Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Brian Tome's book, Welcome to the Revolution: A Field Guide for New Believers, (Thomas Nelson Publishers).
Now that you've begun a relationship with Jesus Christ, you're excited about your newfound salvation and connection with God. But where do you go from here?
Living the Christian life may seem overwhelming to you right now. If you take it one step at a time, though, you'll grow in your faith.
Here's how you can start growing as a new Christian:
Recognize the difference between religion and revolution. You don't have to worry about trying to keep up with lots of religious rules. Instead, God calls you to something simpler yet more profound - inviting Him to transform you through the power of love. God isn't concerned just about your external behavior; He wants to change you from the inside out, so you'll not just do the right things, but you'll want to do the right things. God isn't a killjoy who wants to stifle your freedom with rules; He wants to give you freedom from sin that can destroy you. God's kingdom isn't a culture of its own that's isolated from the mainstream culture; it's a powerful force that shapes people in all cultures. Take your place in God's revolution that's already at work changing the world for the better.
Discover God's purposes for your life. You weren't created to live an aimless, unfulfilling life. God designed you to fulfill specific purposes during your lifetime. So stop looking for ultimate fulfillment in lesser things - like your job, your relationships, or activities you enjoy. Instead, ask God to reveal His purposes to you, and order your priorities around those purposes. Evaluate where you're really placing your faith by asking yourself: "Do I feel close to a specific God, or is mine a general spirituality?", "Do I have a deep inner satisfaction that isn't fading?", "Am I praying for things and actually seeing answers or feeling a response?", and "Do I know people who have been following this path for 20 or 30 years? Do they have the kind of life I aspire to have?". Make sure that you're ultimately trusting in Jesus above all else. He alone will empower you to live a significant life.
Participate in spiritual disciplines. Some key spiritual disciplines will help you grow more and more into the person God wants you to become: prayer, Bible reading, community, and mission. Be patient, recognizing that growth is gradual and there aren't any shortcuts to becoming more like Jesus. Every day, stay in the flow of what God is doing in your life and in the world.
Read the Bible well. Get a copy of the Bible in any translation that you find easiest to understand. Realize that the Bible is a love letter from God. God doesn't want you to just fill up your head with biblical information; He wants you to let biblical truths change your heart to make you more like Jesus and help you change the world. When you read the Bible, pray that the Holy Spirit who inspired it will speak to your spirit and make the words come alive for you. Meditate on and study the words you read, but don't stop there. Put what you read into practice in your life. Apply what you've learned to your everyday decisions. Make a habit of reading the Bible regularly. Start with books that are easier to read and have an immediate impact on your life (like the Gospel of John and Psalms and Proverbs) before moving on to other books. If you find yourself getting bored while reading something from the Bible, switch to another part of Scripture that's more relevant to your life right now. If you encounter something in the Bible that makes you mad, don't fight against it. Instead, remember that God doesn't always tell you what you want to hear, but He always tells you the truth. And if you accept that truth even when you don't like it, God will use that to help you grow. Every time you read the Bible, pray that God will help you hear the message He wants to give you through it, and look forward to what He has to say to you.
Pray well. Prayer isn't an obligation. It's a privilege. God has welcomed you into a close relationship with Him, so look forward to spending time with Him each day. Make a regular appointment with God just as you would with a person, setting specific times and places to pray. Forget about trying to use impressive words when praying; just pray simply and straight from your heart. Talk to God (praising Him, thanking Him, bringing Him requests, expressing the full range of your thoughts and feelings to Him, etc.) but also listen carefully to what God has to say to you during prayer and respond to it. Remember that prayer is communication that goes two ways between God and you. Also keep in mind that prayer impacts much more than just your own relationship with God. Prayer calls down real spiritual forces that actually change the world. Get excited about prayer's awesome power, and tap into that power often by praying frequently. Remember that God cares about every detail of your life and is never bored when you pray; come to Him with everything that's on your mind. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that you can manage certain situations on your own; you always need God's help. Keep in mind that while you can do a lot of things without prayer, you can't do anything of significance without prayer. Harness the power of the imagination God gave you to envision good things before they exist, then pray for God to make them happen. Use prayer to invite God to create new realities to change the world for the better.
Participate in community. You're now part of a spiritual family made of up of fellow Christians, bound together by the presence of the Holy Spirit in your lives. Find a healthy church. Keep in mind that a healthy church: devotes itself to teaching the Bible, believes in the power of prayer, does life with one another, has a good reputation in the community at large, and grows numerically. Then make a commitment to stay at that church as long as God wants you to, so you can know, serve, and celebrate other believers there. Choose your friendships intentionally. Assess your friendships to see how healthy they are. Make sure you have many more positive friends than negative ones. While you want to be friendly to everyone, you need to guard against people dragging you down with negative energy. Try to be the kind of friend that others need - someone who encourages and energizes them in positive ways.
Carry out your mission. Your mission is any task that God has equipped you for that no one else can do. Whenever you have the idea that Jesus may want you to serve in a specific way, go ahead and try it. Don't hesitate to take action because you're waiting to hear some dramatic announcement from God about your mission. Instead, pay attention to the interests and talents He's given you, and how you might engage them to fulfill needs He's already revealed to you. As you move forward serving the people around you, your relationship with God and your understanding of His mission for you will also move forward. Whenever you pray about something, make sure that you also work to do whatever you can to be part of the answer to that prayer. For example, if you pray about world hunger, spend less on food for your own family at the grocery store each week and donate the amount you save to a charity that feeds the poor. Every day, consider how you can love others in ways unique to you - being the best employee, spouse, parent, friend, neighbor, volunteer, etc. that you can be. God will work through you in all of your relationships, and guide you to give each person exactly what he or she needs - from childcare for a mother to companionship for an elderly person. Ask God to help you develop the habit of giving financially to your church and other organizations that help do God's kingdom work. Try to give regularly and generously. Realize that whenever you fund a specific mission, you also fund your own spiritual growth, because you release the power that the world's system has over you when you release money. Be sure to stay in touch with people who don't yet have relationships with Jesus. Don't abandon them now that you have Christian friends. Instead, spend time with them regularly and communicate Jesus' love to them clearly. Demonstrate authentic character and, when opportunities arise, tell them the story of how Jesus' power has made a positive difference in your life. Pray for the people you know who don't yet have relationships with Jesus, love them unconditionally, and keep praying for them even when it seems like they're not making any progress spiritually. God will honor your prayers - sometimes in surprising ways.
Adapted from Welcome to the Revolution: A Field Guide for New Believers, copyright Brian Tome. Published by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tn., www.thomasnelson.com.
Brian Tome heeded God's calling when in 1995, a group of Cincinnatians felt a need. They wanted a great environment for friends to explore questions about God - without pretending they had it all together. They needed a pastor and asked Brian Tome to move from Pittsburgh and to lead their effort. The result was Crossroads Church, which now hosts more than 12,000 people each weekend, many of them new believers. Brian and his wife Libby have three children.