In this episode, we examine the seven parts of spiritual maturity. They are: knowing the right things, doing the right things, thinking the right things, having the right relationships, aiming for the right things, having the right attitude, and being the right things.
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Be good and do good.
In this episode of Balancing the Christian Life, I give a brief overview of the seven parts of spiritual maturity, and I’ll give you two challenges to help you grow as a Christian.
If you had to condense Christianity into one sentence, how would you do it? Let me give you a few seconds to think about that. Jesus told us to treat others as we wish to be treated, and he’s, of course, right, but is that all of it? Likewise, Jesus told us to love God and our neighbor; that this is the whole law and the prophets, but he’s summarizing the old law. If I asked you to come up with the essence of Christianity, what would you say? Pause this. Get out a piece of paper. Think about it. You might say, well this is ridiculous. One sentence? You can’t really say anything meaningful in a sentence. Twitter used to be confined to 160 characters, or the length of an old text message, and one of the things its critics used to say is you can’t say anything meaningful in something so short. Except Twitter became one of the most influential platforms for influencers. It’s never been as widely adopted as Facebook or Instagram, but the people who are on it have figured out how to say a lot in a little. Creativity is born in constraints. I mean if you want to know how far $10 will get you, only put $10 in your pocket and it’s amazing how far you can make it go. For me, I think I’ve been able to get it down to five words.
Or let me ask the same question in a different way. You already know people you think are great Christians. You know people who, when you think of them, you are truly awestruck. They’re the people in your past who may make you feel guilty because you’re just not as good as him or her. Or they inspire you because they are decent. I don’t know exactly what they make you think or feel, but when I say good Christian or even good person, this person comes to your mind immediately. They are patient, kind, supportive, humble, courteous, generous and always rooting for you to do the right thing. By the way, that’s a list I stole from Paul in I Corinthians. The words you would use to describe them may sound old fashioned. Words like character, integrity, reliability, honesty, respect, or admiration. Their positions may have nothing to do with how much you value who they are. The people you think about may or may not have money or power. They may include a relative or a teacher or a waitress or a janitor or a vice president. At my school, there was a woman in the cafeteria who made omelets. Her food was fine, but there was always a line many times longer than how good her food was. The students wanted to see the omelet lady. She was the draw. I’m guessing you’re not thinking of our omelet lady, but you are thinking about a few people. They are people who you know make the world a better place by being there. Now, what is it about them that makes them the ones you’re thinking about right now? Is it because they were perfect? You know better than that. But there is something there. They don’t always make you feel good about yourself, either. But they are people who always help you become better. These people want you to grow. They want you to stop fooling around. They want you to own your responsibility and live lives of meaning and not simply of distraction or recreation. Do you have someone in mind?
Abigail Adams was the second first lady of the United States and one of those people I wish I could have met. Her husband was John Adams and one of her children was John Quincy Adams, both presidents of the United States. She wrote a lot. In fact, we have over 1,100 letters just between her and her husband. Imagine that. Over a thousand letters. My favorite quote from Abigail Adams is one where she condensed Christianity into a sentence. She wrote in a letter to a friend, “to be good and do good, is the whole duty of man comprised in a few words.” I like concise ideas expressed in simple language. And I’m stealing her line at the end of my podcast.
A second person I think about is Daniel from the Old Testament. We’re not really told much about the specifics of Daniel’s life. I always pictured him as a college-aged kid at the beginning of the book when he’s taken away from everything he knows into a land where he is to be a high-status slave to the king of Babylon. I can picture him when he’s an old man thrown to lions. He’s just someone who figured out Christian maturity before there was Christianity. Without lecturing and without the Internet, he made an important mark. He’s the one who started me thinking there are at least 7 different but related parts to growing spiritually.
Those seven things are the next seven episodes. They are.
Yes, it’s a simple list, and you’ll notice they all revolve around the “right things.” We’ll talk about what those right things are. But let me give you a brief rundown on where we’re going to go.
First, know the right things. Having good, factual knowledge counts. I think about Daniel and he knew God. He also knew what his obligations were. He knew his identity. He knew his strengths and weaknesses. He knew his limitations. He knew the time and political climate. He knew his place in the culture. He knew his enemies. In other words, he studied and figured out the facts.
Second, in doing the right things I want to stress the importance of taking good knowledge and acting on it. Daniel knew what was right, but he didn’t simply sit on his knowledge, but he acted. He worshipped, he spoke, he did big things and small things. But he wasn’t a man of inaction. I think about all the indecision people have. For example, I’ve thought about doing this podcast for about 3 years. Part of my motivation for putting out episode one was this principle. Get started. As a friend of mine Chris Krimitsos says, start ugly, but start. It’s easy to change something you’ve already started.
Third, thinking the right things. This is different than having the right information. Thinking the right things includes what preoccupies your mind. This includes things like meditation and curiosity. This is thinking about thinking. It’s also figuring out how to make connections between ideas that make sense. In higher education, we would call that critical thinking, and it’s eventually what we’re trying to get our students to do. One of the secrets of higher education is all professors know most of the material they give their students will be forgotten or become outdated. But true followers of any discipline figure out how to make connections with newer information and take it to the next step. So if you’re a doctor, you can look at new medical research and say this is how this should apply to my patients. Or you know when something just sounds wrong and needs more research. Good disciples know how to think about their topics. They begin figuring out how to abandon old ways of thinking to embrace better ways of thinking. Don’t get lost in that, but do start identifying the thoughts preoccupy your mind.
Fourth is having the right relationships. Daniel records the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego in the fiery furnace. These were good guys who supported Daniel’s good choices. Daniel knew kings and colleagues. But it’s obvious to me he intentionally chose the relationships important to him.Your friends, acquaintances, coworkers and neighbors, Facebook followers, favorite influencers all affect who you are. Let me say that again. The people you surround yourself with change you.
Fifth, aiming for the right things means having goals and aspirations worth having. It means thinking about the direction you’re headed on now. It includes taking a mental snapshot of where you hope to be. It also means you take a clear look at what you say your values are and how you actually end up acting. Daniel never seemed to have political goals, but he had a clear vision for who he wanted to be. I may be reading into Daniel’s story, but I never get the sense Daniel was interested in high political office. I never get the idea he was campaigning to be a chief counselor in Babylon or the Persian empire. I don’t think that was his aim. His aim was to be good and do good and those choices landed him in that position.
Sixth is having the right attitude. This comes less from Daniel, but Jesus talks about the importance of how you do what you do. As a parent, I think about forcing my kids to make apologies and the semi-ridiculous command every parent has told their kids, “say you’re sorry and mean it.” Tone and presentation of information makes a difference. But attitude and motivation trump that. Think about this, who is allowed to criticize you? If someone hates you, you’re not likely to take their advice. But if someone loves you, truly loves you, you’ll listen. Their criticism can be harsh, but you know it comes from a place of love. Let me say that again, the people who love you the most are the ones who can give you the most biting criticism and have it stick. It’s precisely because their attitude is loving and not spiteful or hateful or self-centered. They want you to be right, and they’ll risk showing you where you’re wrong.
Finally, being the right things. This goes directly to your character. In some ways it is the first six ideas put together. But there’s something more to being the right thing and not just doing the right thing. We are more than our thoughts and our actions. We are more than our intentions and goals. I’m not tearing those down or minimizing them because they are clearly parts of growing up as a Christian. However, we have intrinsic worth which is a gift from God. Can I tell you a secret you already know? You’re not that good. You’re a fraud and imposter. You know you make the wrong choices. You know you’re lazy or unkind. You know there are terrible, horrible parts of yourself. Full stop. Left alone, you’re a failure. But we have been invested with value. The value of something is only what someone else is willing to pay. You know how much your house is worth? It’s only worth what a buyer is willing to pay for it. Not a penny more or less. We’re important because God paid a high price for us. God, the creator of the universe, paid the highest price for you and me. And if you’re worth the price of God’s life, do you think it might be worth investing in His purchase? Do you think it might make sense to take care of the soul he bought? Joel Manby is an important influence here. He was a serial CEO who led automaker Saab, Herschend Family Entertainment the company behind theme parks Dollywood and Silver Dollar City, and then Seaworld. He has written about the idol of achievement and making profits and meeting numbers and how it’s important to act your way into success. When you’re trying to have a successful company, it’s important to do good. But he also stresses the importance of creating a character, which is different. It’s about being good. It’s always been interesting to me than at a time when the Jewish culture was interested in finding a leader to overthrow Rome and establish Israel in the first century, the messiah they were praying for said stop looking for a kingdom and start creating a character.
So that’s where we’ll go for the next few weeks. As a recap, my argument is spiritual maturity is summed up in the following seven parts.
I don’t see how you mature as a Christian without intentionally thinking about these things.
Let me challenge you to do the two things we’ve already talked about. The first is going back to the person you thought about earlier, the person you know is a good Christian or just a good person. When you think about him or her, answer these seven questions. What did they know you didn’t? What did they do? What did they tell you to think about? Who did they say would help you? What goals did they want reach? What attitudes did they want you to change? What kind of character did they have?
And for my second challenge, let’s finish where we started. What is your one-sentence Christianity? You know my answer, but what’s yours?