Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"A recent study by the Barna group found that the number one challenge to helping people grow spiritually is that most people equate spiritual maturity with trying hard to follow the rules in the Bible. No wonder that people find themselves unmotivated to pursue spiritual growth. If I think God's aim is to produce rule-followers, spiritual growth will always be an obligation rather than a desire of my heart.

"Rule-keeping does not naturally evolve into living by faith," Paul wrote, "but only perpetuates itself in more and more rule-keeping." In other words, it only results in a rule-keeping, desire-smothering, Bible-reading, emotion-controlling, self-righteous person who is not like me. In the end, I cannot follow God if I don't trust that he really has my best interests at heart.

The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. There is an enormous difference between following rules and following Jesus, because I can follow the rules without cultivating the right heart."

"Jesus did not say, "I have come that you might follow the rules." He said, "I have come that you might have life, and have it with abundance."

When we cease to understand spiritual growth as moving toward God's best version of ourselves, the question, how is your spiritual life going? frightens us. A nagging sense of guilt and a deficit of grace prompt us to say, "Not too well. Not as good as I should be doing." People often use external behaviors and devotional practices to measure their spiritual health. They measure their spiritual life by how early they are getting up to read the Bible, or how long their quiet times are, or how often they attend church services. But that is not what spiritual formation is about."

The above is taken from "the me I want to be - becoming God's best version of you" by John Ortberg

I've got stuff to say about this. It frightens me a bit, as I lead leaders at our church who are involved daily in the art of discipleship. As North Americans we're so good at finding markers of success but in this case, in the ways of spiritual formation and spiritual maturity (have I told you how much I hate that phrase!?), what are they?

Is it age? Simply time, in years, spent "in the faith" that mean you're a mature person? Want to know what I think? I think that makes you old. Seriously. I've known plenty of people who have walked with Jesus for years who are people of mature and deep faith but then there are others who are not. Furthermore, I have found people young in years and deep in faith. Refreshing to find either, isn't it?

So if that's not it, what is it? I think that's when we get into observing the rules. The one who lives the law the best is, well, the best. But wait. What about the one who seeks hard, loves hard but falls hard? Admits it, seeks out Jesus and perseveres? What about the one who looks different from me in their search? They read the Bible and they love Jesus but they somehow do it differently than I do. Does that make them less or more? I hope that there's room in the Kingdom for those people...and for me too.

So how do we overcome this judgement of spiritual maturity by markers, by rule following and by guilt of not 'doing' enough? How do we lead this way? How do we walk with people in - and give ourselves - freedom to find the life, the deep, rich, everlasting life, that comes from truly following Jesus? What would a community of believers, a church, full of people living this way look like? I want to find that!

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