A few years ago, a great preacher named Louie Giglio wrote a book entitled "I Am Not But I Know I am: Welcome to the Story of God.” The big idea of the book is to point to the bigness, the grandeur, the majesty of God and our own simple, sinful, finite smallness. He then points to the nearly unbelievable reality that Christians savor every day, namely that we have a personal relationship with this God of great, unspeakable glory!
At one point in the book, he describes one experience in which he felt really small and felt really good. It was at a place I and millions of others have come to love and appreciate – Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London. He sat in that great basilica with the ceiling suspended so far above his head. The architecture accomplished what it was intended to, namely, to create a sense of awe and wonder. He said, “Sitting here, I feel so small – and small feels surprisingly good. So good that I begin to wonder why it is so surprising that feeling small can feel so good.”
Later that year after reading the book, I had the privilege to go to London and visit St. Paul’s Cathedral. He was right. It is stunning. Completely remarkable. Just the doors alone tower at about 40 feet tall. I went to where Louie sat (as best as I could remember) and hoped, even prayed with all that I had in me, that I might experience the exact same thing Louie did only months earlier.
No dice. I just sat there like every other tourist looking around… heart unmoved and ADD in overdrive.
What’s wrong with me? I wondered. Do I not love God like Louie? Does God not want me to experience what Louie experienced? Does God love Louie more than me? Could I be missing the will of God? Do I even know God? The feeling and enthrallment of joy, wonder, and awe I was seeking replaced by naval gazing, self-centered, self-pleasing Christianity.
Maybe you’ve been there before like me, hoping to experience what your hero, mentor, or teacher experienced, only to come up empty.
Here’s the deal. God never entrusted that experience he gave to Louie for the sake of my sensory-driven, emotionally-charged, self-pleasing, immature self to go copy-cat. God doesn’t hand out photocopies of everyone else’s experiences and expect his children to all respond the same way every single time.
God grants experiences on his time and on his schedule and to accomplish his purposes in our lives. To seek the experience of God and not the name of God, the honor of God, or the glory of God so as to be conformed to the image of the Son of God, is to be guilty of using God to get something other than God. It is a way of using God to give us an idol. God is not a cosmic-vending machine. He is the reward. I wasn’t seeking God out of repentance or even that he would be my greatest joy. Honestly, I simply wanted to just be like Louie. I wanted to feel what Louie felt the way he felt it, when he felt it. I fell in love with the fruit, not the Tree. I wanted the chill, the thrill, and the pill-form of pop-Christian sensationalism (which isn’t what Louie was experiencing or promoting).
I got up. Climbed the 528 steps to the top of the dome and looked over the city of London (which was soon to become my home for a year or so) and took in the sight. The Holy Spirit assured me of his love not only for the whole city, but also for me personally. He showed me where I was off in my “hunt for the Holy Spirit” and I told Him that I was wrong and thanked Him for showing me the truth.
I walked down the stairs and was headed to go catch my bus when I walked by what has since become my favorite series of paintings in the world: “The Incarnation,” “Crucifixion,” and “Resurrection” by Sergei Chepik. They are massive paintings, well over 15 feet tall. I was stunned, totally speechless. They are the most breath-taking, jaw-dropping, heart-stopping pieces of art I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. The first I saw was Christ in the manger with angels ringing gigantic bells and the Virgin Mary’s face of wonder, concern… even faith. Yes, it looks like he painted faith. The second was gruesome, a gigantic painting of Christ being judged before his accusers, dragged around like a dog with a noose over his neck and murdered on the cross and the sun goes black and black birds fly off into the sky. The third was Christ triumphant over death as the angels pulling the stones back with what you might imagine a resurrected man to look like.
I stopped dead in my tracks, looked up at the face of the risen Jesus, and all of a sudden I “felt really small” and, you know, I felt “so good.”
Dear Christian, I’d encourage you to seek the Giver… not just the gift.