Some things are just better together. Chocolate and peanut butter. Batman and Robin. Sand and the Ocean. Laughter and friends. I am always so thankful when two things can come together and produce something that is far greater than what either could be alone. When I was in Mexico on a mission trip, I was asked to do some open air preaching on the city streets. I knew some Spanish, but not enough to preach the full Gospel message, so I had an interpreter. Once I started speaking, people started gathering around to listen to the message. However, half way through, my mind went completely blank. It was almost as if my brain stopped functioning altogether. I was paralyzed. My interpreter, recognizing that this was a spiritual attack, started praying for me immediately. In just moments, my thoughts returned and I finished the message, giving a call to salvation at the end. If I was alone that day, the impact of the Gospel would have been far less than what it was. Instead of people giving their lives to the Lord, they would have left confused and wondering if there was any truth to what I had begun to say, if they were able to understand my English message at all.
The power of togetherness in the above story reflects how valuable individual components are to the whole. My strength of preaching the Gospel with the interpreter’s strength of speaking Spanish and intercession brought the desired outcome. In like manner, I believe there are two components to our Christian life that work together to create an outcome that is promised to us in Scripture. The outcome I am speaking of has to do with living a life that reflects the one that Jesus lived.
“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.” – John 14:12 NLT
The power couple that brings this expression of the Kingdom into our present day reality is theology and experience!
Sometimes theology gets a bad rap. It has been the cause of many people’s Christianity becoming stale and lifeless. I have always found it hard to believe that the study of God, which is what theology is, could cause anything but vibrancy and authentic spiritual life within. Academics can create a marked distance only if you allow the knowledge to lead you to a place of familiarity, losing the sense of awe and wonder toward that which you are studying. To me, this should never be the outcome of theology. The study of God should only produce a greater desire to know Him more. Don’t ever allow familiarity to sneak into your study of the One Who is never ending in discoverable majesty!
Have you ever prayed for someone or for a situation and the answer was not quite what you were expecting? You would maybe even say that the answer was not present at all. When I was eighteen, I prayed for a young girl who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I can remember doing everything I could to believe for that young lady to live and not die. Unfortunately, she lost her fight to cancer and went home to be with the Lord. I was devastated, to say the least. However, despite my experience, I continue to believe that God is a healer.
On the other side of this equation, I was in a hospital room praying for an individual who was, by all accounts, brain dead. It was only a matter of making the decision as to when to “pull the plug”. In this instance, I prayed for and witnessed an impossible miracle. The woman recovered and lived for many years afterward. Talk about a boost in faith!
Both experiences speak to my theology. One declares that my theology is faulty while the other is a testimony to the truth that I hold dear to my heart. The challenge for us believers is always which voice is going to win. Experiences have a way of shifting our thinking, for good or for bad. This is why we need the strength of both theology and experience working together to form our Christianity. We should never be so reliant on our theology that experience does not have a voice. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day can testify to this truth. They were absolutely sure of how they interpreted Scripture, that when the Son of God came to them in a form they were not theologically prepared for, they missed it entirely. I bet they wish they could go back in time and allow their experience with Jesus to help shape their theology!
The same could be said about experiences that do not agree with sound theology. I should never allow experience to trump theology just because it was an experience. That is a good way to get yourself into a lot of trouble. The key to all of this is balance and accountability. Don’t be afraid to ask the right people hard questions about your beliefs and experiences. Solomon said it like this, “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14).
In addition to seeking counsel, a good measuring stick that helps discern the author of your experience is found in John 10:10. Here Jesus states that the thief is responsible for anything that looks like stealing, killing, and destruction. Jesus, on the other hand, is the author of life and life at its fullest. Dawn McCann, my Pastor, has taught me for years that when I am having trouble discerning who the source is, make two columns, one with steal, kill, and destroy, and the other with full life. Place your experience in the column that best defines the experience’s effect. Once you do that, you will be able to discern who the author of that experience is.
At the end of the day, here is where I have found I need to live my life: May my theology influence my experience and may my experience uphold my theology. If either one need to be adjusted, I allow Holy Spirit to enter in to both my theology and/or my experience to adjust them. The goal is always to be the perfect expression of Jesus Christ on earth, even as Jesus Himself was the perfect expression of the Father when He walked the earth over 2000 years ago.