Each January church attendance tends to spike in the most amazing way. It takes twice as long to park, your self-designated "reserved" seat on the third row behind "Sistah So an So" has a butt in it that isn't yours, and (gasp!) you may even find yourself sitting in a jam-packed overflow room! Yes...everyone and their mama wants to "get right with the lawd" for the New Year - and this year was no different. Except, this year, I want to make sure I "get right" with God by helping others "stay right" on their awesome new paths.
This Sunday marks the six-month (semi) anniversary for those of you who joined your local church on the first Sunday of the New Year, so I thought I'd post this piece as somewhat of a mid-year check in. My goal is to encourage you in this walk because, as you've probably gathered these past few months, it isn't as easy as one might think. The following 5 Truths are based on my personal experiences and MANY conversations I've had with fellow Christians over the past decade or so. They may seem less than inspiring at first glance, but keep reading. I promise you will need these in your life! It is always better to know what to expect than to be caught off guard. (I wish someone had told me these things years ago.)
Truth 1: You will still have flaws and trials.
When you first get saved (for real), you're on cloud nine! I find the newfound salvation experience to be much like dating. God is everything to you, and you want to spend all of your time with Him. It seems He calls you ALL the time and you, excited about your new Boo, rush to answer. You're constantly reading His text messages - early in the morning, late at night, it doesn't even matter. He's super interesting to you during this time, so you clamor at the chance to know as much as you can, as quickly as you can.
But then life will happen - and things will get real. Perhaps a sick family member will pass away, though you prayed day and night for their healing. Perhaps you lose your job. You might experience a test in your marriage. You may just simply slip and curse from time to time. Whatever the trial or flaw, pretty soon you'll be wondering why your sweet Lord still allows you to experience "bad things". Yet, you will eventually learn that being saved is not a free pass from your human experience, and it does not elevate you above the human condition. Your salvation does, however, equip you with the strength, wisdom and patience to overcome life's little nuances, the humility to pray over the big ones, and a gentle conviction to continue to mature in your walk. You will also become mature enough to discern between a true life trial and unnecessary drama - as you grow, you'll learn how to avoid people, activities and behaviors that will lead you to the latter. So don't get discouraged WHEN you slip or when life throws you a curve ball. Man/woman-up, get back up and walk boldly trusting your Boo has your back, no matter what. Besides, as you trust Him, that 'new Boo, cloud 9' feeling will return and it never goes away!
truth 2: You may (scratch that) you WILL lose friends!
Sorry I had to break that to you, but don't fret! I guarantee you will gain new friends in place of your old pals. Your new friends will be "on your level", with the same interests, similar convictions and will serve as a support system to ensure your long-term growth in Christ. And, yes, you can and often will be able to retain existing relationships, so long as mutual respect, maturity and growth continue to exist as you enter this new state of being.
But I believe it is important to also be prepared to lose a few buddies. Unfortunately, many of us try to hold on to people who stunt our growth, or don't add anything new to our lives, simply because they're familiar. But some of them will simply have to go, if not only for the following reasons:
- They can't relate: Returning to my dating analogy, now that you have a new Boo, you may not spend as much time with some of your old pals, or they may not recognize you anymore because you're beginning to look, act and sound like Him! These are the friends who will simply fall away, eventually.
- They hate: You may also find that some friends will become jealous of your new relationship. They may (secretly) not even like you anymore because they see something in you that intimidates or even convicts them. You'll recognize them because they will begin to place an unrealistic expectation of perfection on you. They will make it a point to test, taunt and tempt you at every corner just to see you fail. Those are the friends YOU will have to cut off.
As you grow, you'll be able to discern how to handle losing pals here and there. But, one caveat to remember is that not every friend falls off because of something they did or felt. Some will suddenly disappear simply because... (see next point)
truth 3: You will become a jerk...temporarily. (Yes. You will.)
Not sure if you knew this, but some Christians can be real "donkey hinds" (There. I said it. Whoosah), and you can easily become part of that number if you get stuck in this stage. "Donkey hinded-ness" is a condition suffered by a many new saints (and immature 'seasoned' saints) who are so disillusioned by the belief they're now perfect and have ALL the answers, they think it's their job to usher everyone else into this lofty goal of perfection. They become nit picky, judgmental know-it-alls who tend to alienate friends and family (especially those not yet saved). You won't really be able to help yourself at this stage simply because you've now been endowed with the Holy Spirit and your blinders are off. You'll become a walking, talking messometer - able to detect the "ungodly" within a five-mile range. Honey, you will be able to clearly see what just ain't right about the world system - and you'll believe it's YOUR job to fix it!
As you mature in your walk, you'll learn how to temper yourself. If you try to tackle all that ails your friends, family and society in your babe state, with a babe understanding and your limited, babe experience, you're gonna have a bad time! Relax a little bit and be patient with those around you - understanding that not everyone is at the same level of conviction. Be your normal self - but a new and improved version packed with more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control! The wise among you will be attracted to the light in you and they will be inspired to change for the better as a result. If you rush to 'act' saved, rather than focus on being saved, you won't only lose friends, you may even lose yourself. Which brings me to point #4.
truth 4: You will backslide
Disillusioned. Disappointed. Dejected. Desperate. These are D ingredients of well-seasoned saints who, if but for a moment, find themselves not reaping the perceived immediate benefits of living for God. It will seem that those around you who are still doing things their own way are the ones getting married, landing awesome jobs, having kids, etc. (Facebook is good for helping perpetuate this perception.). You will then resent God because you thought salvation was your ticket to the perfect life (see point #1). You'll begin questioning Him and your decision to be saved. Then you'll try to go back to your old ways (for some reason), perhaps believing you'll have better luck this time! But something will be off - and that's a good thing! It's a sign that you KNOW God has something better for you. Again, the difference between your pre-salvation self and now is that your blinders are off. So, try as you might to do what everyone else is doing...it just won't work...it won't feel right. You can ignore that feeling if you'd like (it's the Holy spirit, BTW), but that only makes matters worse. God chastises those He loves. He's not going to let you continue down a fruitless path without checking you along the way. But don't take my word for it...gone and get to sliding if ya want to! You'll be back. Just remember you gave your heart to Christ the first time for a reason.
truth 5: You will be offended...by someone at church!
This is a BIG ONE! When you join a church, especially as a newbie to the faith, the automatic expectation is everyone is going to like you, be kind, and be perfect and Christ-like ALL. OF. THE. TIME. (Ooh! Wouldn't it be nice if this were so!) But I've learned that as long as Christians are also in human form, at least one is going to piss you off, hurt your feelings or even offend you in a way that almost seems unforgivable. And, yes, it is understandable if this turns you off from the church and/or faith!
But if it happens, let that be for a brief moment and shake if off!
If you ever find yourself deeply hurt or offended by someone in the faith, there are at least two things you MUST do. First, pray. Pray and assess the offense. Could it be a misunderstanding? Is the offense truly something by which to be offended? Could it be that you are...how do you say...tripping? Next, (assuming the offense isn't illegal and/or a violation of your personal safety) know that Jesus commands us to go speak to the offending party. I'm not talking about going to the person ready to give them a piece of your mind. I'm saying to go to them, discreetly, to speak openly and honestly about how their actions made you feel and see if there is any way to clear the air. (I've even asked God to help me prepare to address the person: "Ooh! Give me the words, Lord! And, Father, give me the temperament to deliver them in a way that facilitates a peaceful resolution...because you know I'm from Atlanta, and you know how I used to 'get it poppin' back in my day! In Jesus' name, Amen!") After you speak with the person, many times you will find their actions were not intentional, or they were simply having a bad day and their behavior was not a personal affront toward you. (Unfortunately, in some cases, you may just be dealing with the "donkey hinded" or immature Christian I spoke about in Truth 3).
One MAJOR thing you want to be wary of in this predicament is offenses are usually stumbling blocks for many people. They open the door to confusion and discord, the temptation to leave the church or give up on the faith, they may cause you to resent the person (or all Christians) and to carry around the offense like a wound of honor ("See what they did to me? It still bleeds when I pick at it, look!") I will not sit here and act like dealing with grave offenses are easy. But at some point we HAVE to become mature enough to be the bigger people and love others through these circumstances. This type of experience is a true test of character, and dealing with them does seem to get easier with practice and maturity. Honestly, I try to keep a positive outlook and consider them a nice little reminder from God that He's still working on me - and the other person. Let this be your chance to prove you are serious about growth and are above the nonsense.
I know this post was long, but this was six months worth of goodness jam-packed into one post - what'd you expect? Yet, as I close, I'd like to remind you all that while salvation is immediate, being a person of Faith is an ongoing process. You are not going to understand everything or get everything right the moment you tell God "Yes", so don't feel pressured to act like it. Move away from people, bad habits and other issues that may threaten your walk, but do it with wisdom, God's conviction and His guidance. Give yourself room and the patience to grow. Give God room to perfect you through His spirit at His pace...you can't do it in your own strength. Trust me. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being on Fire for God. But when we act in haste and step out based on what we assume we're supposed to be, we will crash and burn. And that's the truth!
Did I miss anything? Share your experiences in the comments section below or Tweet me. I'd love to hear your thoughts.