So you made the choice to get dunked? Fantastic! Take it from somebody who’s walked that road before, it’s a life-changing decision. It’s a time for celebration and gratitude and reflection. It’s a day you’ll remember for the rest of your life. But, at some point, the day will end. You’ll wake up on a Monday and be faced with the inevitable question: so, what happens next? Is this the top of the mountain? Where do I go from here?
If you’ve ever felt this way, then you’re asking the right questions, and there is good stuff ahead. Baptism is not the end of your spiritual journey. It’s merely a key stop along the way. After you dry off, there’s still much to learn, experience, and do. There’s more to discover about God. There are deeper truths to learn about yourself. There are waves of grace to experience and gifts to receive. There’s more obedience to push yourself toward, more disobedience to root out, and more spiritual muscle to build.
But you don’t have to fly blind. After His own baptism, Jesus set an example we would all benefit from emulating—whether you were baptized last week or 60 years ago.
LOOK IN THE MIRROR
This is first on the list because it’s the most important. After baptism, something changed about you, and it changed permanently.
Jesus did some amazing things during his 33 years on earth—healing people, holding thousands enraptured by His teachings, bringing dead people back to life. But the best day of his life happens very early in the story. It’s when Jesus Himself goes to get baptized.
When Jesus comes out of the water, something amazing happens. God speaks. Audibly. A voice from Heaven thunders and says
“This is my Son, whom I love; with him, I am well pleased.” - Matthew 3:17
God loves Jesus. He calls Him his son. And He is pleased with Him. Here’s the crazy thing—God feels the same way about you.
God smiles when He considers the choice you made to get baptized. He sings over you (Zephaniah 3:17). He is pleased to forgive your mistakes (1 John 1:9). He is ecstatic to welcome you into the family (1 John 3:1). In fact, some celestial beings marked the event with a party (Luke 15:7).
Look in the mirror. See that person? God calls you His son or daughter. He loves you. And He is pleased with you. Nothing about that changes, based upon past mistakes, current missteps, or future sins.
Wait. How is that possible? Sounds too good to be true, right?
This is the fundamental shift that happened when you came out of the baptism water. When God looks at you, He sees Jesus. That’s precisely what the Bible says:
For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. - Galatians 3:27
You’ve put on the goodness and kindness of Christ, like your favorite sweater. You’ve put on the righteousness and obedience of Christ, like your favorite pair of shoes.
You will mess up. You will make mistakes. You will be disappointed and frustrated, and angry with yourself. But it will not, ever, change the love of the Father for you.
Seriously, go look in the mirror. You’re probably reading this on a phone anyway, so you’re mobile. Look at yourself. That’s a person God loves. That’s a person God is pleased with. That’s a person God welcomes into his family. Say it to yourself until you believe it. And then say it again. And then write it down and tape it up, so you see it every day.
You are different now. You have changed. Even when you don’t feel it, God has wrapped the life of Jesus around you like a blanket. You are covered. You are loved.
Getting that right in your head, and learning to trust it completely, may take a lifetime, but it will change every day of every year you live.
After you’re finished talking to yourself, you’re gonna need to find some other people to talk to—that’s what Jesus did.
After getting baptized in Matthew chapter 3, Jesus takes a hard turn. He begins chapter 4 by having some desert chats with Satan (more on that later), and finishes by finding some friends. Twelve of them, specifically. These men, who we call the disciples (which has to be the worst superhero squad name, by the way), would spend nearly every day with Jesus for three whole years. Who Jesus surrounded himself with was an important decision. In fact, He spent an entire night in prayer around it before pulling the trigger (Luke 6:12-13).
You can’t follow Jesus alone. And even if you could, you shouldn’t. Every major spiritual breakthrough or milestone I’ve experienced has been with other people. It’s nonnegotiable.
Your faith needs community. You need people who will support you. Who will ask you hard questions. Who will laugh with you. Who will push you in the right direction. Who will pray with you. Who will meet you for chips and margaritas just to catch up. Who will help pay your rent if you come up short. Who will help with the kids. And who can come to you if their life gets sideways.
With his group of 12, Jesus was especially close to three of them—Peter, James, and John. But Jesus also had friends outside the disciples (Luke 8:1-3) and even outside the faith (Matthew 9:11).
So find some close friends who will support you spiritually—your Peters, James, and Johns. I’d highly suggest one of these people be a mentor-type character, someone more seasoned in the faith who can act as your guide—the Sean Connery to your Indiana Jones.
And also, please don’t completely cut out all your “old friends,” the people who may not be warm to your newfound faith. Jesus didn’t do this. He routinely ruffled feathers by hanging out with the wrong crowd. Keep seeing the people you used to see, and let your new faith be attractive to them. Answer their questions. Laugh at their jokes. Drink a beer. Jesus told his followers to let their lights shine before men so that others could praise God for the work He’d done in them (Matthew 5:16). You can’t really do that in a holy huddle. So get out there, and shine on, you crazy diamond.
But be sure, when it comes to spiritual guidance and support, you turn to your Peter, James, and John. Having a hard time finding those people? We’ve actually got something for that. Click the chat button here to be connected with someone—a real live person, not a robot— who’d love to help you find your people.
GO TO SCHOOL
A large chunk of the Bible was written in Greek. In that ancient language, the word disciple means learner. That’s exactly what you became when you got baptized. So, naturally, it’s time to go to school.
Don’t stress—this just might be the best school on earth. It’s hands-on. It’s interactive. And there are no pop quizzes. As a disciple, you’re a learner of Jesus—meaning, you notice the things that Jesus did, and then you try them on for size in your own life.
Disciple is also the root in a word most people don’t like: discipline. Control your breathing; we’re not talking about sitting in the corner, getting whooped by your mama, or trying to intermittent fast through the holidays. A discipline is just a practice that allows you to be a disciple, a learner.
Jesus routinely connected to God through the spiritual disciplines. These pathways are for you as well, practices that allow you to experience God in the here and now.
First is prayer. Jesus routinely got away and spent time talking and listening to God. Sometimes He’d do it with friends (Luke 11:1-4), and other times, he’d sneak away to pray alone (Luke 5:16). Sometimes, He’d pray short prayers (John 11:41-42), and other times, the prayers were pretty lengthy (John 17:1-26).
The key to prayer isn’t in how long you can go without taking a breath, how flowery the language is, or if you can manage not to swear during it. The secret is just to do it. Speak to God. Hide nothing from Him (He knows it all anyway). And give space to listen.
I think Jesus knew prayer was difficult, so He gave us an example to follow. If you don’t know where to start, begin with this model prayer. It’s found in Matthew 6:9-13. Or find more ideas about prayer here.
Second, Jesus was dedicated to the scriptures. As a learner of His ways, you should be cracking the good book too. Most importantly, because it’s hard to learn to live as Jesus did without actually reading about His life. And, just as important, the Bible is one of the major ways God communicates to His people (2 Timothy 3:16). It’s even described as a sword, an offensive weapon for the battles you’re sure to face (Ephesians 6:17).
Jesus unsheathed this sword right after his own baptism. Remember those desert chats with the devil? After forty days alone and hungry, the Evil One showed up to tempt Jesus to leave God’s plan behind. How did Jesus rebuff the demonic? By quoting scripture.
The word of God is powerful. It’s something you should be routinely engaging with. Just like prayer, there are myriad ways of doing it—reading with friends, reading alone, reading whole chapters, or focusing on specific verses. Again, the key point here—just start. And keep going. Keep reading. Keep ingesting God’s story. Act on what it says.
The Bible is a big book, though. If you don’t know where to start, consider reading one of the accounts of Jesus’ life—The Gospel of Mark is a great, straightforward read. Then, jump to the book of James for insanely practical advice on what it means to be a learner of Jesus. Find more great advice here or get an overview first here.
Prayer and Bible reading go insanely well together—so find time every day when you can get away for twenty minutes and begin a new rhythm. For me, the best time is first thing in the morning, while the house is still quiet and with a hot cup of coffee in my hand. But the best time for you might be on lunch break; or after the kids go to bed; or between shifts.
Jesus practiced other spiritual disciplines, too—things like fasting (Luke 4:1-2), giving financially (Mark 12:41-44), serving others (Mark 10:45), and engaging in public worship (Luke 4:16). All those things are fantastic and will grow your faith. But they are built on the foundation of daily prayer and scripture. So start there, and slowly add in additional disciplines as you feel your spiritual muscles growing.
See, school’s not so bad.
PRACTICE SIMON SAYS
God gave you a gift for your baptism—no, not a Bible with your name in gold, cursive letters on the front. He gave you a part of Himself. We call Him the Holy Spirit.
While on earth, Jesus promised His followers that, even when He was not with them physically, they wouldn’t be left alone as orphans—instead, He would send a Counselor (or Advocate) that would be with them forever (John 14:16). This Counselor was so vital, Jesus said it was better that He leave earth so the Counselor could come (John 16:7).
And come He did—in dramatic fashion, with a violent rushing wind, weird floating tongues of fire, and a supernatural ability for people to speak in languages that they had never formally studied or learned before (Acts 2:1-13). In the midst of this, Peter (that same guy who was Jesus’ BFF) stood up and preached to the gathering crowd:
“Repent and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” - Acts 2:38
As a child of God, the Holy Spirit lives inside you (Romans 5:5). Now, you get to practice doing what He says, just like playing Simon Says as a kid. The better you get at responding to the Spirit’s promptings, the more fruitful and incredible your life will be.
How does the Spirit speak? Honestly, it’s hard to describe. For me, it’s usually a prompting or a thought that wouldn’t naturally come from my own mind. It’s a prompting to say hello to my neighbor when I’d rather run inside. It’s a feeling that my family should give some money to a friend in need. It’s a thought that the scripture I read this morning, even though it was written thousands of years ago, actually applies to something in my life.
The more you ask God to speak to you (prayer) and look for ways He’s spoken in the past (scripture), the more you will recognize the Spirit’s voice in the here and now. Like everything else, it’s a process, so be expectant, but don’t beat yourself up if this muscle builds slowly. Practice being obedient and doing it quickly, and you’ll soon see amazing things happening in your life.
One important note—don’t judge your decision by the outcome. Sometimes, I’ve been obedient to God’s prompting, and the outcome wasn’t the beautiful bow I thought it would be. The important part is your obedience to the prompting, not some measurable outcome. Capeesh? Capeesh.
Simon Says is all about movement—and so is being a learner of Jesus. This new faith isn’t only about internal changes (like being more joyful or patient). It’s also about the things you physically do in the world around you. Jesus said that one measure of how much we love him is if we are actually doing the things He said and did (John 14:15). Jesus’ biological brother, a man named James, said that internal faith and external actions fit like a hand in a glove—you can’t have one without the other (James 2:14-26).
Paul, a titan of the early church movement, said this:
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to will and to act for His good purpose.” - Philippians 2:12-13
Paul never visited the YMCA, but when I read the words “work out your salvation,” I can’t help but picture some free weights or the leg-press machine. The more you “work out,” the stronger you become, and the more weight you can move. It’s the same for your faith. Put it into action, and it will grow.
Your spiritual journey is only just beginning. It’s a wild adventure of a life that is more beautiful, more difficult, more world-changing, and more unexpected than anything you could imagine. Welcome to the family. I’m so excited you’re here.