Spiritual maturity is impossible to measure. I know. I have tried. When I worked for a small Christian liberal arts university, we wanted to test whether our student gained anything from all the spiritual formation groups, Bible courses, and chapels. I heard that other Christian schools were trying to develop similar rubrics, but I never heard of a particularly successful measure.
Measuring spiritual maturity is not like measuring knowledge. You can’t simply pass a test or write a paper. In fact, a fair amount of disagreement exists about what spiritual maturity even is. I think that one might need to possess some in order to recognize it, but I hate to even nail that down. After all, Balaam’s ass seemed to possess more spiritual maturity than did his rider.
The topic is worth discussing because, given the number of Christian bloggers, churches, preachers, Christian books, and even worship music, maturity is sought after. And let me get the cliché out of the way first. We hear that the people who are mature in any aspect do not think they are mature. I don’t think that is true. I think people who are spiritually mature probably have some idea that they have achieved some growth. It is just that they are aware that there is no end point to the journey.
More painful and necessary spiritual growth lies around the corner for anyone serious about their faith.
So the older I get, the more difficult defining spiritual maturity becomes for me. After all, I think emotional maturity and spiritual maturity go hand in hand, though differences exist. I almost didn’t write this because I was afraid people would think I was touting myself as spiritually mature. Then I thought it would be immature to shy away from something I think about a lot, just because some might misunderstand me.
Trust me. With every blog I write, someone misunderstands me. In fact, the very first blog I wrote, I received a very sad message on Facebook lamenting the fact that I was hell-bound. They were sad for me. I will tag it at the bottom of the post in case you are curious about whether my first blog began an inevitable fall from salvation.
So instead of setting out a comprehensive and authoritative list of what spiritual maturity is, I am going to give you the list of qualities I look for in pastors, Bible teachers, and indeed, anyone with whom I have any kind of spiritual relationship.
- No agenda, just love.
I do not mean that spiritually mature people should not want to share their faith. I mean merely that they don’t have to win like an emotionally immature person who waits for the other to stop talking so they can chime in again. I check to see if someone is more dedicated to changing others than loving them. I never noticed Jesus trying to change anyone. He spoke the truth, loved the people, and gave them the freedom to choose without recrimination.
In order to love without an agenda, one must set the ego aside. One must accept the insults and misunderstandings. After all, from the outside, Christianity looks a little crazy. From the inside, it is the best thing going.
- Seeks wisdom and knowledge.
When I lived in Kentucky, many of the churches there had a distrust of knowledge. In fact, I went to one church that I heard neighbors deem a ‘snot-slinger’ church. This is when the preacher is sweating, crying, and slinging mucous around in a screaming rant. He said to the verbally abused congregation, “I am an ignorant man, but I wish I was ignoranter because then I would know that it was only the Holy Spirit speaking through me.’
I was pretty sure that he got the first part of his wish. He was ignoranter. I think that the spiritually mature are seekers and life-long learners. They acquire knowledge and seek out wisdom their whole lives.
- Willing to sacrifice in order to do the right thing.
We encourage our children to withstand peer pressure, but honestly, peer pressure only gets worse. Add to that the constant temptation to skate by, we can live our whole lives far more concerned with whether people think we are good people than if we actually are. I still remember the day I had that particular epiphany. I was in my late twenties before I questioned whether I was actually a moral person. Previously, my main focus was on appearing moral.
Turns out doing the right thing is not always obvious.Doing the right thing means facing the pain, not avoiding conflict if it needs to happen, and telling the truth about who you are to yourself and others. Not high on my list of fun things to do this fall.
- A real conscience as opposed to a fake one.
A fake conscience only fears getting caught. The limit on impulsive behavior is the threat of shaming from others. While this can be a protection, a true conscience does not act wickedly or willfully because other people get hurt.
A real conscience cares about what happens to others. To restrain your tongue or consider your actions because you value the other person in the exchange shows self-awareness. Remember, self-awareness isn’t being introspective; self-awareness is understanding the effect one has on others. Do you know how you affect people? I don’t always. I find it helps to ask.
- Unafraid or unoffended by differing beliefs.
Tolerance is not about accepting all others beliefs as valid. I do not think all other beliefs are valid. In fact, Jesus’ own words about Himself completely exclude all other belief systems. It is either Jesus or the highway… according to Jesus Himself. However, at no time was Jesus defensive or angry about other’s rejection of Him. He got angry exclusively at people who were either hypocrites or exploiting the weak.
Many times I see people online attacking others’ theological positions from a defensive position. The moment they get angry and insulting is the very moment I stop taking them seriously. Why? Firstly, because they value the doctrine over the person. Secondly, because Jesus was crucified and did not get angry or defensive. He didn’t have to prove anything.
His life spoke loudly enough.
- Doesn’t love evil.
This seems obvious, but it is not. You cannot be in the light and a lover of darkness. I read recently that a famous magician has a collection of mementos from serial killers. We, humans, are fascinated by evil. If you are drawn to the occult, pornography, violence etc… you are playing with the darkness. If you feel convicted by something, confess it. I have never been in a place of sin where when I asked God to free me, that He did not over time lead me away and free me.
However, getting to the place where we hate evil seems to take getting burned over and over. If you want to be in the light, start allowing it in the dark places in you. Not convinced evil is that bad? Then you are not paying attention.
- Tolerant of weakness in themselves and others.
A desire for perfection means you will be disappointed eventually by everyone you meet, and continually judging yourself. What if we reframe our desire for perfection into an appreciation of excellence? To appreciate one another’s excellence in various endeavors as well as in the excellence of God’s human creation offers a lot more grace.
I know the world has so much wrong with it. I know that the human race has fallen and can’t get up. In fact, I know it better now that I blog. I am a forty-eight-year-old married woman with six grown children and the men hounding me on the internet is bizarre and gross. But in every person, a spark of the divine exists.
Try to encourage that flame instead of blowing it out. And if somewhere along the way you traded wonder for unreachable perfection, trade it back.
Of course, I had to say this one. Here is what humility looks like to me. It looks like being able to sit in a circle with five-year-olds and be silly. I read recently a tweet that said God wants us to be noble and dignified. I disagree. That sounds like pride.
I think being humble means laughing at yourself. It means copping to your mistakes. It means no masks. The Lord asked me if I was willing to appear foolish for Him. Took me a moment to answer. But yes. I think I am. At least today. After all, I just wrote an extremely presumptuous post on the nature of spiritual maturity.
And I am playing mind games with myself already. Am I coming off as though I think I am an expert on spirituality? Who am I to write this?
So I’m pretty sure this is my list. It seems a bit unattainable. And I have more to add. Like being able to discern God’s voice or growing in your spiritual gifts. Or having an unshakeable faith. But I will say that it has taken me a long time to compile this list. And I am not a hundred percent sure I am completely right. I think I am more right than I would have been in my twenties and thirties, so that’s something.
Some suggestions for further reading. These are excellent and I never ever recommend a book I have not read.
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