I haven’t been able to take my eyes off of her lately. Each week, she arrives alone and is content with sitting alone. She dresses modestly; she’s quiet and pleasing to observe and to engage in conversation. But when she turns her attention to me—it doesn’t matter if the topic is the parking ticket she got when she rescued her car from a tow truck that week or the wonder she has about what exactly the writer of Hebrews means in chapter 6—in every encounter, in every topic, there is joy, devotion, excitement, gratitude. She has found Life Eternal, and you can see it on her face.
What if you could go back in time to the days when you were a new believer? That’s an intriguing exercise, and one I suspect would be advantageous in discipleship ministry.
What would I think about my life now as opposed to before? How would I affect changes —going from “what I once was” to what I have become in Christ, or would it just happen? What questions would be on my mind? What would I be worried about? What would I be dreaming about? Would I know enough about Scripture and would that matter to me?
Who would help me navigate these questions? What would they say to exhort me or encourage me or redirect me onto the Way of Truth? What would be some of the best advice, the best counsel I could receive?
I hope you thank God for those in your life who are newly converted. There are so many blessings and graces the Lord gives us throughout our pilgrimage home to Him, but recently I have come to see how a regular flow of new believers in my midst hones and refines how I think about my faith, and the dialogues from such relationships push me to growth. Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17) I anticipated being a mentor to others. I didn’t expect the sharpening stone that the Lord would use to make me more like Him to be a virtual babe!
Despite popular pleas, there’s no need to leave your church for a more radical one or to reinvent yourself into just another cookie cutter anti-religionist. Are you seeking for enthusiasm and zeal? Befriend a new believer. So much wide-eyed wonder—a few hours with one who has just discovered the grace and love and mercy of Jesus, and I’ve no time or inclination to wallow in a rut! I admit I have sometimes shrugged my middle-aged frame and mind into this mantle of “Titus 2 woman” and taken up the scepter with some resignation, if not reluctance. I guess I’ll do this, since it’s what’s left of my life, although I don’t feel able to counsel, able to instruct, and certainly not wise. It’s a cycle of thinking that began to dominate my walk years after I first became a Christian.
After the initial exhilaration wore off, the siren song of urgency and success mesmerized me. The day to day diligence of sticking to the pattern, the list, sucked pretty much all of the joy out of my conversion. Knowing the rules and following the rules was not really what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, but I looked to later—to heaven and eternity—and promises of forever without conflict or disappointment or drudgery called me to punch the timecard day after day, year after year.
Along the way the pleasure of learning doctrine, tickling my brain with transcendent ideas and the mathematical beauty of logical apologetics, made the sentence of life here on earth less tedious. What are you reading? Who have you met? Have you considered the doctrine of ____ or the theological error of ____? This was satisfactory. Joy, though a biblical truth, must be an otherworldly state, I reasoned. One I wouldn’t understand until heaven. For now, the safety in lists and doing what was expected would do.
But being within the sphere of new believers, listening to the awe in their voices, watching their faith as only the Holy Spirit can do—the feeling is like this: We’re the little silhouetted critics in the corner of the frame in Mystery Science Theater, watching video clips of the journey to the Celestial City. I point out flaws, question motives and generally avoid anything that might hurt just a little. The new believers clap and react with joy.
“Isn’t Jesus the most loving Savior?” I tilt my head and think. Yes, yes, he is. I just haven’t thought of it in that way for a long time.
“He did it! God came through just like we prayed!” A disclaimer begins to trickle out of my mouth, but I bite my tongue. Do I really need to say that it’s important not to expect God to answer prayers the way we want every time? Have I neglected to see the lovingkindness and provision of God in every day situations because I have to explain it away?
“I really wanted to take that opportunity, but I knew it wasn’t God’s will because I wouldn’t be able to go to church, and faithful obedience would be more pleasing to Him—and better in the long run for me.” Get used to the disappointments, kid. On the other hand, how have I fallen into rote behavior and not reflected on the way God uses disappointments and unmet expectations to bless me with growth and joy?.
“I sought what the Lord would want to teach me this morning and this is the verse my Bible fell open to!” You do realize that’s not a Bible-reading method you want to rely on? Yet, still, the Word can rise above my sterile execution of tried and true Bible reading.
New believers can serve as a catalyst for stirring up your thinking and make you examine how you came to these beliefs yourself. You’re slower to sling about the familiar phrases and buzzwords, instead working them into logical constructs and picking through the grammar in order to articulate truths clearly and accurately.
They’ll cause you to cast away bad analogies and illustrations and abandon stuffy, micro-theological conundrums—or at least, put them in the proper perspective. And you will fall under a heavenly shower of joy, gratitude and gladness that perhaps you haven’t felt for a long time.
The group of women I meet with every Monday evening to work through Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress reflects a diversity of ages and stations in life: single professionals, a high school student, grandmothers, young marrieds with children, young marrieds without children, and moms with teens or college kids. But this night we were sparse in our numbers, a circumstance which always emboldens the newest to the faith among us to raise inquiries that inevitably start with “this is probably a dumb question.” The reading was the trial at Vanity Fair and Faithful’s death, and the discussion wandered into the contentment and joy that both Christian and Faithful had (like Paul’s) while imprisoned and awaiting the discovery as to which of them would die. Life here is hard and gets harder, and even though at first blush Evangelist’s warning that one of them would not survive the passage through the town seemed like sensationalistic scare tactics we hear all over the internet today, we knew, in theory, that to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)
Here is the shared experience of those who travel Christian’s road, whether new or old in the faith: wrestling with “right” decisions, fighting doubts, putting off behavior and thoughts of the old man that do not honor Christ, grappling with understanding theology and God’s commands. These struggles threaten to steal any joy from living this life, and they don’t even come close to the battles that thousands upon thousands of worthy Pilgrims fight every single day for the sake of the gospel. “You all have experienced great disappointments and hurts, trials of health and loneliness and loss. How do you maintain your joy for this life?”
As I began to review the blessings and rehearse the promises our precious Lord has given me, the words struck my flacid heart like burning arrows. Do I believe this? Yes, yes, I do! With every challenge, I find the promises are true, and that He is true to his word. While others desert me, He will never fail. I had neglected to remind myself of that one lately. Others, though, seem to press in at opportune times (Luck? Natch! Providence, merciful and true!):
- Life is passing quickly, and as I notch the adversities in my belt, I discover with each cut that time has sped up a little more. It won’t be long. That is good, because I desire to be with the Lord. And it is sad because I desire to stay here longer and see my loved ones come to know Him and to be able to enjoy Christian fellowship with them and to be able to gather with the body of Christ in worship as often as I can.
- The battleground of temptations and adversity in this life is not an option. We must travel through Vanity Fair to get to the Celestial City, and though its rulers are of this world’s system and hate the true King, I am bound to them only as much as my Lord is. If He desires me to be subject to their cruelty and hatred for the sake of being found in Him and a partner to His suffering, then it is my way through the world and onto glory.
- Seeing Him work here starkly highlights the contrast between the sin that rules the world (the lords and rulers of Vanity Fair) and His goodness, His faithfulness, His mercy, His kindness, His perfect wisdom, His personal love and care for me.
- My purpose in life is to glorify Him and enjoy Him. Because I enjoy His word, His revelations through it and through His working sovereignly and providentially in my life and others’ and the church’s, and His beauty in life—art, nature, music, faces, story, personalities. I am living out the purpose for which I was created when I glorify Him in my humanity, just as a bird does when she flies or a frog does when he croaks, or a horse does when it gallops, or a flower does when it blooms. I glorify Him when I proclaim how He is working all things—even pain and adversity in my life and others’—to my good and His glory.
- I join with the saints who have gone before me, who have suffered so much more, who had to wait so much longer to see Him, whose faith was challenged to such a greater degree—as well as those who are “among” us now, even if a distance away. Who wonder whether indigent neighbors will starve today, will be found out to be a Christian by their Muslim family, who dodge bullets and germs and corruption and persecution with His strength and grace to fortify them, who never give in.
Wait, was that for my benefit or for my newly converted friend’s? What a blessed shower of promises, for me and for her. This is an otherworldly state, made possible by the ministrations of the Holy Spirit.
And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with greatjoy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away. — Nehemiah 12:43
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. — Psalm 16:11
For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. — Psalm 30:5
Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart. — Psalm 119:111
Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! — Psalm 126:5
For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart. — Ecclesiastes 5:20
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. — Isaiah 35:10
And this city shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and a glory before all the nations of the earth who shall hear of all the good that I do for them. They shall fear and tremble because of all the good and all the prosperity I provide for it. — Jeremiah 33:9
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. — Luke 2:10
Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents. — Luke 15:10
So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. — John 16:22
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. — Romans 15:13
So that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. — Romans 15:32
And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. — 2 Corinthians 2:3
Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. — Philippians 2:2
May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy. — Colossians 1:11
For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? — 1 Thessalonians 2:19
Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. — Hebrews 12:2
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds. — James 1:2
Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. — James 4:9
I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. — 3 John 4
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy. — Jude 24
If you haven’t had conversations like this recently, or if you don’t know anyone right now who is new to the faith, I highly recommend that you get yourself into the life of a new believer as soon as possible for the all the benefits the dialogues from such can bring to your walk—not to mention theirs.