience sabotages actual spiritual formation.

Skeptical and Scared of Spiritual Experience

“The heart is deceitful above all things. How can I trust my experience when it’s subjective?”

It’s only a matter of time before I hear this in direction. The sentiment comes from a good desire to live in truth. But, we’re also prone to think subconsciously that we need to be logical and informed apart from our experience — because experience is untrustworthy.

Yet, life with God isn’t only a matter of the head or heart. God wants all of us — head, heart, hands, habits, habitat (and any other "h" word you want to toss in).

Refusing to pay attention to our experience (because it might not align with what’s true) is a refusal to pay attention to reality.

Here's an example — There are two responses to feeling God is distant and not good.

Approach one: Berate yourself by saying, “But I know He’s good because the Bible tells me so. I just need to believe it! If I have enough faith, then my feelings will follow.”

Approach two: Get curious about your experience, saying, “I know God is near and good, yet I don’t feel it. Lord, why don’t I feel your goodness or nearness?

  • Approach one puts the burden of change on our faith.

  • Approach two puts the burden of change in the context of a relationship with God.

This is the work of spiritual direction — bringing our knowledge about God and our experience of God together with humble curiosity.

We don’t have to be scared of experience. Combining objective truth with felt experience animates a living, authentic faith in Jesus.

Getting Curious About Experience

In Psalm 4, David doesn’t become consumed by or run away from his experience. Instead, he holds it before the Lord with curiosity.

“Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.” — Psalm 4:4

David doesn’t say:

  • “I shouldn’t be angry because I know the truth.” or

  • “I know the true, but I’m so angry that I’m going to do whatever I want.”

Instead, he ponders, considers, and contemplates his anger. He gets curious before the Lord.

The result of pondering his experience leads to:

  • Right actions (v.5),

  • Joy (v.7), and

  • Peace (v.8)

Faithful Companions

Subjective experience isn’t the enemy of objective reality; self-deception is. Our experience is a faithful companion that helps us be honest about our response to the truth.

And at times, we need a faithful friend to help us live in honesty. This is the joy I have as a spiritual director. I love assisting folks in this work.

It doesn’t come easy or naturally to most, but it’s a holy moment when God’s Spirit connects the dots.


Are you interested in Spiritual Direction? Sign up for a free first appointment to see if direction is right for you, or check out these other articles to learn more: What is Spiritual Direction?

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