creative-reblogging asked a question:
Hello! I was technically raised in the Christian faith, but my parents were never great about really consistently taking me to church as a child. I want to figure out where I stand in terms of my faith, so that I can carry it with me as I go into adulthood. I’m trying to view it as if I’m new to Christianity altogether. Would you have any suggestions as to where to start? Just reading the Bible is confusing to me, and I feel like I don’t get anything from it. How do I get to know God?
Hey dear friend, I want to commend you and applaud you on your newfound adventure of faith. Wherever it takes you, you have my prayers and a super big double high-five and internet fist-bump (and a hug too, why not?). I’m genuinely excited for you.
I’m honestly a bit new to Christianity myself (I was an atheist longer than I’ve been a Christian and it was a slow journey to faith throughout my seven years of college), so the memories of starting new are still quite fresh. I also understand that faith can feel intimidating, partially because the church can make it difficult, but faith itself can seem like an amorphous unfathomable maze. These are only my suggestions, as everyone’s road has different curves and obstacles, so please feel free to add or subtract or modify as you will.
– Find a church. If you have any friends who are currently attending a church, ask them about their Sunday service or any recommendations for you (you can also try websites and check out their statements of faith and their group pictures). The thing with church though is that it can feel overwhelming when you walk in: most people are uncomfortable in new situations with new people and unfamiliar surroundings. Even as a pastor and a chaplain, aka a “professional Christian,” I still feel all kinds of anxiety when I walk into a new church to visit. So it’s a really good idea to go with a friend. It’s also a good idea to try the Friday or Wednesday service, when the numbers are scaled down and it’s a more intimate setting.
A sidenote: Finding a church is incredibly hard and requires more than once. Just think, you’re looking for a second family, a second home! That’s no small feat to approach lightly. Last year, my wife and I desperately looked for a new church-home when we got married, and we tried about a dozen different churches before landing on one (and the one we landed on, we had to go about three times before we both felt called to stay). We gave many of those churches a second or third chance, so altogether, it took us over seven months to find a place where we felt we could serve and be led.
– Download some sermon podcasts. I’m a self-professed sermon junkie; I probably listen to about ten hours of sermons per week. While podcasts shouldn’t be the “main diet,” they’re sort of like supplements, or protein shakes, for a growing faith. I often listen to them on headphones at the gym or on car rides to work (I live about an hour from my workplace). Some preachers I listen to are: Timothy Keller, Andy Stanley, Francis Chan, Louie Giglio, Ravi Zacharias, and Matt Chandler. I also really love Brené Brown.
A sidenote: Please consider heavy discernment when listening to podcasts. In other words, you don’t have to believe every single opinion or statement, and sometimes a preacher’s theology might be a little fuzzy in some areas. Not every preacher or author is perfect, and public speaking has a way of blurting out certain things that are not always carefully worded. So listen with both a critical ear and a soft heart, or as Jesus says, “be as wise as snakes and as pure as doves.”
– Get with mature Christians and elders. We all, and I mean all, need some kind of leadership and mentoring and authority, speaking into our lives, in every season. We need both encouragers and challengers in our lives: people who can speak a grand vision over us while stretching our views and habits and beliefs. That means, get with your pastor and married couples and elderly Christians and successful business leaders and anyone who will spare a lunch — yes, your parents too! — and consistently ask annoying questions to grab their wisdom. Every person is a fountain of experience who is waiting to pour out to love on someone else. Ask about how their faith has gotten them through hard times; ask about how their faith informs their marriage, career, raising kids, and keeping focus. You’ll grow by leaps and bounds.
A sidenote: Soon enough, or perhaps already, you’ll be in a position where you can pour out to others. This entire cycle of pouring out is called discipleship in the Christian language. It’s a deep life-on-life pouring out of who you are for another; it’s the best of you for the best of them. We’re each called to disciple others just as we’re called to be discipled. This is the number one way I’ve found that Christians grow and one of the highest honors to give and receive.
– Consider a Bible plan. There are study Bibles, reading plans, and reflection calendars all over the place. It all depends on how you learn best. Here are a few posts that might get you started:
For me, I like to camp out in a book of the Bible for a few weeks to get the feel of it, like Proverbs or Ephesians or John. I’ve also read the whole thing from front to back a few times. I also recommend getting the best Bible commentary of all time, What The Bible Is All About by Henrietta Mears, which breaks down every book of the Bible with history, character profiles, and of course, pictures.
-Try some Christian music. This won’t work for everyone, but I’ve found that listening to Christian music, especially during stress or on a drive, brings me right back to Him. Some of my favorite artists include: David Crowder Band, Switchfoot, Lecrae, Jesus Culture, Bethel, Hillsong, Phil Wickham, Gungor, Tree63, Brooke Fraser, Lincoln Brewster, and Israel Houghton. Some of these might be too “pop,” but very often that’s exactly the point: they’re easy to sing to and very accessible.
– Journal & pray. I like to write, between me and God, a lot. This isn’t everyone’s favorite thing, so if it stresses you out, there are a lot of other ways to reflect and meditate and pray.
– Serve. Find a need, serve the need. Your local church is most likely involved in the community somehow (if they’re not, it’s probably not a church worth attending), so find out and get plugged in. If not, you can still serve on your own. There are countless homeless shelters, babysitting opportunities, home-building like Habitat for Humanity, hospital volunteering, and assisted living facilities that need you. I volunteered at a homeless shelter for over four years and those were some of my favorite memories.
– Practice gratitude. This is something you can do everyday, all the time, as an exercise of faith and trust that will turn your whole heart upside-down. Simply thank God, for little things, as much as you possibly can. Thank God for the gifts and talents and resources He has given you. Thank God for His Son, for the cross and resurrection, for the sacrifice that has set us right. I don’t mean that you can never get mad or grieve or vent; I just mean that our first reflex is often to grumble and complain and compare and judge. Joy is the very first thing to leave in any situation, and we have to fight to keep the joy in ministry, in friendships, in our every endeavor. God is always after your joy — not happiness, which is good but fleeting — and one of the avenues to joy is thanksgiving. Make that a daily practice and I can almost guarantee your perspective will widen and deepen; you will feel compassion swell; you will grow more intimate with Him.