This is part 2 of a series. Read part 1.
Images abound for our tendency to settle for less than the best or fail to reach our potential. “Failure to launch.” “Cold feet.” “The boat is still in the harbor.” “She needs to spread her wings to fly”—and sometimes you need to kick them out of the nest before they’ll ever try.
While many Christian traditions have been focused mainly of “getting saved” and the momentary transaction that gets you “in,” our sacred text often prefers the organic language of growing from spiritual infancy into adulthood. For example, Paul longs for believers to “become mature” so that “we will no longer be infants” (Eph. 4:13-14). Another text chastises believers for remaining in spiritual diapers long past puberty:
“Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again! You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Heb 5:12-14).
Another apt metaphor for the journey toward spiritual maturity is learning to swim. (By the way, did you know I actually coached a traveling girls swim team in college? No joke.) We’re experiencing this rite of passage with our three kids these days. One moment you’re sitting with them on the steps in 4 inches of water, trying to get them comfortable with water by pouring a cup over their heads. You blink and suddenly they are doing cannon balls into the deep end and swimming like a fish.
This gets us back to Ezekiel’s vision of the River of Life flowing from the presence of God, and the question of whether we want to stay in the shallow end of Christian faith or if we desire to go deeper. Some of us may still be standing on the dry bank, not even sure if we want to get wet at all. Here’s the scene again:
I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east…3 As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. 4 He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. 5 He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in—a river that no one could cross. 6 He asked me, “Son of man, do you see this?” (Ezekiel 47:1-6)
If you’re honest, what is the central goal of your Christian faith? What is the main thing you look for from your church and pastor? Are you seeking comfort to face an uncomfortable world? Are you seeking healthy relationships and community? Is your faith and church community about maintaining a family tradition? Is your faith about doing good deeds for others and making a difference in the world? Is your faith mainly about fire insurance for the after life? Are you looking for a good children’s program and inspiring worship experience? Are you looking for a place to serve with your gifts?
All of these are important and praiseworthy, but none of them are the main thing as far as the Scriptures are concerned. The central goal of the Christian life is growing more and more into Christlikeness by the power of the Spirit in this present life. This involves learning to move ever deeper into the swimming pool or river of faith, leaving the shallow end, and letting the waters rise until one day you’re no longer even on your tippy-toes, but swimming and floating on faith.
Next time I’ll suggest four levels of spiritual maturity represented by the ankle-deep, knee-deep, waist-deep and over-your-head waters.
We…are being transformed into His image with intensifying glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).
“For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (Rom. 8:29).