Loving Spiritually Immature Christians

forgive_youContinued from here.

On of the hardest parts of dealing with spiritually immature Christians is continuing to love them while they are behaving badly. When someone is rude to you, it’s natural to want to be rude back, but that’s not how Jesus behaved when he was tortured and killed. Even when we must take action, we should always do it gently and in love, even when we must be firm. I find it helpful to recognize that the behavior is indicative of spiritual immaturity and fueled by pain. When I see the person as a wounded child acting through an adult’s body, it helps me find more compassion, even when the person has wounded me.

I also find it helpful to remember that the kindest action is not necessarily giving the person what he or she wants. It doesn’t help someone to mature by rewarding him or her for poor behavior. Just as giving a toddler his own way to stop his tantrum is a poor long-term solution, allowing a spiritually immature person to get his own way through throwing an adult version of a temper tantrum does not benefit him. Sometimes, the most loving answer is, “No.”

Saying no (setting appropriate boundaries) can be particularly difficult when the spiritually immature person is someone we love who will experience negative consequences if we stand our ground. We must remember that God often allows us to experience the negative consequences of our actions so that we can learn. After all, if God repeatedly rescued us from the consequences of our poor choices, why would we ever change?

As I have matured in my faith, I have grown more gentle in how I interact with others. I’m not claiming never to lose my temper, but those instances have grown farther and farther apart as God has taught me the beauty and value of gentleness. Ultimately, the goal in interacting with spiritually immature Christians is not to change their behavior – it’s to lead them toward changing their hearts, which only God can do. Your “No” can be the wakeup call the person needs to go before the Lord, repent, and grow. In the meantime, cover the person in prayer, always remembering that Jesus died for that person, just as he died for you.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with angels’ wings and a halo saying, “I forgive you.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Dealing with Spiritually Immature Christians

prayer2Continued from here.

What do you do when someone who believes he or she is spiritually immature behaves badly toward you? The first step is always prayer – pray for God’s wisdom and discernment for how best to respond to the person. If possible, I recommend delaying giving a response until you have had the opportunity to go before the Lord in prayer. For example, if a spiritually immature Christian leaves you a rude voice mail or sends you a rude email, do not respond until after you have sought God’s leadership. If it happens face-to-face, try hearing the person out but then tell the person you’d like to go to God in prayer first and then will respond later.

The next step is to look to the Bible for how best to respond. Possible responses run the gamut from ignoring the rudeness to having an uncomfortable conversation in which boundaries are set or enforced. This is why we need to pray for God’s wisdom and discernment to respond appropriately. Remember that however you respond is modeling behavior – whether positive or negative – to someone who is less spiritually mature. Your response should be as gentle as possible while still firm enough to enforce appropriate boundaries.

One factor to consider is how many people stand to be harmed by the spiritually immature behavior. If someone is only being rude to you, an option might be to extend grace by responding to the insult kindly and then praying for the person. This has worked effectively for me, particularly with interpersonal relationships. I have gone to the Father in prayer, asking Him to stand up for me, and He has used my gentle response to nudge the person into conviction and repentance. Sometimes people (particularly family) are looking for an argument. When we refuse to push back, that gives God the space to work on that person’s heart.

However, if someone’s behavior is disruptive enough to hurt others, appropriate boundaries may need to be enforced to prevent that person from leading others in the wrong direction. For example, let’s say someone is gossiping about a situation to try to rally other people to bring about disharmony. That’s a situation that needs to be addressed quickly before disunity happens … but even then, praying to God before acting is critical.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace praying. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Judging Others through the Eyes of Spiritual Immaturity

fork_knifeContinued from here.

As I stated in my last blog entry, there’s nothing “wrong” with being spiritually immature. After all, we all start out that way. When we first become Christians, we are spiritual infants, needing spiritual milk to help us grow. We move on to spiritual baby food and then eventually to solid spiritual food. Just as we wouldn’t feed steak to a three-month-old baby, we need to “feed” spiritually immature Christians what they are ready for.

The problem is that many Christians continue eating spiritual milk and fail to grow in their faith. They only want to focus on the passages of scripture that benefit them, such as the requirement that other Christians extend them grace. However, when someone else is in need of grace, they don’t react with spiritual maturity but, instead, lash out in judgment, behaving like a spiritual toddler. I’ve seen people do this who have been Christians for decades. The passage of time does not, in itself, cause someone to mature spiritually.

I have found that I am most patient in areas where I have matured because I remember what it was like to be spiritually immature in that area. For example, when someone struggles with unforgiveness, I share my experience and gently lead them toward forgiveness, emphasizing that they have every reason to feel as they do, just as I did in my own situation. Because I remember how difficult and painful being bitter was for me, I’m extra gentle with people who are in that place.

However, when I was spiritually immature, I would instead react in judgment, heaping guilt on top of the pain that the other person was already experiencing. And let’s face it – spiritual immaturity is painful! It hurts to carry around bitterness … or to question whether you are really loved … or to fear that if you don’t take control over a situation, your life is going to implode. God once placed heavily on my heart that I was never to judge other people in their brokenness and that all sin arises out of brokenness. Thus, when I see people behaving poorly, I need to extend them grace, knowing that pain is what is driving their poor behavior. That’s tough to do, and nearly impossible to do when we are ourselves still spiritually immature.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace licking her lips while holding a fork and knife. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Assessing Your Own Level of Spiritual Maturity

math_equationsContinued from here.

When I was a teenager, I was wise beyond my years in some areas, which led me to mistakenly believe that I was as mature as an adult. I wasn’t. While I was certainly more mature than the average teen in some ways, I was quite immature in other areas. From the perspective of maturity, I look back and cringe over just how immature I was back then – how completely clueless I was about different aspects of life.

The same dynamic is true in our spiritual lives. Most of us who have been walking with Christ for a while have areas of our spiritual lives that have ripened but others that have not. Just as I did as a teenager, it can be easy for Christians to believe that maturity in one area automatically means maturity in all areas, but that’s rarely the case. It takes time to mature, and we have to be willing to walk with God through the difficult process of growing in maturity in a particular area of our lives.

It’s vitally important to be able to accurately assess in which areas we have matured and in which we are still spiritual babies. We have no business trying to offer advice to other Christians about areas of their spiritual journeys in which we are just as immature, if not more so. If we delude ourselves into believing we are spiritually mature in areas where we are not, we run the risk of causing harm to others. Just as I would not give a toddler the keys to my car, I don’t need to be offering “constructive criticism” to other Christians in areas in which I, myself, have not matured.

The best way to assess your own level of spiritual maturity is to compare your behavior to that of Jesus, Paul, and others in the Bible. When someone wrongs you, does your reaction look like Jesus, who blessed his persecutors? When you are in an uncomfortable situation, do you remain joyful, like Paul? If your honest answer is no, that’s OK. It doesn’t make you “bad.” It simply means you are spiritually immature and that this is an area for growth.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace thinking about math. Courtesy Bitmoji.

 

Spiritually Immature Christians

babyThis week, I’m going to blog about a topic that’s important but one that many people might feel uncomfortable talking about: interacting with spiritually immature Christians.

Interestingly, some of the most spiritually immature Christians I have met were unaware of being spiritually immature (myself included back in the day!). Belonging to a church for decades does not make someone spiritually mature, nor does having lots of head knowledge about the Bible. In fact, if having lots of head knowledge about the Bible made someone spiritually mature, then Satan would be the most spiritually mature being on the planet! Earning a theology degree, pastoring a church, or serving as a missionary does not make a person spiritually mature. Nor does the mere passage of time since you received Jesus into your heart result in spiritual maturity.

Jesus said that a tree is known by its fruit. In other words, spiritually mature people behave in ways that are consistent with the fruit of the spirit while spiritually immature people do not. Spiritually mature people are joyful even when their circumstances are not, peaceful even when they are surrounded by chaos, and gentle even when people are rude to them. Does that sound like you?

How spiritually mature are you? Joyce Meyer shared a simple way to make this determination about yourself. If you want to assess your own level of spiritual maturity, think about how you behaved the last time you didn’t get your way. Did you cuss the other person out? Complain about the situation to everyone willing to listen? Pout? Manipulate the situation to try to get your way?

Or did you extend grace where it wasn’t deserved? Did you submit to an authority figure’s decision, even though you didn’t agree with it? Did you pray for the person who made you angry? Did you choose not to assert your rights, even though most people wouldn’t blame you for doing so? Did you choose to forgive a wrong? Or respond kindly to someone who was rude?

Having a strong handle on your own level of spiritual maturity can help you better deal with others who are not as spiritually mature as they believe themselves to be.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace drinking out of a baby’s bottle. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Spiritual Maturity Series Wrap Up

doneContinued from here.

I have a feeling that this blog series might have stepped on some toes. To quote a pastor I respect, before God steps on your toes through what I write on this blog, He clobbers me with it first. Everything I have shared in this series is what God has taught me over the years, and I certainly don’t do it perfectly. I fall, and then I get up, and then I fall again. I tell God that I am not capable to living as He commands me to live, so I am fully dependent upon Him to empower me to do so. Otherwise, I will keep falling. And then I get up and try again.

To quote Beth Moore, I learned all I have written on a “field trip,” which is much harder than reading about someone else’s experiences and making changes without God messing with my circumstances. I have had to learn much of what God has taught me the “hard way.” This blog is my gift to you so you can learn through reading what I learned through experience.

Far too many Christians want just enough of God to avoid going to hell when they die. Eternal life with God is not the only reason Christ died for us – He came to restore us into relationship with God, and that starts now, not after we die. There’s not much attractive to those who are separated from God when we don’t transform into Christ’s image. Perpetually immature Christians don’t seem much different from the World around them other than going to a church service on Sundays.

If the Church would grow up into Christlikeness, many more people would be attracted to God. The Body of Christ needs to stop behaving like self-centered children and, instead, grow up into a “mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Eph. 4:15). I’m not claiming that becoming a disciple of Christ is easy, but it is simple. It happens by saying, “Yes, Lord,” and doing what God says to do in the Bible, regardless of how we feel about it and regardless of what anyone else thinks. Relatively few people choose to live as true disciples of Christ, but those who do are blessed beyond measure as they become a blessing to others.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace clapping her hands and saying, “Done and Done.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Spiritually Mature People Disciple Others

need_an_adultContinued from here.

The most spiritually mature people disciple others. It’s no longer enough for them to grow in their own relationship with God – they deeply desire to help others grow as well. Spiritually mature people are not satisfied with a “selfish faith,” keeping the wonders and riches of an intimate relationship with God to themselves. They want others to experience this as well!

Because spiritually mature people have grown from being self-absorbed spiritual children to adulthood, they are able to recognize someone else’s level of spiritual maturity and guide them gently toward the next step in deepening their relationship with God. Speaking the truth in love, they guide less mature Christians to grow up and mature in Christ. This is what it means to fulfill the Great Commission, which were Jesus’ last instructions before ascending into heaven:

Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” ~ Matt. 28:18-20

While some people believe the Great Commission is only about converting people to Christianity, it runs so much deeper than that. Jesus didn’t say to get people to accept him as Savior so they can avoid going to hell when they die. Instead, he said to “make disciples” and to teach them to obey God. That’s the Great Commission to all of us, and it’s our responsibility as we mature spiritually to care about the spiritual maturity of others. How will they learn to grow up in Christ without others teaching them how to do so?

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace saying, “I need an adult.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Spiritually Mature People Value God’s Opinion Over Everyone Else’s

carContinued from here.

Following God’s ways is not always popular, even among fellow Christians. As an example, when I share with fellow Christians that I no longer speed when I drive, they look at me like I have two heads, much in the same way that someone without a faith in God would. I don’t speed because God tells us to obey governing authorities. If the governing authority has determined that 35 MPH is the maximum speed limit for a four-lane divided road, I don’t have to agree with that determination, but I do have to obey it. If I don’t, I am not only disobeying the governing authority, but I am also disobeying God. It may be true that the governing authority really does not care and will not punish me for driving 38 MPH in a 35 MPH zone, but God cares. If He didn’t, He would not have told us in his Word to obey governing authorities, or He would have said to obey only when we agree with the decision.

My family mocks me for driving the speed limit, and some of my friends are downright annoyed by it, insisting on doing the driving so they can arrive at our destination faster. I don’t let others’ opinions sway me because only one person’s opinion matters, and that’s God. As long as He is pleased with my obedience, it really does not matter what anyone else thinks of my choices.

It took me a long time to reach this place of being at peace in situations where nobody other than God seems to agree with my decisions because I used to be a world-class people pleaser. I used to ask 5 people for advice before making any decisions because I had no confidence in myself. I deeply cared about other people’s opinions of me. Today, only one opinion matters. Interestingly, since I stopped caring about what other people think of me, others seem to like me better! But even when they don’t, I’m OK with that because only God’s opinion matters.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace driving a car. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Spiritually Mature People Don’t Let Their Feelings Drive Their Actions

godzillaContinued from here.

This area of spiritual maturity has been a real uphill battle for me … like climbing a cliff! Because of my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from severe childhood abuse, my brain can flood me with all sorts of negative feelings without warning. I have learned over the years that when I allow those feelings to drive my actions, I’ll find myself at the bottom of an emotional pit, which is where I lived most of my adult life while I was a spiritually immature person. The only way for me to avoid living my life in an emotional pit is to choose obedience to God over what I feel.

Let me give you an example – I called my husband while he was driving home to ask him a question. He had a rough day at work and was irritable on the phone. My feelings were like the Greek sirens beckoning me to take a trip down memory lane of all the times in the past he was unfairly irritable with me. I know from many years of experience where this would have gone … I would not have stopped with being angry and hurt with him – this would have led to me also recounting the many times when others in my life were unfairly irritable with me. I then would have noted that I was the common denominator in all of these situations, and that would have sparked my deep-seated fear that I am fundamentally unlovable, that nobody has ever really cared about me, and that there is something fundamentally wrong with me. That would lead to days, or even weeks, of depression and anxiety. In past years, it would also have led to self-injury and suicidal urges

Instead, I chose to listen to God instead of my feelings. God says to forgive those who hurt you, so I poured my feelings out to God and prayed for my husband. I chose to believe that God loves me exactly as I am, even when others might find me annoying. I told God I was unable to behave in obedience to Him without His intervention, so I needed Him to carry me through my interaction when my husband walked in the door. Ten minutes later, my husband walked into the house to a smiling, peaceful wife, and he immediately apologized. We had a pleasant evening, which would not have happened if I had allowed my feelings to drive my actions.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace in a Godzilla costume. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

It’s Time to Grow Up

babyContinued from here.

The other reason many Christians are reluctant to put forth effort to obey God is that they are spiritually immature. They might have been going to church for decades and have underlined half their Bible, but they remain spiritual children because they continue to be self-centered. Spiritual maturity is not measured by what you know: it’s measured by what you do.

Jesus said that to be his disciple, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. There’s nothing in that definition about accumulating knowledge. Someone can memorize half the Bible and still be spiritually immature if s/he does not DO what the Bible says to do, which is to deny yourself (become God- and others-focused), pick up your cross (be willing to be uncomfortable), and follow Jesus (do whatever God says to do). Every part of that definition involves action that is contrary to human nature.

Our words and actions reveal our level of spiritual maturity or immaturity. Here are some things that spiritually immature people say:

  • I don’t like the songs we sang in the worship service today.
  • I think our pastor needs to preach more about X and less about Y.
  • Nobody asked me about Z at church today.

Contrast that list with some things that spiritually mature people might say:

  • I hear Janice can no longer lead the Wednesday night Bible study. I don’t know much about leading a Bible study, but I’ll lead through the end of this study.
  • Mark is having surgery next week. I’ll organize a sign-up sheet and invite people to bring him meals when he gets home from the hospital.
  • Patty has been asking a lot of questions about Christianity. I’ll invite her to lunch and see if I can help answer some of them.

Notice how all of the statements by the spiritually immature people are self-focused. The person is focused on the church service adapting to his or her own preferences rather than focusing on being at church to worship God. In other words, the person has more of a consumer mentality than one of discipleship. And note how the person was paying attention to what people said to him rather than what he could say to someone else.

In contrast, the statements by the spiritually mature person are all focused on someone else’s needs. The person is willing to step outside his or her comfort zone and make an effort to meet the needs of others, even when doing so costs time and energy.

As a disciple of Christ, we need to grow up! One way to assess your progress in spiritual growth is to think about how frequently your mind is on yourself versus others.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace drinking out of a baby bottle. Courtesy Bitmoji.]