This little article is for those, who for one reason or another, feel ready to take their first step toward God, and its simple purpose is to give you some "fellow traveler's advice" about this step and this journey. This is for those who have somehow arrived at an overall sense that there is a God who is worth approaching...
People come to this "I think I am ready" step for many, many different reasons...
- Some are hurting inside, from fear, anxiety, loneliness, alienation, betrayal, and this suffering has somehow convinced them that life is 'deeper' than first appears, and that the spiritual dimension is very, very real. They have become convinced that God is somehow 'out there' and can therefore be approached for help.
- Some are facing difficult crises in their lives--illness, family troubles, difficult choices, bereavement--and have somehow sensed their deep need to ask for help, inner strength, and insight. This awareness has somehow brought them to a conviction that the spiritual dimension of life, although often only faintly recognized and more often generally downplayed, is in fact deep and significant. And this awareness has led them to a belief that God is also real, and somehow has resources and wisdom that might be of immense value to them in their crisis.
- Some are struggling with guilt or shame, over some act or pattern of moral failure. They have a deep sense of psychological guilt, eating them alive from the inside. This internal urgency has drove them to seek out the spiritual side of life, and has awoken in them an attitude of honesty over both the problem/act itself, and their need for personal acceptance and forgiveness from God and from others.
- Some face challenges of addiction to destructive patterns, habits, lifestyles. They have discovered that their "innocent" habit has destructively disturbed their lives, their minds, their families, their careers, and their lives. But, they have also discovered that their attempts to break this slavery have been failures, due to inadequate personal resources. They simply do not have the personal strength, adequate focus/motivation, or perseverance of will to overcome this. The habit has already damaged their abilities to recover, to the point of despair. The depths of the human soul and condition has led them to believe in a deeper reality, and thus they are now open to the reality of God, and the hope of approaching God for help.
- Some have been pondering the 'tough' questions of life and history that we explore on the Thinktank (www.Christian-thinktank.com). They have reviewed the arguments, looked at the data, heard both sides of the interpretation, and have decided that the Christian understanding of the life of Jesus, the reality of the spiritual, and the basic historical trustworthiness of the message of the bible is (at least slightly) better supported by the evidence. They don't have all the answers to all the questions, but the answers they DO have are adequate enough for them to feel justified in believing in the God who revealed himself in the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth. Given this, they feel that they can take this step in personal and intellectual integrity (not requiring the certitude of basic mathematics, but only the practical peace of mind about decisions in personal relationships), and in fact, anticipate getting to know the God who "stooped to earth" to establish a warm and robust relationship with us.
- Some have seen and known those extraordinary people who are true followers of Jesus Christ. They have been up close to lives that exude the qualities that Jesus seems to grow in His more humble followers throughout the ages--selfless love, gentleness, vibrancy, peace and stability in the midst of life's challenges, enduring commitments to others, patience in dealing with people, honest work habits, warmth and joy. They now want those qualities in THEIR lives. That want what those others 'have'--and the others all point them to Jesus, and to taking this first step...
- Some were raised in other religious traditions, and have finally made an independent study of the person of Jesus Christ. They have looked at his life and words, and have come away with a sense of his uniqueness in history. They have seen the blend of strong personal integrity and forgiveness of others, the mix of compassion for the needy and rebuke for the self-righteous, the combination of human humility and divine authority--all in this one Person. They have come to believe that he was truly one of us, yet that he also claimed to be uniquely the very presence of God in human form. They have sensed his 'Other-ness' and come seeking a relationship with the One who embraced suffering and yet promised freedom of spirit to others--through the very act of His suffering.
- Some come with a sense of danger about what might happen to them after death. Through circumstances, reading, or simply some inner warning sense, they perceive that the nature of life after death may indeed have elements of moral justice in it. They are honest enough about the details and motivations of their past choices (and non-choices) to have some anxiety about their particular future, and seek to respectfully approach God for a 'pardon'--a hope for a clean slate in the moral universe.
- And some have heard about Jesus all their lives (maybe even raised in a Christian home or school), but only recently have decided to approach him as an individual, and as a personal relationship--regardless of environment or situation. They have sensed His reality all their lives, but only now has the issue of starting a heart-to-heart relationship with Him become urgent in their thinking.
Many of us, of course, come with more than one of the above, and often these various elements have come in and out of our lives like the strains in a tapestry, bringing us to this point.
...But so much of our mind-set is similar among us at this point:
- We all (that is, those of us who think we are ready for this step) somehow sense that God is "there", and even "close", and that He is open to our approaching Him;
- We all sense that God has enough resources to somehow "change things" in our lives and in our futures, all toward good goals of wellness, renewal, significance, freedom of spirit, peace of mind, growth, love, and joy;
- We all sense that our lives are a mixture of good and bad choices, habits, and attitudes, and that even though God is much more morally aware than we humans are, this somehow doesn't stop God from letting us approach;
- We all seem to understand that somehow Jesus' coming to earth, living among us, and dying as a criminal is central and focal to our approach to God--indeed, it seems that God insists that we approach Him through Jesus. [But we are a little confused about why this is important, and the details of it may escape us entirely];
- We all are generally somewhat confused about what God 'requires of us'. We have likely been somehow conditioned to believe that He would make excessive demands on our lives, relative to behavior, associations, habits, religious activities, and the like, but we are altogether unsure of our preconceptions in this area.
- We all have some level of confidence that the basic message about God's view of Jesus' life and death in the bible is a reliable enough guide to follow, as we try to clearly understand what God would have us do.
So, what does this message in the bible tell us about how God sees this?
Probably the clearest expression comes from the lips of Jesus' himself:
- "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10.45)
And this was an allusion to something said by a prophet in the bible centuries earlier, who foretold of Jesus:
- "All we, like sheep, have wandered away from our Good Shepherd; we have each acted selfishly on the basis of 'convenient morals' of our own choosing at times, and the Lord God has transferred to Him (the foretold One) these moral failures and these destructive acts...He (the Foretold One) deliberately accepted responsibility and the just consequences for our moral crimes, both large and small, and He appealed to God on our behalf." (Isaiah 53.6,12b expanded paraphrase)
Purely and simply, what this means for you at this point is that Jesus became a 'substitute' for you, standing in your place before God for the moral wrong you have done in your life (and bearing the spiritual consequences of that for you), and then clearing the way to God for you. This removes the obstacles to approaching God. The judicial issues were resolved by Christ's self-sacrifice to God on the Cross. His moral integrity insured that it was acceptable to God, and his incredible love insured that you were included its scope. [Jesus' body did not stay in the grave, but was transformed into a more advanced one, and He lives today in the spiritual dimension called 'heaven', and interacts with us from there.]
One very practical (and for many of us, comforting) implication of this is that our past is no longer an issue with Him...The issue now is whether you will agree with Him about this act of love by His Son Jesus...
So, where do you go from here?
If our past is no longer an issue, then what is?
Literally nothing stands between you and Jesus Christ.
Access to the Father is through Him:
- Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14.6)
And welcoming Him into your life as the answer for your past, and as a kind mentor, intimate friend, and wise director concerning your future, creates a permanent and intimate relationship with the God of the universe:
- Yet to all who welcomed Him for who He was, to those who trusted His credentials, character, and achievements, He gave the right to become children of God (John 1.12)
The Father wants us to simply trust His Son...to depend on Him for our ultimate well-being in the future, to trust in His work on the Cross for our past, to be open to His good-hearted and wise input in our present...to respect His authority, to count on His forgiveness, and to relax in His warm-hearted acceptance of us...
- The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever trusts in the Son enters into a relationship with God that lasts forever and is characterized by wellness, growth, love, and loyalty, but whoever rejects the Son will not experience this at all..." (John 3.35f)
And so, the "First step" is simply a heart-to-heart with Jesus...
The simple beauty of the awesome work of Jesus on the Cross is that your step toward God can be so "un-awesome"...a simple opening your life up to Jesus in confidence of His goodness and His efforts on your behalf...
A simple admission to Him (heart-to-heart) of welcome and confidence is all it takes:
- "Jesus, I don't understand all of the depths of this now, but it IS clear to me that You love me, that you were my substitute on the Cross, that you cleared the way to spiritual life for me, and that you are willing to take an active, intimate, and gentle role in my life going forward. In recognition of your proven love for me, and of your authority and power evidenced in your words, life, and in your resurrection, I welcome you into my life. I trust your abilities and your love for me to help me with my future. Thank you for what you have done and for Who you are. And guide me to realize what I can do now to begin seeing progress in the areas of dysfunction, insensitivity, or difficulty in my life."
That's it. That's the first (and only) step to God...You can't skip that one, for every exploration of this new relationship with Christ is based on this simple act of trust and this simple recognition of His smiling and warm love for you...Look at the paragraph above a couple of times, and then simply read it to Him aloud...or say it in your own words to Him in quietness...but go ahead and take that step, friend...[I'll wait for you here...(smile)]
Did you hear the explosion or see the fireworks when you took that step?!
[If you didn't take the step, go back to the previous topic... (smile).]
Some people do, though. Some have emotional sensations of guilt-release. Some feel a sense of un-burdening. Some sense a loss of appetite for an addiction. A few get the giggles. Some get a new sense of internal strength for a challenge they are facing. Quite a number feel nothing, but sense somehow that something has changed...They cannot put their finger on that intuition, but they sense something is different.
But most 'feel' nothing, to the extent that many think "It didn't take", like it was a vaccination or something! Some doubt that they were 'sincere enough' and they repeat the paragraph out loud over and over (never realizing that their sincerity was probably obvious to God from their repeated attempts!).
But this first step is not an emotional transaction--it is the establishment of a personal relationship with the living God. [We normally don't want to just "feel better"--we want to actually "GET better"!] And, as with many personal relationships, it takes time and interaction and shared experiences to grow the emotional consequences of a relationship. So don't let a "I didn't feel anything" lead you to make the illogical jump to "therefore, nothing happened" or "therefore, God did not pay attention" or "therefore, God did not accept me"...Believe me, the God who went to the painful lengths of the Cross will not let your step toward Him be ineffective...
Hey, I did feel something, but it was negative!
That's pretty normal.
As soon as you take this step, your whole person gets involved--and I do mean your "whole" person! Part of our human condition is that we have conflicting tendencies within us. For example, when you make a tough moral choice, part of you says 'good job', part of you says 'you idiot', part of you says 'you could have done better', part of you says 'you should have waited', etc.
It's no different with this choice...You can expect the "you finally became insane", the "you just became a brainless religious fanatic", the "this story simply cannot be true", and the "you need to think this over a bit more carefully"...etc., etc., etc. Don't take the mixed responses of the "peanut gallery" too seriously. If you came to this personal decision with a sense that you were doing the right thing, leave it at that. The reasons you arrived at the "I think I am ready" step (above) are still just as valid as they were when you begin this process.
The Christian Counter