What Does an Encounter With God Really Look Like?
By Alice Clarke
Singing lessons. If you’ve ever had one, you might have heard your teacher talking about breathing from your stomach, using your chest voice, or directing your sound out of the top of your head. It’s weird stuff. Vocal coaches use unusual language because the voice box is internal. We use our voices but we don’t see them in action. We can only feel them. For a singing teacher to get the best out of their student, they have to use metaphors to help the student understand what it feels like on the inside to sing healthily and with proper technique.
Encountering God is similar to singing lessons. When we encounter God, it’s often an internal experience. Sure, there are some external things that can happen, but that often doesn’t tell us what’s really going on inside of a person. Everyone is going to encounter God in a different way because we’re all made differently. That can make encounters with God challenging to understand and describe.
Encountering God is a really important part of life for Christians. Here are five realities about encounters with God to help you understand what they really look like.
Encounter is About a Person
This is the first and most important thing to understand about encountering God. They’re not just about special feelings. It’s also not about experiencing a force or power. Encounters with God are encounters with the person of the Holy Spirit. He is not a force that’s there for our use, He’s a person. The Holy Spirit has feelings and wants a relationship with us. When He encounters us, it’s because he wants to build that relationship and to transform us to love Jesus more and become more like Jesus.
Encounter With God Looks Different for Everyone
Every person is made uniquely. So it makes sense that God meets everyone in different ways. Sometimes encountering God has physical effects on our bodies, sometimes it makes us emotional, sometimes it’s a prophetic sign and sometimes we have no idea what’s happening at all. That’s ok!
Sandra Long, senior leader of Catch The Fire in Toronto, says, “When I’m in the presence of God, I feel his weightiness, and for me, the weightiness is love. I feel like he’s giving me a big hug and he’s affirming me as his daughter.”
Duncan Smith, President of Catch The Fire describes his encounters with God’s love quite differently: “When I’m in the presence of God, I feel the tangible experiential love of God himself. I feel his presence all around me, fizzing literally like liquid golden honey in the atmosphere. It’s almost like I feel this weighty tingling.”
Encounters Feel Like Something
Many believers shy away from the idea that we can experience God or feel something when he meets us. That’s often because they're afraid of the idea of becoming over-emotional or swept up in something that they can’t control. When you encounter God, you might feel His peace, joy, love, or strength. Those are all good things!
It’s Biblical to experience God in a way that you can feel. When Jesus’ disciples returned from outreach, Luke 10:21 describes him as being “full of joy through the Holy Spirit.” (NIV). The Psalms are also full of accounts of people bringing their emotions to God receiving hope and peace from him.
John Arnott wrote Manifestations and Prophetic Symbolism as a guide to help answer people’s questions about what was happening to people during the revival that began in Toronto in the ‘90s. He says, “God is love and His greatest desire is for us to love Him with all our heart and soul. What kind of relationship would it be if we didn’t ever feel anything? Love has to be felt, be experienced, and reciprocated.” (p7)
Murray Smith, lead pastor of Catch The Fire, Raleigh-Durham, says, “When I’m in the presence of God, I’m completely undone. I see him for who he truly is, and I am overwhelmed with his goodness.”
Encounters Cause Physical Manifestations
If you put your finger into a live electric socket, you’d have a physical shock. Sometimes, when people encounter God, something similar happens. People shake, fall down to the ground, run, laugh or cry. In Manifestations and Prophetic Symbolism, John Arnott explains that these physical actions are a result of God moving in power, and some can be a prophetic sign of what God is going to do.
You Might Not Feel a Single Thing
If you don’t fall down, don’t shake, or don’t have any emotional response when God is doing something, that’s ok. God can easily do things in your life without you knowing about it.
However, if you do even feel the slightest thing - perhaps a weightiness on your hands or your head or a little bit of peace, honour that and welcome Holy Spirit more.
Simply say, “Holy Spirit, I think I feel you as [peace/ weight on my hands/ love]. I welcome you, come more and meet me how you want to.”
In Matthew 7, Jesus said that our Father in Heaven wants to give us good gifts. If we ask the Holy Spirit to move in us, then He will.
Encounters Can Happen Anywhere
God is not limited to church meetings or buildings. You can encounter God wherever he decides he wants to meet you! God wants to speak to you while you’re on the school-run, asleep in your dreams, when you’re out for a walk… everywhere! After his resurrection, the Bible tells accounts of Jesus meeting the disciples unannounced and unexpectely. He still does that!
Encounters Produce Fruit
Galatians 5 describes the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Those fruits are bound to show up when you have an encounter with God. Sometimes people have physical healing through encounters with God, sometimes emotional healing. You can always figure out whether it was really an encounter with God, as to whether there was fruit in your life.
In 1995, Margaret Poloma, a Christian sociologist, studied people who had encountered God in meetings in Toronto, to find out what the fruit was. John Arnott describes how “...92% of people testified to the fact that they were more in love with Jesus since the experience than they had ever been in their entire Christian life.” (p20).
Encounters Always Involve Choice
The Holy Spirit is a person who wants to build a two-way relationship with us. If you want to encounter God, your own will and choice are involved! It’s your choice to welcome the Holy Spirit to meet you and to be open to what he wants to do. It’s also always your choice for what to do after you’ve encountered God. Yes, there will be fruit, but it doesn’t end with just one encounter. If you’re looking for your life to be transformed by the Presence of God, then that means allowing him to work in your life on an ongoing basis.
Isaac Myers tells how he was trapped in depression and self-hate, but God spoke words of love over him every day, which totally transformed him: “I watched the pain and shame of my burdens be lifted by him. I saw myself free from insecurity and able to stand in the fullness of his love for me. My entire identity was restored and won over.”