One of the things I talk with pastors about is spiritual growth and how to help people along the path. According to “Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth”, there are four places we find ourselves in when it comes to spiritual growth. They are: Exploring Christ, Growing in Christ, Close to Christ and Christ Centered. There are different habits, behaviors and disciplines of people when they’re in each segment. The goal is to help people move from one segment to the next. The hardest segment to get people to move to is from Close to Christ into Christ Centered. One seeks God’s wisdom and direction for their life along with daily disciplines. The other is complete surrender to God allowing Him control over your life. It’s a hard jump for people to make.
In Mark 1, Jesus had just begun His earthly ministry. He had been baptized and was beginning to preach. As He did, people began to follow Him. There were some people though that He asked to be disciples instead of just followers. In Mark 1:17-18 Jesus saw Andrew and Simon Peter cleaning their nets and said, “‘Come follow me and I will transform you into fishers of men instead of fish!’ Immediately they dropped their nets and left everything behind to follow Jesus” (TPT). These two, along with the other 10 disciples, left everything to give themselves completely to Christ. Most people simply took off of work, listened to Him preach, and then went back to work. These guys dropped what they were doing in complete surrender to follow Him. They gave up everything.
I’m not suggesting that you quit your job to be a Christian and have a better relationship with Christ. I am asking you to examine the things that you’re holding onto that are keeping you from complete surrender to Christ. It could be control of your schedule, your money, your time, your talents, etc. The Rich Young Ruler in Matthew 19 was called to move from Close to Christ into a Christ Centered life. He walked away sad because he wanted to hold onto things. It didn’t mean he wasn’t a Christian. It meant that he didn’t move to a Christ Centered life to experience all God had for him. Like him, we hold onto things that Christ is calling us to let go of. We need to be like Andrew and Simon Peter where we immediately drop those things, leave them behind and surrender to God’s will.
One of the things my wife and I feel is our duty as parents is to help to help our son become a mature adult one day who is equipped to handle life. To do that, we often give him the opportunity to make tough decisions. We help him think through rewards and consequences of those decisions to help him build a foundation of decision making principles. Instead of being grateful, he complains. He asks, “Why do you always make me have hard choices?” We answer, “Because life is full of hard choices. The sooner you learn how to make them, the better your life will be.” He is too young to understand that right now, but as parents, we want our child to have the tools necessary for maturity. We don’t mind putting him in tough positions that make him uncomfortable because we know that he will need those skills down the road.
Because you and I are full functioning adults on this planet, we forget that we are in a similar relationship with our Heavenly Father. You and I are His children, and His goal for us is spiritual maturity. Just like a good parent, He will often force us out of our comfort zone to teach us dependence on Him, to produce character or to prepare us for the future. It’s never convenient, sometimes painful, but always productive. His concern is for our growth more than our comfort. He will do whatever is necessary to help us become more like Him. We can complain asking, “Why,” or we can endure and grow.
Isaiah 30:20 says, “The Lord will make you go through hard times, but he himself will be there to teach you, and you will not have to search for him any more” (GNT). God doesn’t abandon you when the going gets tough. He’s right there with you teaching you if you’re listening. The more difficult the situation is, the more of His grace you get to experience. It is always sufficient for your circumstances. I’ve found that going through the hard times have drawn me closer to Him rather than farther away. As C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain.” He loves us enough to do what it takes to help us hear Him, to know Him and to grow in Him. Don’t discount the hard times. God may just be using them to help you know Him more.
I have a friend with a Jeep and one of the things he likes to do is to take it off road. There are trails around the country that Jeep enthusiasts go to. These trails are rated by the package on your Jeep. To go on certain ones, you have to have a certain package or another with upgrades or you won’t make it. There’s one in the High Sierra’s near Lake Tahoe called the Rubicon Trail. It’s a grueling 22 mile off road trail that challenges even the most seasoned off road drivers. I’ve watched several videos of people doing some amazing driving on this trail. These drivers move forward on this trail confidently and help others along the way. It’s pretty cool to watch them navigate, learn and maneuver some rugged terrain.
When talking about our spiritual walk, we often refer to the good times as “mountaintop experiences” and dark times as “being in the valley”. However, like the Rubicon Trail, sometimes the challenging times of life are high on the mountain or on your way up. You may get some bumps and scratches on the way through the rugged terrain. Some of the toughest times in David’s life were after the high of being anointed king. He had to navigate through some rough terrain, but in the process, God was preparing him for the responsibility of what was coming. There were some emotional set backs on his Rubicon Trail to the throne, but he kept moving forward with the confidence of his calling.
I’m reminded of Habakkuk 3:19. It says, “The Lord GOD is my strength [my source of courage, my invincible army]; He has made my feet [steady and sure] like hinds’ feet And makes me walk [forward with spiritual confidence] on my high places [of challenge and responsibility]” (AMP). I don’t know what your Rubicon Trail is, but I do know that God is your source of courage and your navigator through rough terrain. He will help you to keep moving forward towards your goal with confidence even when the roadway is seemingly blocked and you can’t see the end. He uses these times as part of His process to prepare you for the promise. Look around you to see who He has placed in your life to help get you through. Don’t travel this terrain alone. Find a strong believer to help guide you and pray you through.
I’ve watched the movie “Greater” a couple of times this year. It’s the faith based story of Brandon Burlsworth who is considered the greatest walk-on in college football history. He had everything working against him, but he persisted. One coach told him since he didn’t have talent, he was going to have to work harder than anyone else. He was first to show up and last to leave. At one point, he got a new coach and the coach found him practicing his footwork when the practice field was closed. The coach asked him if his previous coaches let him do that. Brandon replied that they never knew he did it. The coach said, “Well, they say character is what you do when no one’s looking.” Brandon quickly replied, “Someone’s always looking.”
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church, he was reminding them that they were going to go through hard times. In chapter 6, let them know that how they respond matters. Verse 4 says, “Our work as God’s servants gets validated—or not—in the details. People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly… in hard times, tough times, bad times” (MSG). That phrase, “gets validated – or not – in the details” jumped off the page at me. In hard times, it’s more important than ever to focus on the details of our spiritual growth. We must continue to read and study God’s Word, spend time in prayer and fasting, share our faith and put into practice what we know. It’s those daily disciplines that help us to stay our post when times get tough.
Brandon Burlsworth was only able to achieve what he did because he continued with his daily disciplines no matter what. It’s easy to make excuses right now and to slack off on our relationship with Christ, but now is the time we need to go deeper in that relationship. People are watching how you and I respond to the crisis the world is in. Are we rising to the challenge or are we succumbing to “the new normal”? We must stay at our post, stronger than ever, giving people hope and pointing them to the One who gives peace in troubled times. Our work – our faith – gets validated in the daily details and exposed under pressure. Today’s climate is the time for us to step up, not back, and to stand firm in the power of His might. I believe God is calling us into a deeper relationship with Him than ever before. The way to that relationship and spiritual maturity is in the details of your daily spiritual disciplines.
Do you know anyone who loves to argue? How about someone who always has to be right? When you get two people together who love to argue and have to be right, things can get heated. I once saw a meme where a number was drawn on a paper between to people who were sitting across from each other. When one person looked at it, the number was a six. On the other side of the table, the number was a nine. Both sat there arguing over who was right. Neither was willing to get up from their seat to see the number from the other’s perspective because they were sure they were right. I think that’s the way a lot of arguments are. We’re so concerned about being right, that we fail to be concerned about the other person.
Each person who has accepted Jesus as their Lord, has begun a journey into spiritual maturity. Each one of us grow at different paces and are at different levels of maturity. From where we sit, and through the eyes of our past, we can interpret things differently. I used to get into arguments with people, trying to correct their misguided (in my opinion) ways. We would argue until we were blue in the face, but neither of us would give in. I’ve found that’s a way to lose friends and to stunt someone’s spiritual growth (including my own). Again, when I’m arguing and my focus is on being right, then it’s not on growth (mine or theirs). That’s a sign of spiritual immaturity and not what we’re called to do.
Romans 14:1-4 has a lot to say about this and how we’re to treat others. It says, “Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord’s help, they will stand and receive his approval” (NLT). Accepting others where they are, and understanding that we’re all at different levels of maturity, should help us to understand that our job is to promote growth in others instead of stunting it. How we treat other believers matters. When we are more concerned with growth and maturity instead of being right or trying to prove someone is wrong, we’re moving in the right direction. Quit trying to be right, and start trying to love instead.
I’m nowhere near a professional gardener, but I do love planting a small garden each spring. There’s just something about tilling some earth, planting seeds, watering them, watching them grow and then enjoying the results. I’ve noticed though that sometimes my plants produce the minimum amount of vegetables while someone else brings in a bumper crop. Ive learned that there are a lot of variables that make them different. The soil is one of the greatest factors in how well the plants will do. It needs the right amount of vitamins and minerals for the plants I have to help them. There also the amount of water and sunlight they receive as well that will affect how they grow. The more I adjust these three things, the greater the more I can empower them to grow and produce.
As Christians, we’re not so different. Christianity is not just a one time event where we accept Jesus as our savior. It’s a lifetime of growth that comes after His seed is planted in our heart. In Matthew 13, Jesus told the parable where a sower scattered seeds among 4 different soils. Three out of four seeds sprouted, but only the ones in the seeds that were in good soil produced the crop he was looking for. The environment we’re in has a lot to do with our growth. Another thing we can do to empower our own growth is to stay watered in the Word of God. We can’t just live on the water we receive on Sundays. We must get watered daily. Finally, we must be exposed to the Son. Prayer is our time with the Son who causes us to be healthy and to grow. When these three things are consistent in our lives, we will not only grow, but produce fruit which is to create and empower other believers to grow.
Romans 15:2 says, “Our goal must be to empower others to do what is right and good for them, and to bring them into spiritual maturity” (TPT). Every one us need to have the goal of not just maturing ourselves, but to empower others to grow and produce as well. You have the power to create the atmosphere around you. Are your words and actions toward others creating an environment where others can grow? Are you fertilizing the seeds that have been planted in their heart? Does your life reflect the Son? Our goal should be to do these three things consistently. We need to make sure we are headed for maturity, and that we are empowering others to mature as well.
When my son was a new born, my wife and I decided we didn’t want him to learn the behavior of crying for what he wanted. That started with the very first thing that babies learn to cry for – milk. We began to pay attention to his movements and sounds around feeding times so we could anticipate when he was hungry. As we noticed them, we would begin to warm up some milk and feed him. However, there were times when we were busy and missed his cues. In those moments, he would let us know he was hungry and ready for milk through his only means of communication- crying. The best part was when he began to hold his own bottle. Later, we was able to crawl to the bottle when he was hungry and began the maturation process of feeding himself.
As Christians, we go through a maturity process as well. When we first accept Jesus as our savior, we are merely spiritual infants. We need the milk of God’s Word to help us grow. We need to learn simple concepts that are easily digestible. As we mature, we should graduate to more difficult concepts and spiritual disciplines. Just like a baby, there is a transformation that takes place in our lives. Our inner faith should grow as we mature and learn how to reconcile our inward faith with our public life. As we drink the milk of God’s Word, it begins to change how we live so that our lives become more Christ like.
1 Peter 2:2 says, “In the same way that nursing infants cry for milk, you must intensely crave the pure spiritual milk of God’s Word. For this “milk” will cause you to grow into maturity, fully nourished and strong for life” (TPT). Each of us need to own our own maturation process. It’s not the responsibility of the church to grow us. We must intensely crave spiritual food Monday through Saturday and learn to feed ourselves. Reading God’s Word daily puts food into our spirit. Meditating on verses is like the chewing process. It breaks it down and releases nutrients that are vital to your growth. Wherever you are in your maturation process, there’s always room for more growth that fully nourishes your soul and leads you into a stronger spiritual life.
Do you remember the moment you began to appreciate what your parents had done for you, and you wanted to do something for them to show it? A child never really knows or understands the sacrifices their parents make for them. They don’t know how many things their parents gave up of what they wanted to do so the child could do what they wanted. Parents instinctively love their children and do things for them not expecting anything in return. When the child begins to understand all their parents have done, it’s usually when they’re an adult.
That mark of maturity can also be seen in a spiritual sense. One of the signs of spiritual maturity is when you no longer see God as a genie in the sky whose job it is to give you what you want and pray for. When He moves from just your provider in your life to all the other things He wants to be, you begin to have a deeper understanding of who He is. God’s desire for us is to move into spiritual maturity.
One night as David was in his palace, and I imagine he was thinking of how far he had come since tending the sheep. I’m sure as he looked the ceiling, he remembered how many times before he was out in the elements. As he thought about these things, another thought came to him. So in II Samuel 7:2, he went to the prophet Nathan and said, “Here I am living in a house built of cedar, but God’s Covenant Box is kept in a tent!” (GNT) David had an aha moment that night. He decided that he wanted to do something for God instead of asking Him for something.
Imagine that. It’s no wonder David was known as a man after God’s own heart. He was deeply flawed, yet he was mature enough to know God beyond the surface level. He wasn’t scared to dive into the heart of God to know who He is, nor should we be. God will reveal Himself to each of us to the extent we are willing to spend time with Him. You will find that the closer you get to the heart of God, the more your life will change to reflect His holiness. Spiritual maturity is possible, but it will take you getting your eyes off yourself and onto Him.