In a recent blog post, I summarised all I’ve learned in 30 years of being a Christian via a song by Ishmael, and this idea is key! Many people think there is something esoteric about being a Christian, some grandiose rare knowledge that only a special few can possess. Cliques and cults have grown up over the years telling us that there is a secret pathway to God that only the initiated, the ones with special knowledge (the ‘gnostics’), can truly know Him.
I’ve found – sometimes with regret, sometimes with relief – that it’s really not that hard to be a Christian. There are some absolutely essential basics we need to survive, but the Pharisaical laws (by the time Christ came, the Pharisees had developed 613 laws, 365 negative commands and 248 positive laws), you’ll be glad to know, aren’t for us anymore! It’s not a question of secret codes and clever words, but the basic requirements are a believing heart for God, a willingness to listen and a readiness to obey.
We develop these things by spending time with God. Prayer – that posh word for the ongoing communication and conversation between God and people – is our lifeline to God. I was advised early on in my Christian life to begin and end each day with prayer and I’ve found that to be a useful thing to do. But I’ve also discovered that prayer doesn’t just happen at set times in set places. It’s an ongoing dialogue of the heart that can take place at any time, in any place, in a whole plethora of different formats. For me, song has always been one of the most useful forms of prayer I’ve known. Song gets to my spirit faster than words alone!
Next, I was taught to read the Bible every day and I’ve also found this to be absolutely basic to growth. I read through the Bible using the Cover to Cover reading scheme within the first year of being a Christian and have used a variety of other reading schemes over the years to ensure that I read the whole range of Scripture. ‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.’ (2 Tim 3:16-17 TNIV) I reckoned that if this were true, the best way for me to be equipped to live as God wanted me to live was to make sure I knew the Bible. There are many different ways of reading and studying Scripture, a whole host of versions of the Bible, devotional notes galore to help. But in the end, there is simply no substitute for asking God to speak as we read and allowing His Word to shape our lives.
The third thing on Ishmael’s song list of essential basics is to ‘get some fellowship.’ I don’t quite know how this happened, but I knew instantly on becoming a Christian that church was part of the package. Some people have argued that you can be a Christian without going to church, that it’s all about one’s personal relationship with the Lord. All I can say to that is the church is God’s idea and therefore there is no question as to its importance as far as I’m concerned. I have seen the faults in a variety of churches over the years; no one church could ever be perfect, for it’s made up of imperfect people. But I believe God is doing something special with people that involves working and worshipping together. He has great plans for the church: ‘His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord…’ (Eph 3:10-11 TNIV)
Infuriating though we may find the church, God wants us to be committed to people and the best way I know how to do this is through a local church.
Lastly on my list of ‘basics’ is being willing to testify to what God has done for us and in us. We are to be witnesses. Acts 1:8 TNIV (‘you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’) is a staple verse of all Pentecostal churches, but we need to be as aware of the purpose of the power of the Holy Spirit as to its presence. Peter says, ‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.’ (1 Peter 3:15 TNIV) It’s not always easy to do this and we often feel inadequate to the task. But God has done so much for us that there should be an ‘overflow’.