Seeking to be transformed into the image of Jesus

A Voice in the Desert

Thoughts of a pilgrim on a journey toward Jesus...

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Character Traits

My good friend Alan has a saying to which he often refers: “Who you are and who you’re becoming is more important than what you do.” I believe he’s right. In a world where the ends often justify the means, I wonder how many people would agree with that statement. Perhaps the real question is not how many would agree with it, but how many live it out? It’s easy to say you believe character is important, even most important, but it can be hard to live that when the pressure is on and you need results.

Jesus taught that we become people of deep character through intimacy with him (consider John 15:1-17). As we are transformed more and more into his image, we reflect more and more of his character in our words and actions. As he said in Matthew 7:17-18, good trees bear good fruit and bad trees don’t no matter how it looks.

I have written elsewhere on this blog on the kinds of practices I believe help us create space for the Holy Spirit to transform us into good trees; that allow us to remain deeply connect to Jesus so we are made into his likeness. But how do we know if a person is a “good tree”? How do we know if they are the kind of person who believes character is more important than results?

What are some of the signs that a person is a person of character? I offer just a few and they are influenced by Gary Hunter and Tim Addington…

1. When talking about success he/she recognizes and appreciates the influence and role of others; when talking about failure he/she take responsibility without placing blame.

2 She/he can notice/observe/assess a situation without making judgment, being comfortable with ambiguity and holding things in tension.

3. He/she has appropriate humility – neither thinking too much of self nor being falsely self deprecating.

4. She/he is a person of conviction, willing to listen to others but not quickly bending because of public opinion.

5. He/she has a strong sense of identity in relation to their Heavenly Father; having strong self-awareness of his/her own emotions, wiring, strengths, weaknesses, giftings.

6. She/he forgive and ask forgiveness when called for.

Who are you becoming? Are you the person you want to be? How are you connecting with Jesus so you can become more like him? If someone was to evaluate your life according to these six traits, how would you measure up?

Indifference

Indifference is usually defined as a lack of concern or disinterest. It is viewed negatively. To be indifferent is to be callous or unfeeling toward others. This kind of indifference is, rightly, seen in a negative, pejorative light.

Over the last few weeks, I have been pondering the concept of freedom – true freedom. I’ve wondered what would it be like to be truly free to make choices and live without fear of consequences – things like what others might think or death or loss of something I value. In my reading and meditating one word has come up over and over again: indifference. In this case, indifference has a positive, spiritual sense. Let me explain.

Back during the Middle Ages, Ignatius of Loyola affirmed that human beings were created to love God with all their heart and soul through loving others. To be able to do this properly, he wrote, “it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent toward all created things…wanting and choosing only that which leads to the end for which we were created” (Spiritual Exercises 23 translated by George E. Ganss). He suggests that we will ultimately live best and will be happiest when we love one thing or more precisely some One. To do this we need “interior freedom” to be able to pursue that some One without distraction or competition. Hence we need indifference – indifference to everything that is not God; indifference to anything that is not God’s will; indifference to anything that prevents us from loving well.

Indifference, then, is defined as “being so passionately and single-mindedly committed, so completely in love, that we are willing to sacrifice anything, including our lives, for the ultimate goal” (Brackley, The Call to Discernment in Troubled Times, p. 12). In this context, the ultimate goal is loving God alone. Indifference then allows us to pursue that ultimate goal. It creates the freedom we need to actually move in that direction. Such indifference allows our hearts to reach a place where we can truly say with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). It allows our heart to be in quiet resolve in the midst of confusion and fright so we can resond in a similar way as Mary in Luke 1 when the angel told her she would have a child by the Holy Spirit, With a heart for God she said, “Behold, I am the servant[f] of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Whatever the Lord wants, no matter the personal cost, I accept.

When we reach a place of indifference, we are truly free to be used by God for his glory. Indifference is not an easy attitude to attain. The truth is we cannot, by our own effort alone, get to a place of true indifference. We need God’s help. It is a work of the Holy Spirit. But like many transformational attitudes, we can create space in our lives for him to do his work.

1. Pray. Ask God to give us a holy detachment; a true indifference to anything that is not his will; does not lead us to love him and others more.

2. Wait. It sometimes takes time for God to move in us to remove our attachments and bring us to indifference.

3. Seek. We can ask ourselves during this time what might be something that needs to die or something in me that stands in the way of my being open to God’s purpose or desire? Take time to quietly sit before the Lord and ask him to show you what might be keeping you from truly desiring his will above all else.

4. Love. Continue to love and worship God well studying his Word and doing all you know for certain you are to do. Keep pursuing him and loving others even as you pray, wait and seek indifference and true inner freedom.

 

Faith Mongering

Fear mongering” is the activity of deliberately arousing public fear or alarm about a particular issue. It is rampant in the media. Whether it is ebola, ISIS or Y2K…real threats or imagined…the media thrives on creating a sense of hysteria that we are under imminent threat.

I am sick and tired of fear mongering. I serve a God who is greater than all of it. I know whom I believe and I am confident He has everything well in hand no matter what CNN, FoxNews, ABC, CBS, NBC etc. may say. So, instead of fear
mongering, I would like to be someone who engages in “faith mongering” – the activity of deliberately arousing public faith or confidence in God over every issue.

I do not want to minimize genuine danger, but as a follower of Jesus Christ I also do not want to live my life afraid. After all, John wrote, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear,because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love (1 John 4:18). And Paul wrote as well that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us…” He continues:

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:18, 31-32, 37-39)

I counted at least forty times that “Fear not” or “Do not be afraid” was spoken to people in the Bible. Most often the reason not to fear is because God is with us! Consider a few of the verses that encourage us not to fear:

Psalm 23:4Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Psalm 27:1The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 118:6 The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?

Romans 8:15For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!

2 Timothy 1:7for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

Hebrews 13:5-6Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

I said in my last blog that death is not the worst thing that could happen to me. Jesus agrees. He said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell Matthew 10:28). Paul wrote while in prison, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). He had come to a place where he knew continued life on earth would mean fruitful ministry and service to God, but if he died it would actually be better because he would get to be with Christ and would be able to worship and enjoy him without the hindrances of this life.

Did you know that of the twenty countries with the highest percentage of Christian growth rate, seven of them are in the Arabian Peninsula (see the list here)? Eleven of the twenty are considered Muslim countries. There is reason for hope! Maybe democracy and “freedom” aren’t essential for people to come to faith! In fact, not one country from North America, Europe or Latin American made the top twenty! The study showed that the highest Christian growth rates are found among all major non-Christian religious groups: Hindus, Non-Religious, Buddhists and Muslims. There is reason for hope! There is reason for faith! Fear not! Jesus is with us always…until the very end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20)!

So let’s stop with the fear mongering! No matter where we are; no matter who is in political office; no matter what is going on externally…He who is in us is great than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4)! My desire is that the church of Jesus Christ – especially in the United States – will become known for what we oppose rather than for the love we are supposed to live out. I am concerned that the faith and confidence we claim in words and songs is not the faith we live out in hope, confidence, and action.

How can we “faith monger”?

1. Stop watching the news (so much) or at least take much of it with a grain of salt! Be careful who you listen to for your news…utilize a variety of sources.

2.Balance the news with prayer and God’s Word – especially when you find yourself struggling with fear! Memorize verses, like the ones above, that help you remember Jesus is building his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18)!

3. Read biographies of people of faith. God works in extraordinary ways through ordinary people. He uses difficult and challenging circumstances to do amazing things.

4. Step out of your comfort zone to go on a short term ministry trip or to participate in a ministry to a people you don’t normally interact with or that you fear.

5. At the risk of taking a verse out of context, walk out the charge of Isaiah 35:3-4 – Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.

We serve a risen savior! We serve the God who is the creator of all things. We serve the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Let’s live like it!

Freedom

Recently with the kidnappings of Christians in the Middle East and the martyrdom of many of them I’ve found myself wondering, “What if I was taken? What if I was in their place…how would I respond?” My reflections have led me to two conclusions: 1) Death is not the worst thing that could happen to me (a thought for another blog perhaps)! 2) There is a true freedom that is so liberating, even captivity can’t quench it (the subject for today’s blog).

When I talk about “true freedom”, I don’t mean the kind of freedom we might have because we live in a certain country or the kind of freedom that comes from one’s status in life or anything of that nature. I’ve been mulling over the concept of “inner” or “interior” freedom. I’m sure there are many more educated people than me who have a good definition of inner freedom is. In my mind, when I think of true freedom – inner freedom – I think of how so many people are afraid to let others know who they really are – their struggles and failures, their faults and their foibles – and as a result spend a lot of time and energy projecting the person they wish they were or the person they think people want them to be.

You may remember the song Me and Bobby McGee (written by Kris Kristofferson and taken by Janis Joplin to number one shortly after her death in 1971), “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…” In the song, the singer has hit rock bottom and has lost everything and in some sense is free because she’s got nothing left to lose. No one and nothing can hurt her because there’s nothing she’s holding onto; she has nothing to protect. But many of us live life fearing we will lose things – our reputation, our image, our comfort, our children, our jobs, our marriage, our health, our lives. It’s hard to imagine any good that could come from losing these things –  our identity and our security are tied up in these masks and these things we cling to. We spend our time and effort trying to protect ourselves, the masks we wear, and the scaffolding we need to “prop” them up.

The “me” in the song may just have a point. We don’t necessarily have to hit rock bottom emotionally or physically to get to there, but it is possible for us to get to a place where we live from our true self, unafraid of losing the things around us that give us security and identity. I believe inner freedom comes when we experience the deep love of God in such a profound way we realize we are genuinely, deeply, unconditionally loved. Finding security in God’s amazingly deep and profound love frees us from masks and the things that we let define our lives. Henri Nouwen speaking of freedom and God’s love wrote:

“The great spiritual task facing me is to so fully trust that I belong to God that I can be free in the world–free to speak even when my words are not received; free to act even when my actions are criticized, ridiculed, or considered useless…. I am convinced that I will truly be able to love the world when I fully believe that I am loved far beyond its boundaries.” (Nouwen, Reaching Out)

I would echo Nouwen’s thoughts and take them further. When we are convinced of God’s love not only are we free to speak and act even when our words and actions are not received well, we are also free to be silent even in the face of false accusation; free to turn the other cheek when insulted; free to go the extra mile even if someone is taking advantage of us; free to love regardless of how the other person responds; free to die knowing that what lies beyond is better than what we experience here and now.

In recent years I have found this to be true in my own experience. For many years I projected a “Rick” I wanted everyone to believe I was – godly man, good pastor, loving husband and father – and I sought to live that out. But the reality was I often fell very short. I was insecure and afraid of letting anyone know what was really going on inside me. I would go through patches where I wasn’t a very good husband or father or I didn’t feel my life was all that godly and I was afraid people would discover the sham of my hypocrisy. At that time, I would have affirmed the theology of God’s deep love for me. I would have told you that I was free because of that love but I was living in bondage to my fears and insecurities. I was living like I had to earn God’s love or live a certain way to maintain it.

I remember vividly one morning as I met with God. I had read in the Word and prayed and was taking time to read a book for my own growth. That morning I experienced God’s love in a way I never had before. It was a moment in which my heart was transformed in profound ways I had long desired. And for the first time I had an interior freedom that I had never had before. I was free to be myself and to love others without fear.

Such freedom requires maintenance. Like a garden needs weeding and watering, so does interior freedom. We need to feed on God’s Word; worship; pray; fellowship with like-minded friends. We need to drink deeply of God’s love and constant presence walking with us through life. We also need to weed our hearts; to protect them from drifting back into hiding behind masks and trying to earn or justify the love we already have or trying to find it in imitations. We can do this through regular times of self-examination and reflection where we pay attention to the things stirred within us and list our concerns and worries.

 

Giving Up?

Ash Wednesday was this past week. It marks the beginning of the church season called “Lent” Lent is the forty days (not including Sundays and finishing on the day before Good Friday) before Easter. For those who observe it, Lent is a time to prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. The purpose is to set aside time for reflection on Jesus Christ – his suffering and his sacrifice, his life, death, burial and resurrection. A common question you may hear is,  “What are you giving up for Lent?”  Even people who do not observe the season may take the opportunity to fast from something. But there is a danger in entering into a fast glibly or superficially. It shouldn’t be something we do just because it’s expected or because others are doing it. Our sacrifice, whatever it may be, should be something that creates space for us to draw closer to God and should impact other people.  If it doesn’t, our fasting or sacrifice will lack power and purpose. John Chrysostom wrote:

No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.

This echoes the words of Isaiah when he shared God’s perspective on fasting:

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of wickedness,
    to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
    and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isaiah 58:6-7)

The point in Isaiah (and for Chrysostom) is the heart with which we offer sacrifice to God is more important than the act. If we sacrifice or fast and do not allow it to overflow into our love and service for others, it misses the point. Our sacrifice and fasting needs to come from a surrendered heart – a heart set on loving God and others. When we surrender our sacrifice or fast to him; when we allow it to move us to acts of compassion or sharing of the blessings we’ve received, there is great fruit. Isaiah says, “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard” (Isaiah 58:8). As we enter into Lent, if you are someone who is considering fasting, may I suggest considering these questions posed by Ruth Haley Barton on her blog earlier this week (commenting on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6):

  • How will I give?  (v. 2-3) Lent is a time for “giving things up” balanced by “giving to” those in need.
  • How will I pray?  (v. 5-13)  As we “give up” some of our usual distractions, there is more space for prayer.  Is there a particular prayer practice (like fixed hour prayer, silent prayer or intercessory prayer) that God is inviting me to?
  • Who do I need to forgive and from whom do I need to seek forgiveness? (vs. 14-15) Forgiveness creates a conduit for God’s grace to flow in our lives with others.
  • How will I fast?  (v. 16-18)  What distracts me from alert attention to my relationship with God? What do I need to abstain from in order to be more aware of my hunger for God?
  • What earthly treasures am I attached to and how can I let go?  (v. 19-21)  Is there any specific earthly treasure I am attached to—time, money, energy, success—that I am being called to steward differently or let go of entirely, at least for this season?

So what are you giving up for Lent…and who will benefit from your sacrifice? 

Posture, Pondering and Prayer

If you walk into a classroom and find the students sitting up straight or even leaning a bit forward on their desk, what would you assume? Most likely you would think they are being attentive and are interested in the lesson. Walk into the same class room and observe the same students hunched over or with their chins in their hands and you would think they look bored. One’s posture can tell a lot about what is going on inside. Researchers suggest open posture involves keeping the trunk of the body open and exposed and suggests friendliness, openness and willingness. Closed posture keeps the trunk of the body obscured or hidden often by hunching forward and keeping the arms and legs crossed. This type of posture can indicate of hostility, unfriendliness, and anxiety.

Physical posture often gives an idea of what is going on inside – what a person is thinking or feeling. In prayer this can be true as well. We might lift our hands in praise and fall to the ground prostate in anguish as we seek God, for example. In the Bible, we find a number of postures written about for when we come before God:

More important than our physical posture is the posture of our heart. When our hearts are attentive to see God around us and give him our undivided, undistracted attention, we can hear what he has to say to us in a given moment (see “Daddy! Pay Attention!” for more). We should have a heart posture of submission or surrender; of gratitude and appreciation; of obedience. One heart posture we might not normally think of as prayer has been on my mind recently, pondering prayer.

The English word “ponder” comes from the Latin word pondus (meaning pound) which becomes ponderer in its verb form which gives way to our English meaning “appraise or judge the worth of”. It is a reflective rather than analytical way of thinking. We have an idea we chew on; we look at from different perspectives. It is a slow process. We let the thought bounce around carefully in our minds.

Pondering is not prayer in and of itself. But, writes David G. Benner, “Pondering becomes prayer when reflection arises in a mind that is open to God” (Opening to God: Lectio Divina and Life as Prayer, p. 88). He suggests several Psalms as examples of pondering prayer:

  • Psalm 14 – David reflects on issues that trouble him deeply, questions without answers, and as he gives them space for thought he offers them to God.
  • Psalm 15 – David wonders who can live in God’s tent or on his holy mountain and then prayerfully thinks through the one who can do this.
  • Psalm 19 – David ponders the splendor of God’s creation.
  • Psalm 49 – The psalmist considers life’s troubles and the uselessness of riches.
  • Psalm 90 – Moses considers the human condition.

Benner writes (about his own book but it applies to this blog too), “This present moment as you read this page can be a prayer if it involves trusting openness before God. If it does, your reading is an opportunity to meet God” (p. 90). You see, the posture of our heart – am I open to God in this moment or just doing my thing – can make this activity prayer…for you, as you read; for me, as I type and as I read his chapter. While reading I was open to what God had for me in the pages – was it a truth I should pursue? a challenge to overcome? a false idea to be aware of? And long after I read, I was still pondering the words…how could I apply them in my life? What might God be inviting me to that I could connect more deeply with Him?

Benner suggests different ways pondering can become prayer. For example, our study of the Bible can become an act of prayer. He calls this “discursive meditation” where we “think about the passage, viewing it from many angles. We might first attempt to understand who wrote it and why. We might also try to understand who the intended audience was and what the purpose was for the writing. Once again, this sort of study is not automatically prayer because we can study Scriptures without openness of spirit” (p. 91). It is when we take a posture of openness and reflectively consider the passage before us that it becomes pondering prayer. Often a thought in Scripture will stick with me throughout the day. When I ponder it, wondering what about it God wants me to notice or practice or whatever, it becomes not just pondering but pondering prayer.

Other activities can become acts of prayer if we maintain openness to God. Journaling when it goes beyond simply recording facts and information to thoughtful consideration; prayerful reflection on experience; problem solving – nearly any activity that includes thoughtful pondering can become prayer. The key is whether we are open to God, sharing with him our thoughts and feelings with God in trusting openness. This is often in words, but can be my entire reflective process if in it I am open to God. “Trusting openness to God makes any moment a time of prayer. It is also what makes any hour or day an hour or day of prayer” (p. 97).

It’s such a subtle and in some ways very easy posture to take. Am I willing to be open to God, to be mindful of his presence and care for every part of my life because “…there is no part of us or of our experience God is not interested in” (p. 97). Benner reminds us that any time we are paying attention to God and inviting him to guide us, we need to obey what he says. “Pondering involves thinking, but it also involves paying attention to where that thinking leads me…(it) demands attention not just to the content issues that appear in the mind but also to the process ones that register on the heart” (p. 99). Do I find myself troubled? Elated? Convicted? Concerned? Confused? Resistant? I need to pay attention to what is going on in my heart and discuss these with God as well. The heart data can help point to deeper issues that need resolution as we seek clarity in our pondering. When we are open to God, his Spirit can help us discern what is going on.

Benner closes his chapter by writing, “Pondering prayer is responding to the invitation to bring your mind, heart and imagination to your communion with God” (p. 104). He suggests several ways to get started in the process. I offer two from his five suggestions on pages 104-106.

1. Talk with God about the things that have been heavy on your heart during your prayer times. He suggests praying something like “Lord, you know I have been thinking a lot about my finances I offer you that thinking.” Or “Lord, I am concerned about my mother’s health and unsure whether to advise her to undergo further chemotherapy. I offer you my thinking and concerns.” We often think about things throughout the day. We don’t often remember to invite God to be a part of that thinking. 

2. When you are reflecting on some experience you had, invite God to be a part of the process. “Remember, bidden or not, God is already present. And anything that is on your heart and in your mind is an issue of importance to God.” Focus on the experience for a bit. Then, try to look at the entire situation through the lens of your faith. Are there any images or ideas that seem to point toward God? Are there any issues or values embedded in the situation? Do any biblical stories or verses come to mind? If there is something, how does it affirm or challenge the meaning and understanding you were forming of the experience? Are there deeper ethical issues at play? How might Jesus respond? Did he face a similar situation? How do things like sin, suffering, evil, grace, salvation or other theological ideas relate to this experience and influence your understanding of it? “These questions are one way of making space for theological reflection on experience. Doing so is pondering prayer.”

As one who desires very deeply to walk every moment in an awareness of God’s presence and to learn what it means to “pray without ceasing”, Benner’s chapter on “Prayer as Pondering” brings with it an invitation to invite Jesus more deeply into who I am; the experiences of my life; and my deepest places of thought and reflection. What does it say to you?

Stages of Spiritual Maturity

The story is told of a group of tourists who were getting off their tour bus to walk through an beautiful, old village. As they began walking down the street they saw an old man sitting near a fence. One of the tourists asked in a patronizing way, “Were there any great men or women born in this village?” The man answered, “Nope, only babies.”

Everyone enters the world in pretty much the same way, but what happens after that can vary dramatically. So much depends on our parents and the communities we are born into. But the truth is, great men and women are forged over time as they experience life’s joys and challenges and continue to make choices and establish habits and priorities that help them grow and mature and eventual become “great”. One trait I’ve read over and over from highly successful people is that they live life with purpose and intentionality and never settle for mediocrity.

The same is true for us as followers of Jesus. If you look at those most worthy of emulation in Scripture – people like Jesus or Paul – one thing that stands out from their lives is that they lived on purpose and were always moving forward (Consider Mark 1:35-39; Luke 9:51ff; Hebrews 12:2b; Philippians 3 (especially verse12). Even as an apostle who had accomplished so much for Jesus Paul says he had not yet reached the goal, he pressed on for more of what Jesus had to offer.

Here is my take on the stages of spiritual maturity in most believers’ lives and why it is important to keep moving forward in our relationship with Jesus at each one.

1. Infant stage – Newborn babies are cared for and loved. There isn’t much they can do on their own. After birth their bodies grow and they begin to learn muscle coordination so they can crawl, walk, feed themselves, etc. Initially they do not have words to voice their needs. Crying is their way of communication eventually moving on to grunts and motions.

Spiritually this is where we are new believers in Jesus. We are infants craving “spiritual milk”, learning about God and how to relate to him. During this time we learn to “feed ourselves” by beginning to read the Bible; we learn to communicate with God through prayer and worship; we learn how to relate to other believers through service and ministry. This is a period where we are especially dependent on others to mentor and disciple us.

As we begin to discover the riches of God’s Word and become part of God’s family, there is normally a desire to serve. We learn that the Spirit inside us is not intended to be just for us, but to flow through us to be a blessing to others…

2. Child Stage – In life, when we move from the infant stage to the child stage, we begin to act independently and care for ourselves. We learn to better communicate and ask for what we want; to voice pleasure and displeasure. We learn we sometimes have to do things even when we don’t feel like it and to separate imagination from reality.

As we follow Jesus, we need to move beyond dependence on others for our spiritual sustenance and begin to walk with confidence. We pursue Christ in our Bible reading and in more fervent prayer. We begin to explore our spiritual gifts and opportunities to serve. We discover that our faith is intended to be given away in words and actions. We also discover that things don’t automatically go well just because we love Jesus. We have to endure challenges and tough times. Our faith is put to the test and we have the opportunity to press in and walk with Jesus and his people.

3. Adolescent Stage - As children grown, they begin to take on more responsibility for themselves and others. They learn to act independently and to form more and more their own values and opinions. There is a growing desire for independence and autonomy and when that is restricted there can be rebellion. Adolescents often learn to manipulate the system to get their own way. At this stage the consequences of one’s actions become more serious and yet there are often adults to help cushion the blow when things go badly. It is also important that adolescents learn the value of delayed gratification. This is a stage where many get stuck in their emotional maturation – in so many ways an adult and yet still a child. Good parenting and guidance are incredibly important.

In our growth in Jesus, we also face a time very much the same. We are mature in many ways and give evidence of growth and yet have a long way to go.  The temptation is to pull away from mentors and to feel like we have things under control. We’ve experienced some wonderful things with Jesus, maybe even weathered some storms…and we’re content. We end up settling into a pattern that keeps us steady and doesn’t rock the boat. We’ve got enough Jesus to bless what we’re doing, but not so much we have to really change. We know the lingo and we can talk the talk even when we aren’t walking the walk.

At this point we need good mentors more than ever. We need friends and companions on the journey who will spur us on toward deeper relationship with Jesus. We need people whose very lives inspire us to want more. Unfortunately we often have friends who are spiritually at the same place we are or even a bit behind us which serves to feed our ego but not encourage us to press on for more.

4. Adult Stage – When adolescents become adults, they enter a world where they must become responsible for themselves and their choices. They are independent but can choose to be interdependent – whether in a work environment, among friends, or in a marital relationship. They begin to think more selflessly as they become responsible for others – a spouse or children, for example. A mature adult understands the world is not a fair place; one person can’t do it all; saying no to one thing is a yes to another; and I am not the center of the universe! In the adult stage, people often have their own children and get the privilege of guiding them through life.

In our spiritual walk, if we press on through the adolescent stage we come to a place where we discover the joy of serving, the beauty of interdependence, the significance of living within our limitations. We enjoy the Lord and our deepening relationship with him, but we also know there’s much more to come. We have a sense of purpose and a desire to serve but also to empower and encourage others to use their gifts too. It isn’t about us, and there is joy seeing others experience a deepening relationship with Jesus.

5. Elder Stage – The truth is that people don’t reach this stage often enough. Perhaps it’s because we rarely think we’ve done well at the adult stage; perhaps it’s because no one did it for us; perhaps we’re just worn out from life…but too few of us actually choose to become mentors and sages for those who are younger and at earlier stages in the journey. There comes a time when we have the opportunity to mentor others in their stages of maturing. As parents we might do this haphazardly with our own children, but this is an opportunity to guide others who are in the adult stage. We have the privilege to walk alongside them and share with them the things we learned along the way. The reality is we learn by trial and error, but it is an incredible blessing to have a mentor who can help prepare us before things happen and debrief with us afterward as we try to make sense of it all.

Where would you place yourself on these stages? You might ask a close friend what he/she thinks if you aren’t sure. If you don’t have anyone close enough to be able to say or if you are afraid of what a friend might say, that might tell you a lot!

Where would you like to be? If you aren’t where you’d like to be, what kinds of things could you do to move forward?

Let’s not be complacent with our spiritual maturity. Let’s be like Paul who wrote, “…one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13b-14).

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