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No Longer Tossed About

God's Process for our Maturity

Wind blown

by Dennis Pollock

While Christians are called the children of God, we are also strongly admonished to grow up in Christ, to become mature. It is not as though childhood is an evil or ungodly stage of life. It is both necessary and beautiful, in its season. Every man or woman who ever blessed the world through his or her achievements, from the apostle Paul to Madam Curie, was once a little boy or little girl who played games, said silly things, and acted, well… childish. Childhood looks good and works well for four and five year olds, but how tragic it would be to see a thirty year old man or woman looking like and acting like a small child! We would look on such a one with pity. Our Heavenly Father is very much interested in our development and maturation. As has often been said, He loves us just as we are, but He loves us too much to leave us the way we are.

All over the world, children possess certain traits which set them apart from adults. One of the most obvious of these traits is the desire to play. "Can Jimmy come out and play," says little Tommy to Jimmy's mother. He does not ask, "Can Jimmy come out and work?" or can Jimmy come out and study?" It is always, "Can Jimmy come out and play?" Their play may involve a ball game, or a pretend game of "cops and robbers" or "cowboys and Indians" (I think I'm giving my age away here) or it might involve some other form of creative entertainment, but whatever they do fits far more closely into the category of play than it does work. Children love to play. And they love toys with which to play. In nearly every mall in America there are toy stores filled with aisle after aisle of colorful toys of every sort: water guns, dolls, video games, card games, board games, battery powered cars and helicopters, puzzles, Legos, plastic action heroes, modeling clay, and the list goes on and on.

When I was a boy I used to love to play with what I called my "little men." These were rubbery figures of soldiers, cowboys, and other characters – they were the precursors of today's action heroes. I had a box full of these little men, and I created all sorts of dramas with them. I would move them around, create battles and have them shoot one another, get into fights, and so forth. Today it seems kind of silly, but in those innocent days of childhood they provided great entertainment.

Another trademark of children is a short attention span. Children have a terrible time staying on task for any length of time. You must give them all sorts of stimulation, bright colors, loud noises, funny and strange sights, to hold their attention. And even then this will only last so long. This is especially true in you give them a job to do. Television or video games they may be able to enjoy for hours, but any kind of cleaning, washing, or putting things away will have a very limited window of engagement.

Glad and Sad

angry childMost children are subject to rapid shifts of emotions. They can be deliriously happy one moment, and totally downcast a short time later. Paul writes, "…that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine" (Ephesians 4:14). Of course Paul was talking here about theology, but with children, being tossed to and fro is pretty much true in every area. Children are easily tossed; they are not yet stable. Toss a feather in the air and it will travel whichever way the wind is blowing. So it is with the childish personality. Toss a bowling ball in the air and it will fall right back down at your feet – wind or no wind! Our lives are filled with winds and it is maturity that will keep us from being blown first one way and then another. Sadly most people seem to lack that maturity and find themselves constantly blown about. Some are blown from one wife to another, others from one job to another, some from one religion to another, some from one self-help guru to another. Children are easily blown about, adults – not so much.

Children are demanding – they want what they want when they want it. They need frequent correction. Proverbs tells us: "The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother" (Proverbs 29:15). A child cannot be "left to himself." He must have frequent parental guidance, parental rebuke, correction, and input. And a small child is essentially clueless about nearly everything. He doesn't know a thing about politics, current events, mathematics, history, capitalism, communism, the solar system, economics, anthropology, business, or computer science. In similar fashion there are many adults who are entirely ignorant in all areas of spiritual understanding. Paul writes, "But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14).

What all of this means is that children (either natural children or spiritual babies) are unfit for significant roles either in society or in the kingdom of God. Ecclesiastes says, "Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child…" (Ecclesiastes 10:16). When leaders are children or child-like, they bring ruin to those over whom they rule. Adolf Hitler brought the mentality of a selfish, egotistical, spoiled child to his role of leadership in Germany, and the nation, as well as much of the rest of the world, suffered terribly as a result. In every position of authority, be it a parent, a school board member, a mayor, senator, president, or pastor, what the world desperately needs are adults, men and women who think clearly, act unselfishly, walk in patience and humility, and possess a wealth of understanding. God knows this full well, and for this reason we find that even the most noble characters were not allowed to enter into their roles of leadership or ministry until they reached a certain age and state of maturity. Joseph was taken to Egypt at age 17, but was not placed in leadership until age 30. Jesus began His ministry at age thirty, as did John the Baptist. David became the king of Judah at age 30. In the New Testament the leaders of the church were known as elders. We do not find children performing adult roles in the Scriptures.

God's Means

When we are born again God immediately begins His own process to mature us and bring us to that place of usefulness. There are four primary means by which He accomplishes this. First is the simple passage of time. Time does not guarantee maturity, but without time there can be no maturity. No matter how much you pray, read the Bible, and share Christ with others, there is something that only time can do for you. There is something mysterious and wonderful God produces as the days and weeks and months and years roll by in the lives of His children. With every Christmas, every birthday, every first snowfall in the early winter and every new coat of leaves on the trees in the Spring, the Holy Spirit works through time to transform the followers of Christ from spiritual infancy to adulthood. We often don't realize how much people change when we live with them, but when we see people we haven't seen in years, especially young people, we can hardly believe what time has accomplished. As it is in the flesh, so it is in the spirit. It was said even of our Lord Jesus, "And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him" (Luke 2:40).

Another of God's favorite tools for our maturation is hardship. This is our least favorite ingredient in the mix. As much as most of us despise periods of waiting, seasons of pain and hardship are far worse. And yet without difficulties there can be no maturity. If you don't believe that, find some young adult who has never been disciplined, never been rebuked, and never been made to work a day in his life. Such an individual will be a disagreeable, unlikeable, selfish, uncontrolled, obnoxious, insufferable, unbearable, little monster – of no use to society, miserable and making others miserable. In Proverbs we read, "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him" (Proverbs 22:15). We all come into this world pre-loaded with foolishness. And when we are born again, much of that foolishness survives. It lives in a place the Bible calls "the flesh." It must be driven "far from us" and the rod of correction is God's means of doing this. Hebrews tells us that God chastens us "for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness" (Hebrews 12:10).

milkA third means God uses to ensure we reach maturity is His Word. Peter writes, "…as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby" (1 Peter 2:2). Time and difficulties alone do not produce godly character and maturity. Lots of men and women suffer difficulties and grow old, and yet are still whining, impatient, grumpy, selfish, immature individuals. There is something about the Word of God, when mixed with time and difficulties, that produces spiritual maturity. You will not see the difference immediately, but when God's Word is mingled with our lives over the course of years, maturity is going to result. When we read the Bible we drink in the very thoughts and mentality of our Creator. If our minds and hearts are open to what we are reading, we will eventually be conformed to the point where we begin to think the way God thinks, hold the values and attitudes that He holds, despise what He despises and love what He loves. Jesus prayed for His disciples, "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth" (John 17:17).

The Essence of the Matter

The most important ingredient in God's process of maturation is Jesus Christ Himself. In the passage where Paul tells believers not to be children, tossed to and fro, he goes on to say, "but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head --- Christ." In a word, spiritual maturity is Christ! It is Jesus Christ formed and manifested in us. Jesus commands us to abide in Him. He is the source of life, and where there is life, there is growth. Living things grow. Dead things do not. Where we focus on Jesus, fellowship with Him, trust in Him, read His gospels, and make much of Him, there will be maturity. Where He is ignored, there can be no true maturity. Jesus is both the model of maturity and its source. It is not merely by memorizing Bible verses and learning the history of Israel that we become mature; it is through a vital, living, dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ, whereby His nature, His love, His patience, His humility, His courage, and His faith are constantly spilling over in our lives, spirits, and personalities.

The result of this fourfold maturity process is described in 1 Corinthians 13: "Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own…" (1 Corinthians 13:4,5). All the negative attributes of childhood are reversed. We no longer need to waste our lives in constant play and pleasure-seeking. We gain the ability to endure and to work long and hard at unpleasant tasks and in difficult situations. We become emotionally and spiritually stable, no longer tossed to and fro by every passing wind. We do not need constant corrections and rebukes by our heavenly Father. We possesses spiritual understanding and increase in it day by day.

Two of the factors that make for maturity are not dependent upon us. Time will pass and difficulties will come to all. But the other two, the Word of God and an abiding relationship with Jesus Christ have everything to do with the decisions we make. The deliberate setting aside of time for God's Word, and the determination to make Jesus Christ the central focus of our lives can ensure that we grow up in the faith and become a vessel unto honor, fit for the Master's use. This is the ultimate maturity. Faithful is He who calls you, who also will do it.

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