366 days ago, I made the decision to get baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. It has been an interesting year as a Christian, full of twists and turns, mistakes and corrections, joy and sorrow. I have matured, grown, and learned many things. Here’s my top five list of things I’ve learned during my first year as a Christian:
1. Christianity is a a marathon, not a sprint. It’s easy for me to get all worked up and radical, wanting to change ten thousand things about myself at once. I want to pray more, to serve more, to read my Bible more, to evangelize more, to do better in school, to build up the body more, to write more Ichthus posts. But it’s impossible for me to do all of those things at once, so I have to choose what to focus on. If I try to fix everything at once, I’ll just get overwhelmed and burnt out. If I sprint for the first minutes in the race, I will break down and slow to a crawl before I can finish the race. I have to “run in such a way as to get the prize,” but that entails pacing myself (Romans 9:24). I can’t let myself get down for not being perfect in every area, and I have to accept that I’ll be better in some areas than others.
2. Prayer is a muscle. I have the most horrible habit of putting off prayer when I get busy (though I’m getting better at making time for it). The problem is that after going a few days with short prayers, it’s much harder to start having deep prayers again. It’s like trying to lift heavy weights after you’ve been practicing with a couple of 5 lb running dumbbells. You’re just not as strong as before, and it takes work to get back to where you once were. So in order to have a good prayer life, I have to put in the time every day and not just when I have extra free time one day.
3. The New Testament is not the Old Testament. I’ve been trying to read the whole Bible, and I’m getting pretty close to being done. But it hasn’t been easy. I know, Ezekiel, that the decorations of the temple were important, but that doesn’t make them interesting or even spiritually nourishing. I’ve found that if I want to be doing well spiritually, I either have to be reading a particularly good portion of the Old Testament (like the psalms) or reading the New Testament. So it’s taken me longer to finish the Bible, since I’m constantly rereading the NT, but it’s better to be getting the spiritual food that I need to survive.
4. Judge not. Most unbelievers love Matthew 7:1 – “Judge not lest ye be judged.” Christians are quick to point out that that’s referring to hypocritical judging (removing a speck when you have a plank) and that we are called to judge when we are told to correct and rebuke one another. Yet often, I’ve found that Christians are too slow to correct and judge on real spiritual issues, but are quick to be judgmental about disputable or less significant matters. This is dangerous because it prevents honest discussion about disputable theological matters and because it inhibits our ability to be open about our hearts. When we feel judged for revealing temptations and the more sinister parts of ourselves, we are more likely to bottle up our struggles inside. I have felt judged for being honest about the way I was feeling, and it made me want to curl up into a little ball in a corner all by myself. That’s not a good situation when you want Christians to be supporting and helping each other. I have also seen several experiences where the expectation of judgment was met with love, gentleness, and graciousness, resulting in tears of joy. The more I have deep spiritual interactions with other Christians, the more I recognize the importance of not judging. We should rebuke for serious sin, but we must be gentle and merciful to those who are struggling.
5. Get a spiritual support network that you trust. Christianity is a battle, not a dream. We cannot go into war without having our friends fight beside us. We have to take up our crosses daily (Luke 9:23) and that’s terribly difficult to do if you don’t have friends trying to help and support you. It’s essential to have friends and mentors whom you trust, so that you can open up to them without worrying and so that you know they are giving good advice when they try to set you straight. I do not know where I would be without my Christian friends. They have comforted me in sorrows, scolded me when I was wrong, and given me some of the best advice I’ve ever received. I would never have made it through my first year as a Christian without them.