In life we begin as infants, physically and emotionally, then children, adolescents, and eventually adults. There is a maturity, physically and emotionally, that should happen along the way.
The Bible uses the same language to describe the process of spiritual maturity. When a person lifts their hands of faith to receive God’s forgiveness and freedom, they are born a spiritual baby. Yet, there should be continual maturing, all the way to spiritual adulthood.
A few years ago, I sat under the teaching of author/speaker Walt Mueller, and he offered three different “phases” of parenting. Here they are:
1) Think “for” your child
2) Think “with” your adolescent
3) Let them think “for themselves”
This process of parenting is simple, yet profound. My four year old daughter doesn’t realize the full implications of touching the hot stove, or walking on the “balance beam” (aka wall) six feet off the ground. I often “think for” her, and this phase calls for lots of “Don’t” and “Do’s” because kids are not ready to think for themselves about most things.
Parents of young adults hesitantly let go and watch as they go off into the real world. The hope of a parent in this last phase is that the values they’ve modeled and taught have become internalized, so their “child” navigates life and thinks for his or herself.
The problem is that many parents skip over phase 2 – where they should “think with” their adolescent. Done well, this phase includes lots of open dialogue, asking questions and listening to the rapidly developing thoughts and ideas of their “not-a-child-but-not-an-adult.” This “thinking with” is surely the most difficult phase.
So what does this have to do with spiritual maturity? Well, a lot.
As a baby Christian, you might remember just how delicate your faith was. I have many memories in this phase, including my first worship “concert.” One song I was dancing, the next I was crying, the next I was intensely doubting whether I was truly even “saved.” God is incredibly gracious in this early child phase, and He often “thinks for” us, practically dropping things in our laps. (If he didn’t we’d surely crumble)
As time passes, we start to “feel” his presence less, and things start to get difficult. What began as black and white turns to grey. We doubt things we never thought possible. God is seemingly absent, but He faithfully “thinks with” us as we wrestle through life, even as we doubt He’s even there.
Finally, there is a spiritual maturity that emerges from the wrestling matches, a faith refined and strong. Instead of saying “God I will not do this unless you drop it in my lap,” we find ourselves living with the conviction “God I know you are with me and that you care about this.” The values of our heavenly Father become internalized, and He is pleased to see his kids empowered to “think for themselves,” acting with boldness and conviction.
Do you think that God deals with us in these ways, much like a successful parent deals with their own children?
In what ways have you experienced these various phases in your own spiritual life?