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?