In the course of teaching on service and spiritual gifts, I often refer to Rick Warren’s S.H.A.P.E. format- spiritual gifts, “heart” (or passion), abilities, personality, and experiences.
One of the things that I think is so important in that process is the “experiences” part. We must learn to consecrate our past to God, surrender it to Him, so that we can have those confusing and often painful experiences reinterpreted through God’s redemptive work in our present lives. Coming to accept that the experiences of our lives have been allowed by God can be a confusing concept for young Christians until they accept and embrace how God can transform those experiences. As I’ve heard it put, “Our tests become our testimony,” truly a Romans 8:28 phenomenon.
Carol Krau of the UMC General Board of Discipleship writes, “We recall past experiences, and we may assign new meanings to those experiences (in light of our current reality). We use those experiences to help interpret our current reality. We imagine the future from the perspective of our past and present experiences. ” She explains the role that experience plays in meaning-making, which is a primary function of learning. “We evaluate information and experience in light of its relevance to our lives and to the ways in which the information helps us perceive and interpret the world.”
She shows the interaction of faith and experience when she says, “We compare our experience with that of people whose stories we find in Scripture and throughout church history. The stories, symbols, and rituals of the faith shape our perception of God and of ourselves. Through the interplay of stories, themes, and experience, we envision the future that God desires for God’s people.”
Benchmarking our own faith experiences against those whose stories we read, in the Bible or in non-canonical sources, gives us a sense of connection and helps us come to new understandings of life, God, others, and ourselves.
When I was in grade school and junior high school, I loved reading biographies. Our church library had a good collection of Christian biographies. I read about lots of missionaries, church fathers, spiritual mothers, etc. It was an experience that helped form my faith. I still enjoy reading stories about the faith of other people and how it has been lived out in practical ways in their lives.
There are biographical stories that are broadcast on Christian radio from time to time also. I enjoy listening to these.
We are in the process of considering installing a church library. I think I would like to investigate purchasing a collection of biographies for our youth, then do an informational campaign to invite them to learn about heroes of the Christian faith!