Spiritual Growth and Maturity: Why Is It Taking so Long?

spiritual-maturity-why-is-it-taking-so-long

My son has been potty-trained for two years.

However, though he is potty-trained, it has taken some time to learn to use the bathroom on his own.

When he does business that requires a long sit-down on the commode, I have to remind him how much tissue to use, how to rub soap to get the germs off when he washes his hands, and how to untangle his clothes and get them back on his body.

I been issuing these same instructions for two years. Though he is getting more adept at remembering what to do, he still needs me to monitor him. He sometimes forgets a step or struggles to get his own clothes on or hops off the toilet in the middle of business and wants to play.

Though we are making progress — the boy is no longer in diapers — the progress is slow. I sometimes wonder if this child will ever be able to be in the bathroom alone without my assistance.

It sometimes feels like my journey to spiritual maturity is taking just as long. Getting into a rhythm with God where certain bad habits are overcome for good, where I obey the second He calls, where sin doesn’t have a hold on me — is taking longer than I want it to.

However, as I was thinking about rhythms this morning, I reflected on the fact that “getting into a rhythm” takes time. You have to learn it. Feel it in your bones before you can join in or snap to the beat. I remember my former choir instructors actually snapping out the beat with their fingers to themselves before they would raise their arms, look at the choir or orchestra, and begin directing.

They had to feel it before they could direct us in song.

When we are discouraged with where we are at spiritually, there are several things Rick Warren points out in The Purpose-Driven Life about spiritual maturity we should keep in mind.

1. God is not in a hurry.

While we want a magical transformation where all of our fleshly ways are remedied at salvation, that isn’t what happens in the Christian walk. We may have a dramatic salvation story and turn from whatever lifestyle we are engaged in, yes, but it takes time to learn to walk in God’s ways. An entire lifetime, in fact!

Warren likens the process of spiritual growth to the strategy the Allies used during World War II to liberate islands in the South Pacific. Note what he says about the Allies’ strategy:

First, they would ‘soften up’ an island, weakening the resistance by shelling the enemy strongholds with bombs from offshore ships. Next, a small group of Marines would invade the island and establish a ‘beachhead’ — a tiny fragment of the island that they could control. Once the beachhead was secured, they would begin the long process of liberating the rest of the island, one bit of territory at a time. Eventually, the entire island would be brought under control, but not without some costly battles.

As Warren stresses, God gets a beachhead in your life, but then he begins His strategy to take over the whole island. Why? For the purpose of  liberation! Rather than get discouraged when we compare ourselves to others and see that they are further along than us, our job is to submit to the work God is doing at the moment and trust that as long as we are surrendering to Him, He has us right where He wants us.

2. Certain habits that took time to learn may take time to unlearn.

As Warren notes, we may be struggling with a habit that took years to develop. A quick fix or solution is not realistic. It may take us some time to overcome this. Rather than give up on ourselves or look for an easy out from the pressure we may feel while God is operating on us in this area, we should be patient with ourselves and know that the working out of this trait may take some time. If our struggle is with fear or pride or self-sufficiency, we may have moments of victory but then other moments where we fall back into old patterns because they are comfortable and it’s what we have known for much of our life.

Rather than beat ourselves for our failures, we need to turn to Jesus, confess where we have fallen short, ask Him to help us in our weakness, and allow Him to guide us towards lasting victory (John 1:9).

3. We need to find friends to come alongside us.

As Warren stresses, we don’t do ourselves a favor when we try to keep the sin or habit we are struggling with a secret. Pride says that we should hide our struggles, but there is freedom in admitting our struggle with another person and asking for help and accountability.

The Bible says that those who confess and renounce their sins will find mercy (Prov. 28:13). Perhaps there is a group you can get plugged into or a wise Christian friend that you can regularly meet with. Relating your struggle in an area with another person can help keep you accountable and make ground against this thing — rather than stuffing it down and keeping it silent, so that it just turns into a shameful thing you try to hide. Your friend or prayer partner can also help you make a plan to avoid situations where you will be tempted to act in ways you know you shouldn’t.

Conclusion:

Just as it takes time for fruit to grow and ripen on the vine, it takes time for us to mature spiritually and develop the fruit of Christ-like character, as well as develop the ability to effectively minister to others.

Knowing that this maturation is a process can encourage us when we feel like our struggle with the same old habits or sins will never end; we can know that God is always working. The one who can stand in the way of this is us!

So, as Warren says, let Him do as He pleases and trust that He who began a good work in you will complete it (Phil. 1:6).

Related Bible Verses:

Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG): “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me — watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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When Jesus Asks You to Go Into a Storm

When Jesus Asks You to Go Into A Storm

A few weeks ago, I listened to a sermon that dug into the marrow of my soul. The sermon was about the storms of life that come up suddenly — like sudden squalls on a calm lake.

The sermon made an impression on me not only because it was a compelling talk and gave a slightly different take on the story of the disciples on the sea, but because it touched off a little warning signal in my spirit. I felt a whisper all around me. Something is coming.

Though I am a firm advocate of looking for good and not projecting bad in the future, I also know that sometimes God warns us of things to come. I felt that He was giving me an oh-so-subtle heads up. I buckled down in prayer. I braced myself in spirit for the phone call, the conflict, the problem to emerge.

But, as so often happens with God, I got the slow dawning realization that perhaps the storm was one that I was going to have to walk into on my accord. A hurricane wasn’t necessarily going to brew up outside my control and leave me in the middle without a choice (as has often happened). I was going to have to choose to walk into it and trust Him to meet me in it and get me through it.

As I have shared many times on my blog, I have been through some healing these past few years — and the end result had been peace. I had set boundaries in relationships that had never been set before. I had made amends and apologies. I had experienced great gains in sifting through emotional baggage and negative unresolved emotions that had built up.

But in a way that is His own, God showed me that I was in danger of falling back into some of my old people-pleasing patterns. I had backed away from some confrontations, had remained silent when I should have spoken up. God was prompting me not to lose the lessons He had taught me, but to keep walking head-long into difficult conversations and initiate tough calls as He led me.

To stop hiding and being cowardly about facing people. To walk in the power of His Holy Spirit and not backtrack into avoidance and escapism when He directed me to places that were difficult.

Jesus Directs His Disciples Into a Storm

As the pastor pointed out in the sermon on the disciples, in John 6:16-21 Jesus directed the disciples onto the lake knowing that there was going to be a storm:

When evening came, his disciples went down into the sea, got into the boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. But he said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’ Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.

What is interesting to note here is that Jesus sent the disciples into the boat without Him. He left to go and pray. We must know that there are some decisions we will have to make. He will direct us — but we ourselves are the ones who must choose to walk in that way. He won’t force us.

And — even when we do our duty and listen to Christ’s command, we will find ourselves in adverse circumstances, afraid. Many of us assume that doing the will of God will lead us away from difficulty rather than towards it. But as we see in this Scripture, the disciples’ obedience led them straight into a squall.

However, just at the right moment, when the storm was reaching a fever pitch and tossing the disciples about — Jesus came to them, walking on the water, saying, “It is I; do not be afraid” (v. 20).

As commentator Matthew Henry notes, Jesus walking on the water revealed His complete command over the situation. He walks above our trouble and circumstances and can teach us to do the same. However, as the accounts in Matthew 14:26 and Mark 6:49 relate, the disciples were afraid when they first saw Jesus because they didn’t recognize Him at first. Jesus, to them, looked like some sort of apparition. In the darkness and the winds, they couldn’t make out His face.

And perhaps we don’t recognize Jesus in our circumstance at first either.

It was only when Jesus spoke that they recognized His voice and invited them into the boat. Again, just as they chose to go into the boat at His command, they also chose to welcome Him into their boat in the midst of the storm.

And it was only then that they “immediately” (as the passage says) reached the other side. Was Jesus being merciless, then, by sending them ahead of Him into the boat into the storm? No, not at all. Sometimes, the only way to get to the other side is through an incident than around it.

My self-protective tendencies make me want to always look for the easy way, the way where no one gets offended, no one gets upset and no one gets their feathers ruffled.

But that’s not always the way Jesus would have me go.

Did He send His disciples to die in the middle of the lake? Did He send His disciples to a place He couldn’t see or control?

No, He sent them into a storm that He would meet them in the center in, even though it looked, by all appearances, that He would be sitting this one out.

Is God Asking You to Walk Into a Storm?

Perhaps God is asking you to do something hard. Confess a wrong to someone else. Confront a friend about a sin. Set a boundary in a relationship where the other person has freely walked all over you for years. Say no to a situation that is tempting you to act in ways you know you shouldn’t.

But to do so may mean a storm. It may mean a loss of a relationship. It may mean people mocking you for your beliefs. And you tell God you don’t want to go. You want to stay on the shore.

I want to as well, friend. But I know I have to go. So the Holy Spirit and I have been sifting through relationships. I have been consulting Him about what to say, which direction to go. And one by one, as I seek Him and seek His Word, I am launching out in actions that will continue to provide the boundaries around me in relationships, that will help me navigate those in a healthy way with His strategies rather than my own.

Is it easy, friend? No, it’s not. His way never is.

But is it life-changing. Life infusing? Spirit-dependent living? Yes it is.

I urge you — take His invitation. Step out. Leave behind the safe dock and embrace the winds — because it is in the storm where He will meet you.

If you would like to join in for a chat about emotional healing and maintaining that healing after you’ve walked through it, I will be talking more about that as well as the inspiration for this post. You can subscribe for free to our live video chat this Monday, August 7 @ 9 p.m. EST, watch the replay, or leave a comment below.

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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