By Brent Rinehart, Crosswalk.com
When my daughter, now in middle school, was a baby, she cried constantly. As first-time parents, we felt lost, often not knowing how to console her. Something made her discontent; we often seemed powerless to soothe her. I’m sure I’m exaggerating, but at the time, it seemed like the only moment my baby girl wasn’t crying was when she was drinking her milk. Of course, she eventually grew out of this phase. Just as she gradually moved from milk to solid food, she gradually moved past the fussiness.
I think about this often when I read Hebrews 5:12-14: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
The writer of Hebrews is being direct to his audience here, speaking to them like a parent to a child, even chastising them for being “dull of hearing” (some translations say “lazy”) in verse 11. Just like babies, the author says, they crave only milk and haven’t yet graduated to the meat – fulling living out what it means to be a spiritually mature follower of Christ. The recipients of this letter had become dormant, refusing to grow.
Now that my daughter is older, I can’t imagine what it would’ve been like had she stayed the way she was. What if she were still acting like a baby, craving only those things a baby craves and crying when she doesn’t get them?
I came to know Christ at a young age, and I grew up in church. I’ve been a Christian for more than 30 years now, and yet I would never classify myself as spiritually “mature.” Even typing that sentence is embarrassing to me – 30 years following Christ, and yet I struggle with the same things over and over and still find myself unmotivated from time to time. I read passages like this one in Hebrews, and I see myself in the pages. I, too, can be dull of hearing and lazy when it comes to my spiritual journey. The book of Hebrews is a wake-up call, urging all of us to arise from our spiritual slumber and continue on our path to maturity. The first step is identifying the problem. Here are a few signs of spiritual immaturity and how we can overcome them.
1. We are going through the motions.
Do things like going to church, reading your Bible, or praying seem like items on a to-do list? Are you just trying to cross them off the spiritual checklist so you can move about with the rest of your day? Know this: God isn’t interested in you accomplishing tasks like these. Rather, these types of things are there for you to get to know God better. You don’t read the Bible so God will change his view about you. Instead, reading the Bible changes your view of God. You get to know Him better.
Sometimes, we need a fresh perspective. If you are in a spiritual rut, flip the script! Change the way you read the Bible; start a new approach or a new study. Join with some friends to read together and discuss. If church feels like an obligation, switch it up. Sit in a new spot. Get out of your comfort zone, make some new friends or join a small group. Seek God; ask Him to breathe new life and energy into your walk. I firmly believe that God will answer that prayer.
2. We care more about our own comfort than caring for others.
When children are small, their focus is on themselves. “I’m hungry.” “I’m tired.” “I want this.” “Mine.” I’d say it’s pretty normal. Thinking about other people besides yourself is something that catches on a little later. Even still, many of us as adults have a hard time getting beyond ourselves. The Bible is crystal clear on this topic. Throughout its pages, God urges us to develop an “Others” mindset, putting the well-being of our neighbors above that of our own. We read these verses and passages, and we understand them. And, yet, we don’t put them into action. As Tony Evans says, “If you chew your food but don’t swallow, you’ll starve.” Reading the Word means nothing if you don’t let it penetrate your heart and then move your feet.
As mature followers of Christ, we should always seek the well-being of a brother over our personal interests. If this is a problem area for you, start today. Write “Others” on a notecard and place it where you can see it daily. Let it be a reminder for you to love your neighbors and to serve them as Christ would.
3. We let other things distract us from Christ.
Earlier in Hebrews, the writer warns us about this. “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1). In other words, if we neglect Christ, the natural tendency will be to fall away. Growing closer to Him doesn’t happen on its own. It takes being deliberate.
If you are married or are in a romantic relationship, think about when you first met your significant other. As the relationship was forming, you had to make an effort to get to know them better. You likely spent hours with them, talking to them and asking questions. And, the more quality time you spent with them, the more you wanted to spend with them.
Our relationship with God should be the same way. The more we know Him, the more we want to know Him. We get a more intimate view of His character and His love. Sounds great, right? But, something happens that keeps many of us from this path. We fill our lives with activities. We allow things of no eternal consequence to take priority. We permit the frivolous to eat into time that could be better spent. We pour our hearts and souls into things other than our relationship with God and wonder why God doesn’t feel as near to us as He should or could.
Take inventory of your life this week. Think about how you spend your 24 hours a day. It might just be time for us to reorder a few things to put them in proper perspective. As Eugene Peterson writes in The Message Bible, “So come on, let’s leave the preschool fingerpainting exercise on Christ and get on with the grand work of art. Grow up in Christ. (Hebrews 6:1).
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Ralf Geithe
Brent Rinehart is a public relations practitioner and freelance writer. He blogs about the amazing things parenting teaches us about life, work, faith and more at www.apparentstuff.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @brentrinehart