Maturity Barometer

I don’t know about you, but I like “measurables”. In other words, I like indicators that tell me how I am doing in a certain areas of my life. I am not talking about legalism that’s based on a performance base acceptance model. I am referring to matters of the heart. Indicators that your heart is maturing and conforming to a Christ likeness.

Spiritual maturity is not about “what you do for God”, but it’s about how much your heart (your mind, will and emotions) is conforming to the character of Christ. When we are allowing Christ to be our life then we will automatically move toward spiritual maturity.

However, maturity is not just a subjective thing, there are some measurables that serve as our spiritual barometer. Listed below are a few signs or indicators that we are moving toward maturity.

1. You are maturing when you acknowledge that your life is not your own. The Scripture tells us that “…and you are not your own, for you have been bought with a price.” ( 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). This requires an intentional act of the will where you put your life in God’s hands and desire to be fully obedient to God’s plan, wherever that may lead. It is taking your dreams, plans and goals and present circumstances and placing them in God’s hand. It’s admitting that you can’t do life successfully unless God leads and directs your life.

2. You are maturing when you realize you don’t have to respond when challenged. This is a major indicator of maturity and it’s probably one of the most difficult things to grasp. It was difficult for me for several reasons. First, I had the need to be right, especially if someone challenged me. I just couldn’t let it go. I guess it was tied to my need to be validated. However, when I understood that abandonment to the supremacy of Christ involved surrendering rights and expectations then my need to “be right” diminished.

Secondly, being right gave me a sense of worth. When I discovered that my security is in “who I am in Christ” and not in “proving that I was “right”, then I was able to let those challenges go. It didn’t matter anymore, because I no longer had to validate my worth by proving I was right. My worth and acceptance was based solely on “who I am in Christ”, His life is enough.

3. You are maturing when you realize that every difficulty is God’s way of breaking us. Every mature believer will point to difficult times and/or encounters with difficult people as a time of spiritual growth. In God’s economy of things, brokenness moments and events are God’s method of maturing us. Maturity is seldom a result of mountain top experiences, but rather a compilation of valley experiences.

“Every person who crosses us, every person who discourages us is God’s way of breaking us. It creates a deeper channel in us for the life of Christ. The only life that pleases God is His life, never our life. Our self-centered life is the exact opposite of His. We can never be filled with His life unless we are prepared to bring our life constantly to death.” ( Quote from Roy Hession)

Bottom Line
Spiritual maturity is not about performance, but about the level of our submission and obedience to the Lord. God never intended for our relationship with Him to be based on our self-effort. That’s the reason that the Scripture tells us “that we are made complete in Him.” (Colossians 2).

Living in the Father’s Love

Love trumps every human emotion. Anger separates and alienates us from those we care about the most. Jealousy becomes possessive behavior that drives our loved ones away. Pride keeps us from being real, and it sets up a wall that prevents us from developing transparent relationships. But our Heavenly Father’s love sets us free and breaks down all those barriers. God’s love helps us establish lasting relationships that binds our hearts with others.

However, administering this love has a divine order. First, we must be able to receive love before we can adequately give it to others. God wired us to be purveyors of His love, but he knew in and of ourselves that we lack the capacity to give continual love. That’s the reason He sent Jesus to provide the ultimate act of love. Jesus died in our place on the cross in order that we can become a child of God and then be a receiver of the Father’s love.

God not only wants us to be continual recipients of the Father’s love, but He wants us to learn to live and walk in His love. How do we do that? We must be a willing receiver of His divine love. It’s more than accepting Jesus as your Savior. It involves an act of the will. We go the next step in our spiritual growth by abandoning our life to Him we are declaring “I am all in, and committed to serving God all the days of my life.” When you do that, there is an exchange that takes place, you exchange your self-centered, self-directed life for His life. It’s an acknowledgement that you can’t live your life in your own strength. You need Christ’s divine life in you for direction, wisdom and guidance.

When we learn to live “in the Father’s love” several things happen.

1. We give up the idea that our goodness controls the way God treats us. You abandon the idea that if you do your part, then He will do His part. God always does His part because He always has His hand in your life. God promises us that “He will never leave nor forsake us.” (Hebrews 13:5)

2. We would let Him have His way with us so that we can become more like Him. He always knows what is best for us. “ God causes all things to work together…” (Romans 8:28)

3. God will set us free from those things in which we get our security. “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5)

4. You will see that suffering is God’s way of setting us free so we can follow Him at a deeper level. ”Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself alone” (John 12:24)

5. You will learn that walking in God’s love is enough. “We are made complete in Him” (Colossians 2:10)

6. God will increase your “love capacity” so you can become a giver of His love to others.

Bottom Line

God loves you more than the world could ever love you. His love is pure, unconditional and abundant. Living and resting in His love is the best place a follower of Jesus can dwell. Abiding in His love is not a formula or a religious ritual. It is not a list of “do’s and don’ts”. But its a gift from God as we yield every aspect of our lives to His control. So give up, surrender and then abide and walk in His sweet love.

Thanksgiving and Attitude

“In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:13)

One of the instinctive elements of a true believer is a thankful heart. We realize that a normal part of our daily life should include a continual attitude of thankfulness. It’s more than just saying “Thank You” to someone who does something nice for us. It’s displaying an attitude to those around us that whatever happens in life, I am going to respond as someone who sees God in every aspect of life.

There is a difference in “being thankful” and “giving thanks”. Being thankful is a result of a giving thanks. Being thankful is an act of the will regardless of how we feel. It is also an act of trust and obedience. Being thankful is a result of, and prerequisite to, having a thankful heart. Being thankful is an overt act of obedience, and the sweet result is having a thankful heart.

Does that mean we are to be thankful when we receive tragic news like, “You have cancer” or “You have lost your job”, or when we lose a friend or loved one through death? Yes, we are to be thankful – but not how you might think. No one in his right mind would say, “Praise the Lord, I have cancer.” Or would they say, “Hallelujah, my close friend has died.” That would be delusional.

But what it does mean is that we are to be so dependent upon a sovereign God for every event and circumstance in our life that we look for God’s hand and blessings in the midst of the trial. What God really desires is for us to be so “other-worldly” that nothing can shake our confidence and trust in Him. He wants us living at the level where we know that God knows best, even though in the midst of our problem we can’t see the blue sky for the fog.

It’s all about attitude

Whether we realize it or not, all our attitudes spring from some sort of belief system. For example, when our attitude takes a nosedive and we become discouraged or angry, it’s a result of a “belief system breakdown”. Our crisis of belief becomes, “do we trust God with this or are we doubting His ability to “work all things for our good?”

They have a saying in the Air Force, “Your attitude will determine your altitude”. So if you want to have an thankful heart that soars, then you must maintain a great attitude. That’s because having a thankful heart is all about “attitude”. It’s an attitude that gets its confidence from God’s love and care.

Bottom Line
You can gauge the depth of a thankful heart by observing attitude. Does your attitude reflect “God’s got this problem” or does it reflect doubt, fear and anger. Remember that our attitude often notifies our face.

Well of the Heart

“What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me? Says the Lord. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle; And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats. They have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them…So when you spread out your hands in prayer,I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen.” (Isaiah 1:11)

During my counseling days I did a great deal of marital counseling with Christian couples. In the beginning of the counseling process each person would tell in great detail what they thought was wrong with the marriage. After a few minutes of listening to their complaints, you could tell they thought if their mate could change their behavior then the marriage problems would be solved.

Bad behavior and wrong attitudes need to be addressed, but if there is going to be lasting resolution the root cause of the bad behavior had to be dealt with first. That’s because wrong behavior and attitudes are usually connected to a belief system that is part of a much deeper problem.

For example, if someone is angry all the time and they suddenly change their behavior of anger outburst, it’s not going to bring long lasting change. While they are controlling outbursts of anger by self-discipline, inside there is a volcano of anger waiting to erupt. Without first discovering and dealing with why they are always angry, the greater anger building up inside is just waiting to explode.

Couples were often surprised that I seemingly ignored the wrong behavior and started addressing their individual spiritual relationship with God instead. I encouraged them to trust me that their problem was really a symptom and until they dealt with the core spiritual issue there would never be lasting resolution.

After several sessions, they began to see that the root problem of their marriage was not the behavior but a lack of intimacy and meaningful fellowship with God. When there is a lack of ongoing transparency, humility and deep repentance with God, there will be behavior issues that will cause self-centeredness, selfishness, self-destruction, and a general overall dissatisfaction with life.

As followers of Christ, when we are out of fellowship with God then our behavior is most often driven by our flesh. But when we start focusing on building our intimacy with God, repentance of our wrong behavior will soon follow. More often than not, the quality of your relationship with your spouse, friends or family is directly related to the quality and depth of the relationship you have with the Lord.

That’s the message that Isaiah is conveying from God to the tribe of Judah. God is telling his people, I am not interested in all your sacrifices, prayers and songs of praise until you show true repentance by start doing what is right. A right relationship with God always yields repentance from sinful behavior, attitudes and habits.

Bottom Line

When you became a follower of Jesus, you became someone your have never been before, a child of God. By a divine act of the Holy Spirit you were born into the family of God. You have a new nature, you are now in Christ. This nature is driven and directed by the Holy Spirit. We no longer have to “do life” on our own.

Because we have this new nature that is to be directed and driven by the Holy Spirit, all that we are, all that we do, and all that we aspire to be should spring forth from our fellowship with the Father. The quality of our relationships is directly proportionate to the quality of our regular fellowship with God.

When I was a kid there was a well known Bible teacher named Dr. J. Vernon McGee that had a daily radio teaching broadcast. My mom would listen to him every day. He would often quote Matthew 12:34. “…for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” He would usually follow that quote with his own practical translation of the verse. It went something like this; “Out of the well of the heart the bucket of the mouth spills forth.“

What comes out of your mouth is a reflection of what is in your heart. Are you living out of your identity “in Christ”, or are you living out of “being led by the flesh”? The bucket of your mouth will surely reveal which one.

God’s Economy of Things

I am not one to throw around theological jargon, but there is one phrase that I think is important for us to learn. The phrase is “ God’s economy of things”. The general meaning of the phrase has to do with how God works in our lives. Just as each society and culture has its own “economy” that drives its business model, God has an “economy” that drives how he deals and relates to his children.

For example, the Scripture teaches and implies that this world is not our home. (1 Peter 2:11) Therefore, in “God’s economy of things” our way of relating to our problems is “other-worldly”. That means we deal with every challenge, every failure, every out-of-control situation, and every opportunity in light of God’s economy of things.

As committed followers of Christ we now live with an awareness that God is, to some degree or another, involved with everything that happens in our life. No, He is not behind our sinfulness, even though He is there to forgive and restore us when we fail, but He is in the middle of every event. Because the Spirit of the living Christ indwells us, wherever we are, Jesus is also. He is fully aware of our plight including our anxiousness and fear.

In God’s economy of things there is often a perspective that is opposite to the world’s thinking. We could even call it paradoxical. For instance, the phrase in 2 Corinthians 12, “when I am weak I am strong” is opposite to the average human mindset. In our culture the one who is weak is portrayed as a loser. To survive and win in this world you don’t display or admit your weakness. You have to be strong, and overcome your weaknesses in order to succeed in life.

But we know that in God’s economy, weakness is a spiritual virtue. We understand that in the context of weakness we let go of our own life and Christ becomes our strength. It’s no longer “God and me make a majority”, but it’s “Christ in me is my strength”. I like the rendering of this verse in the Message when Paul is speaking of his thorn in the flesh:

“At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size – abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.” (2 Corinthians 12, Message)

The above passage is our “other-worldly” perspective on our trouble. Because in God’s economy of things His intention for us is to allow the cares of this life to bring us to weakness. It is in our weakness that we will surrender control of our life and circumstances to Him. And in doing so, we can “cast all our anxiety on Him.” (I Peter 5:7)

Bottom Line

If you are a serious and committed follower of Christ, then seeing your life in light of God’s economy of things will allow you to live fully out of your new identity in Christ.

Just before Jesus went to the cross he prayed for us. He asked the Father to make us one with Him and one with the Father. (John 17:20-21) God desires that we live in our rightful position of oneness with Him. We can only do that if we are willing to change our thinking from a cultural perspective to a Christ-centered perspective that is driven by “God’s economy of things.”

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a Holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.“ (1 Peter 2:9 NAS)

Greeting Card Mentality

Who doesn’t like to receive a well chosen greeting card to help you celebrate a wonderful occasion, like a birthday or anniversary, or one that helps you get through an especially rough time in your life?

Greeting cards are meaningful among Christians when they contain a verse of Scripture that expresses hope and encouragement. We can all agree that these cards are sweet and kind expressions, and we appreciate every kind thought.

However, could it be that we are sometimes guilty of living a “greeting card” mentality while neglecting the most important aspect of the verses we use in our greeting cards?

For example, we often use a familiar verse in Romans 8:28 as a challenge that we can do anything with Christ’s help. But we ignore the over all context of the passage that admonishes us to pray without ceasing, and to pray being led by the Holy Spirit. It’s not about us achieving a personal goal with God’s help, but about developing an attitude of prayer and following God’s will.

I recently read a “Our Daily Bread” devotional that told the story of a man’s wife who had bought a birthday card for a friend. The card had a scripture from Deuteronomy 28:63 that read, ”The lord has found great pleasure in causing you to prosper and multiply”. She was so fascinated with the beauty of that statement that she wanted to look up the scripture and read the rest of the passage. When she read the whole verse it painted a different picture when read in it’s context. The whole verse read, “Just as the lord has found great pleasure in causing you to prosper and multiply, the lord will find pleasure in destroying you. You will be torn from the land you are about to enter and occupy.”

The proper context of the whole passage is not about God’s favor and blessing, but about His judgement because Israel had turned their back on Him. Yes, God takes pleasure in blessing His people, but He also warns us that we are destined for greatness and blessing only when we are serving Him with all of our heart.

Bottom Line

To walk with the Lord means we are intentional and radical about our faith. Being intentional is to have forethought. For me, that means I must have a time each day that I focus on my need for His daily guidance. I acknowledge that “Apart from Christ I can do nothing.” Some would call this daily devotions, I prefer to call it my God focus time. This helps me recognize and acknowledge a daily need for Him.

Being radical is simply being fully surrendered and abandoned to the will of God. It’s a reminder that there is nothing more important than being right with God and walking in daily fellowship with Him.

How would you characterize your walk with God, “Greeting Card mentality” or “Intentional and Radical?”

“As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died.” (Galatians 6:14 NLT)

Silent Witness

“Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ.” (Philippians 1:27 NLT)

This challenge from the Apostle Paul is a great reminder of our role as followers of Jesus. We are to live our lives as if we are already citizens of heaven. Matter of fact, positionally speaking, in Christ we are already in heaven, “we are now seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 1:6)

When I read the Philippians passage I am reminded of my responsibility to conduct myself as a yielded servant of Christ in my outward behavior. That produces what I like to call the silent witness. One of the highest compliments that I was ever given was when someone said, “There is something different about you. There is a presence that draws people to you.” I knew what that presence was, and it wasn’t my personality or a religious spirit, it was the presence of Christ.

This is a potential presence that every true follower of Christ possesses. It’s that presence that draws men and women to Christ. It’s a presence that causes unbelievers to want the peace we possess. We can’t manufacture that presence. There isn’t “5 Spiritual Steps to obtaining God’s Presence”, nor is it something that we earn by good works. Christ’s presence is only manifested as we learn to let go of our life and surrender the control of our life to Him. It happens when we practice trusting and resting in Christ as enough.

I desire to have that glow of God’s presence every moment of every day. But in reality, I know that it diminishes when I worry instead of trusting, or become fearful and stop trusting that God is in control. When I lose my temper and feel the need to set somebody straight, surely the glow fades.

God’s intention for us is to be so dependent upon Him that we willingly lay down our need to control and be in charge. Our life motto becomes, “Apart from Him I can do nothing.”(John 15). Our confidence moves from “I can do it on my own” to “with prayer and the leadership of the Spirit, in Christ I can do anything”.

Bottom Line

The Scripture tells us that “we are made complete in Him” (Colossians 2). That means when we commit to resting and trusting in the living Christ within, then we will manifest His presence and others will notice our Heavenly glow.

“For in Him we live and move and exist… (Acts 17:28)