Help, I’m a Christian! – The Bible

The Bible. The Bible. These two words evoke a book which weighs nearly as much as a small rhinoceros: a book with hundreds and hundreds of pages packed with tiny lettering. The Bible is fraught with dull footnotes. The Bible is full of weird names like Hakkatan, Abimelech and Mephibosheth.

The Bible is also the most powerful book ever written.

It’s the bestselling book in history. Along with Greco-Roman mythology, it’s one of the foundations of Western literature. It has influenced thinkers, artists, musicians and writers for two thousand years: Michelangelo, Bach, Dante, Da Vinci, Handel, Newton, Chaucer and Pascal, to name but a few. The Bible has shaped societies around the world. Some of the founding principles of the United States of America were taken from Scripture.

The Bible is an important book, and that’s looking at it from a secular perspective!

For Christians, it’s infinitely more important—it’s the Word of God.

I’ll be the first to admit that reading Scripture is hard. I’ll also be the first to affirm that it’s totally worth it.

When I began reading the Bible, I made three great mistakes.

First Mistake: I thought of the Bible as just a religious obligation. I read it simply because that was what Christians did.

Second Mistake: I failed to understand how the story of the Bible fits together. The Bible is one story. Each part connects to every other part. (Except for the book of Job. It sort of comes out of nowhere.) In Sunday School, I learned the famous stories: Noah and the Ark, David and Goliath and the rest. What I didn’t learn is that they’re all part of a much greater story.

Third Mistake: I didn’t recognize the indirect lessons of Scripture. Sure, there are a lot of direct lessons like You shall not kill, but most of the Bible doesn’t consist of straightforward commandments. There are histories and genealogies and poems, not to mention a lot of ancient laws that don’t apply to us anymore. I thought these things were worthless because they didn’t relate directly to my life.

What I didn’t understand was that they related indirectly.

In a reader skips the slow chapters in a novel, he’ll have an inadequate grasp of the story. It’s the same with Scripture. If we skip the boring parts, we’ll end up with an incomplete understanding of who God is, what he has done and what he wants us to do.

Reading Scripture can be hard, and it would take much more than one blog post to address all of the difficulties that can arise. That’s why Study Bibles and other resources are awesome. They fill in the gaps, interpret the difficult verses and generally make reading the Bible easier.

What’s the best way to read the Bible?

It’s a matter of choice. Some people write down their reflections in a journal. Others make notes in their Bibles. Some people read Scripture every day. Others read it several times a week.

For a beginning reader, I recommend finding a good Study Bible and starting with the New Testament, then reading the Old Testament, then rereading the New Testament. The New Testament probably has more practical lessons for Christians, but the Old Testament influenced the New Testament so much that it’s important for Christians to be familiar with both.

I humbly offer three pieces of advice to anyone reading the Bible.

First, take it slow and steady. A chapter every day is better than seven chapters once a week. Readers risk burning out if they read too much at one sitting, and it’s easiest to absorb Scripture in small doses. Find a reading plan that works for you.

Second, don’t panic. The Bible can be hard to read, and that’s okay. Just take it a little at a time.

Third, don’t be afraid to engage issues that seem confusing or strange. God loves it when we ask questions, and the Bible is a book that has confused people for millennia. Don’t be concerned if something doesn’t seem to make sense. Pray about it, find a good Bible resource or talk it over with someone.

The Bible is my favorite book. When I began reading it, however, I didn’t like it. Scripture seemed boring and distant.

Then little things began to click: a psalm here, a proverb there; a command from Jesus here, a warning from Paul there. I was sometimes convicted. I was sometimes encouraged. Bit by bit, I learned.

Apart from prayer and the good examples of other people, I don’t think anything has helped me grow so much—as a person, as a writer and as a follower of Christ—as the Bible.

Hard to read? Sometimes. Worth it? Totally.

Next: Church

Help, I’m a Christian! – Prayer

Jesus was once asked by his disciples how they should pray. It was pretty smart of them to ask him, since he’s sort of an expert on the subject.

Here’s what he had to say: “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation’” (Luke 11:2-4).

For me, the most powerful thing about this prayer is one word. The prayer begins with Father. Jesus calls God his Father, but that’s not surprising. (Jesus is the Son of God, after all.) What’s surprising is that he instructs us to call God our Father!

This brings us to the most significant thing I’ve discovered about prayer: If prayer is part of the Christian faith, and the Christian faith is basically a relationship with God, then prayer is part of a relationship.

This seems pretty obvious, but it took me a long time to understand.

When I was younger, my prayers were recitations. It took me a long time to understand that prayers are supposed to involve not one person, but two people: a speaker and a listener. Prayers are meant to be conversations.

My early prayers were full of phrases that sounded impressive but didn’t mean anything. I prayed vaguely, asking God, “keep your hand on this person, and pour out your grace upon that person.”

I wasn’t really asking God to help anyone. I was just easing my conscience by praying churchy prayers.

When we pray for other people, it should be to help them—not to make ourselves feel better. This often requires us to pray for specific needs. If my friend Socrates is recovering from surgery or going through depression, I should pray specifically for his healing or comfort—not petition God to do something unspecified like “showering Socrates with abundant blessings.”

Sometimes we don’t know what other people need. Sometimes we don’t even know what we need. That’s okay. We can still pray, “Father, you know this person’s needs. Please meet those needs, whatever they may be.”

A final lesson I’ve learned about prayer: Every word counts! The Bible warns against praying long, rambling prayers: “God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:2).

The Lord Jesus himself said, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8).

It’s easy to pray without thinking. When we pray, we must stay focused and say only what we really mean. As Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). We should pray with all our mind, not just part of it.

To sum up, here are the three most important things I’ve learned about prayer:

Prayer should be a conversation, not a recitation.

Prayer should be sincere and meaningful, not empty and meaningless.

Prayer should be focused, not vague.

Next: The Bible

Help, I’m a Christian! – Relationship

Perhaps the most important lesson I ever learned is that the Christian faith is a relationship, not a system.

When I was younger, I was convinced faith was a system made up of logical rules. I thought all I needed to be a good Christian was to spend x number of minutes praying and read y number of chapters in the Bible and do z number of good deeds every day. Being a follower of Christ, I believed, was sort of like being a member of a club. All that was needed was to meet the minimum requirements.

To put it simply, I believed Christian living was just about doing stuff.

I was wrong.

For years I felt vaguely anxious, guilty and perplexed. Praying was awkward. Reading the Bible was tedious. Doing good things, and not doing bad things, seemed pointless.

I prayed, but not to know God or to help anyone. I read the Bible, but not to learn. I did good deeds, but not to be honor God or to serve others. I went to church, but not to strengthen my faith. I did these things simply because they were what Christians did.

I’d gotten the how right, but I’d totally missed the why.

Faith isn’t a system. Treating it like one will only lead to confusion, disillusionment and pain.

What, then, is faith?

It’s a relationship!

Granted, it’s more formal than most relationships. A relationship with God is sort of like a parent-child relationship and sort of like marriage.

We’re dependent on God, just as children are dependent on their parents. He provides for us, protects us and sometimes disciplines us, just as parents do for their children.

As for the marriage example: there are rules that guide our relationship with God, just as there are rules that guide the relationship between husband and wife.

It’s not enough just to “pray the prayer” to become a Christian. That’s the first step. A marriage relationship is more than just a wedding! The wedding is only the first of many, many steps.

In our relationship with God, do we make mistakes?


That’s when we realize why a relationship is a thousand times better than a system. In a system, mistakes demand remuneration, atonement, compensation. In a relationship, one person simply forgives the other.

However—as in all other relationships—the whole thing falls apart if one person tries to take advantage of the other.

In a marriage, the wife can be the kindest, sweetest woman ever, but the relationship won’t last if the husband is selfish or unfaithful. A father can be the most patient, loving man in the world, but he can’t care for his children if they insist on running away from home.

God forgives us when we make mistakes. However, if we insist on disobeying him, he eventually lets us go our own way. To quote C.S. Lewis, “There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘All right, then, have it your way.'” God doesn’t force us to obey him. He gives us the freedom to choose, even if our choice is to turn away from him.

If we turn back to God, he will always accept us. Just look at the story of the Prodigal Son!

If we want to accept God, however, we must accept him on his terms.

One those terms is that God speaks to us indirectly. As nice as it would be to chat with him face to face over coffee every morning, he chooses less direct methods to communicate: the Bible, literature, nature and people, to name a few.

This is admittedly frustrating. I’m not sure why God isn’t more direct, but there is one thing of which I’m sure: this indirectness is temporary. Quoth the Apostle Paul, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

All this is fine theoretical stuff, but what does it mean in practical terms? How does it affect how we live?

It means we must understand the why of Christian living as we live out the how.

We should pray in order to help others and build up our relationship with God. We should read the Bible in order to learn. We should obey and serve in order to be useful. We should attend church in order to grow closer to each other and to God.

Faith isn’t a system, and God doesn’t ask us to do things for no reason. Understanding that faith is a relationship, and Christian living is part of that relationship, is probably the most important lesson I’ve ever learned.

Next: Prayer

Help, I’m a Christian! – Introduction

Becoming a follower of Jesus Christ was absolutely the best decision I ever made, but there was a problem.

I had no idea what I was doing.

Prayer was necessary, I knew, and church was important, and the Bible came into it somehow. I had heard all the Sunday School stories and could sing all the worship songs. However, when it came to the practical day-to-day essentials of Christian living, I had only a vague idea that I should try to “be good.”

I’ve learned a lot since then. It took lots of mistakes, some of them very painful. Much of what I know about Christian living I learned the hard way.

This Holy Week, I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned.

At the heart of Christianity lies a relationship with Christ. Since relationships are unique, nobody can give perfect, specific, infallible instructions about this particular relationship—or any relationship, for that matter.

In the end, all anyone can do is share what they’ve learned from their own experiences. That’s what I’ll do this week.

You may not be a Christian. That’s okay. You’re welcome to read this week’s posts anyway. They might give you a clearer idea of what Christianity is all about.

You may be a much better Christian than I am. That’s awesome! You’re welcome to read this week’s posts anyway. Feel free to share your thoughts (and correct my mistakes) by leaving comments.

Here’s the plan for this week:

Monday: Relationship

Tuesday: Prayer

Wednesday: The Bible

Thursday: Church

Friday: Obedience and Service

Saturday: Faith and Works