My first home had a fresh coat of off-white paint on every wall in every room. “It’s a great neutral!” chirped my real estate agent. “It’s a nice offset to the dark carpet,” added my mother. Though they were both right, I was more excited to hear this exclamation from friends: “You can paint it any color you like!” Paint is a relatively inexpensive way to change the atmosphere of a room, and anyone can do it, right?
I began with the bare minimum of supplies: a single basic brush and an old curtain for a drop cloth. Several color-loving friends with painting experience helped me assemble some proper tools, prep then paint two rooms, and clean up afterward. They each told me about their favorite implement to use and how it made the work go faster, easier, better. Before I knew it, I needed a large tub to store all of my brushes, rollers, and edgers of various sizes and shapes.
As time went on, I kept painting rooms, accumulating experience and even more tools. There was always something new to buy, like an edger specifically for corners, or an entire system of brushes promising perfectly straight lines. There was always something new to learn, like how to create a border between colors where none exists, how to paint a stairwell without scaffolding, and, perpetually, how to get a certain kind of paint out of a certain type of carpet. And I began to note examples, when I was out and about, of clearly professionally painted walls, with neat lines and straight borders and not one speck of wall color on the ceiling or trim.
I think I have occasionally treated my spiritual journey the way I approached learning how to paint. As a new Christian, I started with the very basics. I prayed really simple prayers. But they felt too simple after a while, so I sought out books and sermons on different methods of prayer. I went from reading one Bible to reading verses in different translations, to a study Bible, to checking Bible commentaries. When friends or coworkers mentioned a new book on prayer, Bible study, or devotional guide, I was sure to buy it and try it myself. I was both impressed and dismayed at how others seemingly made Christian life and practice look so easy.
I was both impressed and dismayed at how others seemingly made Christian life and practice look so easy.
Over the years I’ve gathered some excellent tools in my efforts to become a faithful and mature follower of Christ. Some of them were offered by the very ministry whose website you are reading (Dr. Stanley’s Finding Peace and Handbook for Christian Living have long been personal favorites). I’ve been really grateful for the insight they offer on communion with God, learning His ways, and walking according to His precepts. There may be many such tools in your toolbox, too, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using them.
But lately I’ve been wondering if it isn’t time for me to go back to some basics. To simple prayers, full of joyful words (and silences) in God’s presence. Praying unconcerned by how advanced my words sounded, how effectively they were phrased. In his sermon, “Our Incomparable Companion,” Dr. Stanley reminds us: “When it comes to understanding His Word, God wants us to know the truth not so we can gain information, but so we will fall in love with Him and listen, be devoted to Him and serve Him and bring Him glory and honor. It’s not an information book. It is a life-changing book.”
I can’t remember when I last picked up a Bible and just began to read, not looking for an answer to a particular question or insight into some deep doctrine. But wanting only to learn the ways of my Father in heaven, the Son He sent to save me, and the Holy Spirit who came to help me live this life I’ve been given.
I can’t remember when I last picked up a Bible and just began to read, not looking for an answer to a particular question or insight into some deep doctrine. But wanting only to learn the ways of my Father in heaven.
You are probably familiar with Jeremiah 29:11, where God declares His intention to give His people prosperity, a future, and a hope. It’s a really popular verse for memorizing and sharing with others, not to mention printing out and framing for a ready reminder of how God provides for us so abundantly. But notice the verses that follow: “Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will let Myself be found by you,’ declares the Lord” (Jer. 29:12-14). Isn’t it interesting that what follows the famed promises about all that God gives are verses about seeking God and finding Him? The order here might seem reversed at first—surely blessings would come after seeking, and not before? But God knows that sometimes we let our many blessings distract us from the One who blesses. And He wants to assure us that when we remember Him and the simple beauty of communion with Him, we will find Him there, waiting.