"I just feel like a bad Christian."
This gentleman is quite a bit older than me (old enough to be my parent) and so for him to say this, I was a little taken aback. Surely he has been a practicing Christian longer than I have been alive! So I asked him to elaborate and his response was essentially that he felt deficient in a handful of ways:
- He didn't feel like he knew how to pray out loud
- He didn't feel like he knew the Bible well enough, much less how to read it
- He didn't feel like he knew much about church history.
I tried my best to comfort him in his feelings of deficiency and point out that we're all on a journey but this got me thinking that there are probably many Christians who feel like they are only Christian in name. This could be from lack of proper instruction in the way of Jesus or else it could be in a personal lack of devotion to delving into what it means to be a Christian privately as well as corporately. In any case, there are a few things I would like to say to you if you feel like my friend feels.
You're not alone
I promise that as much as you could ever feel like you could know more, you're right. The beauty of the matter is that we could all learn more. In fact, it more or less took me a MA degree in Theology to find out that I didn't need a Masters degree at all in order to be a faithful disciple of Jesus. Many of us (yes, I said "us") struggle with feelings of inadequacy. Personally, I feel like I ought to have more Scripture memorized. All this aside, however, we need to embrace that fact that we have the rest of our lives to continue to nurture our Christian selves. When we reflect and feel deficient, we should waste no time in committing and re-committing daily to be intentional about learning more about our faith and heritage as Christians. Along with finding solidarity in your lacking, you should lean on the community of faith that is available to you at almost every corner of the city (in my city); there are churches everywhere and people who care about Christians inside of them. Don't be afraid to ask an elder or pastor for practical ways to learn more about being Christian.
It's not a clean thing
What I mean is that being a Christian - correctly - is intrinsically a messy business. Jesus shows us clearly that to take up the cause of Christ is to lower yourself and be okay with living sacrificially. This may mean that you need to take time out of your self-centered schedule to devote it to a Christ-looking endeavor. Feed the hungry and orphaned, care for the elderly and estranged, be a facilitator of the Kingdom of God. In so doing, you learn the meaning of Christ and you gain grounds for improving your faith life.
You don't arrive
It goes without saying that I am speaking about our carnal lives as we know them but my point is that the Christian life is not about "arriving" or being done or suddenly being the perfect Christian. Think of whoever you idealize in your mind as the perfect Christian and then think of that person as "in process" because that is what they are. That is what you and I are. Until our full union with God, we can never say that we've arrived. This should lead us to two conclusions: 1. take it easy on yourself, but strive hard and 2. take it easy on others because they are likely having just as rough a go at it as you are.
Like most of my posts, I like to leave you with room to reflect. That being said, I also like to remain pragmatic so I'll leave you with the following:
- If you feel like you don't know how to pray out loud, I would encourage you to practice. Even in the privacy of your house, it's good to pray to God with your voice as well as your actions and thoughts. Along with this remember the analogy of God as our Father that Jesus uses when he teaches his followers to pray. Hold on to that idea because, as a father, I know that there is much grace necessary when a child is speaking to you. He is the giver of excuse and you can rely on his love to define the relationship.
- It is not strictly necessary to memorize Scripture ver batem. It is, however, essential to Christian development to so immerse oneself in Scripture so that it's beating heart - the heart of the Father - is evident in your mind. You may not know chapter and verse location at the drop of a hat, but you should know that Jesus is King, Prophet and Priest and at the same time is pure love. Do you see the distinction? Along with this, resolve to take the time to read the Bible for all it's worth.
- Realize that Church history is both in the process of occurring and recorded in innumerable volumes in libraries around the world. It is both easy and essential to your Christian development to seek out a good overview resource in learning your heritage as a member of the universal Church. Heads up here, though, our faith family history is one of butchers and thieves so in all of your learning, remember that God struggles alongside humanity because he loves us. So be careful not to judge God's character strictly on the behavior of humans. A good first step is to call a local college that has a theology department and ask a professor to point you to a good church history volume set; this is worth the time and effort.
I pray that this post has been of some use to you, I know that at different points of my life I have felt inadequate as a Christian as well. In all of this remember that you are a child of God and, as such, are loved with a love that oozes patience and understanding. Share that patience and understanding with others as you struggle to work out your faith.