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?

Reblog: Dear Heart | Dear Someone

Dear heart,

Stop.

You are slowly being released now, and it’s ok. You don’t have to be afraid of it. You’re a wreck, a bloody mess, but this is where the healing will begin. I am holding you, heart. Feel the life in me, and beat again. I am your rescuer, and I will deliver you from your past and heal your wounds.

You have deceived yourself time and again, but it is not your fault. Your intentions and longings are pure, do not believe they are not. I made you, and you are good, for I am now in you. I am your redeeming creator, and I will show you how to live for me.

Stop building your walls. They will not keep evil out, only goodness in. Release it. You are safe in my hands. I am your protector, and I will ever fight for your good.

You ran away, sought your hope in other gods. But I have led you back to me. You are a stubborn heart, and I had to show you, let you see. I am your one true God, everything you need.

You do not know what you thought you once did, as you are deceived and betrayed. I am sorry. Your pain is mine. But you are here now, with me.  I am your comforter, wrapping you in truth and love.

I will never let you go.

With purest love,

~Your Heavenly Father

via I Am | Dear Someone,.

Reblog: Saying Good-bye to Old Friends and the Me I Used to Be

I do remember, as I entered into the life of a practicing Christian, that I thought that I wouldn’t be like the other Christians. I wouldn’t lose the friends I had before I converted. I would be cool. Nothing was going to change. I was going to keep on being the same person I had always been, believing the same things I had always believed.

[…] I didn’t reckon with the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. God didn’t seem to mind if I wanted to begin my Christian life by being cool. He just didn’t pay much attention to it. At that stage, he didn’t seem to be trying to change what I did. He was changing what I wanted to do.

 

See if you recognise your first few years as a Christian convert in the rest of this article: Saying Good-bye to Old Friends and the Me I Used to Be.

One moment

Take a moment and pray for the unsaved people in your life, even if you don’t think it will make a difference.

Lord, (name/s) are ruled by your absence from their hearts. Gather them close to you this Christmas season and “Open their eyes to what you do, to see your zealous love for your people” (Isaiah 26:11-15 Msg). Because I know what it’s like to live without you, I ask you, Lord, to call (name/s) by name and to give them the grace to surrender to your love, life, light and salvation. I pray that (name/s) will come to know true freedom in you. Amen.

Reblog: Two thoughts on conversion

for some, conversion is like a birth certificate whilst for others it is like a driver’s license. For the first, the ultimate question is “what do I need to do to get to heaven?” For the second, the question is “how do I love God?” For the first, the concern is a moment. For the second, the concern is a life.

From here.

Conversion

“Christian conversion is the total–if never entirely complete–surrender of the person to God as revealed in Jesus Christ. Christian conversion, as the continual process of self-surrender to God in Christ, therefore encompasses every aspect of the Christian life and necessarily grounds the moral and spiritual efforts of every Christian.”

Becoming Good, Becoming Holy by Mark O’Keefe

Happy New Year!

“You who in heart long for something better than this world can give, recognize this longing as the voice of God to your soul. Ask Him to give you repentance, to reveal Christ to you in His infinite love, in His perfect purity.”
Steps to Christ, Ellen G White

Do you have any NYs resolutions for 2012?

God is near

Does it feel like God is far away? Flip open to Matthew 6:9: “Our Father in heaven…” Now think about this: ‘heaven’ isn’t something above and beyond the daily grind. In Jewish cosmology, ‘heaven’ isn’t the hereafter, it’s the atmosphere — ‘heaven’ here means the air we breathe.

When we pray, “Our Father in heaven”, we’re addressing a god closer than our own skins. When you feel so lonely that your heart’s just about crumbling, remember that God is literally right there with you. It makes you think about “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”, doesn’t it? Because in truth there is no separation. The only separation is us, and that’s something God is always ready and willing to fix. We only have to want it, too.

So why not take a breather from all that heartbreak? God is waiting with open arms, but you’re going to have to step into them. Here’s how:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.”

— Matthew 6:9-13 (ESV).

(I’m much indebted to James Bryan Smith’s The Good and Beautiful God for the insight into ‘heaven’. I’m not usually a fan of religious books, but read it. You won’t regret it.)

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Related: a simple prayer to bring others to Jesus.

Reblog: To Choose Pain After Pain Chose You

Look at your spiritual lives.

Look at the callouses that have grown all over it.

The church has defeated you.

The perfect wife has deserted your soul.

Jesus seems like a distant 4th cousin.

Your ministry has fired you because you got caught but your boss didn’t.

You are done.

Calloused.

Over it.

Then comes Jesus again.

Gently knocking on your ethos.

You want to ignore Him but you can’t.

You want to run but you can’t.

He is loud now.

“Come back. I’m waiting. It’s not going to be easy or painless, but it will be worth it.”

Read the whole post here.

Christianity is a journey, not a destination

When people become Christians, they don’t at the same moment become nice. This always comes as something of a surprise. Conversion to Christ and his ways doesn’t automatically furnish a person with impeccable manners and suitable morals.

–Introduction to 1 Corinthians in The Message Bible.