After I came to faith in Jesus at sixteen years old, I was fairly clueless on what following God looked like. If time traveling were a thing, and I could interfere with fate, I would have loved to have said the following five things to myself before voluntarily drowning in the world of American Evangelicalism.
- Do not stress out or condemn yourself over how little you know about Christianity. Your relationship with God does not depend on how much you have him, or doctrines regarding him, figured out. Theology is a wonderful way to worship God with your mind, and be excited to wrestle with God intellectually, but please remember that theology is not God himself. Also, hold on to the fact that God loves you in your confusion… and your error. You’re going to change your views a bunch of times, and that’s okay; God loves you the same.
- Live in the gospels. This will be a lifetime-thing. Dive deeply and ground yourself in the gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and never find your way out of there. Let this be the foundation of our your faith: the person of Jesus Christ. The gospels gives a beautiful picture of who the Savior, King, Healer, Deliverer, and God is. This will launch you into understanding the rest of the Bible and is essential in understanding the nature of God.
- The Church (and God) is really big. People express and practice their faith in Christ in hundreds of different ways. Make peace with that and don’t be scared of learning from different traditions. I recommend the book ‘Streams of Living Water’ by Richard Foster. And some people don’t know the name of Jesus and serve him a whole lot better than you. Right now that sounds like heresy, I know, but you have to trust that God is a whole lot kinder than you. (Also, yoga isn’t from Satan, so calm down.)
- Read the stories of saints throughout church history, as well as the living ones. Read biographies and memoirs. Learn about those who stirred up revivals and those who changed the world. Get to know St. Patrick of Ireland, St. Francis of Assisi, John Wesley, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Corrie Ten Boom, Mother Teresa, Heidi Baker, etc. Mourn and celebrate with them. Learn from their mistakes and their victories. It’ll do you a whole lot of good, I promise.
- Fear is not from God. That’s some Jesus 101 (1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear—you know.”). If you encounter a ministry or ‘teacher of the Word’ that is fueled by fear, and abundantly produces fear, you can be sure that the Holy Spirit is being quenched and that something is fundamentally wrong. A godly ministry, and Christian life, would instead pour out love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).