I have recently been reminded of an important characteristic of being human — we are designed to practice and learn new skills. My main hobby and fitness regimen is Taekwondo, and for the past two weeks we have been practicing the fundamental steps of what’s known as a 540 spin hook kick. I would demonstrate it for you, but…I’m still practicing. Suffice it to say that I’m having to re-learn how to use my body in an entirely new way!
It has been a good reminder that in addition to practicing new skills, we can also grow mature in those skills (proven by my teacher doing the kick like it’s no big deal). But ironically, sometimes it is our mastery itself that can become an obstacle to growth. Sometimes, to grow we must unlearn what we thought we knew and begin again.
“Dear Younger Me: You won’t spiritually mature just because you are a Christian. It takes practice to learn how to walk the pathway of discipleship. And sometimes, you must forget what you think you know and start learning all over again.”
This series is based on the idea that we can share the wisdom we’ve learned through experience. While wisdom is often associated with a kind of deep knowledge, it also includes the idea of skill. In fact, the Hebrew word translated “wisdom” can also mean “skill.” So, to be wise is to be “skilled at life.” And to build skills, we have to practice.
Paul knew this. In this letter to the Ephesians, he spends the first half reiterating the heart of the Gospel — that by God’s grace we are re-created in Christ, into new lives. Here are the Gospel basics from ch. 2:1-10 —
- We were all once dead in our sins;
- But because of his great love for us, God made us alive with Christ;
- For it is by grace we have been saved, through faith;
- It is the gift of God, for we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus
And so, because by God’s grace we are given new life in Christ, we are called to a new way of living. The second half of Paul’s letter, chapters 4-6, get into those details. And that latter half begins with Paul’s eloquent description of the process of living this new life as we grow toward maturity. That process is like a pathway on which we are called to journey. It is not always smooth, of course. It has hills and valleys, caverns and caves, and there are many hazards to trip us up along the way. So here are six pathway hazards to avoid, and alternatives to do instead, as you walk with Jesus.
1. Reject excuses — Accept your gifts
There’s a difference between excuses and obstacles. Obstacles legitimately stand in the way of something. But an excuse is a false obstacle we create to let ourselves off the hook. Instead, take an inventory of what God has given us — limited though it may seem at times — and say “with these gifts, I’ll move forward in my walk with Jesus.”
2. Leap over fear — Trust the process
Fear is based on our inability to know the future. Like on a high ropes course, you may have seen others go before you, but still be wondering, “What if my rope is the first one to break?!” When it comes to following Jesus, similar fears can trip us up. “What will my friends think? What if I look weird? What if I don’t understand it? ” But instead of letting fear trip you up, trust the process and the sisters and brothers who have gone before you.
3. Beware of comfort — Find peace in discomfort
Everyone loves a comfy set of flannel PJs or new slippers. But to learn or grow in anything, actually, requires a degree of discomfort. Jesus actually did promise that we could have peace. But comfort? He actually promised we’d have the opposite. So if we want to grow, we need to find peace in being (at least a little) uncomfortable.
4. Sidestep blame — Take responsibility
One of the greatest recent changes in the institutional church is the realization that its primary role is to do what Paul says right here in 4:12: “to equip Christ’s people for works of service.” When the institutional church is seen as the primary “doer” of ministry, it’s all too easy to blame the church for my own lack of spiritual growth: “The reason I’m not growing is because the Church isn’t doing something for me.” But when we take responsibility for being functional, contributing members of the Church as Christ’s living Body, then we’ll begin experience spiritual growth.
5. Refuse passivity — Lean into the “hill”
Passivity can actually lead to blame, because it’s characterized by having something done to me or for me — rather than an active pursuit. If discipleship is like a pathway, then when that pathway goes up a steep hill, passivity will stop me or even make me fall backward. It happens. We call it “backsliding.” The alternative is to lean into the hill, and actively pursue spiritual maturity.
6. Resist riding others’ coattails — Walk your own walk.
This is a common experience in a community. For example, it’s common in a marriage for one spouse to be spiritually maturing, while the other spouse basically tags along. And what about kids? As kids grow up, it’s easy for them to ride the momentum of mom’s or dad’s faith without growing into their own faith. But as a professor of mine once said, “God has no grandchildren.” You can’t inherit your parents’ faith. And for that matter, God also has no in-laws; you can’t marry into the Body of Christ either. So rather than trying to ride someone else’s coattails — vicariously applying their spiritual growth to ourselves — take one step at a time and walk your own walk with Jesus.
A couple parting thoughts:
1) Don’t try to think your way into spiritual maturity any more than you think your way into playing the piano, cooking a 4-course meal, or doing a 540 spin hook kick. You’ll only know what you need to practice when you start to practice.
2) It’s okay to try something in discipleship and realize it’s not helping you grow. It’s not a test, it’s a learning process. Let that thing go and pursue another avenue of growth with Jesus.
3) Visit UPPC.org > Pathways to see what discipleship opportunities there are for you in our local body. It’s updated every quarter. In the meantime, engage with the teachings on Sundays, online, or by listening to our weekly podcast Bible Jazz.
– When you think about someone being “spiritually mature” what kind of person do you envision?
– Do you have a way of measuring your own growth in spiritual maturity? Or does the goal seem too foggy to move toward?
– We teach that there are four discipleship fundamentals: Scripture Fluency, Active Prayer, Intentional Community, and Acts of Service. Do you have room to grow more mature in any of those?
– If you’re ready to get active in your own growth as Jesus’ disciple, do you know what your next steps are? Do you know where to find guidance?