Episode 1. Growing in Maturity in Christ
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When it comes to developing the life skills that we really need – the life skills that are going to lead to a much, much better life, there is none more important than maturity, but what exactly is …
When it comes to developing the life skills that we really need – the life skills that are going to lead to a much, much better life, there is none more important than maturity, but what exactly is maturity, and where do you get it?
Let’s be honest. Some people never grow up. Now, there are different aspects to growing up: Moving from childhood through those difficult teenaged years, into adulthood. One of them is taking responsibility for your life. Of course, not everything that happens to us over the years, good or bad, is under our control. Often storms blow in that we didn’t see coming, and yet it’s surprising how many things in our lives are, in fact, under our control; how many things we can change or influence through the decisions we take.
A child look to his or her parents when something’s too big for them to handle. In fact, even for the day-to-day, children rely on their parents for somewhere to live; for the food on the table; for the clothes on their backs. They rely on mum and dad to run them here and there, to come and watch them play sport or to get that award at the annual school speech night … That’s all as it should be, by the way, but the reason that teenaged years can be so difficult is that those are the in-between years when parents want to teach their children to take responsibility for themselves, and yet still live under their authority.
That’s confusing for the teenager and for the parents. It’s why there’s so much conflict often in those teenaged years. When we come through that process though, what we should be is responsible young adults. Sure; we have lots to learn, but we’re meant to be responsible for providing for ourselves and for taking control of the direction of our lives, as much as that’s possible, and for owning the consequences of our own actions.
Yet so often as adults, we want to abdicate those responsibilities. We want to blame other people or our circumstances or whatever for our predicament, and that frankly is no way to live. There was a time in Israel’s history where they knew, they just knew, that they’d gone astray. Ezra 10:1:
While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women and children he gathered to him out of Israel. The people also wept bitterly.
Now they had some incredibly difficult decisions to make, and what they came to was to take responsibility for their mistakes, and (listen to this; it’s really important) to take action to rectify those mistakes. Ezra 10:4:
Take action, for it is your duty, and we are with you. Be strong, and do it.
What is it in your life that you need to take responsibility for? What is it in your life that you need to grab a hold of and, as difficult as that may be, deal with? Because until you take responsibility, things just won’t be right, and yet one of the things that stops us from doing that is the blame game. Have you ever noticed how easy it is when something goes wrong to blame someone else? It’s often our first instinct – our first response when something in our lives goes awry. In fact, in this day and age, it’s almost a rarity to see someone taking responsibility for their own mistakes or shortcomings.
There’s a business bestseller called, “Good to Great” by a man called Jim Collins. He and his team undertook a huge research project to determine what factors set apart those companies with sustained stellar performance on the stock exchange from the also-rans; the run-of-the-mill; the everyday companies. On the question of leadership of the successful companies, he writes this:
The leaders of truly great companies look out the window to attribute success to factors other than themselves. When things go poorly, however, they look in the mirror and they blame themselves, taking full responsibility.
The comparison CEOs often did quite the opposite. They looked in the mirror to take credit for success, but out of the window to assign blame for disappointing results.
When things don’t go the way they should, what do you do? Do you blame someone else, or do you own the problem with all your heart, taking responsibility to the extent that some or all of it was as a result of your failings or limitations? Think of the last time something went wrong. Go on, be honest with yourself. What did you do? People blame their past; their parents; their upbringing; their spouse; those people out there … In fact, some people (be honest) have become exemplars at living out the blame game, and the problem with that is that in your own eyes, your life is completely out of your control. It’s everyone else’s fault and never your own.
Who or what do you blame when things go wrong, and how different would that be if like the truly great leaders, you instead took ownership of the situation? Because (listen to me) when we take ownership, all of a sudden, God has something to work with. When we take ownership, God steps in, in such incredible power.
King David is arguably the greatest king that Israel ever had; the greatest leader, until Jesus came along a thousand or so years later. Here’s the conclusion that David comes to. Psalm 51:1-4:
Have mercy on me, o God, according to Your steadfast love; according to Your abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin, for I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You alone, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified in Your sentence and blameless when You pass judgment.
That’s why he was a great leader. That’s why God got right behind him, and I don’t know about you, but I want God working for me and not against me.
Like it or not, we have to live with the consequences of the choices that we make, so on that basis, I don’t know about you, but I’d like to make the best choices that I possibly can. Good choices, most times, yield good outcomes. Not always, of course. Sometimes other people don’t like it when we make good choices; I’m sure you’ve experienced that. Sometimes unpredictable things happen to rob us of the good consequences that should have resulted from our good choices; that’s just the way it goes sometimes, but most of the time, good choices lead to good consequences and bad choices lead to bad consequences.
And as much as we may wish that it weren’t true, sometimes we don’t have what it takes to make the good choice; to take the high road. Maybe it’s because of our own blind spots or because we’re tired, or we don’t have all the information, or our emotions lead us in the wrong direction. There are plenty of times in my life when I don’t have what it takes to make the best choice.
It intrigues me that even Jesus the Son of God, the Creator of the whole universe, found Himself in that place on more than one occasion because when He became a man, He laid aside His glory and His power, and became just like you and me.
So, He had a big decision to make. Out of all those who’d been following Him, who would He include in His inner circle – those who, ultimately, would go on to build this fledgling thing called the church, when His business on this earth was done? Big decisions with huge ramifications there, in choosing those twelve, remembering that one of them was destined to betray Him. So how did Jesus handle it? Luke 6:12-13:
Now during those days, He went out to the mountain to pray and He spent the night in prayer to God. And when day came, He called His disciples and chose twelve of them, whom He also named apostles.
He involved God. I mean, seriously, all night He called out to His father in heaven; sat and listened, and received the guidance He needed to make the right choices – God’s choices.
Think about it. God sits above all; He sees all; He knows all, and above all, He loves you more than words can say. You and I do have to live with the consequences of the choices we make, so why wouldn’t we involve God in them? I can’t tell you the number of times that the answers have come to me just in the next passage of the Bible that I was due to read, or just waiting quietly on God in the early morning. God loves you. He wants to be involved in your life, and He’s waiting right now to help you make the best choices.
Be the Best you can Be
There are certain things that, no doubt, you’re incredibly good at. You have certain gifts, certain motivations in your hearts, certain things that you know you can do better than just about anyone else. Sometimes of course, we don’t value those natural giftings enough because you live with your gifts and abilities twenty-four seven. The easiest thing for you to do is to think to yourself, “Well, you know, my gift – my ability? It’s nothing special. Not like that person over there. If only I could be like her. If only I could do the things that guy over there can do. If only I could be as successful as them.”
Have you ever found yourself thinking those thoughts? Making those comparisons? Sure you have. We all have, and at that point, you beat yourself over the head with your natural limitations. At that point, you look in the mirror and realise how far you fall short in certain areas. With me, it was my lack of pastoral gifting. Hey, I’m supposed to be a minister. I’m supposed to care for people, and I do; incredibly so, but it seems that I don’t have a pastoral bone in my body. There’s no gifting; there’s no anointing there. Not like my good friend Greg, who just seems to be an absolute natural at it.
Do you see how easy it is to fall into those comparisons? Have a listen to God’s take on all of this. Romans 12:4-8:
For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we who are many are one body in Christ and individually, we’re members of one another. We have gifts that differ, according to the grace given to us: Prophecy in proportion to faith, ministry in ministry, the teacher in teaching, the exhorter in exhortation, the giver in generosity, the leader in diligence, the compassionate in cheerfulness.
The bit that leaps out there for me is the bit that says we have gifts that differ, according to the grace given to us. So by God’s sovereign choice, He made you and me differently, with different purposes in life, just as my nose has a different function to my big toe. Without my nose, I couldn’t smell or taste. Without my big toe, I probably wouldn’t be able to stand up and balance, and walk properly. Totally different, but equally important.
Here’s what I think. In our process of growing up – of maturing in Christ, one of the most important things of all is celebrating the gifts that God’s given us, and equally, being completely comfortable with the gifts that He hasn’t given us. God made you who you are. That was His sovereign choice, and He wants you to be completely delighted both with who you are, and who you aren’t.
You and I both know that there are always areas in our lives where we can improve and come up higher. Even though I’m not necessarily pastorally gifted, that doesn’t give me a license to be rude and detached or uncommunicative. My people skills and relationship skills are really important.
It’s the same with you. Perhaps you’re one of those pastorally gifted people. Praise God for that, but pastorally gifted people are rarely on-time for meetings, because they’re the sort of people who will always make time for someone in need. That’s in their nature. Equally, it’s simply not right to use that gifting as an excuse for constantly being late.
So, yes, there are always areas where we need to come up higher; areas where we need to work on our behaviour, even though they’re not necessarily in the sweet spot of our gifting. Excellence honours God; it’s as simple as that. I’m sure as we’ve had this conversation, God’s touching your heart with one or two things that He’d like you to be working on, but (and this is such an incredibly important but) equally, struggling and trying to become someone who you aren’t is never going to work. Here’s God’s take. Ephesians 1:6:
He destined us for adoption as children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace that He freely bestowed on us in the beloved.
Now, let’s think about what’s going on in God’s mind (in God’s heart) when He destined you for adoption as one of His children through Jesus. Adoption is a big decision. Huge, in fact! And He did that out of His love for you; out of His pleasure; out of His will, pouring out His glorious grace on you, through Jesus. Just ponder that for a minute. What was going on in God’s heart when He destined you for adoption into His family, through the incredible suffering of Jesus, His beloved Son? It’s a whole different view, isn’t it?
What’s the matter with us, that we can’t get comfortable with how God made us, who He made us to be? What’s the matter with us, that we want to compare ourselves and wish we were this or wish we were that? Get a revelation. God loves you just the way you are. Hey, He made you just the way you are. Do you have a few rough spots that need sanding back and polishing? Course you do. God the Holy Spirit has that process well underway; don’t you worry, so instead of beating yourself up about who you are and who you aren’t, what God wants with all His heart of love for you is for you to join hands with Him in that process of change, for His glory and His love. God wants you to be comfortable in your own skin, while at the same time working with the Holy Spirit to deal with the sin in your life, and we all have sin that’s holding us back.
Developing Your Faith-Image
If I asked you, in twenty-five words or less, to write down who you are, what would you write? No, not some bland generalised statement. I want a sentence that captures your essence; your value; the important things about you. So, what would you write? What evidence, what feelings, what feedback would you draw on to write it? It’s hard because we don’t think too much about who we are, and yet who you believe you are, what you believe about yourself … It shapes your thoughts, your opinions, your feelings, and your reactions and mostly, we rely on what other people tell us. Perhaps you were told once by a teacher or a parent, “You worthless child! You’ll never amount to anything,” and that, like it or not, has had a huge impact on your self-image, or perhaps you were always the last kid to be chosen on the team, as I was in the schoolyard; and even though you don’t think about it all that much anymore, it still has a huge influence on how you see yourself.
Self-image is a dangerous thing. The lies of this world are ruining many a life, even (let me say) the lives of people who with all their hearts believe in Jesus, so what’s the alternative? One of my professors back in Bible-college days used to talk about replacing your self-image with a faith-image. In other words, deciding to believe what God says about you, rather than what the world says about you. For instance, try this on for size. John 1:12-13:
But to all who received Jesus, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God, who were born not of blood or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.
Children used to taunt me at school because I was chubby and short; because I was gifted in the classroom and not on the sporting field, and it hurt – a lot, so then I’d come home and talk to my dad about it. He’d help me get my perspective right. He’d get me believing the right things about myself. I got a lot of comfort from my dad just being my dad, and I’m absolutely certain that it’s because of him that those things from my childhood don’t affect me these days, but not just him; also my Father in heaven. As I read my Bible day after day, my heavenly Dad speaks those words about who I am into my heart, and for me, it’s been a simple decision to believe what Dad says about me, rather than what the world says about me. That is my faith-image.
Do you believe in Jesus? Then He has given you the power to be His child; it’s as simple as that. There’s an important reason why believing what God says about you has such a huge impact on your life. Most of us believe the world, and that’s what self-image is all about. The problem with that is that it’s like looking into one of those distorted mirrors on Sideshow Alley, and believing that that’s your body-shape. It’s not reliable. Believing what God says about you … well, that’s a lot harder because often, God says things that the world doesn’t say.
The world may tell you you’re worthless, while God tells you your worth by showing the price He was prepared to pay for you by letting Jesus die on that cross. The world tells you you’re not talented, but God tells you that He has given you a unique gift – a unique ability and not only that, He has a call on your life: A destiny planned for you to live out.
A carpenter hangs different tools off his belt. Two of the most common tools you’ll find there are a hammer and a screwdriver. Let’s say he takes the screwdriver and starts to hammer a nail into a piece of wood by gripping the shaft, and whacking the nail with the plastic handle. Is that a good use of the screwdriver? No! Is that the best way to get a nail into the wood? No! And yet how many people are living their lives like that, simply because they haven’t yet figured out what God has to say about them? Because they don’t know the unique gift that God’s given them, the call that God has placed on their lives. 1 Corinthians 12:1, 4-6:
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. There are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.
In other words, God has given you certain gifts, and those gifts are for the purpose, for the service, the activities that He has planned for you to do. Hammers are for driving in nails. Screwdrivers, on the other hand, are for screwing in screws. It’s obvious! But you know, people tell you this; they tell you that; they shove you into a job that you were never made to do, and then … then we wonder why we’re not happy; why we’re under stress and pressure at the moment.
Just picture that screwdriver being used to hammer in the nail. Is that what your life looks like today? Are you doing something you were never designed to do? God made you with a purpose in mind. He gave you a gift that fits like hand in glove with the things that He has for you to do, and it’s time to start believing what He says about you, rather than what the world says about you.