I wasn’t raised in a religious household. My parents would mention that we were Christians every now and then, but we never went to church, prayed, or talked about God. I didn’t know the story of Jesus until I was about ten years old, and that was the extent of my religious knowledge for several years.
When I was fifteen, I started dating a guy who was religious. He started teaching me about God, Jesus, and the Bible. We stopped talking about it after a few weeks, though, and I didn’t really renew my interest until I was 20. I had gotten married (to the same guy I started dating at sixteen!) and we had just had our son. I had severe (at the time, undiagnosed) postpartum depression. Right as I was about to do something drastic, I heard God calling out to me. That was the day I truly became a Christian.
Since then, I have done a lot of studying, both on my own and with others. I’ve read about methods of studying the Bible and ways to become a good Christian. But it was difficult in the beginning because I had no idea where to start. I kept hearing words like ‘sanctification’ and ‘the Holy Trinity’ or ‘Tri-unity’. I would read and re-read chapters of the Bible and have no idea what was meant.
Becoming a Christian when you have almost no knowledge of Christianity can be difficult. To help others who are having difficulties, this post will outline some basic tips that I wish someone had told me when I first started. First on the list is to pick a Bible.
Picking a Bible
When you start looking for a Bible, it can be a bit overwhelming. There are over 50 versions of the Bible in English, and some are harder to understand than others. One of the most popular versions is the King James Version (KJV). It can be a bit daunting for beginners, though, because of the language (thy, thee, and thou, for example). Another popular version is the New American Standard Version (NASV), although I personally have never read one. My favorite version is the New International Version (NIV). It uses language that is much easier to understand while still conveying the whole message. It’s also more conversational, and in my opinion more enjoyable to read.
When picking a Bible, it’s also important to decide if you want a study Bible or a ‘regular’ Bible without frills. Study Bibles often have extra maps, topical indexes, and extra information and answered questions right in the margins. If you’re just starting out on your quest to learn about God, I highly recommend paying more and getting a study Bible.
My favorite study Bible is the Quest Study Bible. It has introductions to each book of the Bible, timelines, extra maps, and detailed sidebars and footnotes on each page answering specific questions. For example, one of the questions answered in Exodus is “Why did God choose these particular plagues (to afflict Egypt)?”. It also addresses life-application questions, such as in Jeremiah: “Does God have a specific plan for my life?”. It even has three reading plans with boxes to check your progress.
Looking for a great Study Bible? QUEST is my personal favorite! http://ctt.ec/NOpyj+ @StrivingMomma
Learn about Jesus
A good starting place is to learn who Jesus is and what he did to save us. I’m going to admit to some complete ignorance here, so take it easy on me: I had no idea Jesus was such a ‘big deal’ in Christianity before I really started learning about the religion. The books to start with are the Gospels, or the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (the first four books of the New Testament). All four of these tell the story of Jesus, but from the perspectives of four different people (can you guess what their names are?).
Apply the Bible to your Life
The next tip is to really apply the Bible and its teachings to your life. Don’t just read the Bible and set aside its lessons when you’re done reading for the day; read deeper and think about how you can apply it in your day-to-day experiences. One problem I personally have is reading the Bible and taking it at face value. When I do that, I understand what I’m reading but I don’t really understand what it means in relation to me, or why it’s still relevant.
When you’re reading, slow down. After every chapter (sometimes more often than that), pause and consider how it’s relevant to you. Some of it won’t be (like Deuteronomy 14), but others definitely will be. Look at Genesis 13:5-18, for example. Abraham is arguing with his nephew Lot about who would take the well-watered part of the plain. Abram tells Lot he doesn’t want to fight, and that “If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left” (13:9). And he kept his promise; Lot chose the side against the river Jordan, and Abram went without protest to the drier side of the plain.
But how is this relevant to our lives today? You probably don’t care if your backyard is good for growing crops and supporting livestock. But look deeper: Lot was the bigger person in this situation. He didn’t want to fight, so he let Lot choose the better spot to live even though it meant things would be more difficult for himself. He compromised.
A lot of stories in the Bible are like this. At face value, they don’t seem important to our daily lives. Read between the lines and really think about why people in the Bible acted or thought the way the did.
Talk to God
Before I started learning about Christianity, I didn’t realize how important praying really is. I thought praying was just asking for things, like a child’s letter to Santa at Christmas. I was completely wrong. Praying isn’t just asking for things, it’s also telling God you need Him, and thanking Him for everything He’s already done for you. Look at these verses:
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Ephesians 6:18)
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. (James 5:13)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)
God wants us to pray, no matter how small the request or gratitude may seem to us. Take some time each day to say a heartfelt prayer. I usually say mine as I’m going to bed. I thank God for everything good He’s done for me that day (even things as small as being able to fill up my gas tank). Then I take time to talk to Him about anything that’s bother me. Maybe some people with think I’m praying wrong, but I feel closest to God when I’m having a conversation with him. I tell Him what I’m upset about or about anything that may be bothering me, and ask Him for guidance on how to deal with it.
Keep a Bible Journal
I have found it’s very helpful to be able to look back and see my thoughts on specific chapters or verses. I do this by keeping a Bible journal. As I’m reading the Bible, I keep this journal open beside me. If I have a thought or question about what I’ve read, or realize that I can apply whatever I’m reading to my life, I write down what verses I’m reading and what I think about it. I also write down any questions I have that I can look up later or talk to other people about.
There are countless ways to keep a Bible journal. You can buy a Bible that has areas for journaling, such as the Zondervan Journal Bible. There are also formatted journals specifically for Bible journaling, like the 6-Month Bible Study Journal. Another great option is to take a Bible Study course, whether it’s with others or alone. I personally love the Self-Study Bible Course by Derek Prince. I bought this course as a teenager when I was first introduced to Christianity, and I’ve returned to it many times since.
Talk to Other Christians
Talking to other Christians has taught me a lot about Christianity. Join a church or an online community. Facebook, for example, has all kinds of local and national Christian groups. Talk to people you’re comfortable with and don’t be afraid to ask questions, even if you think they may be ‘stupid’. There are no stupid questions in your journey to know God!
These are just a few tips on learning about Christianity and how to be a Christian. I’m still learning myself, so this definitely isn’t an all-inclusive list. Feel free to comment with any tips or tricks that have helped you!