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THE religious experience - it is something many crave, especially in difficult times. In fact most believe that it is this experience that one's faith is supposed to deliver. If it doesn't, then something is drastically wrong with that faith. You know what we are talking about here. It is that feeling of religious high, of ecstasy, whose origin is in the breakthrough of heaven itself into the mundane world of my existence. It is most sought after and seldom experienced, at least for any significant amount of time. I believe this is why many become disgruntled with "religion" and the church. But I think that the problem isn't so much with faith as it is with our own lust for "the good life". Because after all this is what we hope our faith will deliver.
When Jacob was on the run and nothing in his life seemed to be going right, he had a dream of a ladder reaching to heaven and the angels of God ascending and descending upon that ladder (Genesis 28:10ff). God delivered a message to him in that dream: "I am with you always. I will not leave you until I have accomplished what I promised you". Here is this promise from God to Jacob coming to him in a foreign country while he was all alone running away from someone who wanted to kill him. It is certainly not the type of situation one would expect such a "religious experience" but here it was. Jacob's reaction is what holds our attention. In this most difficult circumstance of his life, Jacob proclaims: "Surely God was in this place, but I didn't know it"(v.16). What Jacob realized at that point in time is that God is always with us and for us, no matter what our circumstances. We do not always realize the arms of mercy which always surround us, but that does not change the fact that they are there all the same.
This confidence is THE true "religious experience", the realization (call it "faith") of the grace of God ever present, even in places I would least expect to find it, not something being created that did not exist before. When we can join with Jacob in his proclamation we will be standing at the very gate of heaven, as he was.