Last time, we talked about spiritual maturity, and we started to examine what life in the early days of following Christ might look like. It wasn’t always the prettiest picture, was it? Keep in mind: everybody has to start somewhere, God and the Church are here to help, and every step draws us closer to who He sees in us.
We’re looking forward to a time when these words are fulfilled:
11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
Today, I want to take a few minutes to talk about the changes that begin to happen to a follower of Jesus as they begin to grow beyond the basics. Call these the teenage years, if you will. Before we go any further, I should say that spiritual maturity has nothing to do with biological age, and these are not the only signs of growth; but, they’re a start.
Maturing believers focus more on others.
Spiritually maturing believers become more concerned with others than themselves. Where we once thought, “What can that other person do for me?” we now ask, “How can I help the people around me?” This can range from the simplest of expressions, like letting someone else go first, or helping a friend with a tough job. We don’t spend quite so much time seeking our own entertainment, either. At the very least, we grow to understand that those forms of entertainment should be more honorable and productive, as we begin to understand our time is a gift from God.
Growing believers look for healthy relationships (in and out of Church).
We begin to look around the Church, not for what satisfies and supports us, but for ways we can get involved and support others. The church isn’t just a service we attend anymore, but a community, one that we would be reluctant to leave, even as we stumble across imperfections — and we will. In this community, we find friends who start to become a part of our lives outside the church doors. We might even find some folks we admire and try to emulate. On the other hand, any old friendships that tend to pull us away from doing what we know to be right are reevaluated. We might not end those relationships, as long as they’re not too toxic, but we don’t stay as close as we once did.
Developing Christians enjoy a better devotional time.
Our prayer life grows richer, too. We take time daily to focus on God. We don’t jump right to our never-ending shopping list, but we take a few moments worship God, admit our recent sins, thank God for His many blessings, and make our requests. Even those requests will start to change, as we begin to ask God to work in us, not just for us, and we pray less about our needs, and more about the needs of others. Oh, and we also start to take the time to quiet ourselves and listen to God to speak in that still, small voice.
Maturing believers develop a habit of regularly studying the Scriptures as a standard for living. They take the time to read and learn from the Bible outside of church services. They double-check the teachings they hear against what the Bible has to say. Because they value the Word of God, they start remembering verses they find encouraging or helpful.
Advancing followers don’t get sidetracked by problems as easily.
Problems don’t rattle the growing Christian quite as much as they once did. Prayer becomes an earlier response when facing the storms of life, not a last resort. Fewer sleepless night when things go wrong — and they will — reveal a peace and joy that wasn’t quite so obvious before. We’ve started to see God answer our prayers, which helps us gain confidence in His providence. We begin to call to mind His promises from His Word to help us when we struggle.
I hope you see some of these signs of increasing maturity in your own life. I hope those around me see them in mine, to be honest. As I will be, I hope you’re challenged to strive for the ones you don’t see in yourself. I’m far from perfect in any of these areas, but am convinced that unless we have an idea of the goal, we’ll never try to get there. So the next time we get together, I hope to give us a glimpse of what we can become, with His help.