You walk into a group of new friends just in time to overhear an “inside joke.”
Chances are, you’ll laugh cautiously, indexing your reaction to what you see on the faces of the “insiders.” It would take a stoke of uncharacteristic boldness (for most people) to blurt out, “I don’t get it. Explain it to me.”
And so we go on, not getting it.
It is possible that people walking into church feel the same way about the Bible, or church customs? That is, are people smiling and nodding, perhaps even singing along to the praise team, all the while thinking, “I don’t get it?”
If you’re attending worship every Sunday, or opening the Bible regularly, maybe your attitude is, “I wish I could get it!”
After awhile, you learn the right phrases to use at the right times, and you’re magically assigned “insider” status by others in the group. (I recall a 1980’s movie about a clueless girl in Washington D.C., trying to fit in. She memorized ten smart-sounding phrases to use at parties, and people thought she was a political guru.)
Perhaps that describes you, at church. There’s a lot you don’t “get.” But something keeps you interested; you know God has a purpose for you. You’re ready to get to know Him personally, to know what the Bible means for you, and you just don’t know where to begin.
Here are a few ideas:
1. Don’t try to be an insider. Chances are, all those people you think are insiders are not all that different from you. Be bold. Ask, “I’m really not sure how this part of the Bible is supposed to apply to my life. What should I do?” or even, “What exactly does this custom mean?” Even Jesus’ disciples went up to the Lord, after a particularly confusing parable, and said, “Master, what in the world are you talking about?” (See Matthew 13) If the apostle Peter needed some clarification, I probably will too.
2. Look for “beginner” or “introductory” learning opportunities. Many churches offer their version of “Faith 101.” Many common questions are answered in these contexts. Some other ideas? Ask Christian friends for some good “introduction” books to the Bible or to Christianity (I always recommend Rick Warren’s “The Purpose-Driven Life,” or, if you’re an academic, John Stott’s “Basic Christianity”). I remember my dad’s way of catching up on many lost years of Sunday school. Having no church background, when he became a Christian in his forties he didn’t know anything about the famous Bible stories (David and Goliath, Noah and the Ark, etc.), so he got ahold of an illustrated children’s Bible, like this one.
3. Faithfully participate in the basics. Just like anything else in life, good things take time. Build these four key elements in your weekly schedule: a worship service, a small group discussion Bible study, volunteering for ministry, and regular time to learn from the Bible on your own. Not only will you gain friends, joy, and begin making a difference, you’ll get to know God as well. Over the long term, you’ll notice that you’re growing in knowledge, in faith, and in prayer.
Don’t let the so-called insiders intimidate you. Some are fakes, granted. But I suspect that most are just average people, like you, who yearn to be closer to God. Begin spending time with some of them, adopt the principles outlined above, and your life will begin to change. The Bible will start to come alive.
You’ll get it.