I can?t and won?t claim the mantle of a preacher or a minister, but I can relate a few surprise revelations of the Christian life, based on my own experience. I think that a lot of believers can relate to this as well. There?s Biblical doctrine, but then there?s also personal experience. And what I think gets lost a lot of times is that walking with God is very much an experience, and much less of the discipline that it?s often made out to be. Based on that experience, everyone can offer up their own revelations of the Christian life.
A lot of nonbelievers, and even Christians themselves, have what I believe is a TV version of what a Christian should look like and how he or she should behave. But that really misses the mark. The relationship each of us has in our Christian walk is different from other believers, so there really is no standard as to what a Christian or the Christian life is really like.
Back in college I had a psychology professor who was fond of saying ?We see things not as they are, but as we are?. It?s a near-poetic way of saying that we?re limited to our ability to perceive what?s going on around us by a combination of physical limits and limited experience. That certainly describes the experience that we have in our walks with God. The combination of our limited abilities to perceive, as well as God?s infinite nature, means that each of us is only scratching at the surface.
But let?s establish from the start that that isn?t a disadvantage.
I believe it was Tim Keller who once said in a sermon, ?If you think you get this, you probably don?t. And if you think you don?t get this, you probably do.? I guess that?s why Jesus said that we must have the faith of little children. I?ve always labored with the assumption that I don?t completely get it, but that?s OK. And yet there are certain things that I have learned from my experience in walking with God.
Two Surprise Revelations of the Christian Life: Your Life Will Be Neither Problem-free Nor Boring
There?s a popular notion of Christians that has them all dressed in white, with neatly coiffed hair, and singing church songs behind toothy smiles. One might assume that they are these perfect people, who are leading perfect lives.
Nothing could be further from the truth. I?m sometimes hesitant to admit to being a Christian for fear that in so many ways I?m a complete wreck as a human being. But that?s actually pretty normal.
What I?ve learned is that when you become a Christian, your life is anything the problem-free. In fact, in a real way, your life gets more complicated. That?s because you increasingly find yourself at odds with the way the world does things.
As well, Christians experience relational conflict, health problems, financial struggles, career dislocations, and surprise disasters with at least the same frequency that nonbelievers do. The idea that Christians lead a problem free-life is a complete and utter fantasy.
There?s also an unfortunate negative connection here. If people believe that Christians are somehow perfect, they will reject the faith out of fear that they fall short of the mark.
But here?s a newsflash: Every Christian alive falls short of the mark (Romans 3:23) The best witness any of us can have is to share our own troubles, weaknesses, shortcomings and sins with others. That would be a more welcoming message to a non-believer than white outfits, toothy smiles, and church hymns.
In the same vein, there?s also a well-deserved perception that the Christian life is a boring one. Since many Christians are fond of reading off the world?s sins, and then promising that hellfire and brimstone are soon to follow, non-believers may assume that Christians live by strict rules. Without a doubt, that would make life extremely boring.
I?m not saying that there aren?t Christians out there who don?t adhere to some trumped up set of rules. But the reality is that like everyone else in this world, we?re just making our way through, and trying to stay out of trouble.
Here?s something I?ve learned from personal experience?when you?re following God, life isn?t boring. God will often bring you to places and in front of people you would never go to on your own. You also find yourself in a variety of situations you never imagined.
If you?ve ever read any of the Gospels ? Matthew, Mark, Luke or John ? you quickly realize that when the apostles were following Jesus they never knew what was coming next. They rarely knew ahead of time where they were going or what they?d be doing. Each day was its own adventure.
It?s largely that way for believers today. God doesn?t fit neatly into a box, and even if he did, he wouldn?t stay in it. Nor does he expect his followers to stay in a box.
In Lamentations 3:21-23 were told: ?Because of the LORD?s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning??
And so is everything else that he sends our way. Rest assured, the Christian life isn?t boring. That isn?t to say that there aren?t Christians out there who hide behind faith as an excuse to hide from the world. But that?s not what we?re commanded to do.
In fact, the Great Commission, given to us in Matthew 28:19-20, says ?Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.?
That?s a call to action, not a call to seclusion.
But there are other surprise revelation of the Christian life that are no less profound.
Direction in a Troubled World
If there?s one theme that I?ve worked to maintain at Out Of Your Rut, it?s working to survive and succeed in a world that is becoming increasingly dysfunctional. I don?t think we have to debate the point of the dysfunction either. The evidence abounds all around us.
But if we look to secular sources, we find no solutions ? just more problems, more complications, more conflict. But Christianity teaches us that there is a higher and better way, even if that way is rejected by most of the world.
Despite that rejection, a Bible believing Christian has the advantage of having a spiritual and philosophical foundation that the rest of the world lacks. He believes that God ? not man ? is the center of the universe. He believes that God is also the wellspring of solutions to the most complex problems that plague humanity. And most of all, he believes that no matter how hopeless things look from a human vantage point, that God will make sure that it all works out in the end.
The Bible tells us as much in Romans 8:28: ?And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.?
That is, even that which looks bad from a human perspective can be turned into something good for the believer. I?ve experienced this many times in my own life. Events have taken place that I was sure were unmitigated disasters, but in the end they turned out to my benefit. It?s happened too often for me to simply label it a coincidence, or some form of Karma.
How many ?coincidences? does it take before you begin to see a pattern, and one that cannot be denied? I think this is a major factor that enables believers to continue in faith, even when surface factors seem to be heading in the wrong direction.
However it works, it gives believers the ability to navigate a troubled world, without being overwhelmed by it. Another Bible verse captures this idea well: ?We walk by faith, not by sight.? ? 2 Corinthians 5:7 That?s extremely comforting when what it is that you see looks completely threatening. For my own part, I don?t know how non-believers work around that. There?s simply too much in the world threatening us all the time.
There?s something deeply reassuring about knowing that things will all work out, whether for the world in general, or for us individually.
The best example that I?ve seen of this was on September 11, 2001. I was in the mortgage business at the time, and had to come back to the office. When I got there, everyone was fretting about the terrorist attacks. Except for one person ? the bookkeeper.
She and I discussed the attacks very briefly, and then she said ?I?m not worried about it, I know where I?m going if the worst should happen.?
As a fellow believer, I instantly knew what she meant, and her words were very comforting to me as well. She reminded me that we shouldn?t be worried about things that are coming down upon the world. That?s more than just a comforting thought ? it?s liberating.
If you?re a non-believer you can say that such thinking is nothing more than a fantasy, but it keeps me and other believers centered when everything around us seems to be going haywire.
The pastor at a church that we use to attend once said that prayer is the foundation of your relationship with God. He said that it was more important than going to church, and since he was a pastor of a mega church, that was a powerful statement.
I?ve found that to be absolutely true. Once again, the TV version of prayer is very formalistic. You get down on your knees, you fold your hands, and you either recite rote prayers, or you speak to God as though you are speaking to a Supreme Court judge.
Closer to the truth, is that prayer should be very informal. Prayer is your quiet time alone with God. He created you, so he already knows what you think, what you hope for, and what you?re worried about. For that reason, there?s no need for extreme formality. When we pray, we should approach it as though we are approaching a beloved parent.
Got even knows our sins. But if we believe in Jesus, our sins are washed clean by his blood. Most of us ? even believers ? underestimate the power of this blessing. God created us, and he knows that we?re not perfect. All he asks of us is that we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, and our sins will be forgiven.
To the nonbeliever, that sounds simplistic – even too easy. But is it really? Only a minority of the world?s population believes this, even though most of the world has been exposed to it. The difficulty is that it takes faith to believe it, and that can only come from God himself. Our part in the arrangement is to be willing. God will fill in the blanks from there.
In order to do that, we must accept that we as individuals are not the center of the universe, and that our salvation hangs on God?s promises, and not on our own efforts or righteousness.
The critical point is that when we go to God in prayer, it?s not just an act of worship, but it?s also to establish a relationship with the Creator of the universe. Christians come to realize that that relationship is real.
In my own life, I find that God does answer most of my prayers. What throws many people off is that the answers are not always immediate. As well, those answers often come in a way that looks a lot different from what I expect. At the same time, those answers tend to be more complete than anything I could?ve ever imagined.
I?ve since learned to pray for all things great and small. Sometimes my prayers are more formalistic, but most times they?re almost casual. For example, I might pray while driving the car, sitting at my desk, exercising, or folding the laundry. Some prayers can last half an hour or longer, while others may be only a minute or two.
How should we pray? The Lord?s Prayer is one way. But personally I?m partial to Philippians 4:6:
?Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.?
Having a history of anxiety problems that twice landed me in the emergency room, this one especially resonates with me. Like I said earlier ? I?m a wreck.
However you pray, have absolute confidence that God is listening. And if you pray enough, and with a strong measure of faith, you just might find many of your prayer requests being met.
One other thing that I discovered when it comes to prayer ? I usually know that the answer to a prayer did in fact come from God himself. God has a way of letting us know.
Sometimes God Gives You ?The Desires of Your Heart?
I had this revelation about a year or so ago. While we often think of the Christian walk as being one of self-denial, it can be a giant pleasant surprise when God gives us the desires of our hearts. This is confirmed in Psalm 37:4: Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
I was sitting at my desk working one morning, and thinking how blessed I was to be writing for a living. Some people wouldn?t even call it work, and in truth on many days it doesn?t even seem like it. Plus, I get to do it from the comfort of my own home. This was a dream that I had many years ago, and it finally occurred to me that it had come true. And it?s everything that I hoped it would be.
But it went even farther than that. At the same time I was thinking about my writing career, it also dawned on me that we were now living in northern New England. That had been a dream of my wife and I for nearly 30 years. And now, here we were.
This was one of those times that believers know as an Ah ha moment, those occasional instances when God reveals what he?s been doing in our lives.
I then realized that I was living in a place that I had long wanted to be, and was doing work that I always hoped that I would be able to do. It had all come about by ?accident?. I hadn?t even specifically prayed for either outcome. But it?s clear that God knew what was on my heart, and granted that it would become my reality.
A lot of people dream of such things, but in my life two of my biggest dreams came true. I?ve been blessed with the desires of my heart, just as the Bible has promised.
The Mystery of God
One of the biggest obstacles to faith that most people have is when they look for ?proof? of God. I can spare you the trouble on that one: You?re not going to find any. Not in science, not in law, and not by your own reasoning.
I think the reason for that is simply that God is beyond human comprehension. A lot of people find that concept disagreeable, which becomes the basis for nonbelief.
Jeremiah 29:13 reveals ?You will seek me and find me when you seek me with your whole heart.? That?s about the size of it. God will not reveal himself to you until you come to the end of yourself, and fully open yourself to the reality of his existence.
Unfortunately, given our stubborn human will, that moment doesn?t usually come about until we?re at a crisis point. Once we realize that we are not as self-sufficient as we typically believe, and there?s no other choice, we find ourselves on our knees, pleading and fully open. That?s when God begins to reveal himself to us.
Does that mean that God is cruel, waiting for us to come to him, and only when we are in one of the worst moments of our lives? Hardly. It?s only then that we?re open to him. God is not a bully, who will force you to come to him (which is exactly why if often seems that non-believers thrive in their nonbelief). But he may use circumstances to draw you closer to him. That?s not a curse, it?s an unmitigated blessing.
There?s something else about God that we have to acknowledge in order to have faith. And that is that, yes, God is supernatural. That is, he can transcend both human understanding and human limits. A lot of people have trouble with this concept. They believe that God must somehow ?behave? according to parameters that we?ve established. But God can only be God if he is beyond our own limitations.
True enough, God usually works through the people and systems of the world, even when answering our prayers. But he can work beyond these. That?s what we have to be open to in order to believe.
It?s a lot to swallow, but believers understand that God is constantly sending us revelations. I?ve shared some of mine here. It?s important to study the Bible, and to engage in fellowship with other believers. But the most important relationship is the one that we have with God himself.
Probably the biggest single revelation for me is that I am able to have a real relationship with the Creator of the Universe. That?s overwhelming to most people, to the point of disbelief. But it?s true – only when you?re open to receiving that relationship does it actually become a reality.
If you?re a believer, can you relate to any of this? And if you?re not a believer, do you ever have questions about it? No one on earth has absolute knowledge of God, and never will, so let?s feel free to discuss this.