Monday, October 22, 2007


Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity.

One thing I do: forgetting what is behind and striving toward what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.

To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it... to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants... instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

(Jeremiah 717:7-8; Colossians 2:6-7; 2 Peter 3:18; Hebrews 6:1; Philippians 3:13b-15a; Ephesians 4:7,12-13 -- all NIV)

Many of us have a yearning to know something of our historical roots. We all, no doubt, know some individuals who have painstakingly researched their family history. Many of those adopted -- and their natural parents -- are eagerly taking advantage of recent legislation allowing greater access to adoption records. And in many parts of the world there is a burgeoning pride in racial heritage, exemplified by such slogans as 'black is beautiful'. One's roots are important to one's identity.

But more important than our biological and social roots are our spiritual roots. As Christians, we are exhorted to be like trees planted by streams of water, with roots that dig deeply enough to make us strong and stable, and that draw enough regular nourishment to sustain our life and fruitfulness whatever threats our environment brings. However, because we are human beings, not trees, we have a choice as to where we want to be planted, how deeply we will allow our roots to grow, and how liberally we will drink from the water source. If we so choose, we can be planted in an arid area, or near foul water; we can be content with a shallow root system; and we can try to make do with a spasmodic sip of water. Hardly a recipe for a maturing spiritual life!

Further, spiritual roots are nurtured by both historical and contemporary elements, by 'theory' and 'experience'. It is stimulating for us to develop the ability to ponder the nature of God, and his working in history from creation to consummation: but that has minimal value unless we also let our roots go down deeply into the spiritual life that only comes from him. We are enriched by widening our understanding of the atonement as an historical and theological event: but that cannot nourish our souls unless it motivates us to drink freely of the water of life offered to us by Christ in his atonement. There is a place for discussion about the coming of the Holy Spirit and the significance of his work: but that can never be a substitute for allowing him to grow his fruit in our lives, and equip us with the gifts he wishes us to use in the building up of the Body into maturity.

So we face a paradox: growing up is growing down! Whether we identify more readily with the 'riverside tree' or the 'downtown tree' of Ken Medema's 'Tree Song' -- the one with its visibly lush surroundings, the other with its hidden water source -- we can experientially affirm:

I've got roots growing down to the water, I've got leaves growing up to the sunshine, And the fruit that I bear is a sign of the life in me. I am shade from the hot summer sundown, I am nest for the birds of the heaven. I'm becoming what the Lord of trees has meant me to be, a strong young tree.

Many Christians never grow up. They remain beginners in the faith. The time and effort required to secure the treasures of the spiritual life call for too much effort; the moral and social demands of loyalty to Christ are more than they are prepared to pay; so they remain children in the faith.

E. Ernest Thomas

To some people maturity seems to mean questioning everything and being agnostic on all things. Surely, however, the mark of maturity is to arrive at firm convictions instead of remaining forever in an attitude of adolescent questioning and scepticism. There is a distinction to be drawn between openmindedness (the willingness to examine basic convictions) and empty-mindedness (the principle of throwing everything overboard and then trying to make a fresh start). The [Christian] need not be afraid to submit his deepest convictions to scrutiny, for the truth can stand scrutiny. Nor will he let himself be swept off his feet by superior argument, so that he continually vacillates like a broken weather-vane. Rather he will hold fast to the Word of God, and from this position he will have a proper stance to exercise his critical and self-critical faculties.

1. Howard Marshall, from an article 'Towards Maturity'

If prayer were just an intelligent exercise of our mind, we would soon become stranded in fruitless and trivial inner debates with God. If, on the other hand, prayer would involve only our heart, we might soon think that good prayers consist in good feelings. But the prayer of the heart in the most profound sense unites mind and heart in the intimacy of the divine love... It is indeed like a murmuring stream that continues underneath the many waves of every day and opens the possibility of living in the world without being of it and of reaching out to our God from the centre of our solitude.

Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out

Maturity begins to grow when you can sense your concern for others outweighing your concern for yourself.

John MacNaughton, source unknown

The growth and final maturity of the individual Christian contributes to the growth and final maturity of the church, the society of which he is a member. Conversely, this growth and maturity can only be fully attained in the unity of faith and knowledge which typifies the corporate experience of the church. The Christian individual and the Christian society are, therefore, through their mutual organisation about Christ, interdependent.

W.E. Andersen, The Christian Concept of Maturity

Ethical development, as well as intellectual and emotional development, is a necessary condition of maturity... Since ethics always asserts that one kind of conduct is better than another, an ultimate basis for comparison is implied. Therefore, ethical choices are basically theological, since they imply loyalty to God or to some principle that stands in the place of God as an ultimate referent... The intellectual and emotional components of maturity can be developed by effort, such as self-discipline, devotion to learning, and the cultivation of habit. But theological questions demand commitment.

Orville S. Walters, in an article 'Maturity: When.'?'

Temptation is a factor in the psychological and spiritual growth process everyone must go through if we are to become mature individuals, capable of living a full and meaningful life. The function of temptation is always to trigger a choice and provoke a definite stand or action.

Bob Mumford, The Purpose of Temptation

The one who is mature is not he who has achieved all his goals, but who has his goals clearly in mind, and who is, in addition, pursuing them with vigour.

W.E. Andersen, The Christian Concept of Maturity

Real maturity comes when we say to ourselves and to others: 'We know in part and prophesy in part... our seeing now is as through a glass darkly.' This means while I don't now know everything, I do know something, and on the basis of what I do know I can act constructively in the present toward the future... If we will respond in this way, that will be the best proof I know that we have 'put away childish things' and are functioning as mature human beings.

John Claypool, in a sermon 'Absurdity, Causality and Mystery'

Where did the idea ever come from that we should reach total maturity quickly or without lots of falling down and getting up?. If we abandon the expectation that our growth should be another way, then we can live into where we are and use it as an occasion 'to press on to the mark' as St Paul said, rather than giving up in discouragement... Being a slow learner does not disqualify one. It may be death to pride, but not to hope. Listen, the issue is not how long it takes us to be fully graced, but trust in him who, having begun a good work, will see it through to completion.

John Claypool, from a sermon 'Slow Learners and Hope'

The Lord is often in less of a hurry than we are... It was fourteen years from the time of Paul's conversion to the time of his departure with Barnabas from Antioch. Those largely 'hidden' years were not wasted. God was preparing his instrument: tempering and hardening him, hammering him into shape, teaching him. Paul was learning about discipleship.

Michael Griffiths, Give Up Your Small Ambitions

Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people. The classical Disciplines of the spiritual life call us to move beyond surface living into the .depths. They invite us to explore the inner caverns of the spiritual realm. They urge us to be the answer to a hollow world... Our world is hungry for genuinely changed people. Leo Tolstoy observed, 'Everybody thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself.' Let us be among those who believe that the inner transformation of our lives is a goal worthy of our best effort.

Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline

Our Father, we confess that too often we've put down our roots in the wrong places; we've been more concerned with our human heritage and resources than we have been to experience the riches of our inheritance in Christ; we've not really grown up, because we've not really grown down. Father forgive us.

Lord Jesus, we want to have more than an intellectual understanding of our faith: we want to know you; we want to grow up to be mature in you, to be nourished by the water of life you offer us; we want to be made willing to accept the commitment and discipline of being your disciples.

Lord, inspire us by your example of growth in obedience, so that our goal will be to grow up into you, our Head.

Holy Spirit, we don't want to remain infants, grieving you by our immaturity; we don't want to have such shallow roots that we are unable to produce the fruit you wish to see in our lives; we don't want to ignore the challenges of receiving and using the gifts you allocate to us so we can fulfil our proper functions as part of the Body of Christ.

Spirit, thank you for your power which enables us to grow down, in order that we may grow up.

Our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we accept your forgiveness, your inspiration and your empowering with grateful hearts. Amen.

A Benediction

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge: that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:16-19, NIV).

>From Rowland Croucher ed., Still Waters Deep Waters (Albatross/Lion) chapter 9

No comments: