Getting back to basics: Rediscovering the core of our Christian Faith
"Getting back to basics" is the colloquial idiom we use when we realise our lives have become complicated and overcrowded with unnecessary baggage. This can happen at any point in our lives, but in my experience, it usually manifests at the end of the year.
The writer of Ecclesiastes acknowledged this when they wrote: "I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race" (Ecclesiastes 3:10).
By the time I reach the end of a long year, I certainly feel as if I have been carrying a massive burden. However, I am not entirely sure that it is God who has placed all the burdens on our lives – perhaps we have been just as complicit.
Taking time to listen to God
In late November last year (2022), as I was fighting my way through the usual end of year functions, special birthday celebrations, preparations for Advent services and trying to plan for the busy Christmas season, I felt a need to get away for a personal retreat. I was feeling exhausted and so I tried to steal away for a day to listen for God's direction and guidance for the coming year. Admittedly, it was probably not the best time to try and tune in to the still small voice of the Spirit, but I went anyway. Even though I was desperately tired, I found enough energy to prayerfully lament - "it shouldn't be like this, Lord! Why am I so tired? How do I get back to basics?"
Having previously made it a personal habit to plan for the future, I sought to make good use of the day of solitude by asking the usual questions:
- What should our focus be in the New Year?
- What preaching themes would be appropriate for our community?
- What books of the Bible should we dig deeper into?
- What's God message for our times?
Building on the basics of our Faith
All these thoughts came rushing into my crowded heart, and to be honest, I felt totally overwhelmed. And then I sensed the prompting of the Lord. God's whisper was barely audible in the noise of my heart, but it was certainly clear. "Just get back to basics, Delme!"
My initial thought was, "No, that cannot be right. That seems too simple!" The more I tried to produce innovative ideas, brilliant programmes, and "out-of-the-box ministries", the Spirit kept bringing me back to the same thing: Help my people to build strong foundations of faith, and you can start by getting back to the basics of faith!
Perhaps it was the word "basics" that had initially stumped me, or just my own stubbornness. However, in the end, God's Spirit convinced me of this:
Unless we grasp the essential truths and core disciplines of our Christian faith, we will remain off-balance and out of focus.
So what could this mean for each one of us as we move forward into the year?
What are the basics of our Christian faith that we sometimes lose sight of, especially when our lives become increasingly complicated? What lessons have been passed down through the generations that we would be wise to take heed of?
Walking in the ancient path
I will offer a few further thoughts in a moment, but it strikes me that in the modern Church movement, there is immense pressure to try and reinvent the wheel. We feel the need to keep people in our churches ‘happy’, and so we come up with gimmicky programmes, events, and ideas – all trying to look better than the other churches in our neighbourhood.
It is ironic that the first wheel was invented in Mesopotamia, around about 3500 BC, and although there are modern versions of the first rudimentary design, we still cannot beat the shape of the circle – wheels work best when they are round!
And so, living out our faith in 2023 will work best when we emulate the lifestyles of those who have gone before us. There is no need for us to stumble around in the muddy paths (Jeremiah 18:15), when we can ask for the ancient paths:
“This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls’” (Jeremiah 6:16).
Even Jesus tried to help his opponents to comprehend the beautiful simplicity of being a God-follower.
When asked a challenging question about which was the greatest commandment in the Law, “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:35-40).
Talk about getting back to basics! Could it actually be that simple?
Love God and love your neighbour!
Celebration of discipline
In his acclaimed book, Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster argues that rediscovering the disciplines of our Christian faith help us to get back to these basics I was speaking of earlier, while at the same time ‘calling us to move beyond surface living into the depths. They invite us to explore the inner caverns of the spiritual realm.’
Richard Foster elaborates on a number of these disciplines, including (but not limited to): Prayer, Fasting, Study, Worship, Simplicity, Solitude and Service.
His honesty in dealing with these disciplines is refreshing, while also deeply challenging. Of course, he is not alone in recommending these fundamental elements of our Christian walk. Dallas Willard (The Spirit of the Disciplines), John Ortberg (The life you have always wanted: Spiritual disciplines for ordinary people), Adele Ahlberg Calhoun (Practises that transform us), as well as many other pilgrims, have added their voice to this vast topic.
So, as we all head deeper into the precious gift of this year, I pray that God would guide us all into the depths of incredible grace. I am resolving to try and get back to the basics of my walk with Jesus and I pray that you may find joy in reflecting on the ancient paths too.