In October this year I will celebrate thirty years of being a Christian. That has made me ponder what I’ve learnt over these thirty years. I often feel I’ve not made thirty years’ worth of progress or that I am not as far on as I should be in this life of faith (but hey! even Paul said, ‘Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal…’ Phil 3:12 TNIV). However, as I’ve been considering what I have learnt, I’ve come to realise that this probably could be very easily summarised:
1. God is far greater than I realised when I first came to know Him.
2. The basics matter just as much now as they did then.
Let me unpack those two thoughts a little.
1. When we first come to know the Lord, we see that He is holy, mighty, powerful, loving, just and compassionate. Yet every day of our lives thereafter is spent getting to know Him better. We can never come to a place where we have God all sewn up, where we know everything there is to know about Him. The heights and depths and breadth and length of God are greater than we can ever possibly imagine. Just when we think we’ve got a handle on one attribute, He reveals something else to us and we continue to discover that there is so much more to Him than we could ever have envisaged. Paul says ‘I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.’ (Phil 3:10-11 TNIV) That pretty much sums up how I feel too! I want to know Christ. I want to discover more of who God is, what He is like, how He thinks and acts… and even though I know He is far beyond my understanding, I want to delve into this mystery of godliness as much as possible.
2. When I first became a Christian, I learnt the children’s songs written by Ishmael. One had the lines:
‘I’m gonna say my prayers, read my Bible every morning,
Gonna get some fellowship, witness every day.’
As with all good children’s songs or literature, that encapsulated what the Christian life involves in a very simple way. Yet just because something is simple does not mean that it is not true or that its truths become irrelevant as you get older. I used to think that as I progressed in faith and grew spiritually, the ‘basics’ would be replaced by more advanced things. Hebrews 6:1 TNIV talks about moving beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and progressing towards maturity, and I used to think that that would mean a linear progression of knowledge.
However, just as all language builds on the basics and all maths builds on the basics, I have discovered that the ‘basics’ are really essential to everyday living. Every day we need to pray, to nurture that conversation with God, to share our hearts and listen for what’s on His heart. Every day I need to absorb the truth found in the Bible. I need my thinking to be shaped and modelled by God’s Word. I need to know what God says rather than what the newscasters say. I have to acknowledge that no man is an island and that we all need fellowship, that the church is God’s idea and there is no place for the ‘lone ranger’ in His kingdom. I have to be willing to share the truths of the gospel with others; I have to have a faith that looks outwards and cares for others, because that’s exactly how God reached out to me!
1 Cor 13:1-3 TNIV is blunt about the pre-eminence of love. We can do all kinds of things – speak in tongues, prophesy, have a faith that moves mountains, give selflessly to the poor – but if we do not love, it’s worth nothing and we are nothing. The basics are so simple that a child can understand them and yet we adults often forget them in our efforts to learn new things. Maybe we should just accept that it’s not really as complicated as we make out and do the works we did at first (Rev 2:5 TNIV).