Is it an emotional experience or a brush with God?

The young father and husband stepped out the backdoor of his small home to gain some meditation space from his active family. His heart was heavy and frustrated, and the drizzling rain among the pine trees of the backyard only added to the melancholy. But he just had to find a place to pray, or talk to someone--even if it was to himself.

He was struggling between the confluence of a sincere desire to live an honorable life and the all too frequent reminders of his flaws and inabilities. Raised in a pastor's home, he had surrendered his life to Jesus as his Lord and really wanted to live a genuine, legitimate Christian life. But against the innate desire to conduct himself honorably, he felt the constant curse of his native inability and propensity for selfishness and disobedience.

Caught in this vortex of competing desires, he could only weep in frustration.

His inner turmoil was exacerbated by the familiar instructions of the Bible and the additional rules of conduct of the church in which he fellowshipped. In all honesty, he tried to be obedient but failed all too often. He wanted to be Christ-like, but felt too weak and flawed to measure up.

Finally the frustration burst out in an audible prayer into the pine trees, "God, I really want to be a Christian, but I can't! I've tried to be obedient and do the right things, but I have failed so many times! I'm sorry, but I confess that I cannot be a Christian!"

The audible confession brought an initial release. Finally, it was out. The truth had set him free. Then an inner voice, a thought outside the young man's meditations pierced the grief saying, "I know you can't live the Christian life, but I can. Why don't you let me live the Christian life through you?"

His heart leaped with hope. It was like a personal word from heaven.

That experience was my personal portal into grace. Since that rainy afternoon in 1975, I have lived in the challenge of that invitation, allowing God's presence to live through me. Only as I walk conscious of my inabilities and his vast capabilities can I possibly approximate the Christian life outlined in the Bible.

Some might question the validity of such an emotional experience, because anyone can claim anything based on pure emotions. Certainly emotions themselves are not a reliable foundation, for our emotions are not necessarily realities. A lot of false teaching has emerged strictly from someone's emotional experience.

But we are emotional as well as rational creatures, and emotions can be a valuable tool to confirm outside, empirical evidence. It is possible to have an emotional experience without God being present; but it would almost be impossible to be in God's presence without some effect on our emotions. And our emotional experiences must be in accordance with God's word.

Time will eventually demonstrate whether someone had just an emotional experience or an encounter with God. If it was purely an emotional experience, the individual will return to their former condition with little or no change. But if they have been in God's presence, their experience will be transforming, bearing good fruit.

Almost 40 years have transpired since that rainy afternoon in my backyard in Washington state, and I still live in the challenge and gracious invitation of that experience. And in those intervening years, I have been motivated to share that invitation with others.

If you have been as frustrated as this young father with sincere desires, religious rules, and a native inability to measure up, sit quietly for a moment and perhaps you will also hear the voice saying, "I know you can't live a Christian life, but I can. Let me live it through you."