'Experiencing God': 20 years, 45 languages
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Join God where He is working.
That simple premise hasn't changed during the two-decade history of "Experiencing God," an interactive Bible study first published in 1990 that taught a radically God-centered way of life. Initially written by Henry Blackaby and Claude King, the material was revised and expanded in 2007 by Richard Blackaby, Henry Blackaby's son.
Now, 20 years since its debut, the workbook is available in more than 45 languages and has sold 7 million copies. Internationally, reader testimonials describe deeper and more intimate understandings of God's desire for relationships with them that will change their lives forever.
On a larger scale, Experiencing God has affected entire organizations, many of which credit the study with helping turn bad situations into good and bringing hope to tragic circumstances.
In 1995, Burl Cain became the new warden at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, arguably the most violent and dangerous prison in America. Knowing how God had used Experiencing God in his own life and believing that real change takes place in the heart, Cain soon introduced the workbook to the 5,200 inmates at Angola prison.
Over time, more and more inmates responded to the message. Some felt called to serve as Christian ministers and began meeting with other inmates for worship and prayer. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary later opened an extension center at the prison, and more than 150 men have earned bachelor's or associate's degrees. Inmate volunteers built chapels on the prison grounds. To this day, inmate congregations continue to use Experiencing God to lead others to deeper relationships with Christ.
Cain said that since inmates began studying Experiencing God, acts of violence have dropped 70 percent. Inmates have requested to be sent to other prisons where they can begin new ministries. Each year, 500 children get to spend a day with their incarcerated dads at a carnival, and an annual rodeo and craft show draws 15,000 people from the community to spend time with the inmates. Hospice care is available for dying inmates, and cardboard coffins have been replaced with polished wooden ones built by inmate carpenters.
A sign at the prison gate paraphrases Philippians 3:13 and summarizes the thoughts of Cain and the men who have experienced God: "I don't look to the past, I press on to the future."
A January 2007 news story about an 18-year-old patient at Wolfson's Children's Hospital in Jacksonville, Fla., led businessman Carldon Lahey to make a contribution to the hospital. His step led to the start of Christ's Starfish Foundation, a program committed to helping non-cancer patients in pediatric hospitals and their families.
Lahey traces the inspiration for the foundation to his Sunday School class' study of Experiencing God. For him, the study became a spiritual marker -- a time of transition, decision or direction -- to which God had clearly guided him.
"I learned that God initiates everything and everything came from Him," Lahey said, noting that the concept changed his life. "I know that when God puts something in your hand, you run with it."
The program has expanded to children's hospitals in other Florida cities. "We are trying to make a difference, one hurting family at a time, helping hurting children and their families in the name of Jesus Christ," Lahey said.
JOIN GOD WHERE HE IS WORKING
Since its beginning in 1956, Emmanuel Baptist Church in Farmington, N.M., has been known as a church with a heart for missions.
When Emmanuel studied Experiencing God as a congregation, one line in the material -- "You cannot be in relationship with God and not be on mission" -- convinced church members they should determine where God is working and join Him.
Emmanuel supports a school, the local crisis pregnancy center and the crisis closet of the San Juan Baptist Association. The church also is known for helping people with their utility and rent bills, giving aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina and ministering to AIDS orphans and prisoners.
The congregation has started five mission churches, one of which has grown to start a mission of its own. "There is just a lot our members are involved in, and they want to be," Kirby Kennedy, a former pastor, said. "They want to give -- of their finances, of their gifts, of themselves -- because God is the greatest giver."
REVISED BUT UNCHANGED
Through the years, LifeWay Christian Resources has published an entire family of Experiencing God resources, including an Experiencing the Word New Testament and the Experiencing God musical.
The 2007 revision, adding Richard Blackaby as a co-author, offers DVD messages and new applications and stories.
The vehicles carrying the message have changed, but the message remains the same. Experiencing God leads believers to know God intimately and encourages them to faithfully step out and join Him in His work -- with miraculous results.
Sam House writes for LifeWay Christian Resources. For more information on "Experiencing God" materials, go to www.lifeway.com/experiencinggod.