We are talking about how to mentor a new believer, how to help them get started on their spiritual journey, and how to help them move in the right direction.
We started by reviewing conversion. You want to make sure that someone who thinks they are born again are truly born again, that you both have the same starting point. But where do you go next?
My recommendation is that you help them see how life is going to be different, and eventually difficult. I am so concerned that a new follower of Christ will think that life is going to be a bed of roses, that pain is going to go away, and life is going to get better and better. The problem is that difficulty will most certainly come, and some (many?) people will fall away from their spiritual path.
Of course, we don’t want to go too far and make them think that the Christian life is nothing but pain and sorrow, that along with the pain in life experienced by all human beings they now have the new pain connected with spiritual growth. But the risk, I believe, is worth it since we know that many young converts fall away from their faith when difficulties arise. But how do we do this?
My suggestion is two-fold. I find it helpful to talk about all the changes that happened in conversion, many of which they were probably unaware of. Secondly, I talk about how the path itself is different. You were changed at the gate and so it is only natural to expect that life after the gate will be different as well. If you liken it to a regular hike, it can all makes sense.
One of my favorite parts of the hike is right after I have started. I am not tired yet, my feet don’t hurt, and everyone is excited about getting “back to nature.” The trail is pretty open, and you can still see the cars and hear the people.
But then you make the first real turn in the trail, and everything starts to change. The noise subsides, you start to forget the trailhead, you start seeing nature unstained, and the mountains just seem higher.
For me, though, the greatest change is in what I hear. The noise of the parking lot (where I started the hike) disappears after the turn, and I start to hear the sounds of nature. Each bird with its own call. Trees creaking in the wind. Water moving. And in-between the sounds, silence. The kind of silence that almost hurts your ears it is so quiet. And the steady, soft crush of years of leaves and pine needles under my feet, muffling my every step.
On many of the trails, it is not long before the path itself starts to change. Back at the trailhead it is was wide open, painted lines telling you where you have to park your car. But here, there are no lines, with freedom to explore. It’s different. The path gets narrower. It starts going up and down, twisting left and then right. It starts to climb, and I start to sweat. And I remind myself, this is why I have come on the hike. Because it is different.
And so it is with our journey of life. We were called off the wide and easy road and invited through the gate. As we went through the gate, we were changed. But we didn’t stop there. There is a path ahead of us, continuing to lead us away from the old street, further away from destruction and closer to life.
The path starts to change. It is different from the easy street. We are walking with God now. We are walking with our new family. We are headed toward our new home. And because the path is different, it is inevitable that we come into conflict with the old ways. It’s okay at first, since the joy of coming through the gate is still so fresh in our mind. But as time passes the path becomes more and more different, and it becomes more difficult because it leads us into conflict.
The difficulty starts as a little tension, our old friends and perhaps family members not understanding why we walked through the gate. Then the tension slowly turns into conflict (or in some cases, not so slowly). But there is also conflict from within. It used to be that when we did something wrong, it was no big deal. Everybody did it and you really didn’t care. But now you care. You have this new sense that some things are right and good, and other things are wrong and hurtful. Why does it have to be like this?
The point of this extended metaphor is that we left the easy road and started traveling down the path because it was different. But sometimes, when people encounter the “different,” they start to wonder what they got into. So isn’t it helpful to let them know clearly, up front, that life is going to change, and in fact it must change, and in fact that is why we went through the gate? Isn’t it helpful to let them know that it is natural for life to change?