As a youth pastor and preacher I have seen lots and lots of people make a decision to follow Christ. It is always an exciting moment to witness. They are full of joy and hope as they confess Jesus as the new Lord over their life. I do my best to explain that their old self is gone, and they now have a new heart and mind, thanks to what Jesus did on the cross.
For a while, they are on fire, and their resolve seems like it will never fade. However, the ghost of the “old self” comes creeping back into their lives, and before long they find themselves in the same situation that caused them to cry out to God in the first place.
I’m guilty of this as well. We often turn to God when we feel like we have reached rock bottom, but as soon as He pulls us up and we are on solid ground, we dust ourselves off and say, “Thanks Jesus! I’ll take it from here.”
So I want to give some advice to the new believer that is even useful for those of us who have been following Christ for a long time.
1. The struggle to stay committed
The emotions someone experiences when they first become a Christian are overwhelming. It’s such a relief when the burden of sin is lifted. Some, however, have a hard time when that initial feeling fades.
That’s because their expectation is to retain that feeling forever. I experience the same thing when I do marriage counseling. A couple that used to base their relationship entirely on the warm fuzzy emotions they had when they were dating tend to struggle when that feeling fades.
This is why commitment is so much more important than excitement. Enjoy the great feeling of relief that Christ brings, but do not confuse that with Christ himself. Being a follower of Jesus is a commitment, not just a temporary emotion. This is why it is so important to surround yourself with mature believers who have a solid understanding of theology.
2. The struggle to learn good theology so you can avoid bad theology
Don’t let the word “theology” scare you. I know it sounds like something that is the job of a pastor, but everyone is a theologian. Theology just means the study of God.
Everyone has an opinion on what they think the Bible says or what they think God should do for you, but opinions have no authority. Let God teach you what it looks like to follow Him through His word.
If a preacher is constantly telling you that God wants to make you happy and rich and take away all your troubles, then you should run. That person is not telling you the full truth and is only selling a selfish gospel where God is more of a genie in a lamp then your Lord and Master. Our world is full of bad preachers who prey upon good people. Some of the most famous and most popular preachers around today do not teach solid biblical teachings.
So how do you learn to tell the difference? It’s really simple. Check to see if the verses they use are being used in context. Does that verse really say what they say it means? Are they trying to make the Bible all about you or all about God? We are not the heroes in the Bible. God is.
3. The struggle to pray without fear
When you are a new believer there are not many things that can scare you as being called on to pray in public, especially if you’re a teenager. Or if you are an adult, praying with your spouse or family for the first time can be a scary thing to attempt. Your mind rushes about fearing you might say the wrong words, or look awkward as you talk to God.
I have never met a Christian who has actually judged someone for trying to pray. For the most part, that insecurity has no base in reality. And the beautiful thing is, there is no such thing as the “right words” to say.
Just start talking to God. Call him Jesus, Father, Dad, whatever you want, whatever is natural, just let it flow. But even more important, pray all the time. Make it a habit to wake up and pray about your day. Ask God to use you and mold you, ask Him for direction and grace.
Pray when you’re driving, just talk to Him as though He is sitting right next to you. Pray before you go to bed. Thank Him, bug Him with petty request that you think might be too small for God to care about, because the truth is, He cares about it all. There is no prayer too small or too silly. God loves to hear from His children, and prayer is essential milk for a newly born believer.
4. The struggle of letting go of your old self
Do not try to bring your old self into your new relationship with God. The way of the world that you have been living in for most of your life has its own set of rules and morals. Ideas about sex, sexuality, money, success and self-worth are not based upon a Godly worldview but are often in conflict with what God teaches.
It’s healthy to wrestle and try to understand why God commands what He does in these areas. It’s not about blindly following these new set of guidelines but trying to understand why God approves of some things and warns against others. Some of the teachings of scripture seem so out of place and outdated in today’s society, but perhaps society has not improved on these issues as much as it claims to have done.
I encourage you to seek good advice and read good books before making a stand in areas that go against what God teaches.