-How do I know my spiritual experience is authentic?-
Today there is much talk about spiritual experiences and people are interested in the supernatural and spiritual things. While this hunger is good, it is also dangerous because it elevates spiritual experiences to a level where it becomes unhealthy to the authentic Christian spiritual reality. This hunger for spiritual experience, which we see today, is often vague and not pointed or focused, and has the potential of leading us to all the wrong places.
Psalm 63 has a few pointers for us here. This Psalm describes David’s spiritual experience and hunger. David’s seeking after God is not a vague groping in the dark for some spiritual experience, but a very focused and pointed seeking for God himself: “Oh God, you are my God. I will earnestly seek you.”
One test for authentic spiritual experience is this hunger after God who relates to us personally (My God). David seeks after God very earnestly and will not be satisfied with anything less; and this becomes a test and a model for us to follow. Here, “seeking after God” does not mean a religious seeking for the true God, or even some spiritual experiences, but our seeking after God is the result of having found Him. This is not a religious search where God seems to be playing hide and seek with us, but it is like taking a journey with someone you love. As your journey progresses, you get to know more and more of that person. Your hunger and desire remains focused on that person and you are seeking to know more and more about her or him.
Other faiths may also have a religious seeking after God, or seeking after some spiritual experiences, but this kind of focused hunger for the person of God which David displays is possible only when you have found the true God of the Bible. The way you know you have met the true God is when you begin to hunger after God. Nothing else will do. That is why David later says, “Your love is better than life”.
To put it another way, when you feel the lack of God’s presence in your life, that is a sign that God has indeed touched you. For example, when you are in love with someone, you miss him or her when you are apart from each other. The fact that you miss him so much is proof that you love him and that he is involved in your life. We often feel the lack of God’s presence in our lives, and we must realise that this lack we experience is actually the starting point of true Christian spiritual reality. We ought to be wary of those who try to overcome this lack by filling it with anything less than God Himself, which includes spiritual experiences evoked by miracles, signs and wonders.
Another sign of authentic spiritual experience is when the benefits become secondary and you begin to love and seek God for Himself and not for what He can do for you; or when we can come to the level where we can say with David, “Your love is better than life”. Many times, we miss the greater reality because we go seeking our own life, and the things we want from life.
Spiritual experiences in themselves carry within them the danger of ruining our appetite for the one true personal God. David was aware of this danger, and therefore he made sure that his spiritual seeking and hunger stayed focused and clear. He hungered after God Himself, and not the benefits.
Some may ask, does this mean I have to give up the world, my ambitions, and deny all hopes of being blessed materially by God? No. Because the Bible says when we seek God first, then everything else falls into it proper place. We may see signs, wonders and miracles in our Christian walk, but they will be nothing compared to knowing God personally, loving Him, and being known by Him and loved by Him. This is better than life itself.
We must never lose this hunger for God Himself. Seeking for shallow spiritual experiences ruins this appetite more than anything else. The example of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego is helpful here. They knew God could deliver them from Nebuchadnezzar, but if not, they were willing to die without a sign, a miracle or a wonder. But they also knew something which eludes many of us too often. It is this: they knew too well that Jesus Himself was the greatest sign, the greatest miracle, the greatest wonder. And at the lowest point of their spiritual reality, when they thought God was too far away, they found Jesus standing with them in the fire. They were in the heart of one of the greatest miracles in history, and yet, I suspect they had no clue about it, or even cared about it, because they were too busy enjoying the presence of Jesus Himself.