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What Spiritual Maturity Looks Like

By:
Carl Ruby

One of Central’s goals is to help each member grow spiritually.  We measure spiritual growth by the standards that Jesus set in the New Testament, love for God and love for our neighbors. (Matthew 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-34; John 15:12-17; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14)

Other secondary marks of spiritual maturity include:

Living in a spirit of Shalom

Shalom is a sense of being at peace with ourselves, our God, and our world. It also means that one possesses a quietness of the soul, an ability to rest in God’s goodness. (John 16:33; Phillipians 4:4-9; 2 Thessalonians 2:16)

Living simply and sacrificially

Mature Christians use their resources to bless others and advance the Kingdom of heaven. The degree to which we are willing to make personal sacrifices for other’s is a measure of one’s spiritual health. (Luke 12:13; Acts 2:42-47; I Timothy 6:6)

Practicing forgiveness

Jesus placed a premium on the practice of forgiveness, featuring it in his parables and stating that a willingness to forgive others was a condition for our own forgiveness. (Matthew 6:14-15)

Modeling the practices and teachings of Jesus

Following Jesus involves saying and doing the same kind of things that he did. Things like seeking the company of marginalized people, enjoying times of solitude and prayer, and giving of himslef for others. (Matthew 10:38; Matthew 16:24; Matthew 19:21)

Exhibiting Christian virtues

Several passages identify the virtues that define spiritual maturity.  They include love, joyfulness, peacefulness, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, humility, and compassion. (Galatians 5:22-23; Ephesians 4:2-3; Colossians 3:12-14)

Fruitfulness

Christian fruitfulness is a concept introduced by Jesus.  The key to living fruitful lives is nurturing an ongoing connection with Jesus that results in love for one another and Christian unity. (John 15:1-17)

How to Become Spiritually Mature

Spiritual growth is the work of the Holy Spirit

Like salvation, spiritual growth is a gift from God, given through the Holy Spirit. Our role is to seek the help of the Holy Spirit and to engage in practices (spiritual disiciplines) that open ourselves up to the Spirit’s work. (John 14:16; John 14:26; John 16:7-15)

Spiritual growth happens in community

Following conversion, the two things that nearly always occur in the New Testament are baptism and connection to a local group of other believers. Living in Christian community is vitally important to our spiritual health and growth. (Acts 2:42-47; Hebrews 10:25)

Spiritual growth is fostered by the practice of spiritual disciplines

Spiritual disciplines are things that we can choose to do that will foster a greater love for God and others. They include:

Outward Disciplines

Study

Spending time reading scripture on one’s own is an important part of growing spiritually. We encourage members to spend time daily reading scripture on their own.

Meditation

Meditation is a process of reflecting on scripture, It is basically just mulling it over in our minds throughout the day. Memorizing scripture and practicing Lectio Divina are great tools to help us meditate on God’s word.

Prayer 

There are many wamy ways to pray, all of which are simply ways of talking with God. Praying privately, doing the Examen, journaling, and praying with a friend are all helpful to develop a life of prayer.

Fasting

Fasting is never required in the New Testament. Jesus was even criticized for not making his disciples fast.  Nevertheless, choosing to temporarily go without food or drink is a way of focusing our attention on God.  Some also choose to fast from technology or social media. 

Inward Disciplines

Simplicity

Too many possessions and a hectic schedule can be barriers to spiritual growth. Jesus often challenged people to live with less. Too much activity can also become a barrier to spiritual growth.

Solitude

Jesus made it a practice to frequently go off by himself for times of prayer and communion with the Father. We encourage our members to follow his example.

Submission is a...

  • Service
  • Corporate Disciplines
  • Confession
  • Worship
  • Guidance
  • Celebration

* This model comes from The Spirit of the Disiciplines by Richard Foster.

Spiritual growth is forged in times of difficulty

A significant amount of spiritual growth happens when we encounter things that stretch our faith.  God uses these times to grow our faith and refine our character. (Romans 5:3-5; I Peter 1:6-9; Hebrews12:7-11)

Spiritual growth occurs in proximity to the marginalized.

There is something about intentionally placing oneself in the proximity of marginalized people that fosters spiritual growth. (Matthew 19:21; Matthew 25:31-46)

Lectio Divina 

The phrase lectio divina comes from the Latin for “divine reading.” It is an ancient practice going back to the 6th century as early Christians sought greater intimacy with God based on insights from scripture.  Here is how to practice Lectio Divina.

Select a brief passage of scripture. One way to select a passage that other Chrostioans around the world are reading is to use the Revised Common Lectionary, a list of daily readings from the Psalms, the Old Testament, and the New Testament. An easy way to use the lectionary is download it to a daily calendar on your cell phone. Scan the passages and then pick one to focus on, many people will pick the Psalm or a passage from the New Testament.

 

Find a private space free of distractions and sit comfortably taking a series of slow deep breaths as you ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you through his word. Meditate on God’s presence and his goodness as you prepare to engage the four steps of Lectio Divina.

 Step 1: Lectio (Reading)

Read the passage slowly. Many find that it helps to read out loud if possible. Ask the Holy Spirit to impress a word of phrase from the passage upon your heart as you read. Make a mental note of any words or phrases that come to mind. Writing them down in a journal may be helpful.

Step 2: Meditatio (Meditating on the passage)

Read the passage a second time reflecting on the words or phrases that stood out to you in the first reading. Think about what they mean and let them soak into your thoughts and emotions. It may help to write down what the passage seems to be saying to you.

Step 3: Oratorio (Prayer)

Read the passage a third time using the phrases and the passage as a guide for prayer. A goal of Lectio Divina is to achieve conversational intimacy with God. Think about what God may be saying to you through the passage. Talk with God about the feelings and thoughts evoked by the passage.  For example:

Passage:

“For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;

his faithfulness continues through all generations.” Psalm 100:5

 

Key Phrases that God may impress upon your spirit:

“The Lord is Good.”

“His love endures forever.”

Prayer:

Father, you are my Lord. You are my master and my keeper. I am yours. I am like a sheep in your pasture (Psalm 100:3). You keep me safe in your pasture.  You feed me in your pasture. You protect me in your pasture. Your pasture is full of green meadows and still waters that you use to restore my soul. Lead me deeper into these meadows and beside these still waters. (Imagine lush green meadows, the sound of a trickling stream, the feeling of sunshine and gentle breezes, the sound of other sheep.)

 

Father, you are good. Right now you are good. Let your goodness wash over me. Help me to taste it and enjoy it. Help me to rest in it. (Breath deeply and think about resting in God)

 

Thank you for your love. Thank you for love that endures, love that never wears out or fades away. Thank you for loving me in my faults and in my weaknesses.  Thank you for loving me when I have sinned and loving me when I have failed. Thank you for telling me that I will live in this love forever and ever.  I am in this love now and I will still be in it millions of years from now. It never fails. (Think about what love feels like, the love that you may have for a child, spouse, or friend. Imagine God having those feelings for you.)

 

Thank you for being faithful, for not giving up on me, for never being unavailable to me. Thank you for continuing faithfulness, for everlasting faithfulness. Thank you  ot only for your faithfulness to me but for your promise of faithfulness to my children and grandchildren and through all generations who will follow me. (Think about the meaning of being faithful to someone. Think about God providing that kind of faithfulness to future generations or to past generations).

 

Many find it helpful to pray through each verse of the passage in this conversational manner.

Step 4: Contemplatio (Contemplation)

Read the passage a final time as you just rest in God’s presence. Think about what God has given to you through this passage.  Think about how it could affect the rest of your day, how it might alter your behavior and emotions.  Close your time with the passage by thanking God for it, and for thanking him for being with you through this time of reflection.

For more on Lectio Divina and other methods of scripture reading and prayer check out the How to Begin Lectio Divina from Soul Shepherding.

Praying the Examen

The Examen is a method of daily prayer promoted by an early Christian named Ignatius. Ignatius was a Spanish soldier originally named Inigo (not to be confused with Inigo Montoya from the Princess Bride). While recovering from an injury he experienced a dramatic conversion to Christianity and later developed methods of increasing one’s awareness of God’s presence in our lives, one of which was an approach to daily prayer called the Examen. He encouraged his followers to pray to the Examen twice daily to increase their awareness of how God was at work in their lives. The Examen is usually prayed first thing in the morning or just before going to bed. It is a daily examination of how God has been at work in your life.

“Test me, Lord, and try me,

examine my heart and my mind;

for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love

and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness.”

Psalm 26:2,3

 

Start by taking a few minutes to relax by taking slow deep breaths. During this time ask the Holy Spirit to guide you through an honest examination of the previous day, calling to mind areas of gratitude or repentance.

 

Step 1: Expression of Gratitude

Think through the previous day calling to mind things large and small for which you are grateful. This could include things as small as a child’s smile or the smell of the morning coffee. Think through the day, hour by hour, giving God thanks for his many blessings.

 

Step 2: Review the Day

Think through the day a second time reflecting on moments where you sensed God’s presence or felt prompted to take some action.  Again, no item is too small to notice. Think about how you responded to each moment.

 

Step 3: Name your Sorrows

Think through the day a third time naming the things that you wish you had done differently. Confess the times that you did or thought things that were sinful or failed to respond in ways that were loving and kind.  Ask for God’s forgiveness and resolve to seek the forgiveness of anyone you may have hurt.

 

Step 4: Request Grace for the Day Ahead

Conclude by anticipating the events of the day ahead and ask God to help you maintain an awareness of his presence. Ask God to use you as a channel of his love to each person that you encounter in the day ahead.

 

These steps have been adapted from the Prayer Enrichment Guide provided by the McGrath Institute for Church Life. We are indebted to our Catholic friends at Notre Dame for this helpful resource.

A guide to praying the Examen is also provided by SoulShepherding.

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