Henry Blackaby has published an array of spiritually influential messages in his lifetime, most notably, “Experiencing God.” After pastoring for nearly 30 years in the United States and Canada, and serving as president of the Canadian Baptist Theological College and Canadian Southern Baptist Conference, Blackaby went on to serve as special assistant to the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention in the area of prayer, revival and spiritual awaking. Here’s an interview with him.
Q: Why do so many people struggle with knowing what God wants?
A: They don’t know God, and they’re not in His Word. When you ask them, “What has God been saying to you in His Word?” they don’t know what you’re talking about. So I ask, “Have you spent time in God’s Word to let God speak to you? Because God instructs the Holy Spirit what to tell you, and the sword which the Holy Spirit uses is the Word of God.” So when you’re reading, you’ll see things about God that you’ve never seen before. That’s an encounter with God. The Spirit of God is bringing you face to face with God. He tells you in His Word what He’s like, and then you have to decide whether you are going to obey Him. It doesn’t even cross my mind not to. I mean, He is God, and at best, I’m a sinner. My best thinking is flawed by my sin. His thinking is not.
Q: How does God speak to us?
A: In the whole of your being—from your mind to your heart to your spirit. Romans 8:16 says that “the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (NKJV). So the Holy Spirit is God’s Presence, making known God’s will. He has been given an assignment to help us understand the Scriptures. Romans 8:26 says that one great weakness is that we don’t know what to pray. But the Spirit does, and He’s going to help us. I’m always very conscious that I need to pray that the Spirit will direct my prayers. Often I realize that what I’m praying about 30 minutes later is nowhere near where I began. But what I find myself praying is the will of God, because that’s the Spirit of God’s role—to make sure I don’t miss it.
I looked through all the Scriptures about how the Holy Spirit works. What does He do? How will I know it’s Him? When I’m praying, I listen carefully to hear the direction of my praying. I always pray from the Scriptures. If I have something to pray about, I start with what God tells me in His Word and apply it, because the Father knows what’s on my heart. The Spirit of God uses the Word of God like a sword. The Word of God is the sword that the Spirit wields; it’s not the sword we wield.
I’ve met thousands of people who have found an intimate relationship with Him. The moment they reach that point, they suddenly have an explosive desire to touch the world with His message. God has always said that our walk with Him is a by-product of our relationship with His Son.
Q: How did you know when God called You?
A: That one is unmistakable, because you see the activity of God throughout your days. Then there comes that moment when God says, “I’ve been telling you all along that I have the right to help Myself to your life any time I want.” I was 17 and in a youth rally in Vancouver. It was as if I was the only one there, and God basically said, “I have the right to your life. I want you to release it to Me for whatever purposes I have in mind.” I’ve always believed that the call of God is not to be a pastor, not to be a missionary, not to be anything. The call of God is always to an unconditional relationship with Jesus as Lord. So the call is to the relationship. Whatever He assigns, the answer is, “Yes, Lord.” It’s never based on my talents and my abilities. He doesn’t say, “Look at all the talents and abilities you have. I’ll use them.” If He did, people would give me the credit. God says, “You need to understand that when I do something in your life, people will know that it’s Me, not you.”
Q: Have you ever questioned your faith?
A: If you stay in the relationship, God always affirms Himself to you. Did I have to face some very rough times? I did. Because you’re a child of God doesn’t mean you’re immune. My dad died when I was 25 and my mother when I was 28. Those were tough moments. I was at seminary, and I respected them so deeply and wanted to be able to spend more time with them in my adult life, but I couldn’t.
Q: Even when your daughter had cancer, your faith never wavered?
A: No, as matter of fact, it strengthened. God said, “All that I’ve ever accomplished for you is for such a time as this. This doesn’t take you out of My will—this will show you what My will is. If your faith is not tested, you’ll never know the dimensions of what I’ve provided.” So it took us to our knees to make sure we were spending time in God’s Word.
Q: When you were writing “Experiencing God,” did you feel it was of God?
A: Oh, yes. Everything about it was. I had refused to write. I didn’t write until I was 55. “Experiencing God” was how I lived my life; it’s my life message. I remember a man in the editorial division asked me to tell how I know the will of God. After I explained it, he said that he’d never heard it expressed that way before. God’s people need to hear that, he said. Then he asked me if I’d be willing to write it down.
The day before, I was at a national lay renewal conference. The man guiding us said: “I want all of you to get alone with God and ask God if there is anything that He has asked you to do that you’ve not done.” So I did, and the only thing that came to mind was writing. I thought, “No one has asked me to write, and I have no desire to write.” Then he asked us to go back to God and tell Him that we would do what He asked us to do. So I thought I was pretty safe. I said, “Lord, if You clearly, unmistakably, undeniably show me that I should write, I’ll do it immediately.”
The next day, this fellow asked, “Would you be willing to write a course?”
I asked, “Do you clearly, unmistakably, undeniably feel that I need to do this?”
He answered, “Absolutely.”
“I just made a commitment to God yesterday that I would do that,” I said.
Q: Did you expect “Experiencing God” to be such a success?
A: This year is the 15th anniversary of “Experiencing God.” I had no idea what God was going to do; I never had written a book before. All I knew was that I was going to be obedient. God has taken it, and there are cool stories behind it. People will come to me and say, “Henry, I know you’ve heard this story a hundred times.”
I say to them, “Not this one. Yours is unique. And I’m always excited to hear about the uniqueness of what God is doing in a life.” The personnel department of the Home and Foreign Mission Boards say that at least a third of all those feeling called to missions felt the call while they were going through “Experiencing God.” At least a third entering seminaries will say, “It was while I was going through ‘Experiencing God’—seeking to know and do the will of God—that I clearly knew the call of God in my life.” Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee told me that when he and his wife were deciding whether he would run for governor, they both were going through “Experiencing God.”
Q: What’s your message to the Church?
A: Return to Him. It’s the same message God gave to His people all through the Bible. Throughout the Book of Jeremiah, God says, “Return to Me, and I’ll return to you.” When God was about to destroy Israel, He said: “You moved from the relationship to religious activity, and I don’t have access to you. I don’t have access to your heart. Your heart has shifted, and you no longer hear My voice because you assume that you are a favored people because you are doing all this religious activity.”
Q: You’re not saying that people don’t need to go to church, are you?
A: No, but I am saying that church is not an end unto itself. It’s a means to an end. Going to church ought to bring you face to face with God. If you come into worship one way and go out the same, you’ve not met God. Worship is an encounter. The most exciting thing I did in 30 years as a pastor was to guide our people in worship. I was not content to simply watch them go through a worship service. I guided them in every step of our time together to understand the relationship. I would tell them what was going to happen: We’re going to share God’s Word, but the Spirit of God is going to teach you something and guide you into all truth. But Jesus said He’ll also bring to your remembrance everything you sowed. So you ought to hear a lot more than what I’m saying, because He will bring to the surface things that He has said to you over the last six months. I’d say, “This Scripture is going to be happening in your life while we worship together because worship is an encounter with God.”
Q: What are churches doing if they’re not doing that?
A: They’re entertaining. They’re making people feel good. We have an entertaining mindset for worship. I’ve been in some services that were called worship, but there was no way that was happening. We don’t have to be like the world to attract the world. The world has brought people brokenness and sadness. We need to bring them to Jesus.