“If I knew then what I know now…” ever said that? Have you ever wondered if you knew the hurdles you’d have to overcome to achieve certain goals if you’d do it again? Are some victories worth any price?
As an Orthodox convert, and knowing many other Orthodox converts, many converts faced unbelievable challenges since converting to Orthodoxy and I have asked myself, more than once, if I thought it had been worth the effort to actually leave the church I was pastoring, deal with the misunderstanding of friends and family, and answer all those questions over and over again. The answer is “yes” it was worth it. Why?
Well, the scripture occurs to me: “Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68
Jesus had just finished telling the crowd gathered around Him "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. (John 6:53)
The crowd gathered around Jesus because He had just fed them miraculously. They were drawn to Him because their bellies were full, not because they were spiritually hungry. And when Jesus confronted them with a “hard saying” they left Him. As the crowd dispersed, Jesus asked His disciples if they too would leave Him and Peter answer "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)
I am continuing to learn a lesson about truth, and about being a true disciple of Jesus: Truth doesn’t mean ease, but it does mean peace.
The fact of the matter is that we are all really converts. All of us, especially those of us blessed by God to have been raised in an Orthodox home, have to make the faith our own. We have to come to grips with the claims of Jesus to be the Lord of our lives and not just a cultural security blanket.
We have to learn the lessons of converts.
First, conversion isn’t a one time event. To be sure, there are times in our lives when we make that first committed step of faith, but I pray it won’t be our last step. In our own lives, there are times when we have made a strong commitment to develop our faith and those times are precious to us, but we can’t sit on past events. Our spiritual journey is to be an ongoing growth in the life God has given us in His Son. As St. Paul said, we are to move from “glory to glory.”(2 Cor. 3:18)
Second, conversion costs. Nothing worthwhile comes easy, and that is especially true of spiritual growth. We live in a world where it is easy to live a selfish life and hard to swim against the tide of “me first.” Jesus told His disciples “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it-- lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, "This man began to build and was not able to finish.' (Luke 14:27-30)
If we place value on our spiritual maturing and spiritual growth, we’ll come to expect that our growth probably will cost us in time, effort, and even hardship. When we commit to growing in our faith, we face the opposition of the Evil One, the world around us, and even our own laziness.
Finally, conversion is worth it. You’ve heard me quote over and over again that we will “reap if we do not faint.” There are so many things in this life that try to draw your energy, things that, in light of eternity, just don’t deserve the attention and time we give them. But this is never true of the efforts we expend to grow in our faith and develop our spiritual selves. With all the wisdom and beauty preserved for us and available to us as Orthodox Christians, we can see our lives truly “converted” to that new life Christ gave the whole world on that first Pascha morning. It’s your birth right. Don’t forsake it for that which can rust and turn to dust.
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