I had never felt more helpless in my life. I was a new parent and did not know what to do. My precious first born child was several weeks old and was losing weight. That was not supposed to happen. Nothing we did seemed to help him eat properly. It was clear that he was sick and that something had to be done. We quickly piled him in the car and took him off to our pediatrician. When we got him to the doctor, he took one look at Kenny and told us that we needed to take him across the street to the hospital for further evaluation. He looked urgent and we knew he was not telling us all that he suspected. We dutifully obeyed and walked across the street only to be met by a nurse who looked at our child and whisked him from our arms and took him down the hall. My helpless feeling was now turning to panic. As it turned out, my son had not been “thriving” and then developed a bacterial infection which caused him to be so sick. By God’s grace, after two weeks in the hospital, he began getting better and putting on some weight. He was starting to mature.
This past week, I stood next to that same boy who is now an eighteen year old young man as he towered over his mother and me. It was senior night for his High School soccer team. Not only did Kenny grow up, but he grew taller than either of his parents and is far more athletic than either of us had ever been. Watching him play soccer is a thing of beauty and one of the greatest joys in my life has been watching him grow up. It did not have to turn out this way, but God, in His providence chose this path for my son and it has been marvelous to behold.
Spiritual maturity is a lot like physical growth. At the beginning, you can only handle certain things and at times we can actually regress. One of the best ways to grow, however, is to eat the right food. For me that has always been God’s word and the words written by His many literary saints down through the years. Reading the right books can have a significant affect in a person’s walk with God and growth as a Christian. For me that meant starting with Christian comic books and then progressing to young adult Christian fiction like the Sugar Creek Gang. As I got older, my hunger for deeper material led me to devour the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis and then allegories like The Screwtape Letters. In my teen years, I was finally able to digest books like Mere Christianity and great biographies like Born Again by Chuck Colson. Many of my spiritual mentors encouraged me to include daily devotionals and journaling as a part of my maturing process and this proved to be very helpful. In my young adult years, I began using Bible Study tools like commentaries and Bible Dictionaries and Handbooks as I prepared to learn more about God’s word and to teach others. Today, I have a weekly reading list that is a part of the rhythm of my life and it includes great Christian fiction and non-fiction, biographies, study aids and many other types of books.
While books have been a vital part of my spiritual maturity, they would have not been sufficient on their own. It would have been like eating the best diet in the world and not getting any exercise. The most intellectually knowledgeable Christians in the world can be some of the least mature unless they put what they have learned into action. The Bible says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (I Corinthians 13:1).
This week, I got to attend the Thriving Summit at Epiphany Fellowship Church in Philadelphia and sit at the feet of saints who are mature and maturing. The speakers were African American pastors who have significant theological education and are voracious readers. Several have written books of their own. Despite their theological pedigree and depth of knowledge, they demonstrated humility in presenting the truths of God’s word in very practical teaching. In addition, they also modeled a character trait that I admire and want to emulate – honesty and transparency. Rather than putting on a phony show of piety or pretending that they had “made it” spiritually, each of them talked about temptation and its reality in their lives. Each of them made it clear that they were nothing special, but that they were saved by grace and now were learning to be dependent and surrendered. This was particularly difficult as their gifts can often lead to undue adulation by their congregants. As they drew nearer to God, He was teaching them about the reality of suffering and rejection as they grew up in Him and exercised those spiritual gifts on a daily basis. All this talk of pain, suffering, temptation, surrender and dependence was not entirely what I had expected to hear, but it was just what I needed at this stage in my own walk with the Lord. What a blessing it is to follow in the steps of the saints that have gone on before and set examples for men like myself to follow. May I take the head knowledge from my reading and put it into practice with the humility and joy that these spiritual mentors have demonstrated so clearly before me.