Every now and then, I hear the remark that a person has had “an encounter with God”. This is said to account for the noticeable change that has taken place in that person’s life. Often the conversation refers to a person who had been a nominal Christian, a sceptic, or even one who did not believe in God at all.
To point to an encounter with God as the cause for change in a person’s life would be an empty claim if not for the message of Easter.
This was the experience of Apostle Paul. His life took a radical turn for the better when Jesus met him along the road to Damascus. He knew how important this was when he wrote to the church at Corinth:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve … Last of all, as to one untimely born, he also appeared to me.”
1 Corinthians 15:3–8 (ESV)
It is important to hear the message that Jesus died for our sins, was buried and rose on the third day. That must always remain a priority, the first thing we communicate at the earliest possible opportunity.
Yet the message does not really sink in, and often the motivation to grow does not happen, until there is a personal encounter with the risen Lord. There may be an initial burst of grateful enthusiasm at the recognition that our sins have been forgiven and we have received eternal life. However, when our hearts burn like the disciples’ following their extended conversation with the risen Lord, then like them we will rise up to spread the word about Him (Luke 24:27-38).
This encounter can take place in various ways. An encounter like Paul’s on the Damascus road would be a dramatic experience forever etched in one’s soul. It becomes an essential and frequent reference point in one’s testimony to the power of God, like it was for Paul (Acts 22:4ff, 26:12ff).
There are many today who can share similar (though not identical) experiences of being touched by the Holy Spirit in a personal, tangible and spiritual manner. Some can feel it in their body, see visions, or other kinds of experiences that understandably keep them excited about their relationship with God.
However, less exciting, but nevertheless of equal if not greater significance, would be to encounter the Lord in the Scriptures. Twice in the above passage, Paul refers to the events as “in accordance with the Scriptures”. The Scriptures not only mention the Lord Jesus Christ; He also said “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63, NKJV). When we read the Scriptures, we are not merely coming face-to-face with printed words. We also meet the One who is Word, and Life (John 1:1-4).
Our Lord wants to meet us. He will conjure unexpected ways and places for that to happen. John Wesley did not have a Paul-like encounter. Nor was he even reading the Scriptures. What he heard were words read from Martin Luther’s preface to the book of Romans. Those words warmed his heart in a strange, yet transformative way. He was assured at that moment, and cleared of any doubt that he might have had about his salvation.
It would be wonderful if one were to have an encounter like Paul, or even Wesley. The reality for the vast majority of us is that it would be rare, if it happens at all. The regular meet-with-Jesus occasions are within-the-Scriptures type. Honestly, I prefer these times to the Damascus road events, which in any case we cannot orchestrate.
So rejoice when such things happen to us. Then let us move daily to meet the risen Lord in the Scriptures.
Bishop Dr Wee Boon Hup was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2012. He has been a Methodist pastor for 29 years.