In his peculiar short story, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, F. Scott Fitzgerald supplies a disturbingly fresh look at maturity and social development. What is so curious about Benjamin, is that he is born old, and with the passing of time, becomes young. The novella is a fascinating take on how people mature, love, and grow up, and the ironic infantile state of the infirm elderly.
Sometimes in the church we encounter the curious case of the well-churched immature believer. Often we find that when a person is a baby believer, freshly saved from their sins, their formerly lackluster life suddenly morphs into an Incredible Hulk of untamed enthusiasm. They evangelize zealously, pray constantly, read their Bible devotedly, and enjoy serving in church.
But sadly, it is not uncommon to witness that this verve is but a fleeting sugar rush of novelty. The preciousness of salvation begins to grow commonplace, church becomes a routine, Bible reading a chore, prayer incidental. Sermons they used to relish are now a bland plate of brussel sprouts. As the years grind on, they dutifully trudge through the motions of spirituality, but the light flickered out years ago.
I have met folks in the church who would say they have been saved for decades, but are petty, grumbling, selfish, and pessimistic. They are spiritually grumpy old men.
How about you? Have you grown immature with age? Have you let the furnace of passion from your conversion grow cold? Or have you steadily grown in your knowledge, wisdom, and most importantly application of God’s word? If not, here are three actions to take this year to pursue spiritual growth…
1. Swallow Your Food:
A toddler submissively being spoon fed his peas by a diligent mom will grow to be healthy. But if the kid stores those peas in his bulging cheeks instead of swallowing, or surreptitiously hands the mush to his canine accomplice under the table, the nutrition can’t take effect. In the same way people sitting attentively in pews may look like they are being fed a healthy mouthful of expository spinach and beans, but if there is no application to their lives, they will lose vibrancy in their walk with the Lord, and slowly waste away into a chronic spiritual anorexia.
How often have you heard a person boast, “I read my Bible every day,” but have obviously neglected to apply any of the verses on boasting about it? This is how pastors fall into the sin the preach against. It is how parents devolve into what Synge called plaster saints, hollow and fake. And it is why children who were cherubs in church become ogres in college. They are all hearers of the word, but not doers (James 1:22). They are like disheveled brides who looked in the mirror before walking up the aisle, but then forgot what they looked like, and did nothing about the crooked veil ans smudged mascarra.
If you want to grow spiritually apply what you hear. Take notes from the sermon, take one point and write it in your day planner on each day’s page. Make an appointment with godliness. And resolve to pray, put off wrong behavior and put on right behavior by God’s grace.
2. Avoid Junk Food
It doesn’t matter how much wheat grass you consume, or how much you juice, if you keep stuffing your face with Cinnabon, you will never slim down.
Don’t just avail yourself of good content through sermons, Bible reading, and study; you need to make a concerted drive at ingesting avoiding spiritual lard. Heb 12: let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run.
For you this may be abstaining from your steady diet of soap operas which make you think it’s normal to live a life of gossip, drama, revenge, and comas. Perhaps for you it’s an obsession with sports which keeps you away from family time. Maybe it’s social media, overeating, smoking, or toxic relationships. You know what you the cancer is which you need to cut out. Get amputative, a la Matthew 5:29.
3. Exercise Your Soul
Malcome Gladwell writes about the 10,000 hour rule to become an expert. Bill Gates and his programming, the Beatles and their German jam sessions, Yo-Yo Ma his cello, even Gladwell himself and his writing; no one expects to get good at anything without time, effort, and persistence. And lot’s of it. Why do some Christians feel like they will attain steady growth in Christlikeness if they just “let go and let God”?
It is the goal of every Christian to become an expert in glorifying God. We ought to expect to lose some sweat in the process. I’m not talking about hardcore synergistic sanctification, I just mean let’s apply Phil 2:12 Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Employ the spiritual disciplines. Donald Whitney defines disciplines as that which places you in the path of grace. I.e. it’s not your Bible reading plan that will sanctify you, it’s the Holy Spirit who does that. But your discipline places you in the path of direct blessing just like the sycamore tree put Zacchaeus in the way of his Savior.
Remember 1 Tim 4:7 “Train yourself for godliness”? You’ve heard enough preachers wax eloquent about gymnadzō to know this was a sweaty word. Godliness takes time, effort, and persistence. How’s that going for you? Or are you a Keswick lay-z-boy recliner type Christian?
These are by no means the only three tools in God’s extensive tool belt of sanctification, but they are three which you can be intentional about. [Footnote: The obvious and most effective of implements are trials, but are best used by a Professional. Self-inflicted trials can be counterproductive; as the monastic movement demonstrates.] But applying the word, avoiding encumbrances, and employing the spiritual disciplines, never hurt anyone’s maturity.
If you are a young pastor, you don’t have the luxury of incremental growth. You need to get serious about your maturity quick. I’ve written on the unique maturity challenges that face ‘young guns’ here.
What are some ways you have found the Lord use to make you grow in holiness?