God is our Father. He is described that way many times in the Scriptures. My assumption, when I pictured this metaphor in my mind, was that He was the Father and I was the little child. I’ve now come to question my understanding of that metaphor. I’m not questioning God’s fatherhood; I’m questioning whether God wants any of us to act like little children. Instead I believe God wants us to mature and act like adults; to have an adult relationship with him. God wants to be the Father of adult children, not infants. The father of a two year old tells the child what to do. However, the father of a mature adult, lives life with his child. There is a significant level of mutual exchange and trust.

In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil (Heb. 5:12-14).

The sign of a spiritual infant is a focus on mere information, elementary truths. The mark of the spiritually mature is that such a person knows how to distinguish good from evil in their daily lives. If we honestly look at the condition of the Western Church today, it is set up to not only feed infants but keep believers infantile. Over and over again they get elemental teaching. Then they go away from the church meeting unchanged. They don’t ever seem to learn the practicalities of working with God in the process of discernment. When we learn to discern, we can follow God (under his lordship) into ministry. Our very lives become ministry to the world around us.

Three Issues of Discernment[1]

1.) Interest in God’s perspective: If we want to learn to discern what God is up to and where he wants to lead us, we first need to care what God really thinks and wants to do. Spiritual infants dive into life making their own decisions, by their own criteria, with little thought to what God is up to and what he wants in any given concrete situation. The spiritual mature look for what God is doing and how they can participate with him.

2.) Willingness to be taught: God dictates to the immature, if they are even listening. God teaches the mature. We never get to a point where we have it all figured out. Instead God continually matures us and takes us deeper. He takes us into deeper understanding and more importantly into deeper encounters with him with more fruitful ministry. Life itself becomes the textbook. But this requires a willingness to be taught, not an infantile legalism of just following a set of rules or principals, through our own effort. God wants to show us the specifics of how he wants his biblical morality and principles to play out in our lives. He even wants to consult with us in where we (God and us) are going in ministry. That requires a willingness to engage in lifelong learning process with God as our teacher and life as a textbook.

3.) We must know the Lord: There is a difference between merely knowing about the Lord, which is the infant stage of spiritual maturity and actually knowing him though life experience. Our Western form of Christianity is pretty good at telling us about God (infantile) but woefully lacking in teaching us how to really know the Lord and following him into life. Nevertheless, some have gotten past the infantile stage, despite not having many resources to help them. These people are listening, obeying and bearing fruit. Do you know someone like that? Perhaps they can help you as a friend engage with God? Are you someone like that? Do you actually hear and obey, which leads to fruit? Who can you walk along beside, helping them to learn to listen, engage and obey the Father of adult children?  

  • Do you agree with my assessment that Western Christianity is mostly set up to for spiritual infants? 
  • What would a spiritual environment set up for increasing maturity look like?
  • What can we do to develop or adapt our current spiritual environment to encourage spiritual maturation (experiencing God, not merely talking about him)?
  • What is your own honest assessment of your spiritual life? Does it predominantly reflect infantile behavior and practices or the ongoing development of maturity? What should be your next steps?

 


[1] Adapted from: Thomas H. Green, S.J., Weeds Among the Wheat: Discernment: Where Prayer & Action Meet. (Ave Maria Press), Notre Dame, 1986, 63.

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