Personal Experience of God

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Even 6 years after I worked on my Doctrinal Exam, I return again and again to the theology I internalized and made my own during this process. I am still very grateful for the opportunity to discover my answers to these questions. The denomination’s requirement that we wrestle with and answer these questions is a blessing to us, to our ministry, and to the communities that are transformed by the words we put down on paper. If you are in the ordination process, or hope to be, I hope you take your writing seriously because this work matters.

Looking at others work was very helpful during my process, so, I am returning the favor and sharing mine. You are welcome to use what you need to, but make your work your own, because it really does matter.

¶324.9.a:  Describe your personal experience of God and the understanding of God you derive from biblical, theological, and historical sources.

I can sum up my experiences of God in one word, surprising. I was not around religion very much growing up, and what I did hear about Christianity was usually negative. Although, there is one saying I have carried with me that was more positive. My aunt said it often, “Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart, all you have to do is let him in.” God worked in me through this simple phrase, before I knew it or could have responded. That phrase has echoed in my heart my whole life. One day a few years ago, I did open the door to my heart and let Jesus in. I was a stay-at-home mom, college dropout with no plans for my future. I had no plans to change and no desire to do anything different. After a dramatic encounter with God’s Grace I reoriented my life because I discovered that transcended all of my perceived shortcomings. Since that experience in 2007, I have found abundant life in almost everything I do. Today, I have completed my undergraduate degree, have almost earned my Master of Divinity degree and am working towards ordination as an Elder in the United Methodist Church. God is surprising. Divine Grace works in mysterious ways, it does amazing things in the lives of the people that open the door of their heart to the mystery and surprise that divine grace promises.

As I reflect on scripture and stories from our tradition, I see God’s Grace showing up in surprising places again and again. John Wesley sought God in his “exacter diary,” indicating, every hour in precise detail the resolutions broken and kept.[1] Wesley wanted to earn God’s love by removing all sin from his life. After years of trying to become worthy of love, he found that he already had all the love he was seeking when he felt his heart strangly warmed. After this, he turned back to his life with a complete trust in Christ, “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation.” [2] Wesley, in his search for God’s love, discovered the surprising truth that God had loved him all along.

God’s surprising love is found throughout our tradition and the Scriptures. Paul, persecutor of early Christ followers, can see, not because God opened his eyes, but because God shut them. Turning Paul, from persecutor to willingly persecuted, “I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear” (Philippians 1:12-14). God shows up in the most surprising places, pointing us towards the most surprising choices.

As I examine my experience, and the traditions passed on through many communities, I find myself surprised by God. Even the core of our story, the story of Jesus, is surprising at every turn. From telling stories of an arrogant, insolent son that encountered his father’s love, to costly parties thrown to celebrate a few found cents, Jesus is surprising. God bent down, and washed the feet of the one that would deny him and the friend that would betray him. It is surprising. Our God, suffered on a cross. There is no moment more surprising than that.

[1] Wesley and the People Called Methodists by Richard P. Heitzenrater, page 53

[2] John Wesley Journal, May 24, 1738

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