Why be a Practicing Christian?
by Steven R. Hemler
Are you happy? We're not talking about outwardly, but deep inside. Do you mostly have happy thoughts rolling around in your head? Or, do you have a nagging unhappiness, uncertainty, doubt, a feeling of not really belonging, a sense that you don't really know what you should be doing with your life, a feeling that you are missing out on something, a feeling that others seem happier and more content and that they must have something you don't have?
Most people eventually discover that wholehearted and single-minded pursuit of the pleasures of the world (e.g., fun, fame and fortune) lead, in the end, not to lasting happiness but to pain, sorrow and guilt. It's been said we reach maturity when we realize we have a big choice in life: to serve something greater than ourselves or begin to self-destruct.
As we grow older, we eventually discover that we live most freely and fully when we live in accord with our God-given conscience and Christian values. We find when we follow the "moral law written in our heart" that we are not burdened by feelings of guilt and shame, and we can become more than a slave to our human needs and passions.
At most, the world's pleasures bring only a fleeting happiness, not deep and lasting joy. St. Augustine captured this realization beautifully when, after living his youth in selfish pursuit of worldly pleasures, he wrote over 1,500 years ago, "God, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you." Like Augustine, many people have found when we open our hearts and our lives to God that the inner hunger and thirst goes away. For only in God does the human heart find what it is searching for. Life with God ceases to be mere existence and becomes a thing of both thrill and peace.
The indwelling power and presence of Holy Spirit provides Christians with divine power to overcome and not be controlled by our selfish and self-destructive desires. Faith gives us the ability to become more than our animalistic and selfish human nature would have us be. We find that Jesus was indeed right when He said He came that we "might have life and have it more abundantly." (John 10:10).
Christians also know that no matter what we've done in the past, we can be free of and not burdened by guilt for past wrongdoings. We know if we are truly sorry and repent we will experience God's mercy and forgiveness, and be empowered to forgive those who have hurt us. Christians know no matter how many times we fail that God's love for us is everlasting and His patience with us endures forever.
There are many other advantages in this life to being a practicing Christian. First, throughout the centuries devout Christians, especially those who converted later in life, continually testify that faith brings a deeper meaning and joy to life primarily by leading us to more fully serve God and help others, instead of just selfishly seeking fun, fame and fortune.
Most people feel we are destined not just to exist, but to make a positive difference in our world. And, we may recognize that if we're not serving we're just existing, because life is meant for ministry. Christians know that God enables us to be all we can be by empowering us to give all we can give. Many have discovered true joy and meaning in using our God-given talents and gifts to lovingly serve God and others, and not in serving only our ultimately unfulfilling self-interests and selfish desires.
Second, Christians repeatedly testify to experiencing the help and healing of the Holy Spirit. For instance, faith can enable us to overcome any burdens of inferiority, inadequacy or low self-esteem by helping us realize that we are made in the image and likeness of God. God made us just the way He wants us to be, with the innate strengths and weaknesses He wants us to have. Since "God don't make junk," who are we to question God's handiwork? While Christians constantly strive to become better persons, we are able to accept the self-worth and dignity that comes from being a child of an all-loving and all-knowing Father.
Third, Christians trust that God loves us and even during the hard times of our lives God is in control and things will work out according to His Will. As it says in the Bible (Romans 8:28), "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." This frees Christians from being consumed by fear and worry, especially in bad economic times. We can rest assured and trust that we are held in God's loving hands and everything will be alright. Living a life of faith and trust in God brings a calming sense of peace and security, even during the hard times.
Fourth, faith brings a higher purpose and meaning to our problems. And, we all have problems. Adversity can either make us or break us, depending upon our reaction to the situation. Some people become bitter, rather than better, when faced with life's difficulties. Christians accept challenges in life as opportunities for personal and spiritual growth, as opportunities to become more like Christ. We know that God's ultimate goal for our life on earth is not comfort, but character development. Devout Christians believe that every problem is a character-building opportunity and the more difficult it is the greater the character-building potential. We believe the storms we experience on the sea of life are not meant to sink us, but to sanctify us. This gives us hope when we face life's inevitable difficulties.
Fifth, practicing Christians not only believe, we also belong. We belong to a community of faith. We have close friends and companions among our fellow Christian brothers and sisters. Our shared faith makes us co-workers in the "vineyard of the Lord." We are bound together by our faith and by our common calling and mission. This bond of friendship is much deeper than the relatively superficial friendships typically made through social and recreational activities. In our fellowship with other Christians, we experience acceptance, love, and support. While Christians are still sinners and because of this may seem like hypocrites to others, we understand that "the church is a hospital for sinners, not a haven for saints." We truly value the support and fellowship of other Christians along our journey of discipleship.
Sixth, Christians are part of a 2,000-year heritage that gives "roots" and meaning to our existence. One's heritage is one's inheritance. Christians are heartened to realize we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, including many in our own family lineage. Christians are part of a very long legacy of faith. This is often experienced when we go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Rome, or other historical holy sites.
Last, but certainly not least, Christians believe we are saved to eternal life by God's grace and not by our own efforts. We do not have to work our way into heaven by being "good enough." We merely need to accept in gratitude the redemption that Jesus won for us on the cross, commit our lives to being a follower of Jesus, and then live accordingly while being guided by the power and presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Then, God gives us the grace we need to go through life faithfully and to enter heaven joyfully when our life on earth is done.
Those personal questions we mentioned at the beginning about feeling doubt, missing out and not belonging begin to have answers once we start actively practicing the Christian faith. Talking with God, even if we don't believe in God with certainty, helps us to sort out the clutter inside our head and enables us to deal with those things that are nagging at us. We need to take it in steps. God talks to us all the time wherever we are at. We just need to sit quietly and try to hear Him.
Then, life starts to make more sense. We stop feeling as if we are just reacting to events. Instead, we feel like we have some safe distance from things, so we are able to reflect before we respond. Life begins to have a natural rhythm. More and more, we discover that being a practicing Christian does not lead to feelings of subjugation, but rather to true love, joy, peace, hope, and happiness.
To live our life as if God does not exist is like being the heir to a great fortune, but instead choosing to live as a homeless person. For only with God can we find real life in this world and glory in world to come. Truly, our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.
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Copyright © Steve Hemler. Steve Hemler has been involved in youth ministry, pro-life political activism and religious education. His articles have been published in America, Liguorian, Church, Modern Liturgy, Religion Teacher's Journal, Liturgical Catechesis, and National Review.