Tips for new Christians

You have joyfully given your heart to God. Now what?

ONE: Pray, like, all the time.

When you’re just starting out, it’s tempting to throw yourself head first into all the ‘stuff’ of religion: Christianity, more than being a Christian. It’s understandable, you’re late to a party that’s been going on for two thousand years. It never works, though, and has the added kicker of distracting you from how much it isn’t working because you’re so busy being religious.

The most important thing about Christianity and being a Christian is having a relationship with God, and relationships take work. You can’t know the Creator if you don’t talk to him. Don’t fret too much about how to pray, the mechanics of it, or about intercession or the like. Praying is just talking to God. So talk to him! Get to know each other. God’s there all the time anyway and, would you believe it, he actually likes hearing from you?

There aren’t any ‘off-limit’ feelings or topics when it comes to praying. Just look at the Bible, God’s seen it all before. You can pray while doing anything. It shouldn’t just be a slot in your day, you know, right after you’ve read your Bible or just before you fall asleep. It’s basically a never-ending text conversation. Some days it will feel like God’s all ears; at other times, it will feel like you’re having a conversation with a cactus. That’s what feelings do: they change. But God is constant, and he gets your messages even when it feels like they aren’t going through.

TWO: Get a good Bible.

There’s a lot of debate (scholarly and otherwise) about just what a ‘good’ Bible is. My advice is to ignore all of it. Don’t worry too much about theology and translation, just choose a Bible that resonates with you. A big part of having a good relationship with God is having a positive relationship with his Word. So while that big ESV Study Bible may impress the hell out of everyone, if reading it makes you want to throw yourself into a waterhole, that just misses the point entirely. A study Bible is a good investment, but reading the Bible shouldn’t be a chore, so for now just find a Bible version that communicates God’s story to you clearly.

Don’t try to ‘stuff it all in’ at once, either, which is tempting when Newbie you joins a study group of people who have been doing this God thing for years. Bible study is a lifelong thing, and the stories, themes and theology contained in the Bible are vast. You don’t need to ‘earn’ salvation by being able to answer a pop quiz on the Old Testament. Reading the Bible isn’t so much a history lesson as it is a journey. And lucky us, we’ve got a companion in the form of the Holy Spirit. All you need to do is show up and read.

THREE: Find a church, join a church.

Most people assume that you come to God via the church and for a large chunk of the population, sure, that’s true. But in a post-Christian world (which is a really pretentious way of saying that the days of ‘assumed Christianity’ are behind us and that our society is increasingly plural and secular), more and more people are coming to God—or coming back to God—in ways that often circumvent churches entirely. The Internet and social media play a large part in this: there are countless devotional websites, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, blogs, tumblrs, Pinterest boards, daily prayer and devotional e-mails, Bible and Bible-reading apps, podcasts, and television shows, all which can make you feel ‘plugged into’ Christianity as a whole.

On the downside, it often means that, post-conversion, people aren’t ‘plugged into’ local bodies of worship. Initially it may not be a problem—there is a lot of material you can burn through on your own—but eventually, usually around the time you hit your first hurdle as a new (or renewed) believer, the lack of a physical support group can hit you pretty hard. It’s a nasty come-down from the first few months of that ‘spiritual high’ and, unsupported, could take a chunk out of your faith life.

This, of course, is where a church and church family come in handy. It’s pretty intimidating, especially if you’ve been unreligious for a while, or if it’s all new to you, but just go. Find a place where you are comfortable and the people are friendly. You might have to ‘shop around’ for a church. Don’t feel too bad about it. Look, no church is perfect and never will be—it is, after all, by definition a gathering of sinners—but it’s important that you find a place that clicks. Trust your gut on this one.

This might just be the Methodist in me, but a great thing to do when you’ve found a church is to join a Bible study group. There’s no quicker or surer way to get to know a church and its people, and from there it’s short work to join in on other activities.

FOUR: Christianity is actually pretty hard.

There’s a tendency, when you first convert and the Holy Spirit is just flow, flow, flowing, to assume that that feeling is going to last. The good news is that it doesn’t: after a reasonable amount of time, God cuts back on the high and the harder work begins. The journey is different for everyone, but just know that it is a road we all travel, and the road leads to spiritual maturation. It’s like taking the training wheels off your bike so you can cycle faster and more freely.

It’s just not always easy to be a Christian. You will doubt whether there is a God. Others will doubt you, and whether you can really do this ‘Christian’ thing (or if you should). You often lose people. You often lose your sense of self. Saying goodbye to old you isn’t going to be a clean break. It costs a lot of re-evaluation, repentance and downright scary change, and you aren’t always going to be sure that it’s worth it.

Spoiler alert: it is. Even a pretty bad day with Jesus is better than a good one without him.

FIVE: You are going to mess up so, so badly.

Old you is the worst kind of ex. Old you is not going to leave you alone. You are going to take old you back sometimes, and you are going to regret it. Old you will still visit, call, poke you on Facebook, and generally be a pain in the behind. Old you will sometimes be very reasonable, even persuasive—after all, old you likes all the same things you did.

The thing is, there’s no way to get rid of old you entirely while you are still on earth, so it is always going to be a struggle. Always. Some days will be easy, very easy; others, not so much. What I don’t want you to do is sweat it. You are going to mess up, so very badly. You are going to be the Worst Christian Ever. Fine, alright. What you do need to do is go back to God each and every time. He hasn’t gone anywhere while you were off with old you. He’s kept the lights on, waiting for you to come back home. Go back in. Repent. Be loved. Start all over again. Grace will heal the stubbed shins that come from bumping around in the world.

Do you have any advice for new Christians? Is there anything you wish you’d known when you were just starting out?

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Weekend faith renewal: something to think about the next time you feel like you’re falling short as a Christian

Does it feel like you’re not measuring up, spiritually? God isn’t the one who is holding the yardstick. So my question is: who is?

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See also:

Prayer Monday | March 10, 2014

Christ's love

“But how can congregations be brought to that [preaching the Gospel successfully] unless there comes first an entire change in ministers, that they begin to see that the indispensable thing is not preaching, not pastoral visitation, not church work, but fellowship with God in prayer until they are clothed with ‘power from on high’ (Luke 24:49)?”

The Prayer Life by Andrew Murray

In that spirit, here is a prayer for ourselves and our churches (which I’ve pilfered from Ephesians 3 and adapted slightly):

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen us with power through his Spirit in our inner beings, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. And I pray that we, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21 NIV).

Women’s World Day of Prayer 2014

stream

Today is the Women’s World Day of Prayer. The WWDP is held on the first Friday of every March. This year’s theme is “Streams in the desert” and the official programme was provided by women in Egypt. Go here for more information.

We had a lovely and rejuvenating service over at Nigel Methodist. The Minister spoke about how, when we are fed by the wellspring of God’s grace, this has a ripple effect on our homes, our friends and family, our places of work and worship–because whomever we encounter will encounter others.

In that spirit, here is a prayer (for International Women’s Day):

Women are a reflection of the glory of God. Today we honor the women of all times and all places:

Women of courage.

Women of hope.

Women suffering

Women mourning.

Women living fully.

Women experiencing joy.

Women delighting in life.

Women knowing the interconnectedness of the human family.

Women honoring the sacredness of the relational, the affective.

Women quietly tending the garden of human flourishing.

Women boldly leading the transformation of unjust global structures.

Women seeking Wisdom.

Women sharing Wisdom.

Women receiving Love.

Women giving Love.

Women: life-giving.

Women: the image of God.

Loving God, we celebrate your faithfulness and love. On this day we commit ourselves to the promotion of the full humanity of all women everywhere. We know that whatever denies, diminishes, or distorts the full humanity of women is not of God.

Help us to be faithful to your call to love.

Amen.

{Source.}

Bad things: the bumper edition

The topic for our Bible study this week is demons: whether they exist, the extent of their influence, the position of our church (the Methodist denomination) on demons and the like, the role of psychology, exorcisms, cursed objects, angels, et cetera. Since I’m researching it anyway, I thought I’d highlight some of the more interesting things I found, whether I personally agree with them or not. In no particular order:

How about a poll?

Ruminations from the back pew: visiting worship band edition

Last Sunday our church was blessed with a visit from CrossRoad, a worship band from Boksburg. They rocked both morning services, even the hymn sandwich crowd (much to everyone’s surprise, including, probably, the hymn sandwich crowd itself).

There was the kind of clapping and hand raising that would have embarrassed kids who’d brought along not-particularly-religious friends (I say this as a former not-particularly-religious friend).

Altogether it was fun and Spirit-filled. If you’re in the Gauteng area and looking to line up a worship gig for your church, do check out their website. They’ve got two CDs out, Rock of Ages Revisited and the more recent A New Beginning. Some of their songs are available for download here.

Hopefully they will risk visiting stolid Heidelberg again :).

Though I can’t say I’m rooting for a return of Spirit-inspired PDA :(.

(Late) Friday Funny | 7 February 2014

This week’s theme is worship leaders. Can’t live with them, can’t sing without them.

*Samuel L Jackson voice* Don't make me make you sing it again.

*Samuel L Jackson voice* Don’t make me make you sing it again.

Worship-Leader-Meme

All that said, if you’re in the Vaal Triangle area on February the 23rd, why not pop by? You won’t be harmed. I mean, we’re Methodists.

Crossroads

Top Ten Posts for 2013

Welcome to YMHM, where we are finally a mere semester away from an actual, can-you-believe-it degree! “About time!” some would say, and by ‘some’ I mean ‘all’. “All of my family.”

I know my posting lately has been lazy sporadic, so I thought I’d compile a list of YMHM’s top ten posts for 2013. I know the suspense is killing you, but please, try to remain calm:

  1. Grace: one size fits all.
  2. Four degrees of love.
  3. Sixteen fun ideas for attending a new church.
  4. Questions.
  5. Friday Funny for August thirtieth.
  6. Virtues.
  7. The God who is.
  8. God’s joy.
  9. Ruminations from the back pew: happy clappin’.
  10. Good Christians.

If you’re curious about the posts or articles I most enjoyed reading, check out my reblogs tag. You can also take a look at this post, in which I worship at the altar of longform.org. As a bonus it has a super weird graphic, so there’s that to look forward to.

How was your 2013? Personally I am convinced that time is a lie, but you know. I try to be open-minded about these things.

Thank you for skimming reading this blog this year. I truly appreciate every like and every comment, especially those that are not trying to sell me medication for erectile dysfunction.

I wish you and yours a very happy, blessed Christmas. May you not be the biggest screw-up at your family dinner. May the food be good. May your arch-nemesis not attend the Christmas service and if they do, ignore you first.

And remember: keep it classy.

A gif about eating pants.

I just call them “pants” but okay.

Ruminations from the back pew | Sunday November 3, 2013

Ruminations from the back pew

There is a curse—they say may you live in interesting times.

I’m reporting back to you from a very dramatic Sunday service this week.

Our society rests on a very fragile bedrock of unspoken agreements: killing is bad; let’s all try not to do that. It is good that people have access to food, water, and shelter. Do not make eye contact with someone you’ve run into at a public venue after you’ve already exchanged hellos. Know when your pew has been purloined; under no circumstances try to negotiate its return.

What will the world come to when we just start chopping and changing these time-honoured traditions, Handsome and Polite Asian Family? You mongers of seat displacement? Just where do we draw the line when someone’s pew hogging is challenged, even rebutted?

The times we live in, I tell you.

Anyway, after my unforeseen departure from the back pew, I ended up next to the tannie who fell asleep during a service a few weeks back. I think my presence spurred her on to new levels of awakeness, so there’s that. And it was nice not sitting through a church service alone for once. If introversion isn’t Hell, it’s pretty close to it.

Someone collapsed during the service. I looked around just in time to see his head bounce off the pew in front of him, and there was a second of horrified humour before it was just horror and that helplessness particular to bystanders. Leon the Swaziland Missions Trip guy, you and your wife, family, and friends are in my prayers, all the more so because I feel like a massive jerk.

The whole episode, plus the recent death in our family and the funeral of one of my mother’s co-workers we attended yesterday, has settled heavily on my heart. Fittingly, the minister at yesterday’s funeral spoke about how we need to look beyond the grave. But graves are pretty deep, though, aren’t they?

Oh, awkward turtle moment of the week: the funeral was held in a Reformed Church (they’re also known as the Doppers). It was my first time at one of their services so, after the first hymn, when some folks remained standing for the prayer, I did, too. I only noticed during the closing prayer that this is apparently a men-only thing.

Rights

So I literally, if accidentally, stood up for feminism. Ahem.

What was your Sunday service like?

Rev Mike Endicott on faith, healing, sandwiches

Grace

We were privileged to have Rev Mike Endicott speak at our church this weekend. He is an Anglican minister from the United Kingdom passionate about taking the church’s healing ministry back to its Jesus basics. He’s a very droll and engaging speaker so if you’re curious, check out his website, which offers some free audio downloads and other resources.

The gist of what he discussed this weekend:

1. Instead of telling God “please do so and so”, we ought to thank Him for the work already accomplished on the Cross. By doing this we essentially acknowledge that all obstacles between God and ourselves have been removed. The power of God is in the message of the Cross.

2. Grace washes over us in an unceasing flood; we need to (re)learn how to receive it, because Christians in general bungle up this basic with overly-complex theology.

3. God is interested in having a working relationship with us. By being in harmony with His will, we carry the Kingdom with us, and it takes root wherever we go.

4. We need to trust God. A trust relationship with God is a two-way street: we trust Him…and He entrusts us.

5. When in doubt, remember: sandwich! God’s authority and presence are the slices of our faith sandwich, and we are the filling (Matthew 28:18-20). We needn’t worry about the details: that’s God’s area. We only need to tell the Good News, and get out of the way.

The Jesus sandwich.

~oOo~

Related: