Book Review: Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God (by Henry and Richard Blackaby; Claude King)

Front Cover


True to its title this is a book for those who want to have encounters with God in their Christian walk. That is what the Christian experience is all about, after all. It is so easy to embark on the Christian journey without having encounters with God. That is the "wide gate and broadway." (Matthew 7:13) It is all so easy to spend one's whole life working for God, like the brother of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32); Martha (Luke 10:38-42); the Galatian Church (Galatians 3:1-14). And, never knowing or experiencing Him. That is where the devil will have us all be - busy with the non-essentials. (ref. John 10:10a) There is a price to pay for walking with God. Our calling is to the "narrow gate and difficult way." (Matthew 7:14) 

We were created to have encounters (fellowship, oneness) with God. We were created to walk and work with God. (the walk comes before and is greater than the work) Anything short and, we are being robbed of the fullness of life God has for us. Anything short, and we are missing on the benefits of redemption. We were redeemed to walk with God. Little wonder Jesus says on the last day, 
"Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’" (Matthew 7:22-23, NKJV)
Herein are the beauty and power of this book. Henry T. Blackaby shares from his own life and ministry experience how to have a lifetime of encounters with God. He says,
"Experiencing God was my life message, This is how I had always understood and walked with God. This is how I had pastored and guided God's people."
The first copy of the book was written in 1990. Since then God has used this study to touch and change millions of lives and thousands of churches around the world. On the 10th anniversary, more than three million copies of the workbook had been distributed. It is now published in 47 languages and has been used in almost every denomination. And, there is no surprise to this. This is the most denominational neutral book I have read in my 37 years journey as a Christian. The original workbook has given birth to many "Experiencing God" resources. Some of these are listed at the bottom of this review.

The workbook is written in such a way it can be used for a 13 weeks small group study, with 5 days per week of individual study, before each small group meeting. The book is built around seven (7) core realities. These are, 
  1. God is always at work around us.
  2. God pursues a continual love relationship with us that is real and personal.
  3. God invites us to become involved with Him in His work.
  4. God speaks by the Holy Spirit through the Bible, Prayer, Circumstances, and the Church to reveal Himself, His Purposes, and His Ways.
  5. God’s invitation for you to work with Him always leads you to a crisis of belief that requires faith and action.
  6. You must make major adjustments in your life to join God in what He is doing.
  7. You come to know God by experience as you obey Him and He accomplishes His work through you.
Unit 1 and 2, of the workbook, keys in on the first reality, "God is always at work around us." How so true this is? Jesus tells us, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” (John 5:17) Can we say the same? Our Father has been working until now. He is always at work around us. The questions are: Can we see Him at work? Are we joining Him at work? Can we, like Jesus say, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” That is the example laid out for us, by the "great cloud of witnesses." (Hebrews 12:1-2) Henry Blackaby notes, 
"Jesus was the Son of God. Yet He never took the initiative to dream a dream or launch a new ministry. He lived His life in absolute dependence upon His Father. If Jesus was that dependent on the Father, then you and I should realize how ludicrous it is for us to set out on our own without any direction or guidance from the Father."
Henry Blackaby reminds us, "Real a relationship with a Person." It is a relationship with the Godhead - The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. Anything short, and we have in our hands something other than Christianity. God is our source. He is our Alpha and Omega, the very definition of our life - who we are and all that we do. We need to see life through His lenses. [Proverbs 3:5-6] Let God be true and every man a liar. [Romans 3:4] 

Henry Blackaby notes, "To be God's servant, you must be moldable and remain in the hand of the Master." To God, the relationship is more important than work. Our flesh is more attuned to doing. Our spirit is more attuned to staying connected and ever remaining in His hands. Our place is to tilt the scale in favor of our spirit. We should never lose sight "the work is never about us, but all about God." He is the one that makes it right. Hence, we need to ensure we are not like Saul that could not wait on Samuel. [1 Samuel 13:5-15] We should never step ahead of God.

Henry Blackaby states, "To know and do God's will, you must deny self and return to a God-centered life." He provides a list of characteristics of "A Self-Centered Life" and "A God-Centered Life." A God-centered life subjects his/her will to God's purposes, plans, and ways. The initiative is and always has to be, God's, not ours. Our place is to be on the lookout for where God is already working, or plans to work and respond, by making the needed adjustments. God fully supports and completes the work He initiates. Henry states,
"Rather than focusing on what our church is doing for us, we ought to be asking what God is seeking to do in our church through us." 
Unit 3 tags on the second reality, "God pursues a continual love relationship with us that is real and personal." We are created for a love relationship with God, and only in that can we find fulfillment and purpose. We like Joseph are His love-children. That is our design. We are created for God's good pleasure. [Revelations 4:11; Colossians 1:16; Psalm 104:31] In Genesis 3:8, we see God walking in the cool of the day to fellowship with Adam and Eve. The scriptures tell us of Enoch walking with God so much so that God took him - he, as it were, walked into eternity. [Hebrews 11:5]

Henry Blackaby tells us, "Everything in your Christian life, everything about knowing Him  and experiencing Him, everything about knowing His will depends on the quality of your love relationship with God." No doubt Jesus tells us this is the first and greatest commandment. [Matthew 22:37-38] God is the one who takes the initiative in this love relationship. We do not choose Him. He chose us before the foundation of the world, loves us, and reveals His eternal purpose for our life. [Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:3-12] Henry notes, 
"Baptism, worship attendance, and church involvement are all appropriate, obedient responses to a relationship with God. However, they do not create or replace the relationship." 
Unit 4 leads into the third reality, "God invites us to become involved with Him in His work." Knowing God (having an experience with God) is the goal, rather than merely knowing about God. God takes the initiative in our having an experiential knowledge of Him. He wants to reveal Himself to us. I like the way the Apostle John writes of his experiential knowledge of Christ. [1 John 1:1-4] Henry writes, "Many people have grown up attending church and hearing about God all their lives, but they do not have a personal, dynamic, growing relationship with God." 

A. W. Tozer wrote, "Many people know about God. The problem is that too few people know God as He desires to be known." Do you want to know God as He desires to be known? Our answer is in our response to His pursuit of a love relationship with us. Henry Blackaby notes, "He wants you to know Him and worship Him. Most of all. He wants you to love Him." Our ability to recognize God's activity depends on our love relationship with Him. [John 5:20] The clue to seeing His activity includes a recognition of the things only God can do. These are enumerated in the book.

Unit 5 and 6 lashes on the fourth reality, "God speaks by the Holy Spirit through the Bible, Prayer, Circumstances, and the Church to reveal Himself, His Purposes, and His Ways." God reveals himself so we can have faith in Him. He reveals His purpose so we can know what He is about to do. And, His Ways to show us how He accomplishes His purposes. Henry Blackaby reminds us, "A truth that is evident throughout the Bible is that God speaks to His people." Henry drew out four (4) truth that ran across all the examples of God speaking to people in the Bible. When He speaks, those He speaks to know He is the one speaking and they understand what He is saying.

As Henry notes, "The key to hearing and knowing God's voice is not a formula or a key you can follow." It is all wrapped up in the verity and power of our relationship with Him. The onus is on each of us to devote time and effort to cultivate our love relationship with God if we want to know His will and voice. [John 5:20, 10:14-16] We need to learn the place of patience and dependence on His timing, which is always right and best. Our time of waiting is time for building depth in our love relationship with God.

God speaks through the Bible. As we read and meditate on the word, the Spirit of God reveals to us spiritual truth. [John 8:32, Joshua 1:8, 2 Timothy 3:16] God whispers, and sometimes shouts, all through His Word, giving us instructions and principles for life. Our responsibility is to give attendance to it. Henry reminds us, "Our relationship is not one with a book. It is a relationship with the Truth. Truth is a Person." [John 14:6] Truth is not discovered. It is revealed. We cannot understand spiritual truth unless the Holy Spirit reveals it to us. He takes the written word (logos) and gives us a personal “Rhema,” a living, breathing word of truth. 

God speaks to us through Prayer. Henry Blackaby writes, "Prayer is a relationship to a Person." It is two-way communication with God. What God says in prayer is far more important than what we say. The Holy Spirit works in bringing us in consonance with God's will in the place of prayers. Like Oswald Chambers puts it, "Prayer is designed more to adjust you to God than to adjust God to you and your desires." Henry teaches, "You must decide whether you will do what you want and ask God to bless it or go to work where He is working." 

God speaks through Circumstances. Henry reminds us, "Jesus did not have to guess what to do. Jesus did not have to dream up what He could do for the Father." He always looked for where the Father was at work; then He joined Him. [John 5:19] God works in a continuum. He builds on the past, with a view toward the future. One needs to be careful in seeking God's perspective in every circumstance. It is very easy to be fixated on the emotions and miss God. Henry reminds us, "God leads His people through circumstances, but He will usually confirm it in other ways."

God speaks through the Church. Henry writes, "As I function in relationship to the church, I depend on others in the church to help me understand God's will." God made us mutually interdependent. We need one another. [Ephesians 4:16] Every member needs to listen to what the other members have to say. In the multitude of counselors, there is safety. [Proverbs 11:14, 15:22, 24:6] Our responsibility is to ensure their counsel lines up with scripture. [James 3:17]

Unit 7 focuses on the fifth reality, "God’s invitation for you to work with Him always leads you to a crisis of belief that requires faith and action." Henry writes, "God wants to reveal Himself to a watching world." The assignment He calls us to are usually difficult, or impossible - one we cannot do without Him. Like Hudson Taylor wrote, “There are three stages to every great work of God; first it is impossible, then it is difficult, then it is done.” Why? God is able. He wants to show forth His glory to a watching world. [Matthew 5:16; Numbers 14:21; Habakkuk 2:14; John 12:32] 

God calls us out of our comfort zone. He challenges the small neat box we have, hitherto, compartmentalized Him in. Hence, the "crisis of belief" this brings us to. A "crisis of belief” is a decision (turning, fork in the road) point where we must make a decision concerning what we truly believe about God. It is the point where "the rubber meets the road," a judgment, as it were, of our belief. Do we believe God out of convenience, or out of conviction? How far are we willing to go with God? Those are some of the questions God's invitation portends. His invitation demands a response. We either respond by faith (based on our belief) or by sight (what we see in the temporal realm). 

Faith is the only laudable response to God. [Hebrews 11:6; 2 Corinthians 5:7, 4:18] And, for faith to be real it requires radical action. [James 2:26] Faith is the currency in the Kingdom of God. We cannot please God, or do anything kingdom worthy without it. God speaks and demands our response, which can only be according to what we believe or not about Him. Henry reminds us, "Faith is the confidence that what God has promised or said will come to pass... Faith is valid only in God and what He says He is purposing to do."

Unit 8 continues with sixth reality, "You must make major adjustments in your life to join God in what He is doing.Henry reminds us, "You cannot stay where you are and go with God." [Luke 9:23-24] God's invitation demands of us necessary adjustments to obey Him. There is the challenge to move from your way of thinking to God's way of thinking; from your ways to God's ways; from your purposes to God's purposes. God's intent is to be the Lord of our life. He seeks absolute surrender. The calling is an adjustment to God.

Adjustments and obedience are the prices we pay for experiencing God. Henry Blackaby notes, "
Obedience begins in the heart as a willingness to do whatever God says.  Obedience is expressed through action, by words and deeds." Henry notes, "Obedience is costly to me and those around me." That is the naked truth, but it is a price worth paying for a God who loves me and seeks my ultimate good. We are called to total dependence on God to work through us. He is the one who makes all the difference.

Unit 9 lashes unto the seventh reality, "You come to know God by experience as you obey Him and He accomplishes His work through you." Henry writes, "Obedience is the outward expression of our love for God." It... " to God is the most infallible evidence of sincere and supreme love to him." (Nathanael Emmons) Obedience is doing that which God asks of us. It is not intending to. God develops our character as we experience Him in the place of obedience. Our obedience demonstrates our love for God; displays our belief in God's love for us; prepares us for greater responsibility and encourages our intimacy with God. 

Unit 10 exposes how we can Experience God as a Church, the body of Christ. Henry writes, "A local church, living out together the life of Christ within them, is God’s strategy to change a lost world!" To achieve this each member needs to understand their relationship with God and each other. That which is taking place at the individual level for each member translates into that which is experienced as a body, the church. The Holy Spirit is the gift and He manifests Himself to each member of the body for the common good of the body. 

Unit 11 focuses on "Kingdom People." The Church is a world mission center, as it effectively walks in koinonia. Koinonia, or intimate fellowship, in the church, is based on personal koinonia with God and individual believers. A church is a vital, living, dynamic fellowship of believers. One cannot be in true fellowship with God and out of fellowship with other believers. Koinonia with God is an experience of His presence. Koinonia with God is the basic element of salvation and eternal life.

Unit 12 closes out with the topic, "Experiencing God in Your Daily Life." Henry gives the signs of one who is going through a dry spiritual spell. This includes, "No longer hearing from God; Loss of Joy; Not producing spiritual fruit and No longer having victory in life." Confessing and returning to the Lord is good, but prevention is even better. We are to experience God together with our spouse, as couples. Henry gives examples of how we can achieve this. This also includes how we can join God's Activity in our children's lives. We are also expected to "Experience God in the Marketplace." Henry states, “Your job is not merely a place to earn a paycheck. It is an arena in which God wants to use you to influence others for the kingdom.” Dr. Lloyd John Ogilvie puts it this way,
"To be in Christ is to be in the ministry…We need not send people into the world; they are already there--in homes, the corridors of political power, the offices of business and professionals, the operating rooms and clinics, the assembly lines of manufacturing, the educational institutions, and labor forces of this community, the halls of government."
Henry proposes the following practices to continue going deeper with our Lord. These include,
  1. Staying immersed in God's Word
  2. Remain intimately involved with a church family that will love and nurture you 
  3. Pray regularly
  4. Strive to keep your vows to God
  5. Take time to process what God has said to you or done in your life through this course
And, He had the below to say, in summary,
“Whatever your present circumstances, my sincere prayer is that this book may help you to do the following: Believe and experience daily God's infinite love for you. Hear when God is speaking to you. Identify God's unmistakable activity in your life. Believe Him to be and to do everything He promises. Adjust your beliefs, character, and behavior to Him and His ways. Identify a direction He is taking in your life, and recognize what He wants to do through you. Know clearly how to respond to what He shows you. Experience God doing through you what only He can do.”
As might be apparent from the above, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and I am truly blessed. If you have not read the book, I think you should get yourself a copy and devour it. It will truly change your life for good.

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