Something that we all come to recognize at some point is that experience is a very powerful teacher. The things that we have heard and seen may touch our lives, but our experiences, which combine hearing, seeing, and feeling, have a much deeper impact on us.
My wife is sometimes amazed, but usually confounded and even frustrated, that I have difficulty remembering things we’ve done together, but that I can remember lines from a movie I haven’t seen in thirty years. I’ve even wondered myself why that is, and the best answer that I’ve come up with isn’t because the movie has music playing in the background, although I think that really helps stimulate our emotions. Instead I believe that it’s because I focused my attention on the movie, I wasn’t distracted by other thoughts, and in many cases I had the opportunity to see it more than once.
Our experiences are often like movies in our lives. We can play them over and over again in our minds as we remember them, and many of them even get repeated throughout our lives. I don’t mean that we experience the exact same thing, but we often have very similar experiences.
The things that happened to us growing up; what we observed in our parents, teachers, and others, are experiences that affect us for the rest of our lives. What those memories end up becoming are beliefs about the way things “are” or how life is supposed to work. A bad experience becomes a fear, the belief that something will hurt us, which we will then try to avoid at all costs. On the other hand, a good experience can become a conviction about what makes us happy and we may spend the rest of our lives trying to relive it.
The Reader’s Digest did a survey some years ago about people’s greatest fears. Oddly enough, the number one fear wasn’t death. The greatest fear for most people is speaking in public.
How about you? Do you get butterflies in your tummy at just the thought of speaking in front of a group of people?
What may have caused that fear was an experience, probably in either kindergarten or first grade, when you had to take part in something called “show and tell”. It’s likely that you said or did something that made the other kids laugh, which hurt, and that memory has been like a broken record in your head ever since. It just keeps playing again and again and you are convinced that you’re no good at doing presentations for groups.
As bad as that may be for some of us, there are instances in our lives that can be devastating, especially in the effect that they have on our faith. For example, have you ever prayed for something and then not gotten an answer?
Just like when the kids laughed in school, the memory of the disappointment over unanswered prayer may be repeating in your mind every time you just think about prayer. Those bad experiences have become a fear, the belief that God doesn’t love you, won’t listen to you, and never gives you what you ask for.
Luke 11:9-10 says, “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Even when Hebrews 6:18 tells us that it is impossible for God to lie, we have all experienced what it’s like to ask and then not receive.
But should we let our experience tell us what’s true and what we’re supposed to believe? Or should we look to the Bible to teach us the truth?
As powerful as our experiences and the beliefs they helped us form may be, the truth of God’s word is even stronger. But in order to take what the Bible says and make it a belief, something that has been repeated and become firmly lodged in our minds, we have to make a conscious effort to meditate on and obey His word.
Joshua 1:8 says, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”
The word “meditate” means to mumble or mutter. It means that we need to speak God’s word out loud to ourselves. D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, in his book “Spiritual Depression” asks us, “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?”
We can either let our past experiences tell us what we should believe, or we can decide to change our beliefs. The way to do that is to continually talk to ourselves about the promises of God. When we pray we should remind ourselves of Jesus’ promise “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:14)
So the next time you go to God in prayer, and begin to wonder if He will answer you, just say to yourself, “In the past I may have felt like God didn’t hear me, but I now choose to believe what He said in His word. I choose to believe the truth that as long as I desire to remain in Him, and to let His word remain in me, I can ask for whatever I wish, and it will be given to me (John 15:7).”
Along with the assurance that God will answer us, we need the flexibility to receive His answer. God will rarely answer us in the way that we expect because He has promised to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). Our expectation needs to be that He will give us an answer that is bigger and better than what we asked for, and we need to start looking for God to surprise us with His goodness.