Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of A.J. Gregory's new book, Messy Faith: Daring to Live by Grace, (Revell, 2008). 

Your spiritual journey isn’t a straight path to flawless faith; it’s a winding path that sometimes takes you through significant struggles. You want to believe, but doubt stands in your way. You want to live faithfully, yet sin creeps up on you.

No matter how messy your faith is, however, God will meet you in the middle of it. Here’s how you can trust God to make something beautiful out of your messy faith:

Embrace grace. Even if you think you don’t deserve to receive God’s grace, God wants to give it to you. Realize that there’s absolutely nothing you can do to make God love you any less or more than He already does – and He loves you deeply and unconditionally. So don’t be afraid to approach Him, despite your shortcomings. And don’t try to earn His favor. There is no formula you can follow to become a better person through your own efforts. That will only occur when you confess your frailties to God and rely on the power of the grace He offers you to grow. Once you truly repent of your sins, God forgives you, so forgive yourself and move on. Spiritual masochism will only sabotage your efforts to get closer to God. Remember that your mistakes don’t define you, and neither do your good works. Only God’s love for you – and how you respond to it – determines your destiny.

Be honest about your imperfections. Don’t waste your time or energy trying to be or seem perfect; it’s futile. Take a hard look inside your soul and ask God to help you see all that truly lies within it. What kind of imperfect attitudes and behaviors do you notice? Tell the truth about them – to yourself, to others, and to God. Admit the ways you fall short in what you think, say, and do. Then, whenever you become aware of one of your imperfections, pray for God to help you in that area rather than trying to cover it up. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because you happen to be living a strong Christian life right now, you’ll be immune to sin in the future. Recognize that all human beings have the capacity to sin in every way if they’re not regularly relying on God to help them. Instead of aiming to be a perfect Christian, focus on becoming a true Christian – one who stays connected to God through struggles and keeps maturing in the faith. Rather than trying to look, act, and sound like a person who has it together all the time, simply be yourself. Expect God to continue to work through you as you continue to trust Him.

Pray. No matter what’s going on in your life, it’s crucial to make time for prayer. Pray even when you don’t feel like it, because prayer fuels your faith. Don’t worry about what your prayers sound like or how distracted you are when you pray. God doesn’t judge the quality of your prayers; He is simply pleased to see you make the effort to connect with Him. Remember that God is always listening, so feel free to pray anytime. Even though you can’t anticipate how God will choose to answer your prayers, you can rest assured that He will always give you the blessing of His presence when you pray. You can also be confident that God will respond to your prayers by working for your ultimate good – even in the worst situations. Don’t get discouraged when God doesn’t answer your prayers in the ways you’d hoped He would. Keep trusting Him.

Stop judging. Don’t judge others who are struggling with their own messes in life. While you want to be the kind of person who will reach out to help others by telling them the truth, you need to do so in love. Check your motives before saying something to people that you hope will help them: Do you genuinely care about them and want to help them, or do you secretly enjoy seeing their flaws and want to admonish them? Pay attention to what’s going on in your mind when you find yourself thinking or saying things that are less than pleasant or edifying. Ask yourself why you’re judging: Are you scared of your own failures? Are you frustrated with yourself? Are you lonely? Are you jealous of the person you’re judging? Having the courage to explore these hard questions will help you grow in your faith.