Encounters with the Lord

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

Acts 9:1-6

Saul was on his way to Damascus to persecute more Christians when he had a life-changing encounter with the Lord. Jesus showed up in such a powerful way that it knocked Saul to the ground and blinded him. This was the beginning of the Pharisee Saul becoming the apostle Paul.

Encounters with the Lord change us. But not all encounters are like the one Saul had. Throughout the Bible we see people having encounters with the Lord in different ways. And in the New Testament church, because of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, those encounters only increased in variety.

What follows is a list of a variety of different encounters that are available to us. This list is not exhaustive but instead representative of the variety of ways Jesus encounters us through the Spirit. There are as many kinds of encounters as there are characteristics of Christ.

1. Mercy Encounter: most Christians have had this kind of encounter with the Lord. This is when the Lord reveals our sin and our unworthy state as we stand vulnerable before the Lord and He pours out his forgiveness upon us. As His grace and mercy envelop us, we feel free from the guilt and shame of our sin. We feel washed clean and made right with the Lord. Tears often accompany this encounter.

2. Truth Encounter: this is when we have been shackled by a lie (or lies) and we didn’t even know it. The Lord reveals a powerful truth to us through scripture, through prayer, through a sermon, or through a friend. That truth rocks us to the core and breaks the chains of the lie we had been believing. Jesus is the Truth as He comes with a fresh perspective and sets us free. An “ah ha” feeling, a feeling of new revelation and new perspective, often accompanies this kind of encounter.

3. Love Encounter: this is when the Love of the Father gets poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. We may have felt unaccepted or unloved until this moment. When God’s love pours out on us we feel totally accepted and cherished as a child of God. Performance mentality is broken off of us. We finally accept that we don’t have to earn God’s love. We just bask in it. More than tears, weeping often accompanies this kind of encounter. Others have felt what they can only describe as liquid love pouring onto them.

4. Power Encounter: this is when the power of God shoots through someone’s body like electricity. These encounters most often happen during prayers of impartation, prayers for healing, and prayers for deliverance. The power of God surges through someone physically and they have physical reactions to it. They often tremble, shake, fall to the ground, have muscle contractions, and sometimes experience pain. It makes sense that our frail human bodies would have a hard time handling the power of our omnipotent God. Sometimes, especially if this kind of encounter is new to someone, it is a little frightening because a person can lose control of their bodies for a moment.

5. Peace Encounter: this is when the peace of Christ comes and blankets us. We suddenly go from a mind filled with anxiety, fear, worry, and grief to a complete calm. All the anxiety, fear, and worry leave. We feel totally at peace. Our problems that seemed so huge before melt away. The problem doesn’t change but we see it differently now. We are confident in God’s ability to work in any situation. We are not worrying about the future nor trapped in the past. When the peace of Christ blankets us, we are completely present in the moment. A sense of total calm mixed with unconditional hope often accompanies this kind of encounter.

6. Joy Encounter: this is when the explainable joy of the Lord fills our hearts. This is not joy based on people around us or our circumstances. This is an outpouring of joy from the heart of God. Sometimes there is a feeling that a person is so filled with the Spirit that they feel intoxicated or high. The heaviness of life, despair, depression, and hopelessness immediately evaporate as they are overwhelmed by the joy of the Lord. This joy encounter can be momentary (just a few hours) or it can last days. People often experience uncontrollable laughter even when nothing around them is funny.

7. Fire Encounter: this is when the fire of God comes upon a person. This is a kind of power encounter. The person feels heat all over their body or in one particular part of their body. It gets so hot that the person often sweats profusely though no one around them is warm. This can be localized if someone is praying for healing for a particular part of the body, or it can be felt all over if the Presence of God is all over a person.

8. Vision/Dream Encounter: this is a revelatory encounter where God gives a person an open vision. An internal vision is when God gives us a picture or a scene in our mind’s eye. That is a much more common experience than an open vision. An open vision is when a person is stopped in their tracks by seeing a spiritual vision externally with their physical eyes. We see this kind of encounter many times in the New Testament. Those with prophetic gifts will have more of these kinds of encounters. This kind of encounter can also happen while we are sleeping if Jesus comes to speak to us in our dreams.

9. Angelic Encounter: this is when a person sees with their physical eyes an angel near them. Often the angel has been sent to do something or say something to them. The angel is never worshipped as they are simply servants in the Kingdom of God. But the experience of seeing an angel can shake a person and cause a level of holy fear. The angel often has just been in God’s Presence and, like an aroma or a kind of radiation, the residue of God’s Presence can be felt on them.

10. Fear of the Lord Encounter: this is when a person encounters God’s Presence and God reveals to them just how close He was to them. When that revelation hits, the awesome fear of the Lord falls upon them. The awareness of just how awesome, powerful, holy, and glorious the Lord is hits a person all at once and it’s terrifying. Holy fear envelops them. Shaking, weeping, and repentance often accompanies this kind of encounter.

I know all of these encounters are real and available to us as followers of Jesus because I’ve had most of them. Though I’ve never had an open vision, I have had inner visions and I’ve had good friends who’ve experienced open visions. Though I’ve never had an angelic encounter, I have good friends and loved ones who have. All the rest of these I’ve experienced firsthand. And this is only a list of 10. There are so many attributes of God and encounters with Him that await those who pursue Him.

We don’t pursue the encounter, we pursue Jesus. We go after Him with everything we are and He meets us where we are with a unique encounter just for us. Encountering Jesus through the Spirit is life-changing. Every time we have an experience with Him we are changed by it. We get a taste of His nature and His character and we want more. And as we get to know Him, we want to be just like Him.

If One Part Suffers

But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

1 Corinthians 12:24-27

One of the interesting things about being a pastor of a church is that even when things are going great in your own life, you know at least a dozen situations in other people’s lives that are going horribly. Even when your marriage is in a great place, you know a number of marriages that are falling apart. When your family is doing well, you know many that aren’t. Even when you have one of those days that are full of life, joy, and purpose, in the back of your mind is the awareness of a number of people you care about who are having a terrible day. Now multiply this when your own life is struggling.

This is true of many of the helping professions. The main difference is that, in the helping professions, they are taught to keep a professional emotional distance from those they are helping. There is a wall of professionalism that allows the doctor or therapist to help in a way that doesn’t get too personally involved. Pastors don’t get to do this. Those we are helping are our good friends, our brothers and sisters in Christ that we’ve known personally for years.

Paul said of the church, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). In order to do this well, without being buried under the pile of pain the church is experiencing collectively, it requires the discipline to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn“(Romans 12:15). This discipline is impossible if we base our rejoicing off of circumstances.

We can’t wait for our life and everyone else’s life to be good before we are able to rejoice. It won’t happen. We have to be able to rejoice in the Lord. Rejoicing in the Lord will give us access to joy at all times. Even when we know ten people going through hard things, we’ll be able to rejoice with the person in front of us because the source of our joy is the Lord Himself.

This is true for mourning as well. Our mourning can’t be based entirely on situations in our life or the life of others. It has to come from the compassion of Christ. If the person in front of us is hurting, we can mourn with them because of the compassion of Christ, even when we know there are others who are celebrating moments of victory.

Our life circumstances and the life circumstances of people in our church community are like waves in the seas. They are constantly going up and down; they will constantly change. Our emotional state will be chaotic if our hearts churn with the waves. Instead, our hearts need to be anchored in Christ–in His joy and His compassion.

The call to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn is not a call to react to the situation in front of us. Instead, it is a call to respond to the heart of Jesus for the situation in front of us. And that difference makes all the difference. It is an invitation to tap into the joy of the Lord and the compassion of the Lord for the sake of our friend.

Full of Joy

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go…

…The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

Luke 10:1, 17-21

Jesus sent out 72 disciples to go ahead of him, town to town, doing the same ministry He was doing. They were to proclaim that the Kingdom of God had arrived and was well within their reach. They were to heal the sick and cast out demons. Then they were to report their experiences back to Jesus.

Don’t forget who Jesus is sending to do this. These are fishermen not Pharisees. These are not experts in the Law. These are not theologians and Bible teachers. These are farmers and stay-at-home moms. These are tax-collectors and women with questionable backgrounds. These are blacksmiths and shepherd boys.

When they return, did you notice that they return with joy. Doing ministry in the power and authority of Jesus was not burdensome to them. Though they didn’t take a purse or bag, though they were like sheep among wolves (Luke 10:3-4), they still returned with joy! And they were completely shocked that demons submitted to them in Jesus’s name.

Demons didn’t submit to the religious leaders and teachers of the law. Demons didn’t even submit to the high priest. Demons didn’t submit to the magicians, mediums, or fortune-tellers. And yet, in the name of Jesus, demons submitted to these no-named, low-status disciples. It was astounding! And it wasn’t because of them, but because they were given the delegated authority of Jesus.

Jesus reminds them to keep their focus in the right place. He doesn’t want them to be enamored with the reality that they can cast out demons. Jesus knows that focusing on the enemy is just a waste of time. He’s not worth that kind of focus. Instead, Jesus wanted their focus to be on the Lord and that they walk in His authority because of their salvation.

And notice how excited Jesus is for the 72 disciples returning from ministry. Scripture says Jesus was “full of joy through the Holy Spirit.” Can’t you just see the huge smile on Jesus’s face as each of them tell their stories of healing people, delivering people from demons, and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. He would have been beaming like a proud papa.

Then Jesus turns toward heaven and thanks the Father that He made all of this possible. The Father had revealed the power and authority of His Kingdom to bankers and bakers, wine-makers and carpenters, and not to the religious elite. The Father was pleased to have the enormous power and authority of heaven flow through people of low status, people with little more social status than children, instead of those the world considered learned and wise. And this reality brought Jesus so much joy!

And it still brings Him so much joy today! He’s still doing this very thing today!

As a follower of Jesus, you were designed to carry the authority and power of Jesus. You were created to see the impossible become possible. God delights in answering the prayers of His children. Before Jesus was crucified, resurrected, and ascended, Jesus talked about how joy would come when their prayers were answered.

In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

John 16:23-24

That is how prayer was designed to work. We ask in the name of Jesus–the delegated authority of Jesus–and we receive what we asked. When that prayer gets answered right in front of us, we are filled with joy by the Holy Spirit just as Jesus was. We were meant to proclaim the Kingdom in the authority of Jesus. We were meant to see the sick healed and the oppressed set free from the demonic. We were designed to operate in the delegated authority of Jesus and the power of the Spirit.

And when we see people come to know Jesus, when we see people healed, when we see people set free, we get filled with joy! There is so much joy in seeing God’s Kingdom break through on earth as it is in heaven. Galatians 5:22 lists joy as a fruit of the Spirit. Yet, joy is also a fruit of supernatural ministry. It’s the fruit of seeing God move powerfully through our prayers.

Eyes of the Heart

The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men…

…the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 

Matthew 28:4 & 8

An angel showed up at Jesus’s tomb to tell the women that Jesus has risen. Scripture tells us that this angel caused quite a commotion. First, the earth shook, then the stone that sealed the tomb rolled back, and the angel himself was white like lightening.

Both the women and the guards standing there were afraid of the appearance of this angel. They all had that in common. However, their heart conditions must have been different because we see two very different responses in the midst of that fear. The women were “afraid yet filled with joy.” But the fear experienced by the guards became shock-inducing terror as they fell down like dead men.

The Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13) reminds us that the condition of the soil of the heart makes all the difference in how an event, a message, or an encounter is received. These women had hearts that were filled with faith. So when they were given the message that Jesus was alive, the hope of that message sparked the kindling of faith and ignited joy in their hearts.

The guards did not experience this at all. Their hardened hearts had no faith. The encounter with the angel increased the fear that already lived in their hearts. So fear upon fear became terror. Faith gives us eyes to see, and these guards were blind to the hope that his angel represented.

We are responsible for tending to the condition of our heart. We cultivate good soil so that when we encounter something fearful in life, good fruit can come from it. We cultivate good soil–a heart full of faith–so that if we have an encounter with the Lord or with something powerful from His Kingdom, we don’t shrink away in doubt but instead step forward in faith.

Notice that the very next line of Scripture, as the women are leaving to tell the disciples about all of this, says, “Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him“(Matthew 28:9). If a person can’t handle the presence of an angel, they certainly won’t be able to handle Jesus showing up to them. Our hearts have to be able to handle it. Hearts full of faith and hope are the only kind of hearts that can handle an encounter with Jesus.

So many people say they wish Jesus would just show up to them, either to answer their questions or calm their doubts. But most people would drop down as if dead, just like the guards, if He showed up in their room. Their ill-prepared hearts couldn’t handle His Presence and glory.

Jesus said it this way, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God“(Matthew 5:8).

The apostle Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians echoes something similar, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you…“(Ephesians 1:18).