If you want to get someone “fired up” just say to them, “Why don’t you just grow up?” or comment on their level of maturity or lack thereof. No one likes to be viewed as childish when it relates to our character, choices, attitude, or behavior. I’ve discovered that in the Christian community there’s a wide range of views as to what spiritual growth or maturity looks like.
In the church where I attended as a child people’s “spirituality” was often measured by their spiritual gifts or how zealous they were about their Christian faith and how expressive they were in public worship. Individuals who were outwardly demonstrative or had gifts that were more visible were viewed my many as “close to God” and godly. As I matured in my faith journey I discovered the fruit of the Holy Spirit measures the spiritual level of a believer, not their spiritual gifts. The fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 6 describe Christian character qualities that reflect the character of Christ.
What was confusing to me as a child observing people in my home church was some who were viewed as the most spiritual often demonstrated the greatest immature behavior. Of course no one is perfect, and thankfully perfection is not a qualification for being used by God for His purposes and glory. The Bible is filled with illustrations where God used murderers, adulterers, prostitutes, and other notorious sinners in spite of their glaring human failings.
Yet, we continue to be surprised when a religious public figure who is celebrated by the Church is living a double life. Shock and disappointment inevitably follows, along with lots of questions as to how God could use such a tainted vessel. Perhaps we have forgotten that those in positions of authority are also sinners saved by grace, just like we are. Sometimes it takes an unfortunate fall from grace to see how sin can penetrate the hearts of even those we consider the most “spiritual.” Here’s my plug during this Pastor’s Appreciation month to pray for our pastors and those in leadership positions in the Christian community.
I was reminded this past week of a pastor who founded a mega-church down south, who was found dead in a hotel in Times Square. A toxicology report showed he had died of a cocaine overdose. He had confessed to an extra-marital affair with a stripper, along with other revelations that were very disturbing. The irony is that the elders of his 6,000 plus member church “forgave” him and looked the other way when it was obvious he was not spiritually fit for leading a church.
These same elders replaced him after his death with a celebrated female “minister” (a title that was used loosely in this case) who was divorced from her former “co-pastor” husband and was on her second marriage. This same woman minister was also caught on camera holding hands in public with another famous “evangelist” while vacationing in another country. Sadly, she and her new husband were speaking to a large group of people regarding marriage. Her new husband told couples in the crowd that if they needed to reignite the fire in their marriage, they should watch pornography together.
The mission of this week’s message isn’t to point fingers and air the dirty laundry of the Christian Church. It’s simply to ask each of us to think about what it truly means to be spiritual and to reflect the character of Christ. A great follow up question is, “How does true spiritual formation or spiritual growth occur in the follower of Christ?” Obviously the answers are too numerous to address in a single blog, but I would suggest some ideas to consider if you are a serious disciple of Christ.
For me, true spirituality is manifested when the fruit of the Spirit is lived out on a daily basis in the life of a Christian disciple in such a way that it impacts their entire being. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is a biblical term that sums up nine attributes of a person or community living in accord with the Holy Spirit according to St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” This individual is so filled with the Holy Spirit that their thoughts, choices, and emotions are impacted as they experience God’s presence and power.
How are those spiritual qualities or fruit produced? I believe spiritual fruit is produced by daily making room for God by spending time in solitude in His presence, by detaching and unplugging from worldly chatter (people and electronics), and by practicing spiritual disciplines such as meditation on Scripture, listening, and intercessory prayer, along with other holy rhythms that empower us to live the blessed life. I almost resist using the words “spiritual disciplines” because it creates in some minds a negative image associated with the hard work of exercise. Spiritual growth is not designed to make the Christian life more laborious, rather Jesus told us His yoke is easy, and in Him we can find rest for our souls.
I’m getting a fresh understanding of how spiritual growth occurs as I read the writings of Dr. Ruth Haley Barton. Dr. Barton leads the Transforming Center in Wheaton, Illinois. I’m presently reading her book Sacred Rhythms, Arranging Your Life for Spiritual Transformation. Dr. Barton makes a strong case that the Christian believer is only spiritually formed into the likeness of Christ as they practice spiritual rhythms or disciplines. Some of you have heard me refer to this as getting into disciple shape. The key to spiritual vitality is not to try harder but to train better through practicing the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life. The better trained we are, the more prepared we are to continue running the race of life, following in the footsteps of Christ in love and servanthood.
Sometimes when we take a look under our emotional and spiritual “hood” it can be disheartening. We find we’re low on the oil of the Holy Spirit, and our spiritual fuel tank is running on fumes. It’s in these moments Satan desires to use our weaknesses against us and tempts us to give up. Let me encourage you to allow your weaknesses to motivate you to honestly expose your fears, shame, anger, guilt, sin, and all that you are to your loving Heavenly Father. It’s when we’re honest with our lack, whatever that may be, that then God moves in to assist us with His grace and power to press on. I’m fully aware these are difficult times, and many Christians are asking, “Is this all there is to the Christian walk?” They’re disappointed, disillusioned, and desperate for something more than they are presently experiencing. Today is a great time to make a fresh commitment to be all that God has created you to be.
Lord, I confess I am frustrated with my lack of spiritual progress. My life often resembles the journey of Christian in John Bunyan’s book, The Pilgrim’s Progress. It seems like every time I make a fresh commitment to make a step toward You, I take three steps forward and two steps back. I’m asking for Your help in my new commitment to live a godly life that is marked with spiritual balance and boundaries. Give me the will to quiet my world in order to hear Your holy whisper and feel Your loving presence. I long to be transformed into Your likeness, but only with Your help is this possible. Thank You for Your patience and grace that is greater than my sins. AMEN!