If you’re around my generation you probably remember that Neil Sedaka popularized a song years ago called “Breaking up is hard to do”. Well as true as that statement might be, and personally I wouldn’t know since I married the only girlfriend I ever had, its not nearly as hard as growing up. Last Sunday I preached a sermon on growing spiritually and as often happens there was a lot that I wasn’t able to say, but with the restart of the blog I can here.
Paul writes to the Jewish Christians in the book of Hebrews that there is much that he would like to say to them that he can’t because they are “dull of hearing” ( ESV). What does he mean by that? They can’t receive what he would like to say because they’ve never gotten past a juvenile approach to their faith. They don’t have a good grasp even of the basics, let alone to be able to follow a more developed understanding of the scripture. They’ve never understood deeper concepts of discipleship because they never bothered to grow in a better understanding of scripture.
I have found this to be a major problem in our day as well. Most Christians gain a basic understanding of scripture that is usually limited to the teaching of a few well known radio or TV Bible teachers, and even that rarely progresses beyond a very simple understanding. Most people stay in areas that entertain or highly interest them, such as Prophecy or Spiritual gifts. What’s ironic is that in the passage stated above the greek word translated “dull” can mean “not shiny” or new. It may be that part of the idea that Paul is addressing is a lack of interest in things that aren’t spectacular or especially titillating to them. Part of growing up in any area is recognizing the need to develop in areas that not only aren’t entertaining, but to push on into areas that are hard or very uncomfortable. In training in any area there is the need to do repetitive actions in areas that aren’t fun. When I was learning golf from a professional years ago I was very excited to learn how to hit the golf ball a long ways and straight. I was very eager to get started with that particular lesson. But he often wouldn’t even let me hit a ball with all my strength, instead focusing my attention on the mechanics of my swing, repeating actions over and over, often taking our entire instruction time with that lesson. He would also tell me to practice that on my own time so it would train my body to react in the right way without thinking about it, developing muscle memory so my swing would be unconscious. Most Christians think of their development as Christians only in ways that are like the “big swing”. They want to see instant changes and results instead of doing the hard work that actually develops change.
Most people only develop enough faith to deepen their comfort level. They serve just enough to make them feel better about themselves and even in their “service” they really just volunteer to assist in an area. This limits their responsibility so that they present evidence of doing something without actually serving. True service means to put yourself at the disposal of someone else, so they direct your efforts, and not you. Most people attach strings to service, either physically (limiting what I will do) or emotionally (expecting some sort of reward or thank you in return). This means that it isn’t really serving, its really just an exchange of action for payment which isn’t really mature at all.
But there is another area of spiritual development that is perhaps even more concerning to me; the lack of emotional maturity in many Christians. There are many people who take offense at some of the most superficial slights, hold grudges over the most trivial kinds of things, and generally act like children when confronted with difficult events. Instead of considering things from other people’s vantage points everything revolves around their feelings and their life. I am convinced that proper spiritual maturity will also produce proper emotional maturity in people. If I grow in my faith in Jesus I also grow in my understanding of other people which helps my own emotional maturity. Maturity is obtaining the right perspective on how to react and relate to things around me. Having a mature spiritual understanding will help me understand how to react emotionally to events and circumstances in my life.
So what is a proper course of action to develop my spiritual growth?
- Commit to a deeper understanding of scripture and how it should impact my life. There are many great programs and courses that will help increase my understanding in many areas of scripture. But may I suggest talking to your Pastor. Everyone is in a different place of understanding and level of comprehension. Pastors have dedicated their lives in helping the people of their church become better disciples but also usually know the people of their congregation better than anyone else. The reality is these are the kinds of things most Pastors dream of being able to do for their people, it’s just few people are willing to ask. Pastors are busy, but no Pastor is too busy to help their folks. Don’t expect your Pastor to meet with you personally every week, most are responsible for too many people to do so, but they can put together materials or suggest books and other media that will help you gain a better understanding.
- Ask your spouse or close friend to give a frank assessment of your spiritual and emotional maturity and suggest areas of growth. Be advised, this will be very painful and many people will be hesitant to be as frank as they should, most probably would like to stay your friend. But the scriptures declare that “faithful are the wounds of a friend.” You must be prepared to hear not only painful things but to receive them not defensively but as welcome. This truly is one of the biggest tests there are for our maturity, both spiritual and emotional. As we wrote above, one of the indicators of maturity is the desire to do hard things because of the recognition of their value.
- Pray that God will reveal areas of growth that are needed. God knows our heart better than even ourselves. If we are sincere in our prayer (and even if we aren’t) God will reveal things to us that are the most important since he is our Father and wants the best for us.
- Seek a spiritual mentor. Find someone you admire spiritually and let them pour into your life. Some people balk at this, thinking that we should only admire Jesus since all other men are sinful. While that is true, finding someone who has learned to apply scriptural teaching well in our current culture is also very helpful. Finding someone who can help you to make proper application in your life is one of the best ways to grow.
- Lastly, practice dying. The best way to grow spiritually is to die to myself on a daily basis, there is no substitute for this most basic of Christian disciplines.
11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. (ESV)