Here at Revive, we are embarking on a new series thinking about what it means to be mature Christians. We started two weeks ago with an activity to get us thinking about what we as a community think a mature Christian should know and do and be, and then on Sunday night I shared a brief personal reflection on the idea of maturity and a bit of a response to that activity.
This promises to be an exciting journey, and it would be great to have you along, whether you can join us on Sundays or not. Hopefully this blog will be a good way of keeping us all on the same path, so to start us off, here is my reflection from Sunday night in blog form.
I was a very studious child, and so for a long time my faith was mostly about knowing stuff. I knew the Bible stories, and I knew the creeds and the prayers, and I knew what I was meant to do and be, even if actually doing and being was really just a case of ticking the right boxes.
The first problem with that was that my faith only really existed at one level. It was the level I functioned at most of the time, so it was a significant part of my life, but I treated it like an academic exercise which had some practical application, and it would have been all too easy for me to have kept it in a notebook labelled ‘God stuff’ and only referred to it when it was easy or convenient.
The second problem was that because my faith depended on answers, I was wary of asking too many questions. That might sound paradoxical, but I liked knowing stuff and so easy answers were more comfortable than difficult questions. And so I coasted through my faith in a way that prevented both it and me from growing.
Fortunately life shocked me out of that kind of faith, and growing in maturity has so far for me been an exercise in humility and authenticity, learning the limits of what I know, understanding the importance of what I do and be, and realising that there is an important balance between them which needs to be held in check in order that I can grow a faith which is not twisted or stunted but healthy and mature.
We all have different stories, but I think there can be something really valuable in sharing them, as we can hold one another accountable and encourage one another and learn from one another, so I’m sharing a bit of my story in the hope that you will also share yours.
And if I sound remarkably self aware here, please don’t be fooled. It’s only because I’ve thought these things through as I’ve been preparing this, but then that’s why these kinds of exercises are so important.
Jesus called us to love God with all our heart and all our soul and all our strength and all our mind. If heart and soul are about being, and strength is about doing, and mind is about knowing, we actually have a biblical model for the activity we began with.
That means it is helpful for us to think about what we know and do and be as separate categories, because they represent important aspects of ourselves, but it also means that we must think about them together, because they are all united by the single purpose of loving God.
That in turn leads us on to another couple of points, which I think are particularly important to the whole idea of maturity, with its related ideas of wholeness and growth. Faith involves our entire person, and so it must be worked out as it is lived out or we become disconnected from it, and it must grow as we grow and change as we change or it becomes too small to fill our whole lives.
To take it back to Jesus’s words, loving God with all my mind looks very different now to how it looked when I was seven, because I have a greater capacity to wrestle with complex thoughts as well as a greater willingness to accept the impenetrable strangeness of the world.
In the same way, loving God with all my strength has changed, as I have developed new strengths and found new opportunities to use then.
And loving God with all my heart and soul becomes a fuller and richer experience as I become a more rounded and developed person.<
It's a cliche, but becoming a mature Christian really is a journey. And like any journey, it is one which is made easier by having some idea of what the destination looks like, and what will help us along the way. That’s why we are starting on this path together.
I don’t want to spoiler the rest of the series, but I do want to spend a moment or two reflecting on a few things that came out of our activity.
The three ideas that most jumped out at me were knowing that God is love, doing prayer, and being engaged in social action.
In some ways, knowing that God is love is a lot about ourselves, as the understanding we have of God acts like a filter which colours the way we see the world and our place in it. If we believe God is love, we will know that we are loved as the whole of creation is loved, and so we will act with love towards ourselves and the world around us. Although of course it is very easy to say that God is love, but not always so easy to believe it or to feel it, and sometimes we need to wrestle with our image and experience of him.
Doing prayer is a lot about God, as it is how we build an active and creative relationship with him. The more time we spend with God, the more we find ourselves living in step with him, rather than always feeling like we are running to catch up. It is interesting though that prayer was not the only word that was used, and there were other ideas of experience and communication, which remind us that it is not just about the words we say.
And being engaged in social action is about the world, as it calls us to do our bit to make things better, not just for ourselves but for everyone. Opening ourselves to live with and for others can make us vulnerable but it also keeps us connected and invigorated. Again though, there were other associated ideas to do with being loving and building good relationships, which act as a reminder that this is about genuine encounters not simple charity.
Of course these ideas don’t cover everything, and there were plenty of other really interesting and important ideas that we came up with, but I think there is a valuable tension between these three, as they concentrate our focus inwards and ‘upwards’ and outwards. I talked earlier about balancing knowing and doing and being, and so I wonder if knowing love and doing prayer and being engaged might provide a helpful structure that we can build around. Of course there will be many other ways to approach this, so I'll leave that one with you, and I'd love to know what you think.
One final thought, because maturing in faith is a never ending process, and it should be one which enthuses us with possibilities, rather than one which taunts us with shortcomings.
As part of the activity we engaged in, we thought about the things we most struggled with, and it's really important that we do that so that we can work on them, but sometimes we need to balance that with a little encouragement.
And so I shared a word of encouragement on Sunday night, because I saw something of the marks of maturity I have focused on here when Revive prayed for a member of the community, after they shared something they had been reflecting on during Lectio Divina.*
It may have seemed like the obvious thing to do, but I have been in other communities where it wouldn't have been, where prayer wouldn't have been offered unless it was asked for.
That prayerful response seemed to come from an inner compulsion rather than an instruction, and that spoke to me of an understanding of God's love that goes deeper than simple knowledge, as well as a desire to bring God into every situation that is not mere ritual, and a heart for others that is compassionate and authentic.
So I wanted to encourage the community to keep growing those things, because you can never know too much of God's love or pray too much or care for others too much, but know that God is already at work bringing them to flourishing.
That's only one example, and we will each have our own areas of particular maturity, but I hope it shows the importance of recognising where there is good strong growth in our lives, so that we can celebrate and nurture what God has begun, as we learn to know and do and be in him.
*Lectio Divina is a contemplative reading of the Bible. If you would like to know more, just leave a message in the comments.