Thursday, 7 November 2013

When 'ministry' masks immaturity

Hebrews 6:1 NIV
Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity......

I am not a one to take an overly individualistic view of what it means to be,and develop, as a Christian. I am well aware of the 'plurals' in much of Paul's writing and of the importance of the body,the church, in our journey together. However, there are also certain crucial areas as Christians where only we,as individuals, can make the decision, take the action or say the words that are required. 

In the natural world I can't imagine much that would cause parents more distress than their lovely and loved baby not growing, not maturing.... Having to watch their child move towards adulthood in terms of years but still displaying all the characteristics of a baby. Those same things that were once cute and normal become a sources of pain and distress. There is no diminishing of parental love but there is pain for a child who is just not developing and experiencing the richness and variety of life, of emotions, of relationships....

Imagine, a 40 year old child - old in years but in every other respect immature. Reacting as a child reacts to circumstances they face, the tantrums when they can't get their own way, the selfishness that always assumes what they like should be what everyone else likes, the belief that they are always right and so we could go on. All of those characteristic, when displayed by a young child, are a normal part of parenting and educating a child- nothing to worry about. Unless of course they remain unchanged in the adult. 

Maturity, like wisdom, is not about the number of years we have behind us,not about the fact we have had lots of 'life experiences' ( we may have dealt badly with all of them and not learned anything - no wisdom in that). 

In terms of our discipleship maturity is about the closeness and consistency of our relationship with Jesus, it is about the extent to which we really are 'keeping in step with the Holy Spirit' , it is about the depth to which we actively seek and allow the living Word to shape and mould who we are, it is about remaining in Him and retaining our first love.

There are many reasons that can contribute the the '40 year old child' syndrome in terms of our Christian maturity. The most obvious of which is simply ignoring what, for 2000 years, have been known and proven as spiritual disciplines and are the foundations of Christian maturity. These will not change, there are no shortcuts, regular immersion in the Word of a God, a heart to understand the meaning and apply it, a life that consists of personal prayer as a conversation with our Father, not always an emergency cry for help, an active involvement in the prayer of the church and regular fellowship around God's Word and prayer with other Christians.

These areas are the foundations for maturity, they are also the essential bedrock for real worship. Songs that we sing apart from this are, at best, a poor attempt at worship, at worst, an attempt to mask the poverty of our relationship with Jesus.

A Christian life not built on these things is very much the 'house built on sand', a rickety shack, a vulnerable place.

There are many ways in which the '40 year old child' compensates for the lack of, or crumbling, foundations. Firstly it is evident to everyone else although the child does not see this. The child has a frightening ability to filter and reinterpret their own actions and words so that they are always right. 

There are those in this position who simply fade to the periphery of family life, having just enough foundation for them not to be able to leave but not enough for them to mature and enjoy fullness of life. These are sad cases, and we have a Father who is longing and reaching out in love, but they are not the circumstances I want to address here. Often people in this position are well aware of where they are, they are not self deceived, but they cannot be bothered, the road back to the Father seems just too hard or not worth the effort.

However, there are those children who run around with hyperactivity, involved in all manner of 'ministry' like Martha on speed, as if the activity of ministry somehow builds the foundations or makes up for lack of them! And this is where they differ from those who simply fade to the periphery. 

They begin to act as if our Father gives us a sort of multiple choice option in which there can be more than one right answer....sort of 'you can do foundations or you can do ministry and mission activity- which do you prefer?' 

Anyone reading this in cold black and white will obviously see that it is folly, that God gives us no such choice, but we all know how quickly something that stops us short when we read it or hear it can be left at the door as 'normal service resumes'

Ministry or 'Christian activity' that is not based on, and flowing from, a life in which the foundations are being built and strengthened is no more than mere activity.
Ministry or 'Christian activity' that is not based on, and flowing from, a life in which maturity is becoming more evident, in which the activities and reactions of childhood are moved aside for the increasing out flowing of the fruit of the Spirit, is merely a distraction.

Luke 10:38-42
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,but few things are needed---or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

It's our choice. Maturity AND ministry is the way, neither must be neglected or both become less than God desires for us. 
The road back is not long or hard, in fact it is a surprisingly short road. At whatever point we make a heart decision to turn around we will find our Father right there, arms outstretched waiting to embrace us again.