I have a spiritual director who I meet with monthly. He is a remarkable man, now in his eighties, a man who has lived and served in distinctive (and distinguished) ways. I keep discovering how brilliant he is, and how much he actually knows. He knows a lot. But he doesn’t carry his learning in any kind of proud or competitive way. What my director does is to bring his life to people as a gift, sharing what he has learned or seen or realized, and doing so in a way that is meant to help others in their journey. He gives his learning away. I consider that what my director does, as well as the person he is, to be a picture of spiritual maturity. Of course he is a senior man, but not all seniors are spiritually mature. There are a lot of people who live long and never grow up.
He asked me this week where I was on my journey toward the heart of God. It is a great question. It is the question. I sat there for a moment, recollecting myself, preparing my answer. The Scriptural story of redemption began this way, when God asked, “where are you, Adam?” (Genesis 3:9).
Where are you on your journey? And where have you purposed to go? Are you able to answer those questions?
I have been thinking about spiritual maturity this week, a thought I have pondered at various times in my life. I have become quite conscious in this season of my life that I am in a transition period. My director said there were perhaps three such major transitions in life, times when we were conscious of significant life change. I nodded.
My mind went back to a text that followed from what we read on Sunday.
I do not mean that I am already as God wants me to be. I have not yet reached that goal, but I continue trying to reach it and to make it mine. Christ wants me to do that, which is the reason he made me his... there is one thing I always do. Forgetting the past and straining toward what is ahead, I keep trying to reach the goal and get the prize for which God called me through Christ to the life above. (Philippians 3:12-14, NCV)
The word for goal here is telos (Gk.), which means end or purpose. The purpose of a human being is to become an actual image-bearer of Christ, a reflection of his mind, his way of living, his character. Becoming Christ-like is a life-long task that does not become complete until we pass through the entire journey.
Where are you? What do you want?
The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said that “purity of heart is to will one thing”, and actually gave that thought a book-length treatment. Purity, in this sense, means one thing, as when we might say that pure gold is all, and only gold. So what is the one thing you want, the one thing you live for, the one thing that defines your reason for being? Where are you on your pathway to God, and what is it that you want out of life?
I know that I want a lot of things. And some of the things I want actually contradict with each other. But suppose I have to choose. Suppose God says to me: OK, Bob, time to narrow it down. What do you really want? This is the moment I have to let go of a few things that cloud the issue of my life. This is the moment where -- with a clear eye and a sober heart -- I am called to choose the best.
So, here is my best and most personal answer to the question my director asked me: I want to become what God intended me to become. I want to grow up before I finish my life’s course.
There is still a residue of immaturity in me, the vestiges of ambitions and habits of thought and life that I should be grown past by now. My director admitted the same this week, that although he was now in his eighties that there were issues of pettiness that he wanted to overcome. He is still growing up. I am too.
And so the call to grow up into Christ, to become what God wants us each to become, a fully grown up person. Paul said, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I stopped those childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Childhood is to give way to adulthood, and we are to be entirely conscious that this is what life is all about.
Paul said it was his ambition to grow up. My director said the same thing. So I say this with all tenderness -- to you and to me -- and with none of the harshness these words are usually said: for Christ’s sake, grow up.