Imagine someone going to a pool. They show up with swimming trunks and goggles. They have an illustrated guide and have read a technical manual showing how the physics of water interact with a swimmer. This person is all set. They even give advice to someone swimming laps. This person keeps observing and learning about swimming, but when the lifeguard blows the whistle at closing time, they realize they never actually got in. Unfortunately, I think there are a lot of people out there that live like this would-be swimmer when it comes to their faith. I don’t say that in a condemning tone… the opposite is actually the case. To you believers out there, I hope to encourage you to get in the water and to start living by the faith you profess. To those who do not believe or are unsure, I hope this will give you a glimpse of what (and why) I believe what I do. Let’s dive right into the deep end and see what living by faith looks like.
Do you use your faith like a “get out of jail free” card?
There is an emphasis in ministry and in the church to push for conversion. To get people to profess faith in Christ. And while this is the most important first step, it’s just that. A first step. My heart goes out to those who believe but can’t figure out what’s next. When you accept God as your savior and ask for the forgiveness of your sins, you are saved and will go to Heaven. That’s the “getting out of jail free” part of the equation. The second step is to begin to grow your personal walk with God. This is the part that will change your life! As your faith grows and you learn to know Him more, you will see that it’s not about rules and regulations… it’s a genuine urge to be more like Jesus. By treating your faith like a “get out of jail free” card from Monopoly, you are missing out on the fulfilling and meaningful life you are supposed to have. The genuine walk with God isn’t about rules or behaving a certain way because it’s how you’re “supposed to”. It’s about learning about God and communicating with Him so that you can live with and share with other people the same acceptance, grace, compassion, joy, and love that He shows us.
Do you seek a true relationship with God?
A personal relationship with God means that you are engaging with Him in prayer, seeking to know Him more by reading the Bible and learning its meaning, and finding community with other Christians. These things are all mutually supportive. A guaranteed way to improve is to learn about Godly traits in the Bible, pray that God will help you apply them in your own life, and seek the support of a community that will help you along the way. The ten commandments (Hebrews 20: 2-17) and the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22) are what we strive for. Let’s talk about the starting point- the first steps to finding your relationship.
1- Read the Bible
It’s divinely inspired and it is how we learn everything we are supposed to know about God and His will for our lives. If you don’t understand something you read, then ask someone who does or look it up. There are plenty of study Bibles and daily devotionals that give explanations for what you are reading. Seeking to improve without knowing what to improve is like playing darts in the dark. You’re probably going to miss the target. By reading and learning about Jesus and his people, you will understand more and more. If you’ve never read from the Bible, I suggest starting in the book of Mark. A lot of the basics are covered there.
2- Talk to God
Prayer is powerful. There is no magic formula or chant to make money appear in your account or to get your football team to win, but you can get hope, courage, peace, and guidance as you learn to ask for it and listen for the answer. You can tell God about small things, like what you’re grateful for, and also about your deepest fears and struggles. He wants to hear it all. He is always listening and He answers every prayer. If you’re not sure how to start, try this: Look at this list of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit from Galatians 5:22– love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Now pick one that you think you need to work on, then pray that God help you figure out how to do that, and for the courage to step up and make the change. That ought to keep every one of us busy for a while! It’s undeniable even to the staunchest atheist that a person who is striving for these traits is a good person.
3- Find a church
This is where you find people who can answer the questions you have. I recommend asking people you know and trust where they go, or better yet just go with them. Most churches have websites where you can find service times and information about their beliefs and their staff. Don’t worry about feeling like a fish out of water. If there is a good culture there, then you will feel accepted and welcome when you visit.
We’ve covered a lot today. I don’t want you to be overwhelmed so I’ll leave you with this: a personal relationship with God does not happen overnight, but it will happen if you keep trying. I’m a firm believer of incremental growth through habits; the cumulative effect makes growth inevitable. For example, if you read a little bit of the Bible every day then before you know it you will have read the whole thing! The more you learn about the people in the Bible, the more those dots start to connect and it’s much easier to understand how things are related and divine. My advice is to start small with the three steps we talked about above and start the daily habit of learning a little more every day. We will never be perfect, but we can be a little more like Jesus every day.
Let’s end average and inactive faith. Let’s end average together.
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