** note: this is part of the september synchroblog. i really like synchroblogs because a variety of voices write on the same topic at the same time. the intentional focus provides a great platform for challenge & diversity of perspectives. check out all of the other participants’ links below!
this month’s topic: spiritual maturity.
when i head this was september’s topic, the very first thought that randomly popped into my mind was a chocolate easter bunny. i could picture him (or her?) on the shelf at target in that pretty pink and green box, you know those cute ones with the crystallized sugar eyes that you get at easter time? over the years (and with all these kids we have eaten our share of them!) i have discovered something about those chocolate bunnies: most of them are hollow inside. they look tantalizing, perfectly molded & smooth, they make me think that they will be a fantabulous treat, but when i bite into it, i am often left disappointed. there’s just not much to them. sure, the chocolate’s nice & gorging at easter is always fun, but the bottom line for me when it comes to these bunnies has always been “what you see is not really what you get.”
i know it’s a fairly horrible analogy, but i couldn’t seem to shake it when i was thinking of “spiritual maturity.” there are outside characteristics that we associate with spiritual maturity that get all kinds of traction in church circles, but i am not sure that they really have the substance that reflect what Jesus really meant when it came to spiritual transformation & growth. the things that have been mostly connected to “spiritual maturity” throughout my years of christian living have been along the lines of:
bible knowledge & ability to articulate scripture (probably the one that gets associated with spiritual maturity the most. throw in some seminary training & you’re really locked in)
age (the older you are & the longer you’ve been around, the more spiritual cred you get)
supposed stability in job & life & finances (my hunch this is a bigger one than we might like to think)
some form of leadership that is somehow visible (extra bonus maturity for those with titles & specific roles)
lots of God-focused, spiritual sounding words
doing, doing, doing a myriad of christian-y things
i know i am preaching to the choir here, but i do think for many people these are still used to define what counts as “godly” and “spiritually mature.” i am not dismissing all of these in one fell swoop, but i do think these measures are utterly inconsistent with what Jesus valued. Jesus consistently spoke of radical love, compassion, sacrifice, humility, gentleness, a spirit of justice & mercy, and a purity of heart that had nothing to do with “looking good on the outside” or being “put together.” sadly to me, because the outside seems to work for so many, the system continues to perpetuate some of these “spiritually mature” things as more valid and valuable than what is on the inside or maybe not seen by others in a tangible, supposedly-good-and-godly way. over the years, i have bitten into “christian chocolate” that was laden with characteristics on this list, what many would call the perfect spiritually mature package, but unfortunately that was about all it was-a package. the inside, the part that was supposed to be a reflection of Jesus’ heart for people & relationship & love, rang hollow.
the story of the sinful woman who bursts into simon the pharisee’s house in luke 7 is one of my favorite because it is a vivid picture of the contrast between what the world values & what Jesus values when it comes to spiritual things. simon, the pharisee, had all of the characteristics that we’d associate with someone who was ‘spiritually mature.’ right knowledge, right behavior, right social status, right thinking. the outside of his cup was spit-spot clean. the sinful woman, on the other hand, is the polar opposite. probably no real scripture knowledge, wrong behavior, wrong social status, wrong pretty-much-everything. the outside of her cup was dirty & damaged, a true-blue mess. but Jesus cuts to the chase here, to what was on the inside, the part that no one would ever see & deem as spiritually mature in any way shape or form. he tells simon the pharisee: hey, take note, this woman is the one who truly gets it. this is what i am talking about. her spirit of humility & devotion & norm-breaking is something worth reflecting on.
what the world sees & what God sees are two different things. outside things like success, stability, knowledge & ability are not the things that Jesus points us to over and over again. in fact, he rails against them. what does matter is spiritual poverty, humility, pure hearts, compassion & mercy, peace-making, sacrificial love. these things, he says in the sermon on the mount, are a reflection of his spirit, his ways. i believe they should be part of any conversation related to spiritual maturity. i have been around healing & recovery ministry for a long time and one of the most powerful observations i have made is that what looks like weakness to the world (or even the church) is actually strength in God’s eyes. our brokenness & authenticity & recognition of our need for God & each other is actually the big idea of Love. and what we’ve been taught is superior-supposed right behavior & knowledge & put-together-ness & stability-is actually a hollow counterfeit. when the rubber meets the road, and it always does, true spiritual maturity will be marked by a willingness to sacrifice our pride, our ego, the things that get us strokes, for the better thing–a poured out, power-diffused life that is marked with honesty & humility & pain & sacrifice. those are the things that marked Jesus’ short time here on earth.
i think if i was summing spiritual maturity i’d say it’s “moving toward a more and more undivided life.” that what’s on the inside is on the outside. it’s giving up comfort & control. it’s living in the tension of Jesus ways & ours ways & asking help to tilt more toward his. it’s:
loving when we don’t want to
an honest awareness of our weaknesses & our strengths
a willingness to wrestle with deep questions about God & life
staying in & doing hard things relationally
the ability to give & receive mercy and grace
sacrificing comfort, stuff, ease, ego, and power for the sake of others
i feel like i am constantly unlearning so many of the things that are so deeply engrained in me about church & life. bible knowledge is not the end-all and the be-all. doing lots of great and exciting stuff for God isn’t necessary. being known for being squared away isn’t necessary. education, money, stability isn’t necessary. Jesus had none of the things & he said to be like him. i really believe that when it’s all said & done it’s about our hearts seeking God’s crazy-contrary-to-the-world ways. i am around wonderful people all the time who don’t really know the bible all that much, who look to many as some of the most “spiritually immature” people when it comes to the laundry list of what is often measured as ‘mature’, but are probably some of the most spiritually astute friends i have ever had because they are willing to admit their weakness & not pretend. they love when others won’t. they help when others don’t. they show up in others’ lives and never ever expect that anyone will notice or give them one bit of praise for it. they give generously (in ways far beyond money) but no one ever knows. they engage in conflict instead of slink away. they do all kinds of rich, amazing things that actually never get noticed because they are covert, simple, under the radar & have absolutely nothing to do with “church leadership.” on the outside, actually, they probably look like the bunnies tossed into clearance basket two weeks after easter or like the sinful woman making a spectacle of herself. but on the inside, oh my oh my is something solid, true, deep, and healthier and more mature than anyone would probably ever expect.
yeah, spiritual maturity seems to have something to do with what’s inside the bunny.
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other synchrobloggers writing on this topic:
- lainie peterson – watching daddy die
- phil wyman – is maturity what i really want?
- erin word – long-wearing nail polish & other stories
- beth patterson – the future is ours to see: crumbling like a mountain
- bryan riley – still complaining
- alan knox – maturity and education
- k.w. leslie – putting the spiritual infants in charge
- bethany stedman – moving toward true being: the long process of maturity
- adam gonnerman – old enough to follow christ
- joe miller – intentional relationships for maturity
- jonathan brink – i won’t sin
- susan barnes – growing up
- tracy simmons – knowing him who is from the beginning
- joseph speranzella – a tic in the mind’s eye
- sally coleman – vulnerable maturity
- liz dyer – what i wish the church knew about spiritual maturity
- cobus van wyngaard – post-enlightenment christians in unenlightened south africa
- steve hayes – adult content
- ryan peter –the foundation for ministry & leading
- lew a – maturity & preaching
- kai schmarl – mature virtue
- john smulo