Scriptures, and the testimonies of others, are full of spiritual witnesses: moments where God showed up for an individual in a very personal and powerful way. It might be an angelic manifestation, hearing a heavenly voice, receiving a miracle, or just a powerful message spoken straight to the heart. Those that have not yet experienced these moments wish that they could. Those that have had them wish they could happen more frequently!
Much of my childhood I found myself trying to “make” spiritual experiences happen. I would try to convince myself that I was having one when I wasn’t, and fear that some might have happened without me even realizing it. As a father I am now anxious that my son have spiritual experiences, but I don’t want to repeat in him the same frantic, second-guessing game that I employed.
I would like to explore this concept over the next few days, that of how we can properly pursue and recognize God’s witnesses to us. In the meantime, I would love to hear about your own experiences as well. What ways have you found to foster spiritual experiences? Have you had any control over when or how they occur, or is it entirely up to God? How have you been able to tell the difference between an actual witness versus your own mind playing tricks on you?
Matthew 7:7, Malachi 3:10, 1 Corinthians 14: 1 (ESV)
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.
Ask, and it shall be given you
Prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing
When it comes to spiritual witnesses, some might feel that it is inappropriate to ask for them. “Do not test the Lord” we are frequently reminded. Yes, there certainly are things that are inappropriate for us to ask, such as for God to grant our every passing fancy. But when it comes to spiritual blessings, we are not only sanctioned to pursue these, we are encouraged to!
Matthew 4:6-7, Matthew 26:39
And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.
And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.
Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God
I have just discussed how we are instructed to seek and knock, so that we may open and find. Yet in the past I always felt that it was too arrogant for me to ask spiritual blessings from God, and a major reason for it was this verse from the temptation of Jesus.
But I was misreading it. Yes, it is inappropriate to make inappropriate requests of God…but that does not mean that all requests are inappropriate. Jesus knew that casting himself down and demanding a miracle, just to prove a point, would be disrespectful of His father. It is one thing to humbly ask God if He will grant us a portion of the Spirit, and another to demand miracles on a whim. If you are asking for something you should not have, then there is no promise.
If it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt
Jesus shows us the proper way to ask for something that God may or may not be willing to grant. The thing to note is that he is asking and not telling. He does not say that he will withhold faithfulness unless God meets his terms, he does not give God a deadline to answer him by, he just expresses what he desires…and commits to abide by whatever his Father chooses.
It is perfectly acceptable for us to ask God to relieve our trials, and even to grant us a miracle, but only if we do so while emulating the obedience and humility our Savior exemplified. We may ask, but we must be content with whichever answer we receive. In the end, God will not necessarily grant every request that is brought to Him, but He will grant every one that is right.
Luke 11:5, 7-9, 13
And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves;
And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee.
I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.
And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?
Because of his importunity he will rise and give him
The parable of the friend at midnight is somewhat amusing. A neighbor comes, asking for food in the dead of the night. At first the homeowner refuses, but relents after some persistence from the neighbor. It is very similar to the story of the persistent widow in Luke 18, who nags an unjust ruler until he gives her what she wants, just to finally be rid of her.
Now the point of these parables is not to suggest that we should pester God into giving us things that He does not want to. You cannot nag Him into solving your every problem like a genie. Rather, Jesus is saying that even if flawed friends and rulers can be convinced to grant a correct desire, then certainly God will be even more willing to do so.
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened
If ye know how to give good gifts: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?
But even if God is willing, Jesus suggests that we still need to ask. I have found that God has had many spiritual blessings that He was ready to give me, but He wouldn’t do so until I asked for them. This is clever. For one thing, it fosters a relationship between He and I. To ask Him for something, I must be praying to Him, and thus I have a strong self-interest to talk to Him regularly, the very thing that He wants me to do.
Additionally, if I decide to ask Him for something, I often have a moment of checking in with myself. For example, if I am going to ask for a greater portion of the Holy Spirit, even before I get the words out I might realize that I am actively living in a way that offends it. Indeed, I have gone to God intending to ask why He was not manifesting Himself more in my life, but along the way changed it to asking forgiveness for shutting Him out myself.
Revelation 3:15, Ether 12:6
I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.
I would thou wert cold or hot
Relationships can be positive or negative. We can be reaching for God, chasing after Him with a vibrant fire, or we can be steeling ourselves against Him, cold and bitter in our hearts. In either case, there is a connection, and our passion will be met with a response.
But what a relationship cannot be is tepid. If we feel indifferent towards something then we have no meaningful interaction with it. If you are idly sitting on the fence about God, apathetic about whether He exists or what He is like, it’s going to take a lot longer for Him to get your attention.
Ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith
I held a spiritual apathy for many years. I was “okay” with God, and that was it. I did not try to push our relationship in any way. As such, I received no spiritual witness. But God loves us too much to leave us in a neutral state. So my life started to unravel, my faith revealed its limpness, and I felt truly miserable. Then there was no shortage of strong, even if conflicting, feelings towards God. I was both desperate for his reality, and frustrated at the life He had given me. It was then that I finally started to get some spiritual witnesses.
This process worked to get me started, but I have since realized that I have the power to instigate the trials of faith myself. They don’t only have to occur whenever something bad happens…they can also be when I try to do some new good thing. Whenever I stretch myself beyond my comfort zone and put myself on shaky ground, then God manifests Himself to me again.
So if you’ve been following God on autopilot and wonder why He hasn’t shown up for you, try doing something meaningful!
Of all the reasons why God’s children seek witnesses from Him, surely one of the most common is to know if He is even real. As small children we are able to accept the existence of God on authority, but over time we start to require greater proof. If I have not seen it, then how am I supposed to know that it is real?
We especially require greater proof if the thing is doubted by others. I have never seen Australia, but I have never met anyone that disputes its existence, so I don’t really struggle to believe that it exists. The existence of God, however, is most certainly disputed, and so a child that used to believe in Him without question, now wants a reason to continue doing so.
The trouble, of course, is that if you ask God if He is real and you do not receive an answer…have you received an answer? Is silence proof of non-existence? No, you cannot prove a negative.
A common next step is to say “well, I can only be expected to wait for an answer for so long. God, you need to tell me that you’re out there by this date, or else I’m out of here.” One might even have specific stipulations for how they need to be answered. “People in the Bible saw angels, so I want to see them, too.”
If God knows my heart, and this is what my heart needs to believe in Him, then surely He will meet me on those terms, right?
Well…no. If we cannot be faithful unless He manifests in the way that we want Him to manifest, then why would he do so? To win a conditional follower? A relationship does not work with stipulations like “speak to me, but only say these words.”
I have seen these frustrations in others, and I have felt them in myself. In my personal experience, “I will follow you if…” has never worked with God. That simply is not what He’s about.
What did work for me was deciding that I could follow Him in some ways whether or not He showed me that He was real. I wasn’t necessarily ready to do everything, but I could do some things. Thus I put forth an unconditional faith. It was small, but it was real. And when I did, He was willing to give me a witness of His existence. It was a witness that came on His terms and in His own way, but it was real.
And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment:
For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.
But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour.
For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole
Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole
The woman with the issue of blood being healed is further evidence that we can seek specific blessings and witnesses from God. She felt in her heart what she needed to do to receive from God, she acted on that knowledge, and her faith was rewarded.
When I was young, I would try to ask for things of God, and I would pile upon the request every ounce of believing that I could muster. Then, if I did not receive, I felt convinced that I had not possessed enough faith. In my childhood mind, faith was a sort of currency, and if one just had enough of it they could get whatever they wanted.
I do not believe that God is opposed to us asking Him for our wants, but we should understand that His answer might be yes or no. In fact His answer might be nothing at all, simply to let the matter unfold naturally without any intervention.
But sometimes it isn’t just a want. Sometimes we know in our bones that there is something our soul needs. And we know that it isn’t only something that we want for ourselves, but that God wants for us, too. I suspect that the woman with the issue of blood might have known, as in really known, that God wanted her to be healed, and that touching Jesus’s garment would effect that. In my life I have really known that God was ready to heal me of my shame and addictions, and I knew what actions I needed to take to receive that blessing. I did not wonder in those moments whether God would meet my reaching. I had the reassuring confidence that if I would act, then my faith would be rewarded. And it was.
Psalm 27:14, Habakkuk 2:3, Acts 2:1-2
Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.
For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
Wait, I say, on the Lord
For the vision is yet for an appointed time, wait for it; because it will surely come
God wants us to ask Him for the portions of the Spirit that we need in our lives. We should feel emboldened to request witnesses, a change of heart, and the blessings that we feel He wants to give us. We are assured that if we ask, we shall receive…but never are we told exactly when.
I know from personal experience that God will answer my prayers, but now I am a father, and I am anxious for my son to learn this truth as well. I find myself anxiously wishing that I could force a spiritual experience around him so that I could point to it and say “see, son, this is it. This is what it’s all about.”
But I can’t force these things to happen, because the timing of them just isn’t up to me.
They were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, and it filled all the house.
This does not mean that I am powerless, though. What I can do is foster a spiritual atmosphere, a climate where God’s touch can come when it is ready to. The early saints gathered themselves to worship in one place, and that communion invited heaven to join them.
I can bring my son to gatherings of other disciples, I can read the scriptures with him, and I can pray with him. I can leave the door open for the Spirit to come to us, and wait for it to arrive. Perhaps tonight, when our family has our spiritual devotional, God’s Spirit will come into our home very strongly. And if not tonight, then it is alright, perhaps it will come tomorrow.
Isaiah 19:21 (ESV), John 10:4, 27
And the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the Lord and perform them.
And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
And the Lord will make himself known
Ancient Egypt was not a place known for its strong connection to Yahweh. Yet Isaiah prophesied that its people would come to know their true Creator, and that they would do so because of God’s efforts to make Himself known to them.
As a child, one of my great fears was that God might already be speaking to me, and I just didn’t know it. What if He was trying to tell me very important things, but I wasn’t cluing in? What if I missed out on something forever because I didn’t know his voice?
But now when I read this verse about ‘the Lord making himself known,’ I find a reassuring message that He takes the responsibility for speaking to us in a way that we can understand. We still have our responsibility: to seek, but it is up to God to ensure that we actually find. So I don’t need worry whether I am listening correctly, all I have to do is accomplish my part, and then trust that He will do His.
The sheep follow him: for they know his voice
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them
And I have found that God absolutely does know how to speak to me in ways that I understand. My heart is an instrument, and He is a master at playing its strings. He does answer me, and there is no mistaking His voice when it comes.
As Jesus attests, God knows His sheep. He knows them individually. We do not need to worry about whether we will recognize Him when he speaks, we just will.
This was a very soothing study for me. My childhood was full of agitation when it came to hearing God’s voice. I really, really wanted to, but just had no idea how. I know that this is a common struggle for many others as well, so hopefully some of you will find the scriptures that we have explored helpful.
One thing that stuck out to me from this study was how it reminded me of the importance of diving into the scriptures. All of my questions had answers, they were there for the taking, but I needed to be in God’s word to find them.
In fact, this experience has itself been a witness to me of the importance of God’s word. As I am about to discuss, God has answers and manifestations ready to share with us, we only have to turn the stones over to find them.
SEEK WITH ACTION
I have been guilty of saying I wanted a closer relationship with God…and then doing absolutely nothing to achieve it. In essence what I was saying was “I want to feel the spirit more…but only if it comes free and without any work.” That’s about the limpest form of ‘wanting’ imaginable!
Receiving a witness from God is free in that it does not cost money, but it does take time and effort. His manifestations are not cheap experiences, to be handed out to anyone that is flippant or half-sincere. God is willing to give us signs and miracles, but He needs us to be serious about this first.
The Spirit is not going to attest to the run-of-the-mill behaviors that we are already doing. It has no need to encourage our default discipleship. Where the Spirit comes in full force is when we do something new, something that stretches us. If you consult your conscience, I am certain there is something that you know you should be doing but really don’t want to. Perhaps it is overcoming a vice, perhaps it is accomplishing a greater good.
Do it. Sincerely. And I promise you that God will show up.
James 1:5-8- If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.
ACCEPT WHAT COMES
If you act sincerely, God will show up for you. But in what way depends on Him. My wife and I paid tithing for years without fanfare, it was easy to do. Then we reached a time where finances were tight, and we had to make an actual conscious choice to keep following that commandment. We did, and God showed up for us numerous times.
Each of those times He came in a different and unexpected way. One of the most surprising was when a contractor gave me one extra paycheck after I had finished working for them. I informed the company of the error, but it took them months to process the return. Well it turned out that a one-time-interest-free loan was exactly what we needed to get us through those particular months. We came through, they asked for the refund, and we sent it back without any trouble.
Is that how I asked God to handle the situation? Certainly not, that would have been ridiculous to expect. But I did ask that everything would work out, and it certainly did. When we ask God for miracles and witnesses, we should expect Him to have solutions, but we should keep an open mind for how they might arrive.
Isaiah 55:8-9- For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
THIS IS A JOINT EFFORT
As a child I was very obsessed with getting rituals right. I thought that if I didn’t say all the right words, then God might shrug off my efforts to reach Him. He was the strict teacher, grading my every prayer, and refusing to show up until I got an A. Thus whether I ever connected or not didn’t really matter to Him, the onus was entirely on me.
But obviously that is not right. God does not merely hope for us to have a relationship with Him, he fights for it. He isn’t “okay” with the idea of you not receiving spiritual witnesses in your life. He didn’t reserve those for Moses and Mary, and shelve them for you. The truth is that He wants this connection even more than we do.
So perhaps He is mysterious, perhaps He appears absent and we don’t understand why, perhaps He hasn’t revealed Himself to us just yet. But it is not because of indifference. Though you cannot always see it, He is always championing for your every spiritual epiphany, tirelessly working for your good.
Psalm 27:14- Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.
Isaiah 49:14-16- But Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.
Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.
Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.