The first time I really experienced God in a way that was all mine, I was at a Christian music festival. I was listening to a speaker talk about his relationship with his dad and for the first time, everything that I had been talking about and thinking about for my whole life just clicked. The questions that had been floating around in my head suddenly made sense. I didn’t doubt my salvation before, but on that day, it became real.
I’m sure I could look at that event and figure out what it was about it that worked for me. Why, after years of church attendance, the gospel story finally resonated in a way that it never had before. Maybe it was because instead of simple expository preaching, the speaker used more story-telling. Maybe it was because of being inside a man-made edifice, we were outside, feeling the ground beneath us. Maybe it was because instead of wearing the vestments, he wore a muscle shirt and jeans. Maybe it was because the festival played modern music instead of the hymns that I was growing weary of singing back at home.
Whatever it was, it must have been the right thing, because I’m not the only person who stood up that day when he gave the altar call. I was one of many in that mountain-side amphitheater who felt like a physical response was necessary to that message.
I’ve seen this more often than I can count. People who will say, “I’ve attended church my whole life, but I never heard the gospel until I attended this church!”
We hear that and start to believe our own hype. What we are doing is better than what they are doing. They don’t even preach the gospel! We create divisions between us and them, with us being the ones who have figured it out. Of course.
All of my life I’ve heard that there is one path to God. But I believe we have twisted that away from Jesus to the way that we find Jesus.
If you read this book, then you’ll be saved. If the service is ordered in this way, you’ll be better able to hear the message. If we sing this kind of music, wear these kinds of clothes, pray those kinds of prayers. Then. Then it will all work together and people will Know God.
I do it too. I know what works best for me and I begin to herd people toward my particular path. I love the way that my church operates, so I think that all churches need to operate in the same manner. I like a particular style of music, a certain manner of preaching, a precise way of reading the Bible, and I begin to think that if only everyone would just be like me, we could really have an impact.
Here’s the thing. In all of my years in church before I sat on that dirty hillside, listening to that speaker tell me about a night out with his dad, the same message was preached in my stained-glass window church. It wasn’t delivered the in same way, but it was the same message. The difference was that I didn’t show up until that outdoor meeting.
That was the day that I found my path to God.
We are each individuals. Whatever path worked for me, might not work for you. Whatever path worked for you, might not work for your co-worker. Our families of origin, our personalities, our experiences, all of the things that shape us and make us unique will color the way that we approach faith, and as such, our paths to God will all be unique.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t want to hear about your path. I do, because parts of it may help me on my own journey. Even with our differences, there will be moments of similarities, segments of the path that we will traverse together and I want to enjoy that with you.
But if our paths diverge for a while, that’s okay. We’ll meet again at the gate.