NINE THINGS I WISHED I’D KNOWN WHEN I BECAME A CHRISTIAN
Buzzfeed delights in giving us odd-numbered lists of things we should do, avoid or take note of in life, like ’17 “Emily in Paris” facts that’ll make you love (or hate) the show even more’ and ’19 things retails staff absolutely hate that customers do’. It has mastered the art of clickbait – producing headlines that make you read on - even if you end up wasting your time, which seems to be the whole point of the internet.
I couldn’t match their style, but for the benefit of our confirmation candidates, and maybe for others too, here are nine things I wished I’d known when I turned to Jesus (bearing in mind I was 18 years old and the year 1981, long before any really cool stuff had been invented).
1. Other Christians look like they have everything sorted. They don’t. Because they may be more familiar with church and the kind of language that gets used, it seems like they’ve got it all together, but there’s a lot of stuff they don’t get, either. They also feel they should be further on in faith, and just like a new Christian, will look at other people and wish they had it all sorted like they appear to. Only they don’t, either.
2. Dont be afraid to ask dumb questions. Most of us don’t learn the things we should in life because we’re scared of asking the questions that could make us look silly. People reach a point where they think they can no longer ask dumb questions because they are sure they’re beyond the point at which they can. There is no such thing as a dumb question. I can guarantee that lots of other people will be delighted if you ask a silly question, because you’re taking one for them. They would love to have the courage to ask, but don’t. And they’ll be relying on you. Asking questions is the way we learn in life. Have you noticed how it’s prejudiced, opinionated people who never ask questions because they think they have all the answers? Let’s not turn into one.
3. You won’t get answers to all the questions you have. I thought I would when I was 18. It took a lot longer than it should have to realise I wouldn’t. God is so very big and we only see a tiny part of him. There is much we don’t fully understand. This is what we call the mystery of faith. It can be maddening at times, not to know, but it’s also kind of smart, because we’re accepting there are limits to what we can know with our limited brains. But we should do all we can to know God and to know about him. In the Bible, it says that when other people ask us about our faith, we should have a reason for the hope that is in us. We shouldn’t be clueless when someone asks us about God, because then they may think we haven’t thought it through at all.
4.. What you do in life is incredibly important to God. Don’t think that because you don’t work for the Church that you’re not working for God. Every occupation in life is of equal importance to him. Whether you’re in full-time education, looking after a family, in paid or voluntary employment, retired but doing stuff for family and community, this work is a calling from God. And your role is as important to him as everyone else’s. God does not look down on people. Only people do that. So don’t put yourself down. Figure out what God wants of you in your role by praying to him and reflecting on what you do.
5. Other Christians will disappoint you from time to time. If you’re working on your own relationship with God, it can be upsetting when another Christian acts in a way that makes it look like they’re not. The chances are, they are working on it, but we all slip up at times. And the reality is, we will let them down from time to time also. All Christians are God’s work in progress. But don’t be complacent. There are some people who get lazy about how they are with other people, like it doesn’t matter because ‘that’s what I’m like, take me or leave me’. That’s not good enough. When you love someone, you want to please them. And we please God by caring about others.
6. Don’t be afraid to ask for big things from God. God is looking for people who expect the unexpected; who look for big stuff from him. There’s a tendency for people not to pray for big things because they feel they don’t have the faith for it, so they self-limit their prayers. I’ll ask for a bit, but not a lot. Because if I ask for a lot and don’t get it, it will have a bad effect on my faith. And so we slip into a vicious cycle of not expecting much and not getting it. God is looking for people with big hearts and big faith, because he wants to do big things through the people who are up for it.
7. God is involved in everything. We’re good at binary thinking, and one way this shows in our faith is by imagining God is interested in Church but not much else, like a boring nerd. God made the whole earth and he is going to make a new earth out of it in Jesus. Nothing is beyond his reach. We should never allow our churches to be buildings in which we try to contain God. He is out there, renewing the face of the earth, and he is looking for people to join him in this. Sometimes we get people saying the Church shouldn’t be involved in certain parts of life. That’s basically saying God should not be involved in what he has made. That’s a silly thought, and we should resist it.
8.. Understanding God’s will can take time, but you’ll get there. It calls for lots of prayer, understanding the life and teaching of Jesus through the Bible, and by listening to other people. I always think if we say to God: ‘I’m yours, I want to do what you want me to do’, he takes that prayer very seriously. One of the hardest parts of figuring out God’s will is the chance he is speaking to us through other people. We are all so stubborn and independent, we have to swallow hard to listen to others. But it is quite likely that God will use other people to help us work out what he wants from us. He’s made us to rely on one another. Find wise people and stay close to them.
9. God’s love for you is as powerful as the power that made the universe. Think about that one. We cannot imagine just how big this love is. There are always lots of voices in our heads telling us stuff, some of which makes us feel bad about ourselves, giving us a misplaced sense of guilt and failure. This is not how God is at work in us. He has another voice. For ours is a God who really does love us to the farthest star and back again. And he has shown this in his cross and resurrection. Knowing this is the single most liberating thing in the whole world. And it’s for ours to share with everyone.
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