Sarah was crying. She was trying hard to hide her misery, but it was still obvious:
"Do you... do you have a minute, Mr. Adsit?"
I had just finished giving a talk at a Bible school on self-examination, repentance and the lordship of Christ. It was late, cold, threatening to rain, and I was tired.
But how could I say no to this damsel in distress? I probably touched a sore spot in her life -- The Holy Spirit is no doubt convicting her, was my prideful, self-important thought.
"Sure. Let's go sit over there," I said.
She and 2 of her friends joined me on a bench next to a garden.
"What seems to be the problem?" I asked.
"Well," she sniffed, "I asked Jesus into my life more than a year ago. I've been going to church and all, and now I'm here at this Bible school, but I... I..." -- she was having a hard time keeping her composure -- "I don't think He's there.
I've never sensed any real relationship with Him. He doesn't talk to me -- not like He seems to talk to other people. I don't feel His closeness."
The words came tumbling out now: "I don't see Him working in my life. I just keep wondering what's wrong with me. What am I doing wrong? Doesn't He want me?" Then she started really crying.
Sarah's friends put their arms around her, and we prayed for her. What a dope I am, I thought to myself. I assume she's wrestling with mature issues of spiritual growth, when in fact, she doesn't even know if she's saved or not!
"Sarah," I asked her gently after a bit. "When you invited Christ into your life, what were you expecting?"
"I don't know... something. A lot more than I have experienced, that's for sure."
A New Spiritual Creation
That's often the way it is with new Christians. The experience of receiving Christ doesn't live up to their expectations, and they conclude that something went wrong.
As we talked, I discovered that Sarah had been laboring under 2 complementary burdens:
(1) She was trying to validate her faith by her feelings and experience, rather than by the unchanging truth of God's Word
(2) She was neglecting one of the only activities that could produce the closeness and intimacy with God she longed for: a regular quiet time with the Lord.
As a newborn spiritual creation, Sarah desperately needed daily nourishment from the pure milk of the Word (1 Peter 2:2), so that she might grow up and experience God's comfort and closeness.
New Birth Experiences
Some Christians experience dramatic, palpable sensations immediately upon receiving Christ. One fellow that I helped lead to Jesus, immediately after praying, said, "It feels like a big hole in my chest has just been filled up!"
While these experiences can be a great "kick start" for a person's faith, too often -- if the original emotions and experiences aren't as vivid a few months later -- even this kind of new Christian can begin to doubt his salvation.
So both the "no-experience" convert and the "wow-experience" convert have a profound need to know the facts about their salvation, and to place their faith in those facts, not in their cosmic experiences, circumstances, good fortune -- or lack thereof.
In addition, they need to be shepherded into a lifestyle that cultivates an ongoing, ever-deepening relationship with Jesus.
That's where you -- the discipler -- come in. Let's say you just helped lead someone to Christ. Or maybe you met a new believer who wandered into your Sunday-school class.
What can you do to help him or her grow in their new faith and gain the calm, quiet assurance they belong to God?
One of the first things you need to do in following up a new Christian (i.e., teaching them basics of the Christian faith) is to defuse the "experience bomb." He (or she) needs to know he does not have to sense dramatic changes immediately upon conversion.
It may burst his bubble of spiritual misconceptions, but his feet will thereby gain solid ground. Assure him that change has indeed taken place, but it's not the type one can necessarily "feel."
Immediately upon the completion of his prayer to receive Christ (or as soon as you hear from him that he has asked Christ into his life), you might say something like:
"Joe, I want to be the first to welcome you to God's family! What you just did, if you really meant it, will prove to be the most significant and far-reaching decision of your life.
You're about 10 seconds down the road on an adventure that's going to last billions of years! You may not feel any different right now, but I'd like to give you just a small inkling of the incredible things the Bible says just happened in your life."
After expressing your excitement about his decision, you might ask, "What thoughts are going through your mind right now?" or, "What do you feel like right now?"
If he says, "I just saw heaven rolling back like a scroll!" or something to that effect, rejoice with him.
But the new believer will need to eventually understand that he can't base his faith on this wonderful -- yet ephemeral -- emotional experience.
His faith must have a much more substantial base.
If he says, "I really don't feel any different," tell him that it's OK -- even expected -- not to feel different, that the Christian life is not based on dramatic experiences or feelings, but on the facts that are laid down in the Bible, God's Word.
Essential Concepts of Truth
Then get into the facts, for the new Christian needs to grasp the truth of what just happened. If you can get across to him the following 5 concepts, he'll have enough to easily deflect the fiery darts of Satan:
This "assurance-of-salvation" objective is so important that you should make it your goal to cover it as thoroughly as you can within the first few days after the new Christian's conversion.
If possible, begin even the same day he receives Christ. Then make plans to take him through the rest of "basic follow-up." The resource kit lists materials you can use.
If you have met "like 2 ships passing in the night" (like on an airplane, vacationing or during a volcanic eruption), be absolutely sure to get his address and sit down that very night and write him a long letter on the subject of assurance -- or at least send him some of the materials listed.
Confidence in the Lord
Sarah, her 2 friends and I were getting cold from the mist that had now moved onto the oceanside campus, but our hearts were warm with hope.
Sarah was beginning to understand that the validity of her position in Christ didn't depend on "warm fuzzies," and this was freeing her from her anxiety.
The next morning at breakfast, Sarah was all smiles.
"I had the most wonderful quiet time this morning, Mr. Adsit, and I looked up every one of those verses!" (I'd given her about 20 verses on her identity in Christ.)
"What's the main thing you learned?" I asked.
"That I am different," she answered, "and that He is there, no matter what my feelings tell me. I'm going to memorize that list, and focus on them from now on instead of on my emotions and circumstances."
And she did. In a letter I received several months later, Sarah wrote, "The Lord is growing in our family, and it is so exciting! I do know that he is always there!"
Amazing what a little truth will do, isn't it?
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