Jim Chafee - Experiences - Greenshields, Alberta, Canada Convention - 2006

In Luke 15, we read about the prodigal son.  It mentions in Romans 5:3, “…knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience…”  Experiences are just a part of life and teach us many things.  They change us and make us stronger; they prove who and what we really are and humble us and lessen our love for the world.  They may also leave us tired and broken but they are necessary and the results can leave us with fruit.  We must always remember that experiences will pass and there will be a change.

The prodigal son had a good heart but some very bad habits.  He needed an experience in his life.  His bad habits took him far away from home, but his good heart brought him back again.  Experience is a school for all of us, the school of hard knocks from which we never graduate, although we may move on.  All of us are still in school and we are never too old to learn something new.  We sometimes see another person having a similar experience to one we have had, and think, “I sat through that class before.  I know what they are going through!”  There is also a tuition we must pay for the experience, for this school is not free.  If we learn everything we can from our own experience, the tuition is very high.  If we learn from the experiences of others, the tuition is not quite so high.  Some pay the tuition but never learn the lesson, and never graduate.  Sometimes we don’t listen to God and He sends us another experience to wake us up.  I have enjoyed thinking about a little story I once heard of a mule that would go to sleep on the job. His master would have to hit him with a stick to wake him up.  All too often and to easily we go to sleep in the experience, but God has no stick to hit us with. He sends us an experience and often softens the experience so we can endure.  If He leads us into an experience, He will lead us out of it, too.

Some experiences are the result of our own choosing and others are not.  Some are planned and others are not.  Some are left to time and chance but every experience that comes our way, we can have the attitude: what is it that I can learn from this?  Experience is a hard teacher — we have the test first and then the lesson.  Before the experience, we have knowledge.  Experience turns the knowledge into understanding and we realize, “Oh, so that’s the way it is!”  We do well to listen to the voice of experience, of “being there and it having been done before!”  On the road of life, we often meet someone going in the other direction, who’ll tell us the road is a dead end.  Traveling down that road leads to a wasted life, time, and regret.  We should pay attention and listen closely when another has been through an experience before us and has more experience.  Some may not be smarter than us, but they have had the experience before us.  There was a time when I wished I was wrong and someone would say, “I believe you are wrong.”  It concerned me: “How is this going to turn out? I hope I am wrong.”  But I wasn’t wrong — experience had taught me where that road would lead. One time, I was working at a convention grounds and everyone was tired. We just sat around the table after the meal talking.  A jar was in front of me and I put the lid on, but it didn’t fit.  Then I watched as several others came and tried the same lid on the same jar even though they’d seen me try it unsuccessfully.  It didn’t fit for anyone!  That’s how it is with experiences.  If it doesn’t work for somebody else, it would be wise not to try it.  Norman Frost told us many stories from India, which covered a lifetime of experience.  Only after a lifetime of experiences can we tell stories.

Experience may sometimes seem long and will try our patience but God’s work is slow, not fast, and it is sure and is on course.  We often wonder if anything is happening at all.  I once watched a huge clock with some large gears turning slowly but I couldn’t see them moving.  God is constantly working.  When does an experience become an experience?  We need to observe diligently and closely; we need to pay attention.  Don’t let an experience become just an event.  The voice of experience, the voice of the father of the prodigal son, would say, “I’ve tried to teach you and God has tried; now the world will teach you.” The prodigal son paid attention to the teacher of his own experience, and learned.  It was not just another event to him.  Psalm 73 speaks of the experience of the wicked and after the experience, he understood.  In Psalm 107:23-26, “They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep.  For He commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.  They mount up to the heaven; they go down again to the depths their soul is melted because of trouble.”  There was a very deep and real experience behind this.  Psalm 119:67, “Before I was afflicted I went astray but now have I kept Thy word.” The work of God in the depths makes the storm calm and quiet.  Jeremiah 48: 11, “Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed.”  This speaks of a purpose and a work being done.  In Matthew 14, we read of the disciples on the sea, and how they learned that there is no substitute for having the Lord with them.  Experiences change us like all experiences do.  Peter, after he had denied Christ, learned from the experience and the hand that understood so well wiped the tears from his eyes, wiping away his sorrow.  After the experience we will understand.  Before the experience, the prodigal son was proud, now he was humble.  Before the experience he was demanding, now he was thankful; before he was foolish, now he was wiser.

Once experiences are in the past, should we talk about them?  Some are better left there; it depends on the motive for discussing them.  Discuss them only if it will be a help to others and for no other purpose.  If we leave impressions about what we’ve done, it is best to leave the experiences untold.

Testing experiences are common to all of us.  We pass into some new experience and should pay attention to the experience and realize it is not just an event.  The advantage in doing something a second time is that then we have experience.  We only live once and often have no experience.  Jesus has experience and can be our help and guide.  We can draw on His experience.  Parents have no experience but they can teach their children to love and respect the laws of the country, and be honourable citizens.

We know we are nearing the end of an experience when we feel acceptance and peace and joy in that experience. The experience is never over until we give thanks for it!  Bitter experiences become a growing experience by our being thankful.  We often see, a lot of times, fighting in the experience.  It will pass much quicker if we accept the experience and just go on.  We don’t have to understand why.  Experiences we would never have chosen in life cause us to seek God and to know Him, so we can be thankful in eternity for them.

The prodigal son’s father was watching every day for his son’s return and kept the home fires burning.  The son had chosen foolishly, but the father continued waiting.  He knew the son had a good heart.  When somebody you love is going through an experience, remember things are in God’s hands.  If you are close to that person, you can be a part of their experience.  Keep faithful yourself.  Be patient and pray for them.  When the experience is past, welcome them home and leave the experience in the past.  Experiences will come. Endure them and learn something from them!

I struggled with the work for five years and saw many wasted lives during those years.  Where I now labour, I lived in a district with a very muddy road and thought surely it will be repaired, but it only got worse.  Spring, summer and fall arrived and finally in October, it was fixed.  All I had to do was to endure it and things got better!