I get absolutely no points for a catchy title here!
I was thinking the other day about my life and I remember moments when I thought I knew it all, I was brimming with confidence and a (seemingly) confident smile and great dreams of being a “history maker for Jesus” -I think many of my generation jumped and sang in various festival fields to that particular song of Delirious, and most of us genuinely wanted (and still want) to be part of Jesus making history and transforming a broken and hurting world.
I’ve been ordained, I’ve planted a couple of congregations and started a whole load of Fresh Expressions, some worked well and others didn’t, I even did a spot of outreach on Kingswood High Street with Archbishop Justin (always good to name drop!). If I wrote an autobiography there would be some highs and lows, successes and fruit alongside some failures and mistakes. Yet the question we rarely ask those of us as excited teens promised God our all is “have we grown” -indeed, spiritual growth is talked about all the time and yet it seems as though no one ever really talks honestly about how we measure growth. Often we conflate knowledge or learning with growth, I know how to host events, manage teams and write a sermon that has enough jokes and illustrations in it, and these skills are useful. I also learned at college some useful Bible verses and can regurgetate ideas from old theologians and can maybe even surprise you with a little Greek (he’s called Stavros!) This is not spiritual maturity but facts, knowledge and implimenting good practice.
Most of you will probably have guessed that what I am going to say is that spiritual growth is actually based around do I act like Jesus wants me too (even when no one is looking). To be honest, I don’t think I do -or if I do it certainly doesn’t look how I thought it would, and if I do manage it and people see it I know that there is also an awful lot of times when I don’t manage it, and I know I don’t manage it, and I’ve realised that that is okay.
There is a confident arrogance that we often associate with success, it is smug and self satisfied, it’s pleased with itself, and yet this is actually really the opposite of spiritual maturity, it is prideful and boasting (and I have at times felt this too, of which I am not proud, but it happens sometimes).
Scripture tells us that the beginning of wisdom (interesting phrase, “beginning of wisdom’ as wisdom doesn’t have an end destination this side of eternity) is the fear of the Lord”. Which I wonder is meaning a realisation that God is God -all knowing and all powerful- and we are not, wisdom is realising that God and not us has the last word.
I once was asked about my view on the authority of scripture -actually they used the word inerrant which has issues in my mind about translation and our understanding of context- and I said this: “I have no problem with what God says being inerrant but I don’t believe in the inerrancy of my interpretation of what he says!” God is right but we struggle to get the right end of the right stick most of the time, fortunately God is gracious, he sent Jesus, Holy Spirit and the scriptures -and one another- to help us be faithful.
I’m not into labels but want to faithfully follow Jesus which often causes me to ask lots of questions, as I find following Jesus can be confusing, and the more I’ve gone on and the more I have read, the more questions I had… And I came to a point when some questions about certain text really got me tied up in knots releasing I might never get answers, actually it completely changed my reading of the bible, long term for the better I think but certainly for a number of years (yes that is not a misprint) I felt a bit nervous of how to handle it well, maybe I was too cocky with it before?!
Jesus saying “blessed are those who are spiritually poor” or “blessed are those who know their need of God” that a healthy place is not the place of EGO (which has been called an acrostic for Edging God Out) but knowing our dependence on God. It is the paradox of the addict who begins their recovery with AA’s step one when they admit that their lives had become unmanageable, acknowledging their need of help. Proverbs tells us that pride comes before a fall, and I have had times when I thought “I can within stand this” and fell, and as many Christians will testify there are other moment where God has proved the truth of “in our weakness he is strong”.
So, to conclude, I think our spiritual growth actually might not feel like we are developing a ripped six pack, I think it looks humble and often happens gradually, and is about allowing the Christ in us the hope of glory to be seen without the us in us to want to grab the limelight.
As I come into land, I realise that there maybe some of you who are saying that this blog about growth is a cop out because I haven’t talked about measureable things, other than looking like Jesus which in itself is a difficult one as Christ was pretty unpredictable. Yet the key measureable in growth, in becoming more like Jesus are found as the fruit of the spirit, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control” and these are normally learned in the challenging crucible of real life where these things take some working at, but the question is “am I revealing more of these more often than I was last week, last month, last year?” And how do I practice these in this context or that senario when another reaction and response probably is keen to take charge.
So growth might not look like success, and wisdom might not involve having all the answers and looking like Jesus often is choosing the right thing in difficult circumstances when the wrong thing feels easier and more natural.