One frequently made resolution is to lose weight and/or get in shape. It would be a great idea for us, as Christians, to resolve to get in shape spiritually as well! (And I'm not just talking about resolving to attend church more often!) It's all about growing up...
Several months ago I was working on teaching our son to dress himself. Here's a scene that played out one morning:
M (standing in the room with his jeans down around his knees): "Mommy! Help me pull my pants up!"
Me: "No. You can do it by yourself. Try again."
M (grabs waistband of jeans and fakes trying to pull them up)
Me (silence - then I turn away in an attempt to put a stop to the performance)
M: "Ow! Ow! Ow! Wahhh!"
Me (turning back around): "What's wrong? How did you hurt yourself?"
M (wails): "I hurt my arm pulling my pants up!"
(He gets his acting skills from his father. I'm sure of it.) :)
Me (stifling giggles): "No you didn't. Come on, you can do it!"
M eventually pulled his pants up without assistance. I guess he knew I called his bluff.
It's futile to resist growing up, isn't it? Sometimes we describe a person by saying, "He'll never grow up," or, "She just needs to grow up." But, what we're really talking about is their maturity level, right? None of us can really resist growing up, because we just can't stop the clock. God has ordained all our days ("All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." Psalm 139: 16b**), and He designed our bodies to grow, develop and change with the passage of years. Likewise, He designed our minds to mature as our bodies grow. We begin to step into maturity when we learn the difference between right and wrong, when we learn to tell the difference between work time and playtime, when we learn to put aside our own selfish desires to put the interests of others first, and so forth. There are those (and we probably all know one or two) who staunchly refuse to grow into maturity. If we are honest with ourselves, there are probably a few areas in our own lives where we try to hold on to our immaturity (even if we know better). I mean, I know I shouldn't eat five or six cookies while I am baking, but I attempt to justify that by telling myself that I should try one from every tray (you know, to make sure they all turned out okay - ha!).
We can tend to do the same thing when it comes to spiritual maturity too, can't we? (Ouch!) When we first begin to follow Christ we are a bit like babies or young children. We learn by disciplining ourselves to attend church, read our Bibles, spend time with more mature Christians, etc. As we grow and mature in the basics, we move on to more difficult lessons/concepts (“Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” Hebrews 5: 13-14**). But here, as in our physical lives, we can sometimes become stuck. We might reach a lesson that we just don't want to learn. An area in which we do not want to mature. A scripture we would prefer to ignore and never read again. But God continues to work in our lives and on our spirits (especially in the areas we are trying to avoid, it seems). Eventually we have to make a choice. Do we accept the instruction, submit to God and step into greater maturity, or do we stubbornly refuse to change? It is our decision. In my experience, however, when one chooses not to change they will eventually find themselves at the point of making the same decision again - be it days, months or even years later. God most likely won't let it go. He wants to see us mature in our walk with Him, and He'll lead us to the point of change, but the final choice is up to us.
So, the question is: How do we work towards greater spiritual maturity?
Commitment to a church is a step in the right direction. It is vitally important to be a part of a church body for, among other things, growth, mutual support and encouragement, and to submit ourselves under the authority and leadership of a godly pastor. In fact, I feel that I cannot stress that point enough. We are in danger if we determine that we can manage without any accountability and decide to strike out on our own. Doing so leaves us most vulnerable not only to direct attacks of the devil, but also to the unreliability of our own mind. We should make a commitment to attend weekly worship services, and be very wary of allowing other pursuits to become more important than that regularly scheduled time with the body of believers.
As important as being part of a church is, I find myself asking, “Can I learn everything I need from listening to a 45 minute sermon once a week?” I don't think so. I believe that we need to take some responsibility for our own growth as well. I recall a word study that I did a number of years ago. I had been reading in 1 Timothy when these verses jumped out at me:
"Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." 1 Timothy 4: 7-8**
Train yourself. This was Paul's instruction to Timothy. The Greek word "train" in this verse is "gymnazō", which means "to train, exercise".* Training is active. It requires exercise. A person does not train for a marathon by running for ten minutes a week, nor does he train for a weight-lifting competition by doing bicep curls with five pound weights twice a week. There must be commitment, discipline and daily exercise to obtain significant results. Likewise, one cannot achieve significant spiritual growth by merely attending church every Sunday. We must take steps to train ourselves - become a student of the word of God, pray for wisdom, participate in Bible studies, listen for God's voice, etc. This type of training will also involve abstaining from things which would be detrimental to our spiritual growth. As a person who wants to be physically fit will not indulge himself in laziness or by overeating, so also a person who desires to be "fit" in a spiritual sense will have to make the decision to avoid certain behaviors and activities. “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” 1 Corinthians 9: 25**
In addition to Church Life and Self-Discipline (training yourself), we also need to be open to the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives as we work towards greater spiritual maturity. If we will be filled with the Holy Spirit and allow ourselves to be daily led by Him, submitting ourselves fully to God, we should find that we are developing the fruit of the Spirit – which is evidence of our growing maturity. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5: 22-25** The Holy Spirit was given to us as a counselor and teacher (John 14: 26**) – not with the intention that we place Him in our back pocket to pull out in case of emergency, but for us to constantly rely upon as we go through our day-to-day life.
It was never God's intention that we remain as babies for our whole lives - constantly dependant upon our parents to nourish us and clean up after us and meet all of our needs. In the same way, He does not intend for us to remain as spiritual babies forever. We must mature... both for our own benefit and also so that we can help to raise up the next generation of Christians to come behind us. Could God's command to Adam and Eve to "be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it" be as applicable to our spiritual lives as it is to our physical lives? I say yes! Just look at The Great Commission - “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28: 18-20**. However, we cannot do this with much effectiveness if we are not mature. New or struggling Christians need more mature Christians in their lives as mentors and examples so that they can be raised up and grow into their own maturity, just as youth need mature adults in their lives so that they can grow up to become responsible members of society. There will not be an end to the cycle of immaturity that our society and our churches are now experiencing unless we each determine to set an example of integrity and maturity in our own life and pray that it is contagious!
I have been making a more purposeful effort over the last month or so to “train” myself (through daily Bible reading), and I fully intend to continue with that long-term. It is something I know I should have been doing for a long time now, and I did well with it in the past, but I have really let it slip in recent years. I recently entered the smart phone world, and have discovered that my Bible app will not only track my progress (I am reading through the Bible in a year), but will also remind me to read each day. I'm one that often feels a little bit resistant to all the new technologies that are coming out now (I think they are making us dumber in a lot of ways...), but I've got to say – this smart Bible thing is really helping me out!
Consider taking a good look at your own life... seeing if there are any ways in which you could train yourself more this year (and beyond). It's not only good for you - the Bible commands it! Consider making a commitment to God this year in at least one area (examples – prayer, Bible reading, church commitment, etc.). Be alert and watchful for schemes of the enemy that will try to get between you and the commitment you make. Keep covered in prayer. Consider asking someone to help keep you accountable and pray for you. Go and be blessed!
Thoughts, comments, questions? As always you are free to comment below, but now you can also email me at email@example.com! I look forward to hearing from you!
*Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance, ©1999, 1990 by Zondervan
**All scripture references from NIV(1984)