Draw Near

Are you familiar with “lead indicators” and “lag indicators”? The latter display the results of our efforts; they are the scoreboard to which we look to see if we’re winning or losing. Report cards and sales figures, for instance, post current results of activities past. Lead indicators, on the other hand, measure the efforts that produce results. Hours devoted to study portend our final grades, and the number of cold calls impacts future sales. Pay attention to lead indicators, and the score will largely take care of itself.

Occasionally, people ponder this life lag indicator: “Is my spiritual life better than it was a year ago?” After all, growth is good, right? Yet this worthy aspiration brings with it the temptation to look to the do’s and don’ts of spiritual infancy as relevant indicators of spiritual maturity. When early Christians so regressed, Paul chided them, “Why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”?1 When others similarly stumbled, the apostle appealed incredulously, “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”2 This is not to say there is no right or wrong or bad or good—there certainly is—but the Law of Moses never could change our hearts, nor can we look to this external code as a scoreboard of spiritual growth. Our inner progress is actually the Spirit’s success, for it is He who transforms us over time. He pours Himself into us, evidenced by the character that flows out from us—“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control,” taught Paul, adding, “Against such things there is no law.”3

Then what is our role regarding fruitful growth? Two words come to mind: Draw near. We read in Hebrews, “Let us draw near to God, with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith,”4 confident in what Jesus has done for us on the cross. “Come near to God and he will come near to you,”5 echoes James. It is relationship God desires from us—closeness and trust, unity and rest. It means learning about God’s love in His word, stepping into His love through trust, and opening up to Him in submissive, honest and relational prayer. Draw near to God; the scoreboard will take care of itself. He’ll see to it.

Father, your proactive love for me is beyond imagination. Strengthen and lead me into intimate time with you today. Give me discernment to know your voice, believe your truth, and grow up in your love. Amen.

1 Colossians 2:22
2 Galatians 3:3
3 Galatians 5:22, 23
4 Hebrews 10:22
5 James 4:8

Health Food

I remember the first time Peggy and I fed our son, Matthew, something other than milk. He was too young to form words, but he didn’t need any, because the contortion on his face conveyed everything that needed to be said: he was not pleased. (In all fairness, oatmeal would have been an easier transition step than carrots. Sorry, Bud.) Maturing the pallet is not an easy endeavor—infants graduate from milk only to encounter vegetables, those unwanted intruders banished to the outer reaches of toddlers’ plates everywhere. If it weren’t for persevering parents, they would eschew the nutrients they need in favor of the flavors they want.

Early church leaders understood the importance of spiritual nourishment, yet they also knew our capacity to ingest Kingdom truths evolves over time—it is a process. “Anyone who lives on milk [is] still an infant,” we read in the letter to Hebrew believers, “But solid food is for the mature.”1 What is spiritual milk? The writer goes on to describe elementary Biblical teachings: turning to God in faith, resurrection from the dead and facing eternal judgment, among others. If we’re still struggling with these truths, then Peter suggests we stick with the most elementary of foods, “Crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.”2

Then our tastes grow as we grow, for “solid food is for the mature.”3 What do meat and veggies of the unseen variety look like? The Bible doesn’t provide a grocery list of senior staples, per se, but it does direct us to a daily diet of the Word: “Man shall not live by bread alone,” said Jesus to the tempter, “but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”4 So, we expand our appetite and take in truth, rounding out our regimen with the obedience that comes from trust, just as Jesus did: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”5

Given all that’s on our plate in a worldly sense, it is easy to skip meals that strengthen us for this life and the next. It is likewise tempting to pick at a passage without even tasting it. May I encourage us above all else to prioritize time to savor Scripture? Every word—milk, meat and even carrots—is life itself, both your life and mine.

“I am the bread of life… If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” (John 6:48-58)

Father, send your Spirit to slow me down and savor your word. Strengthen me in truth, and fill me with joy to do your work. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

1, 3 Hebrews 5:14
2 1 Peter 2:2
4 Matthew 4:4
5 John 4:34

Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish

My wife says road trips with me are “like traveling with a human TripTik”—once we’ve driven a certain route a couple of times, I pretty much know the mile markers where we’ll find certain fast-food franchises, specific gas station brands, and easy-access rest areas. While we’re both destination-oriented people—“just press on!”—it is helpful to anticipate where we can fill the tank, feed the stomach, dump the trash, and set out again.

We who live in Christ through faith are on a road trip of a different kind, a spiritual journey—destination: transformation. We are being changed into Jesus’ image, and Peter tells us what to anticipate ahead as we progress toward our goal: “Make every effort to add to your faith goodness … knowledge … self-control … perseverance … godliness … mutual affection … and love.”1 These are the recognizable markers along the road to maturity, the places we can rest and refuel, knowing we’re on the right path. Yet they also present us opportunities to toss our trash of spiritual immaturity and let it fade in the rear-view mirror.

What does this waste of the unseen variety look like? The early Corinthian church was a veritable nursery filled with “mere infants in Christ,”2 so let’s learn from Paul as he grows them up a bit. “You are still worldly,”3 he charged. It’s a common condition, so if our growth is likewise stunted by materialism, let’s pull over at godliness and dump our worldliness there. Are we, like them, caught up in “jealously and quarreling”?4 We can crunch up these empty bags now and discard them at mutual affection just up ahead. Suckered yet again by non-Biblical wisdom?5 Let’s leave this garbage behind once and for all as we fuel up at knowledge. What about spectacularism—elevating the worship experience above the God of our worship?6 There’s a recycle bin at self-control. Are we, in the words of Jesus, “choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures” so that we “do not mature”?7 Then goodness is where we replace these distractions with “noble and good hearts,” whereby we hear the word, retain it and bear fruit at perseverance.8

“The Spirit gives birth to spirit,” 9 Jesus said. This is only the starting point, for as we are born into salvation, so we must “grow up in salvation.”10 It’s what God hopes for us—that we leave infancy behind and press on to maturity. Destination: transformation.

Father, send your Spirit to lead me away from my short-sighted focus on worldly desires and ever onward in the spiritual growth you desire for me. In Christ, I pray. Amen.

1 2 Peter 1:5-7
2 1 Corinthians 3:1
3, 4 1 Corinthians 3:3
5 1 Corinthians 3:18-20
6 1 Corinthians 14:18-20
7 Luke 8:14
8 Luke 8:15
9 John 3:6
10 1 Peter 2:2