"Have you taken the Experiencing God course?," I recently heard one excited Christian ask another. Well, it's a trendy question these days. I think I know the heart of Henry Blackaby well enough to know that he produced the book so that people could experience God, and not experience Experiencing God.
Why do I get this feeling that people are into experiencing the book rather than letting the book lead them to experience God? Needless to say, church life can shallow out in the Baptist whirl. When it does, even studying about experiencing God, is at least a step in the right direction.
The church always has a great many with a natural — maybe even separated — compulsion for the mystical pursuit of God. These very "Christ-yearning" souls are, like Mary of Bethany, eager to be at the feet of Christ enraptured by the necessity of God. Take that necessity from their lives and they will shrivel and die.
But there are also in the church an equal number of Marthas, for whom the hunger for this pursuit is only a need to experience Experiencing God. If you happen to be a Mary, be nice to the Marthas. They really do intend to experience God someday. But they feel like they really can't do that kind of in-depth Bible study till the house is clean. It's all a matter of where you keep your Bible — under or on top of Better Homes and Gardens. Mary's is on top, Martha's somewhere down in the stack.
The wonderful and unsigned book, Cloud of the Unknowing, divides the church right down the middle into active and contemplative people. Mary and Martha define this great divide. The Cloud of Unknowing counsels, "... active persons will always be concerned about countless diverse affairs ... as love requires. He (Christ) wanted Martha to realize that her work was important and valuable to her spiritual development."1 It is generally enough for the Marthas of this world to have Jesus in their home. The Marys must have Him in their hearts.
Henry Blackaby is my kind of man. He's an uncanonized saint for Southern Baptists. He's our Brother Lawrence.
Speaking of Brother Lawrence, he wrote near the time of his death in 1691: "We must concentrate on knowing God — the more we know Him the more we want to know Him. And as knowledge is commonly the measure of love, the deeper and wider our knowledge, the greater will be our love."2
Henry Blackaby is a Mary, a badly needed Mary, whose hunger for God has restored a great deal of spiritual credibility to "busianity." I am thrilled that Baptists, who have long gone unchallenged in the all important area of Christ-formation, at last have a worthy mentor. A new vitality is sweeping the church — all churches, not just Baptist churches — because of Experiencing God. But let us be gentle with the Marthas who are only experiencing Experiencing God. Be nice to the Marthas. They're really great people. Of two things you may be sure: first, their spiritual notebooks will always be neater than yours. Then, too, they'll also have a nice little meal ready for all the deeper-life people once their Bible Study is over.
1 Author Unknown, The Cloud of the Unknowing, ed. William Johnston (New York: Bantam/Double-day/Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 1973) p. 75
2 Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God
Calvin Miller is a professor at Southwestern Seminary.