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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Prayer Monday | 31 March 2014

A prayer for Monday:

Dear Heavenly Father,

Help us to become better disciples and instill in us the knowledge and compassion we need to carry out your work.

We also ask you to help us broaden our commitment to your son, Jesus.

There’s much all of us can do to help relay your message to all people we come in contact with, daily.

We must actively commit ourselves to this mission. In your son’s name, we pray.

AMEN.

{via Monday Prayer | Connect Missions.}

Our topic for tomorrow’s Bible study is the continual prayer mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. Since it’s prayer Monday anyway, I thought I’d post some of the more interesting things I find.

  • Pray without ceasing: why anyone can do it and almost nobody does‘. This is a great post. Listen: “Prayer isn’t something I generate, it’s something I join in progress”, and “Prayer is where we begin telling the truth about our own lives.”
  • “The position of our text [1 Thess 5:17] is very suggestive. Observe what it follows. It comes immediately after the precept, ‘Rejoice evermore;’ as if that command had somewhat staggered the reader, and made him ask ‘How can I always rejoice?’ and, therefore, the apostle appended as answer, ‘Always pray.’ The more praying the more rejoicing. Prayer gives a channel to the pent-up sorrows of the soul, they flow away, and in their stead streams of sacred delight pour into the heart. At the same time the more rejoicing the more praying; when the heart is in a quiet condition, and full of joy in the Lord, then also will it be sure to draw nigh unto the Lord in worship. Holy joy and prayer act and react upon each other. Observe, however, what immediately follows the text: ‘In everything give thanks.’ When joy and prayer are married their first born child is gratitude.” Maestro Spurgeon; read the whole sermon here.
  • “Whether we think of; or speak to, God, whether we act or suffer for him, all is prayer, when we have no other object than his love, and the desire of pleasing him.” —John Wesley

Ruminations from the back pews; yes, ‘pews’.

Ruminations from the back pew

I have a confession to make. If you’ve read previous editions of ‘Ruminations from the back pew’ (and if you haven’t, good God man, save yourself), you’ll remember (perhaps unwillingly) that I’d staunchly refused to give in to any and all variations of ‘clappiness’ during worship (the Dutch Reformed Church, my religious alma mater, does not acknowledge any emotion that might make your mustache move). You will be thrilled (or horrified) to learn that I’ve thrown all caution to the wind and my hands up in the air like I just don’t care. Yes: I fear that I am now one of those worshippers.

It was Jack Hayward’s excellent book, Manifest Presence, that brought the change around. I finally figured out that worship isn’t about me. (Papa Rick will be ecstatic, I’m sure.) And you know, in realising that it isn’t about what I want out of worship, but what God wants out of worship, I’ve ended up getting more out of worship. Neat, huh?

Anyhow, yesterday we had a fantastic healing workshop at Trinity Methodist in Linden, Johannesburg, which is enviously beautiful and has floods (floods) of natural light in the chapel. We HMC folk are plotting a takeover even as I type this; I have already earmarked ‘my spot’ (my once and future spot!)

Sheldon

Dr Sheldon Cooper is my spirit animal.

The workshop was led by Rev Ray Goddess and managed to be informative and practical without being too ‘how to’ and formulaic. Hearing the testimony and seeing the healing that took place afterwards during the healing service itself just reminded me that essentially we Christians are called to do no more and no less than bear witness to the greatness of God. Fantastic news considering that his awesomeness never stops.

It’s actually ironic that I’m posting a ‘Ruminations from the back pew’ on one of the few Sundays lately I haven’t been to church. This morning I worshipped in the grocery store by covertly singing along to Aretha Franklin’s ‘Natural Woman’ in the toiletry aisle (in my defense, I caught at least two other people doing the same thing), and then naturally proceeded to run into three people from my congregation.

Methodists! They’re everywhere.

Pentecost.

Pentecost.

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).

Prayer Monday | March 3, 2014

A Prayer for Grace

from Carmina Gadelica

I am bending my knee

In the eye of the Father who created me

In the eye of the Son who died for me

In the eye of the Spirit who cleansed me

In love and desire.

Pour down upon us from heaven

The kindness of Thy forgiveness:

Thou who art uppermost in the city

Be Thou patient with us.

Grant to us, Thou Saviour of Glory

The fear of God, the love of God, and His affection

And the will of God to do on earth at all times

As angels and saints do in heaven:

Each day and night give us Thy peace

Each day and night give us Thy peace.

Prayer Monday | January 2014

Dear Lord

I acknowledge that the reality of your love is so much bigger than the doubt of my emotions.

I am so grateful that you, creator of the universe, love me as personally and intimately as you do.

I pray to walk my life with you, Lord, and to never forget that it is a journey to something more.

I pray that, as I walk this path, enough of your light will shine through my brokenness to illuminate the journeys of the people around me.

I pray for the wisdom to realise how foolish I really am.

Thank you Lord, Father, Creator, Friend, for your endless mercy and generosity and grace. Direct me in all I do.

Amen.

Prayer Monday | December 23, 2013

“Your waiting presence”

Almighty and eternal God,

You are hidden from my sight:

You are beyond the understanding of my mind:

Your thoughts are not as my thoughts:

Your ways are past finding out.

Yet You have breathed Your Spirit into my life:

Yet You have formed my mind to seek You:

Yet You have inclined my heart to love You:

Yet You have made me restless for the rest that is in You:

Yet You have planted within me a hunger and thirst that make me dissatisfied with all the joys of earth.

O You who alone know what lies before me this day, grant that in every hour of it I may stay close to You. Let me be in the world, yet not of it. Let me use this world without abusing it. If I buy, let me be as though I possessed not. If I have nothing, let me be as though possessing all things. Let me today embark on no undertaking that is not in line with Your will for my life, nor shrink from any sacrifice which Your will may demand. Suggest, direct, control every movement of my mind; for my Lord Christ’s sake. Amen.’

–John Baillie

(Late) Prayer Monday | December 10, 2013

“Joyous and Helpful Labour”

Lord of my life, whose law I fain* would keep, whose fellowship I fain would enjoy, and to whose service I would fain be loyal, I kneel before You as You send me forth to the work of another day.

This day, O Lord—

give me courtesy:

give me meekness of bearing, with decision of character:

give me longsuffering:

give me chastity:

give me sincerity of speech:

give me diligence in my allotted task.

O You who in the fullness of time raised up our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to enlighten our hearts with the knowledge of Your love, grant me the grace to be worthy of His name. Amen.

–John Baillie

*Fain: happily; gladly.

Prayer Monday | Monday December 2, 2013

William-Adolphe_Bouguereau_(1825-1905)_-_The_Prayer_(1865)_(cropped)

“Continued Dependence on You”

O God my Creator and Redeemer, I may not go forth today except You accompany me with Your blessing. Let not the vigor and freshness of the morning, or the glow of good health, or the present prosperity of my undertakings, deceive me into a false reliance upon my own strength. All these good gifts have come to me from You. They were Yours to give and they are Yours also to curtail. They are not mine to keep; I do but hold them in trust; and only in continued dependence upon You, the Giver, can they be worthily enjoyed.

Let me then put back into Your hand all that You have given me, rededicating to Your service all the powers of my mind and body, all my worldly goods, all my influence with others. All these, O Father, are Yours to use as You will. All these are Yours, O Christ. All these are Yours, O Holy Spirit. Speak in my words today, think in my thoughts, and work in all my deeds. And seeing that it is Your gracious will to make use even of such weak human instruments in the fulfillment of Your mighty purpose for the world, let my life today be the channel through which some little portion of Your divine love and pity may reach the lives that are nearest to my own.

In Your solemn presence, O God, I remember all my friends and neighbours, my fellow townsfolk, and especially the poor within our gates, beseeching You that You would give me grace, so far as in me lies, to serve them in Your name. Amen.

–John Baillie

Prayer Monday | November 25, 2013

prayer

“My First Thought”

Eternal Father of my soul, let my first thought today be of You, let my first impulse be to worship You, let my first speech be Your name, let my first action be to kneel before You in prayer.

For your perfect wisdom and perfect goodness:

For the love with which You love mankind:

For the love with which You love me:

For the great and mysterious opportunity of my life:

For the indwelling of Your Spirit in my heart:

For the sevenfold gifts of Your Spirit:

I praise and worship You, O Lord.

Yet let me not, when this morning prayer is said, think my worship ended and spend the day in forgetfulness of You. Rather from these moments of quietness let light go forth, and joy, and power, that will remain with me through all the hours of the day;

Keeping me chaste in thought:

Keeping me temperate and truthful in speech:

Keeping me faithful and diligent in my work:

Keeping me humble in my estimation of myself:

Keeping me honorable and generous in my dealings with others:

Keeping me loyal to every hallowed memory of the past:

Keeping me mindful of my eternal destiny as a child of Yours.

Through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.

–John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer