Experience or Encounter

• Michelle Joy • August 11, 2020

I was sitting in an intercessory prayer group one night before the start of church, our first night in The Brown County Music Center, and one of my dear friends began to pray something like this, “Lord, turn off our evaluators tonight.” That simple, but profound beginning to a longer prayer, smacked me right in the face and got my attention. It still has my attention. 

I had never heard anyone pray a prayer like that before. I had never thought of myself as having an evaluator until that night. But, let me tell you, I have one. I have an evaluator that goes into high gear when I’m in an environment with other people. I’m seeing every event through the eyes of every person, evaluating their experiences, which in turn causes me to over evaluate the experience as a whole. I want people to be happy and enjoy themselves, and I’m good with changing an environment to make others have a great experience. 

Isn’t it human nature to evaluate an experience? Isn’t it normal to want to enjoy an experience? Aren’t we supposed to like our church experience? Aren’t we supposed to love the worship, the message, the people, the lights, the temperature, the seats? 

When we go to a concert or a sporting event or a movie, we leave and share our experience with others: I had the best seat in the house! The lighting was perfect! The sound couldn’t have been better! I give it a 10 out of a 10! 

We rate our experiences all the time. We can even get on-line and rate a business experience, a restaurant experience, almost any experience can be publicly rated. 

When I think of an experience, I think of it as something I’m participating in, and I’m on the receiving end of it. It is happening to me. I am a spectator. I then evaluate and rate how I feel about what happened to me. 

When I think of an encounter, I think about what I gave and what I received. I feel like I’m a participant in the event. When I think of an encounter, I think of an interaction, an exchange, a meeting. 

Dictionary.com gives the definition of encounter as, “to come upon or meet with, especially unexpectedly”. It gives the definition of experience as, “a particular instance of personally undergoing something.”

Obviously, the words are similar in meaning, but they are also different. I also know my take on the words could very much be argued. But, stay with me on this. 

When I think about experiences and God, experiencing God, I think about something He is doing for me. I see His goodness on display. I see Him in creation. I see Him in the way He supplies my needs. I feel like it is an emotional response to who God is and what He does for me. 

When I think about an encounter with God, I think about a meeting with God, a moment with Him. I see it as an interaction with God. I see it as more than an emotional response. I see it as an intimate relationship with Him that is developed from moments with Him. 

Back to our evaluators. Merriam-Webster defines evaluate as, “means to determine the significance, worth, or condition of, usually by careful appraisal and study. When you evaluate something, you’re making a judgment, one that most likely results from some degree of analysis.” We have to be so careful that we aren’t spending all of our time evaluating what’s happening around us that we miss the encounter God is wanting to have with us. It’s so easy to slip into judgment and criticism which will steal our focus and attention. Also, when I have had an encounter with God, I haven’t needed to “determine the significance, worth, or condition of” that encounter. There were no words to describe it. 

This prayer that night got me thinking about my own internal evaluator and how I evaluate each of my experiences. This prayer also convicted me to the core. Am I coming to church for the experience, or am I coming to church for the encounter? Am I coming to church to create a pleasant experience for others, or do I want church to be a place where people have an encounter with God? 

Many churches call their services “Worship Experiences”. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that title, but the Lord has really been changing my heart about this. He wants to have a “Worship Encounter” with us. He wants it to be a meeting with us that brings about new revelation, life change, healing, and wholeness. 

An Encounter with Jesus is often not what we ever expected. How we rate an experience is typically based off of what we expected. We know how most experiences should go so we rate them to see how they meet our expectations. We know how church typically goes, so we often rate our experiences based off of our expectations. 

God wants to encounter us, meet with us, in unexpected ways that change us forever. 

We see many meetings with Jesus in the Bible that completely changed people forever. And most of these encounters happened in very unexpected ways. In Mark 7 we see Jesus heal the man who was deaf and could hardly talk. One encounter with Jesus changed this man’s life and the lives of those around him. It was an intimate interaction with Jesus. 

Beginning in verse 31, it says, “Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him. After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.” 

Wow! Can you imagine Jesus putting his fingers into your ears, spitting and touching your tongue? How do you evaluate that? You don’t. We all have areas of our lives that need healed. We have all suffered trauma because life is hard. John 16:33 says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” We are desperate for these kinds of encounters with Jesus. 

An encounter with Jesus will change us. It will heal us, and it will take deep-rooted beliefs that don’t line up with what God says about himself, about us, or about others and change them. An encounter will change those around us, too. An encounter will push us to action. 

In Acts 9, we see Saul’s transformation when he has an encounter with God. He went from persecuting Christians to becoming a follower of Jesus. Beginning in verse one of chapter 9, it says, “Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”’

Do we know people who are in need of a complete and total life change? Are we one of those people? We need these kinds of encounters with Jesus.

I have thought about the prayer, “Lord, turn off our evaluators tonight”, many times since that night, and God keeps revealing layers of truth to me. Is it wrong to evaluate? No. But, when we come to church, we need to come prepared to have an encounter with Jesus first, not just an experience. We need to pray and ask God to turn off our evaluators. Bring a jacket in case it’s too cold. Bring earplugs if the worship is too loud. Sing your own song if you don’t like one of the songs. But, come ready and open to have an encounter that will change you forever.  

May Encounter Life Ministries be a place where people encounter God in a way that brings healing and life change. May we be a church that values encounter over experience. May we be a church that doesn’t hold God to our limited expectations, but rather, we allow Him to be the limitless God He is who desires to encounter us. 

Lord, turn our evaluators off and prepare us to encounter You in ways that we could never imagine.