Ok, this may look like a lot of info, but don't let it overwhelm you. I'll give you some basic principles to follow, then leave the details to God; He'll get you to your destination :). Before I start, I want to preface everything I'm about to say by saying this:
Being a "Christian" is not about "trying to be the best person you can be" or "faithfully going to church every Sunday" or "a bunch of do's and dont's" or "giving 10% of your paycheck to the church every two weeks". I know you don't think that way either, but you'd be surprised how many people who "claim to be Christians" sadly have no idea :(. Being a Christian is about coming to know God and how much He loves us (so much so that He gave His beloved and only Son Jesus to save us), and asking Him to come into your heart and be Lord of your life. Think about that: Jesus IS God, but Jesus is also God's Son, and God loves Jesus more than we could ever comprehend, yet He gave His Son as a sacrifice for us so that WE could have eternal life with Him.
Side note: You know about the "Holy Trinity" (God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit). Some people struggle to get their heads around this. One analogy is to compare the Trinity to water. Water can be a liquid (in a drinking glass), a gas (vapor) and a solid (ice). No matter what form it takes, it's still water. And you can put ice IN water, but the ice and water are still both just water. Think of the Trinity in a similar way.
Tip 1a: God's Word has something to say about every single issue we face in life. When I was a new/young believer, I didn't know that, nor did I think it was possible for the Bible to actually have verses that could literally help someone with ANY life circumstance. But the cool thing is that the Bible DOES have something to say about everything you could face in this life, and cooler yet, the Holy Spirit will talk to you inside, giving you revelation wisdom and understanding.
Matthew 7:7 - "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you".
Matthew 6:33 - "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" ("righteousness" is God's right way of being and doing - "things" are all your needs).
Tip 1b: Pray to God and talk to Him just like you would if He was a father who was here in the physical; meaning, don't pray to Him like He's some mysterious entity that's off in the wild blue yonder. God loves you more than you could possibly imagine. Think about how much you love your own children. You want them to have the best life can offer, you want them to experience full happiness and joy, and you want to share a deep, loving relationship with them. God feels the same way about us, but even more. We will never be able to comprehend the depth of God's love with our earthly minds, but the more you dive into getting to know Him, the more you'll feel His love for you and love Him back with all your heart, soul and strength.
Tip 1c: God knows your every need, but He wants to hear from you. Just like we want to hear from our kids, even though they know we love them and are aware of their needs; we still want to hear from them. When you pray to God, tell Him your needs and ask Him to show/reveal to you what He wants you to do. Non-believers, and even Christians who haven't filled themselves enough with God's Word, have this idea that God is like a magic genie that they should just keep making requests of. They have no understanding that God needs us to do things on our end in order to grow in our walk with Him (I'll get into this more later).
Deuteronomy 6:5 - "Love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength" (your "soul" is your mind, emotions and will).
Luke 10:27 - Jesus says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength" and "Love your neighbor as yourself”.
Tip 2: The Bible that I grew up on as a kid (the King James Version) was hard to understand sometimes because it was written like a play by Shakespeare, lol. When I'm diving into the Word, I find it very helpful to go to a site like www.biblegateway.com. Not only are they a trusted source for the true word of God, but they have a ton of bible translations. When you're studying God's Word, read from multiple translations so you can get a more solid understanding of the verse(s). Translations I often use are the "American Standard Version", the "Amplified Bible", the "New International Version", and the "21st Century King James Version". There are also additional resources on their site like commentaries, which can help you get even more understanding of certain verses you may be struggling with.
There are some great ministries today that have tons of free resources to help you tap into where life's answers are located in the Bible. My wife and I have been doing a study on "Prosperity" because we're tired of being in debt to people/companies, and we're tired of struggling financially. We were amazed to learn about what God's Word says about it! (more on this later as well)
Tip 3a: Living a victorious life in Christ begins with the word. If you don't have a foundation or solid starting point in your walk, you could literally end up like the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years. Creflo Dollar (www.creflodollarministries.org) taught me something that's been extremely helpful:
(recall my comment about your soul; your mind, emotions and will)
The word of God produces your thinking (mind)
Your thinking (mind) produces your emotions
Your emotions produce your decisions (will)
Your decisions (will) produce your actions
Your actions produce your habits
Your habits produce your character
Your character produces your destiny
No matter how far you go in your walk with God, if you ever find yourself struggling with the way you're thinking or feeling, you can be certain that you need to fill your spirit with more of God's Word. And you'll see very quickly how much His Word will help you get right back to where you need to be in order to keep walking in victory with Him.
Tip 3b: When you first start reading the Bible, it's easy to think "where the heck do I start?". I used to think that maybe I should just read the entire Bible from front to back and just get whatever I could out of it that first time around, and then start over and see if I could get more the second time around. But I personally have never read the entire Bible that way. If it's something you would like to do, don't do it from front to back. There are resources online that can give you an outline of how to read the entire Bible; the proper way is actually to do it in a certain sequence (chronological) that jumps back and forth throughout the entire book. But what I find to be much more helpful is to use the Bible for what it practically represents: God's instruction manual for life. When you buy an appliance, you usually get an instruction manual. If you're like me, you file it away in a safe place in case you need to refer to it later. And then, if and when you eventually need to, you usually look up a specific piece of information; you don't read the entire manual. God's word is the same way. When you look at your life and see stuff that needs to be fixed, you can turn to God's word for help. And what I also find to be VERY helpful is to find resources either online, or on iTunes, from specific ministries. Their resources will give you all kinds of verses that tie into the topics/materials you're studying. Then as you dive into these verses, you'll find yourself taking extra steps to learn even more about God's Word because you'll be naturally driven to do it. Ministries that I trust and have been filled by are Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Bill Winston (he's currently my favorite!), Joyce Meyer, Jerry Savelle, Ken Ham, John Bevere, and Charles Capps. I would recommend starting with Bill Winston, Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar. You can find a lot of audio and video podcasts from these ministries on iTunes.
Tip 4a: You've GOT to HEAR the Word of God if you want to build faith and grow strong in the Lord. When you read Christian study materials, read them aloud. When you read your Bible, read it aloud. Listen to audio sermons, and watch video sermons. The more you can HEAR the word, the more you will grow in your faith.
Romans 10:17 - "Faith comes from hearing the Word of God"
Tip 4b: Find the verses in the bible that coincide with the struggles you're having in life, or the areas where you're seeking growth, and re-word them so that they read as though they're speaking NOW.
Remember I said my wife and I have been studying what God's Word says about "Prosperity"? Here are SOME of the re-worded verses that we've been speaking over our lives:
3 John 2: I prosper in every way and my body stays well.
Philippians 4:19: I do not lack any good thing, for my God always supplies all my need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
Psalm 37:4: I delight myself in the Lord and He gives me the desires of my heart.
Matthew 6:33: I seek first the kingdom of God and His way of doing and being right, and He supplies all my needs.
Here are some more NOW promises you can speak over your life:
Note: The reason we re-word these verses is because God is a NOW God. The sad reality is that there are a lot of Christians (including me, up until recently) who think that when they have a need, they need to just keep praying and hopefully God will answer their prayers someday. Or they think "Well, I don't know what God's will is for me", or "it might not be God's will for ME to be healed like so and so was" or "I really hope that God will (insert whatever you could doubt God for)". But the truth is that everything God is ever going to do for you, He's already done it, since the foundation of the world. Before we were ever born, God knew that we were going to sin and need a savior. And when He sent Christ to take on the sin of the world, die for us, and then be resurrected, we were delivered. Think about this: When Adam and Eve were first created, they lived in a perfect paradise with God. And, they were immortal. When they sinned, death entered in. But when Jesus was resurrected, He conquered death and restored us. Now we have to claim it. Here's an example (probably a lame one at that, but hopefully it drives the point home): Let's say there's this new product coming out at Best Buy that you really want. They're taking pre-orders for it, but you don't have the money to buy it. You get a call from your dad telling you that he pre-ordered it for you and it will be at the store waiting for you to pick it up (he "paid the price" and you need to "claim it"). If you don't go to the store, you will never get that cool, new product. It's the same thing with our salvation and all the promises that go along with it. When you were a sinner, deserving nothing but death, you came to know about Jesus and what He's done for you, so you could be saved from your sin and have eternal life with Him. And when you asked Him into your heart, it happened the moment you asked Him. You didn't have to wait 10 years before "finally getting saved". And it's the same with our prosperity. God's will IS for us to prosper in every area of our lives, NOW, and His Word proves it. So, just like we "claimed" our salvation, we have to claim everything else (our financial prosperity, our divine health, our favor, our success, etc).
Tip 5: If you know that God is all knowing, all powerful, and that His Word is true, then believe Him. Trust in Him. This experience with my recent new job is the first time I've EVER done exactly what God tells us to do --> The gist of it is that I stopped trying to do it in my own power, I stopped trying to figure it out in my mind, I cast my burden and cares to Him, and I diligently sought Him and His will for my life. And when I wasn't even expecting it, He created an opportunity; an opportunity that was truly a miracle.
Proverbs 3:5-6 - "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight"
Tip 6: "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). This was one of the most challenging verses for me to grasp, and I'm still not 100% understanding of it; in the sense that I can't explain it or understand it like I can other things that I know with 100% certainty and understanding. But I at least have a much better understanding of it now. Here's how I would try to explain it: If there's a promise from God that you want to manifest in your life, (with the understanding that you know God's Word is true and you believe It) you have to speak that promise (what His Word says) out-loud, while seeing it in your mind. And since it's something you want, and you know God has promised it to you, until you actually see it manifest itself in your life, you keep standing on His promise (because you have "faith" that it will come to pass). Don't look at "hope" as "oh, I hope it comes true". Hope in this verse is more like "you know it's true and it's going to happen, it's just not physically here yet". As you keep speaking God's promise, it builds faith inside your spirit/heart (recall Romans 10:17). When your faith has been watered enough, it will spring forth from your spirit like a blossoming plant; it will "put substance to the thing you hoped for" (God's promise). Once it's manifested in your life, you don't need faith anymore because you can SEE it now in the physical. But until it's actually manifested itself in the natural/physical, your faith is the evidence of it (since it's not yet seen with your physical eyes - it's only seen in your spirit while your watering/exercising your faith). Another thing that may help you understand it is this: Think about what God's Word says about creation. God SPOKE everything into existence, and He had 100% faith that when He spoke everything that He wanted to create, it would be created. That's our example of why it's important to SPEAK His Word. As we grow in our faith, It WILL produce blessings in our lives. The more we exercise our faith, the stronger we'll get and the better we'll get at using our faith to produce manifest blessings in our lives.
Closing: This is meaty stuff man, but I sure wish I knew someone years ago who could've taught it to me and saved me years of struggling to get to the point that I'm finally at now. Take your time and don't worry about grasping everything I said right away. This letter serves as more of a study guide that you can keep referring to.
If you have any questions or if there's anything I can help clarify, let me know.
I'm excited to hear from you as you grow. In a year from now, we'll look back at this email and be like "wow, look how far we've come since then!"
Scripture Info follow-up (written and sent 3 days later):
The Trinity is God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are 3-part beings: Spirit, soul and body
When you make a decision to stand on God's Word (His truth/His promises), continue to speak the truth and don't every utter a single word contrary to it.
Proverbs 18:21: "Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and they that love it shall eat the fruit therof".
What this is saying is that every word you speak is a seed. When a farmer sows a seed into the ground, He does it knowing that it will produce something. And since the power of life and death are in the tongue, every word we utter is a seed that will either sow life or death. The part that describes that we shall eat the fruit thereof is basically saying that you reap what you sow. If you sow words of death over something, you will surely reap death.
Galatians 6:7: "...for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap".
I want to use an example here that you will really be able to relate to, and I want to tell you right now that I don't say this in any other way but love; it's merely an example that I know will help clarify the point.
Before you moved to Texas, and especially after you moved, your mom was speaking "I will never get over it!". And the sad thing is that she 100% believed that in her heart. Because of those two things: 1. She spoke it (words of death) and 2. She believed it (she had "faith" in her words), she was literally speaking death over herself. Now I don't mean that she was speaking physical death over herself. But she was sentencing herself to eternal unhappiness with her words and her faith in those words. The good news though is that, through Jesus, we can free ourselves from the death we've spoken, and we can begin speaking words of life over every area of our lives.
You've heard the verse "as a man thinketh, so is he", right? (Proverbs 23:7) If not, the simple way of stating that would be to say that "whatever a man thinks in his heart about himself or is circumstances is what he or his circumstances will become". That's why it's important for us as believers to renew our thinking with God's Word.
Romans 12:2: "And be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, and ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God".
This goes back to what I said about how important it is for us as believers, and especially as young believers, to renew our minds with God's Word. As we do that, like I said, it will trickle through all the other areas of our lives (recall the 8 steps I spoke of earlier, where the Word produces your thinking, your thinking produces your emotions, etc).