A Few Practical Thoughts
Why Pray, Read the Bible, and Go to Church?
Many Christians will tell you to pray, read the Bible, and go to church — but may not ever explain why. We pray because God values our communicating with Him, and uses prayer to deepen intimacy and connection with Him. We read the Bible because it is the fullest resource for connecting with God’s vision and heart. We go to church to join a community of people where we can grow and live out a mission bigger than ourselves. All of these are vital, and not optional if you want to truly follow Jesus.
Here are some thoughts as you do these things, based upon my learnings and mistakes:
Don’t try to follow Jesus by yourself!
It’s so tempting in an individualistic American culture to try to tailor and control Christianity to suit one’s preferences and life. This approach is fundamentally opposed to Jesus’ leadership, which calls us to a vision and purpose bigger than us, and compels us to learn and grow in ways we wouldn’t have imagined ourselves. Find a church and meet Christians you can trust. Churches are flawed (just like people), but they are a vital part of God’s work in the world. If we neglect or overlook the church, we will rob other people of the perspective, gifts, and diversity that we each bring. Moreover, we will miss out on much of what God wants to do, and to show us about Himself.
Find the right kind of church, not just any church.
Join a church where you experience the freedom to be yourself, yet also are challenged to grow. Make sure it is a place that lines up with God’s heart and kingdom, in many of the ways we’ve discussed in this book. Is it the kind of community that values and lives out the kind of leadership that Jesus showed? Does it center on Jesus, rather than just teaching ethics or taking a particular (e.g. conservative or liberal) stance in society? And beyond even finding a good church, it’s vital to build relationships with Christians with whom you feel safe, and whom you can trust to tell you the truth. Preserve and build your relationships with those who aren’t Christian too, of course! We can miss out on learning and growing without diversity in our friendships — across ethnic, socio-economic, generational, and spiritual lines.
Don’t just read the Bible and pray alone.
Find a healthy balance of doing those things by yourself and doing them with other people. Some reflection and internalization happens best when we are in solitude, but most growth and learning happens in community and relationships with other people. Don’t isolate yourself! Also, read other books about following Jesus that supplement what you read in the Bible. I’ve read some excellent books about growth that have really helped me to make connections between the Bible and relationships, work, and life. One example is Dr. John Townsend’s book Loving People, which is accessible and practical.
Don’t be afraid to “skip around” when reading the Bible.
If you get stuck or confused, move on and read another part of it. Write down any questions you might have, and discuss it with other people. Make sure you read more than just a single verse here or there, but try to read whole chapters and books in their full context, even if you only read it gradually. The shortcoming of sermons at church is that they often only focus on a short verse without much context. Don’t just rely on listening to sermons at church to understand the Bible. There’s so much more that you’ll be missing!
Don’t feel like you need to pray the same way every time.
Pray whenever you think of it. If somebody asks you to pray, or if you say you will, take a few seconds to just utter a quick prayer right then. Don’t wait to see if you will remember. In other times, you may feel the need to pray in a more focused way for a longer period of time. Sometimes you may be moved to pray as you’re listening to music or watching a movie. None of those are wrong ways to pray! Be honest, and be intimate in your prayer. If you have trouble knowing where to start, you can learn from people who pray in the Bible, from writings like the Book of Common Prayer, and from people in your life who pray.
Always keep learning as you follow Jesus.
The idea of following Jesus is that we have an active, living guide as we go through life, who is always teaching us. Don’t ever assume you know all there is to know! Growth doesn’t occur in a straight line, and it takes time. One practical idea: find a mentor and ask them to meet up with you regularly so you can ask them for support and prayer and any questions about the Christian life. Throughout my years following Jesus, I’ve been blessed with numerous mentors who have been some of the biggest influences in my life! Almost never were these mentors “set up for me” — I had to seek them out and ask! There are some amazing people out there that we can learn from, so be proactive, and God will guide your steps. Remember that with God, He is not aimless but is weaving together the events and themes of our lives like a master storyteller, with purpose and intentionality in all we go through — even when we can’t see or understand it at the time.
Following Jesus is a process — and a relationship — that lasts a lifetime! Enjoy it, as it’s the greatest thing that will ever happen to you. And if you ever need someone to talk to along this journey, my line is open.