John the Baptist was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” It was now the disciples’ moment of decision. Would they stay with John or would they go and follow Jesus? Would they settle for a “secondhand faith,” being told about Jesus, or would they choose a “firsthand experience” and follow Jesus themselves? If they choose a firsthand experience, they will have to leave John behind. They will have to let go of that which is familiar, comfortable and known. They will have to open themselves to something new and something different. You can probably remember times like that. It can be difficult to let go of a secondhand faith and life. It usually means there will be more questions than answers. What are you looking for? Where are you staying? Those are not so much questions to be answered as they are experiences waiting and wanting to be lived. A firsthand faith is neverwhat somebody tells you it should be, even if that person is a parent, friend or priest.“Firsthand” means you went after it for yourself and now it’s yours.
A firsthand experience invites us to discover the answers by living the questions. Firsthand experiences are not determined by or conditioned on our life’s circumstances. They arise from God’s eternal longing for and love of each one of us. In every circumstance of our life, good or bad, desired or dreaded, Jesus is calling us to himself. A firsthand experience won’t let us stay where we are. It moves us to a new place. It opens our eyes to a new reality. It turns our life in a different direction. It gives, grows and sustains life in a way secondhand faith never will. The deepest and most profound firsthand experience is Jesus himself. In each of our lives, Jesus comes toward us. His coming is always a moment of decision. We must choose whether we will be spectators of or participants in His life. That was the choice John the Baptist set before his disciples. Firsthand faith leads to a life of joy, hope, peace and confidence based on our connection to God.
A secondhand faith can neither sustain nor transform life. That happens only by firsthand experience. Secondhand faith leads to a life of anxiety, fear and stress. Think about it for just a minute. Would you rather be told how pretty the sunset was, or be drenched in the pinks, oranges and purples of the evening sky? Would you rather read a travel brochure or travel to a new land? Would your rather know about Christ or know him? That’s the difference between a secondhand faith and firsthand experience. Our relationship with Christ, with one another, and with ourselves cannot be based on a secondhand faith. It must be a firsthand experience. That kind of faith changes everything, but most people only find it by facing tough questions:
I wonder what Jesus wants to show you? In what ways does he want to share his life with you? How might he be offering himself to you, asking you to participate in his life? Look at your life. What do you see? What is it like? Is it full and abundant? Empty and desolate? Filled with change, chaos or the unknown? Is it one of joy and celebration? One of loss and sorrow? Do you feel lost and confused? Is it weighed down by guilt, shame, or despair? However you might describe your life, Jesus’ response is always the same. Christ is offering himself as the firsthand experience of your truest self, your truest life. Don’t just take my word for it. Don’t believe it just because I said it. Get up and go look for yourself.
If you’re still stuck in a secondhand faith, I invite you to begin moving into a firsthand experience of God through the Spirit of Christ. It can be as simple as taking time to sit quietly alone with the Lord and whisper a prayer to Him, asking for a deeper experience of His presence, being still to know that He is God. The most important relationship for every one of us is our relationship with Jesus Christ. Choosing to believe that He is who He claimed to be – the Son of God – and receiving him by faith as your Lord and Savior is the most vital act anyone will ever do. As John the Baptist recognized, Jesus is the Living Water, the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.
Here is a prayer for firsthand faith: Jesus, I believe you are the Son of God, I choose now to turn away from my sins, my self-centeredness, and every part of my life that does not please you. I choose you above all things. I give myself to you. I receive your forgiveness and blessing, and ask you to take your rightful place in my life as my Lord and Savior. Come and reign in my heart, fill me with your love and your life, help me to become a person who is truly loving, a person like you in all ways. Restore me, Jesus. Live in me. Love through me. Thank you God. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.