I grew up Catholic, but I never really knew if Catholicism fell inside the realm of Christianity or not, so I just said I was Catholic and left it at that. In high school I went to a summer camp with my friends where I saw other kids my age passionate about something they believed in and responding to it publicly. There was energy and emotion, and I realized I wanted more in my life. So I told my best friend I wanted to pray, walked up to the front of the room with her and let her pray that Jesus would be a part of my life. It was a powerful moment that launched a lot of change and growth. It was a moment that changed my life.
But there is a problem with that.
The problem with giving one moment so much power is that you start to believe that all the change that happens in your life is confined to that one moment.
I hear this all the time from my pastor now, but at the time, I didn't realize that the moment in which you make a decision to move forward with Christ is just a tiny blip on the road map of your faith. It's just a dot. Not a starting point, but the turning of a corner. Heading in a new direction. Or maybe just a speeding up.
When you're 16 and you know something has just drastically shifted but not how to handle it, you expect that so much will change at once. I guess that's true when you're 24, too because I still expect way too much from myself. I wanted so badly to be a good Christian after making that one decision, but I was constantly messing up. I still said mean things to people, I still let friends down, I still made terrible decisions. I was still human.
Lately I've been realizing that whether we say it or not, we all expect big change in a really small amount of time. If something is damaged, we want it fixed right away. If our spouse has a bad habit we hate, he should change it overnight. If we committed a certain sin today, we should be able to recognize it, fix it, and move on. The problem is that it can never be this way. When we want a real, lasting change, the process is slow and steady. We have to hit pause a lot and recalibrate until we can keep moving forward. We fix and change little by little. Because if we don't, we're just slapping a bandage over a hundred broken pieces and expecting them to hold tight.
For all these years I've called myself a Christian, I've never understood how much of a learning experience faith really is. It's something we are never done with. There is no level of accomplishment. There is no prize or finish line. We cannot expect ourselves or anybody else to have it all together. When we assume people should be at a certain place in their life based on their age, sex, years as a Christian, whatever, it is so detrimental and contradictory to the theory that God is always working in us to accomplish something greater for His glory.
Here are some thoughts I've been working through about the road we're on when we choose to have faith in Jesus.
+ You're not any less of a sinner because you love Jesus. When I chose to live my life for different things, I pretty much expected that I would make the decision and things would get better. I would have better friendships, or I would stop making poor dating decisions (in high school, yeah right). Loving Jesus doesn't make you less of a sinner, but it does mean that your sins are forgiven and you don't have to live in condemnation anymore (Romans 8). You will still make mistakes. But Paul also says in Romans that even though we are forgiven and free, that's no excuse to go on sinning recklessly. The beauty of grace is that it should inspire you to be obedient to God.
I'm still learning this now. Every single day, I am still selfish, bitter, jealous, reckless. Every day, I look back on what I thought and how I acted, and I am disappointed. But when I prayed and told Jesus I wanted to follow Him alone, He never promised to make me perfect. He promised to be with me when I struggle (1 Corinthians 10:13). He promised to love me even when I am at my worst (Romans 5:10). He promised that He died to redeem me and would do it again a thousand times over if it was necessary. And because of His promises, I truly want to love, serve and glorify Him.
+ Faith is a process. The verse I mentioned before from Romans 8 says "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." I memorized Romans 8 a few years ago and if I can't remember any of the other verses in the chapter, I will always remember the first one. It's probably a good thing, because I need a constant reminder not to condemn myself every time I make a mistake. But every time I read this verse, I get a little pang of anxiousness. It's the phrase, "for those who are in Christ." What if I'm not in Christ? What if I just think I am, but I've done so many awful things that I'm not anymore? What if I'm not sure what I believe in right now?
In the book Worship Matters, Bob Kauflin says that "God wants us to wrestle hard with apparent contradictions in Scripture and life, not simply...adopt the world's complacent attitude of 'it's all good.'" I'm intrigued by that. God wants us to think hard about what He has said to us in the bible. We shouldn't let one good sweep of emotion cause us to blindly walk through life repeating "god is good god is good god is good" without ever understanding why. He wants us to think and meditate and study and wrestle and discover. Your faith is a process. It's not a moment that you decide you believe everything in the bible and call it a day. You choose to move in a direction and accept that every day you have to think about what you believe and why you believe it. Sometimes you may be unsure, and that's ok. Keep moving. Some days you may not feel forgiven. You are. Be in the Word. Memorize it and store it in your heart. When there's doubt, wrestle with it and beat it. It's all a process.
+ Always be willing to learn something new. I have a confession to make. Up until a few weeks ago, I didn't fully understand or "get" grace. I knew the story of Jesus and the significance of it. I knew the wonderful implications of His sacrifice for us, but I didn't really get it. You can hear something 99 times and even have a good understanding of it, but sometimes it's not until the 100th time that something really sticks in you and gets deep in your heart.
A couple weeks ago I was reading a book on becoming the kind of worship leader that truly glorifies God, and the author does such a great job of pointing to Jesus. No matter what particular point he is trying to make in a sentence or chapter, it always comes back to Jesus. I can't even fully explain why the good news of grace hit me so hard through this one book, but I've been overwhelmed as my eyes have been opened to how good God's love is.
Part of me is so embarrassed that at 24 years old, after spending 8 years calling myself a Christian, I am just now understanding the gospel. But for the most part, I'm just so excited!! My eyes have been opened to a new facet of God's love! There is always something new for you to learn. Believing the lie that you can "make it" or win at life is doing you no favors.
Sometimes we're so determined to get somewhere that we're heartbroken when we don't achieve what we think we deserve. Life can seem long and faith is a process that makes it worthwhile. One segment of sixty seconds is not the only thing that matters in your journey. Trust that Jesus is always with you, and treat Him like He is the most important thing in the world. He truly is. Be open to change and knowledge. Whatever you do, keep moving forward.