It's been a long time since I became a Christ follower (39+ years ago), but I still think about what I wish I had known back then. You see, my first years as a believer were not easy. My family was not a Christian family. I was in my early teens, wanting to be faithful to God but also seeking to fit in with my peers. My church loved me, but discipleship was not intentional. I wish someone had helped prepare me for the journey.
If I were writing a new believer's guide today for people like me, I would include a simple "lessons learned" section with at least these lessons:
1. It's okay to be a baby in Christ. Everybody in my Bible study class knew all the answers, it seemed. I watched as others found the Bible passage while I pretended to know the right page. Others knew the song lyrics by heart, and they knew exactly what to do at every church event. I didn't know any of that – and I was both awkward and ashamed. No one told me that every believer begins as a baby in Christ.
2. The Bible is not always easy to read. I was fascinated when I first started reading the Bible. Genesis was great, because I knew nothing about the beginnings of the world. The book of Exodus was equally exciting, filled with burning bushes, judgment plagues, dividing seas, and shaking mountains. But, then I reached Leviticus. . . . and I quit reading. I needed someone to help me when the reading became difficult.
3. The Christian life will have ups and downs. We usually learn this lesson the hard way. Because I did not know Christianity has mountains and valleys, I assumed that the "down" moments were the result of a lack of faith or an unconfessed sin. Sometimes that was the case, but sometimes God was stretching and testing my faith. Even the obedient believer can wrestle with a thorn – but I didn't know that.
4. You are not alone in your struggles. I was sure nobody else battled with temptation like I did. Nobody had sin lurking in the shadows like I did. Surely every other believer had conquered sin – at least, it seemed that way on Sunday. I was so certain of that truth that I didn't dare talk to anyone about my struggles. The result in my life was continued failure and increasing defeat.
5. The devil is real. In my young mind, the devil was a Halloween character rather than a supernatural enemy against God and His people. Because I didn't recognize the reality of the devil, I thought I could win spiritual battles in my own power. Prayer was not important, and cries for the power of God were non-existent. I was losing a war I didn't even know existed.
6. Many people don't pray well. The only prayers I heard then were prayers from the pastor, a deacon, or a Bible study teacher. The petitions were polished, eloquent, and deep (or so I thought then). I didn't always understand the words used, and I was certain I'd never reach that level of praying. Little did I know these same folks often struggled in their private prayer life, and perhaps we could have helped each other grow in prayer.
7. Some people won't share your excitement. My Christian conversion was powerful. A friend had shared Christ with me, and I couldn't wait to tell others about Him. I was at times obnoxious with my evangelism. Rude, even. I just couldn't understand why anybody would choose not to follow Jesus. Had I known then that not everyone listens, perhaps I would have felt less defeated in my evangelism efforts.
8. Churches are not perfect. I was unprepared for the tares among the wheat, the sin in the camp, the arrogance among the redeemed. It was years of discouragement before I realized that Jesus Himself had a fake in His group, and the apostle Paul loved a church as messed up as the church at Corinth. It took some time for me to learn that the church exists for the sick and the needy – that is, for people like me.
9. God will always be faithful. Perhaps you learn this lesson only through the years, but I wish someone would have challenged me then to trust – and even memorize – these words: "I have been young and now I am old, yet I have not seen the righteous abandoned or his children begging for bread" (Psa. 37:25). God really does take care of His own. Always.