“What Now?” (A Heads Up For New Followers of Jesus)
What a blessing it is that the Holy Spirit often helps His people to look back over their earthly lives with clarity, noticing retrospectively some of what God was doing (and how He was sustaining/protecting us!) during the mountaintops and valleys of our past!
As I look back over fifteen+ years of being a born-again follower of/slave to Jesus Christ, here are some “heads up” lessons that will hopefully be helpful to those just beginning the earthly portion of their eternal life with the LORD:
1. You’re Not “Done” Now That You’ve Become A Christian any more than a person is “done” once they get hired for their dream job or any more than a parent is “done” now that the baby has been birthed; that’s when the real journey begins! Similarly, once you become a follower of Jesus, the Holy Spirit supervises an old continuing work (a maturing daily faith in Christ that blossoms from saving faith in Christ) and a new continuing work (maturing/growing up/bearing fruit in Christ). It isn’t easy or always safe, but growing closer to Jesus relationally and becoming more like Him in our character (thoughts, words, actions, intentions and plans) is TOTALLY WORTH the spiritual sweat and sore muscles we will face.
2. There Is Work Ahead: Just as a person learning a musical instrument needs to consistently practice their scales and just as an athlete wanting to gain muscle needs to consistently do push-ups/sit-ups/other exercises, so too does a new (and an old!) follower of Jesus need to do certain spiritual exercises in order to strengthen their faith in Christ. This work IN NO WAY earns or keeps God’s love or forgiveness–not at all! And this work is not primarily about resting in/focusing on “all we’ve done for Jesus.” But as we learn to rest in/focus on what Jesus has done for us on the cross (His unconditional love on brightest display!), the Holy Spirit will begin to transform our inner character which will in turn shape our motives, plans, words and actions. Learning to consistently read the Bible, regularly attend church services, talk/listen to God daily, notice and put the needs of others before our own, and have simple/child-like obedience to God’s Word are some of the main ways that the Holy Spirit will grow our faith in Him. Some might become legalistic in these and other spiritual exercises, and we need God’s help to remember that BEING with Him is even more important than DOING for Him (Luke 10:38-42). Nevertheless, most people faithfully brush their teeth twice per day without worrying about/accusing others of being orally legalistic! Similarly, let’s not be afraid of consistency/faithfulness in our obedience to Jesus–it won’t make Him love us more, but it might help us to love Him more and will certinly bless us with much more than a great smile someday!
3. There Will Be Internal Battles as you learn to practically follow Christ each day. Sometimes you will go through stretches of not being able to get enough of the Bible, talking with others about God, listening to Christian music, etc. You may also experience some seasons where you are spiritually tired of growing closer to the LORD, obeying Him, attending/serving at church, etc. (It’s no wonder that the Apostle Paul encourages us to “not grow weary in doing what is good” [Galatians 6:9]) Even though the Holy Spirit lives in you through your faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit will be overseeing the internal renovation of His new living space (i.e. your character/soul!) for the remainder of your earthly life. Thus, you will sometimes feel the tug of sinful habits, your old way of living/thinking, etc. Just don’t give up! He who began a good work in you WILL carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).
4. Regularly Connect With A Spiritual Mentor who is a godly Christian, has been following Christ for at least a few years, and is the same gender as you. You will be tempted to be a “lone ranger” Christian on your own, but meeting regularly with a more mature Christ-follower is simply essential to your growing process. You can share your growing pains, get prayer and encouragement to persevere, and receive wise instruction from a person who has “been there before.” Contact your local church to ask them to help you find a wise and willing spiritual mentor. You won’t regret it!
5. Some Friends and Loved Ones Won’t Recognize You as you begin to become more like Jesus, as the Holy Spirit begins to shift your perspective/opinions/way of living from self-centered to Christ-centered. Some friends/loved ones may even begin to dislike you, saying they miss “the old you” and intentionally or unconsciously trying to force you the butterfly back into your former caterpillar cocoon. This will take delicacy on your part–you won’t want to bludgeon your loved ones over the head with your new-found faith in Christ (just as a fire hose is a bad way of giving someone a cleansing bath or a drink of water) but you also will want to lovingly/gently/respectfully stand firm on your still-wobbly legs of faith, you will want to be “not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God to bring salvation for all who believe” (Romans 1:6 NIV). Remember, through your faith in Christ He has raised you from spiritual death to life; do not return to the shackles that used to keep you bound.
6. Your Initial “God-High” Might Wear Off as the Holy Spirit teaches you over time to KNOW (trust in) God instead of to FEEL God with your earthly senses/emotions (please click HERE for more thoughts on the times that God feels far away). Just has a marital honeymoon eventually ends and leads to the “routine” aspects of daily married life, so too does our spiritual friendship with Christ have moments of bliss/ecstasy within long stretches of consistent repetition and quiet stillness. Don’t be worried if everyday isn’t a mountaintop experience (please click HERE for more thoughts on the “mountaintops” of following Christ)–every meal can’t be dessert; rather, the majority of a healthy diet involves a variety of nutrient-rich vegetables.
7. Life Will Not Start To Magically “Work Out” as you want it to now that you are a Christian, and in fact some aspects of your life might get worse once you begin following after Jesus. God is not a cosmic vending machine dispensing everything we ask for/think we need or deserve, and He will allow you to go through some consequences that are your own fault and many circumstances that are NOT your fault as part of His plan of growing you closer to Him relationally and more like Him in terms of your character. Just remember–you are now a living sacrifice on the altar of God’s love and mercy; the Great Physician operates on you WHILE YOU ARE AWAKE AND OFTEN UN-SEDATED. His job is to heal/grow you; your job is to obey Him by STAYING ON THE OPERATING TABLE as He does His work in you. Easier said than done, of course, but it still needs to be said. 🙂 Please click HERE for Romans 5:1-5 NLT.
8. You Will Be Spiritually Attacked as your faith in Christ gets stronger. In athletics, star players are singled-out/targeted by opposing teams; in military battles, the most dangerous weapons receive the most explosive attacks. Prayer by yourself and with other Christians, counsel from wise Christians, and a steady diet of reading/soaking in the Bible will be your best ways to withstand these uncomfortable but ultimately unsuccessful attacks. Here are some of the ways that evil spiritual forces in the heavenly realms will attempt to harm you:
A. tempting you to NOT believe (or to water-down) certain Truths of the Bible that are not popular with the general culture;
B. tempting you to enjoy certain sins and to justify your enjoyment of them;
C. tempting you to become distracted from your new purpose/focus as a born-again follower of Jesus;
D. tempting you to question/doubt/walk away from God’s goodness, His love for you, and His plan for your life;
E. tempting you to believe that you have to earn God’s love/forgiveness.
9. The Battle Has Already Been Won by Jesus Christ on your behalf…as we wait for His return, we are simply to be diligent with the work of lovingly and truthfully inviting more and more people to receive from Jesus the same forgiveness and new life that we have already accepted. Be encouraged! The fog of this world will someday be burned away in the sunlight of heaven’s truth and the purity of seeing Jesus’ face with our new eyes forever! It will all make sense someday, and the obedience-scars that we accumulate on earth in Jesus’s name will be trophies of thankfulness to show Him. He IS coming back for us…I know…because He PROMISED (John 14:2-4). 🙂