OK, so there's this TV commercial.
It drives me crazy.
Picture the scene:
It's a high school reunion, Class of 1965. A small group of people are quietly talking.
Peter Pan flies in.
He lands in front of the group and promptly does two completely annoying things:
He asks one of the men to give him a high-five, and as soon as the man reaches up, Peter slugs him in the stomach.
Then he acts surprised as he glances at a woman – "Joanne, is it you?" – and then proceeds to tell her, "You don't look a day over 70." (Which is sooo insulting, because if you calculate her age, she's only 68!!)
The commercial ends with Peter singing, "You Make Me Feel So Young," while flying around the room and hitting people in the head with his feet.
It's a funny commercial, but by the time it's over, I want to slap young Peter silly!
Honestly, though, don't we all know someone who refuses to grow up?
I have seen full-grown adults acting like obnoxious children.
(And I have observed that this tendency is especially true when there's alcohol involved. No wonder we are cautioned against drunkenness – it makes us look like fools).
Then there are other people who dress too young for their age. In my humble opinion, I think that instead of making them look younger, they just end up looking tasteless.
Still others accumulate "toys" – fancy and expensive things. Have you ever seen that bumper sticker that says: "He who dies with the most toys wins"?
Yeah, that's maturity speaking.
So, what's at the root of immaturity?
I think it's three main things – insecurity, pride, and fear.
Insecurity can arise when we compare ourselves to others.
And in a culture that celebrates (idolizes?!) youth, it's tough to feel healthy self-esteem. Plastic surgery is so prevalent these days. Many people seem addicted to it, and pursue endless methods of staving off appearing old.
It's the modern-day fountain of youth.
Now let me say this, if you've had plastic surgery, I'm not going to judge. I've been tempted a few times myself. But if you're seeking it for all the wrong reasons, it will never alter the actual years on the calendar.
Pride can arise when we think we are in control of our lives.
And when we start to get older, a fact we cannot control, it's tempting to get caught up in doing all sorts of other things that give us the illusion of control. New clothes, new jewelry, new "toys", new people – all of these things can be pursued in a prideful effort to "cheat" growing older.
The enemy can exploit this – infidelity, greed, discontentment – all of these things stem from a prideful desire to "get what I want" – to make life (or re-make it) in our own image.
And so often, what we do NOT want is to grow older.
Fear can arise when we face those candles on the birthday cake.
Because the older we get, the more we have to face our own mortality. And that, my friends, is a daunting and sobering reality.
Now I'm not gonna lie.
Getting older can be pretty scary.
Changes that occur in our bodies and our minds can be terribly unsettling.
Aching joints, wrinkles, hair loss, weight gain, hearing impairment – not fun.
Not to mention the increasing frequency of *senior moments* – those times when you forget stuff – like what you were talking about in the middle of a sentence!!
I'm going to be 62 pretty soon, and I am so NOT looking forward to it.
But, though I'm growing older, I don't want to grow old.
I'm talking about a mindset.
A mindset where I don't give in to the oh-woe-is-me outlook that life is over, that I am useless, and I might as well just grab a shawl and a rocking chair and give up.
However, as I grow older, I do want to start wearing some of the good things that come with age – dignity, wisdom, grace.
Because just as refusing to grow up as people is annoying, refusing to grow up spiritually can be disastrous.
God does not want Peter Pan Christians.
We are admonished in the Word of God to not be childish. But we are also encouraged to be childlike.
I think not.
So let's ponder that.
I've come up with eight characteristics – four that are signs of childishness, and four that are signs of childlikeness.
Let's see if any resonate with you:
1) Children have tantrums
Haven't we all seen the "beauty" of a child having a tantrum in the middle of the grocery store, or a restaurant, or even church? (I have also been the parent dealing with that…ahem).
Children have tantrums because they get easily frustrated when they don't get what they want when they want it.
And they let everyone know about it!
A childish spiritual outlook demands that God act according to our ways, our wants, our timing.
Spiritual maturity learns the patient way of waiting.
2) Children are greedy
In infancy, a certain amount of "greediness" makes a lot of sense. Babies are nothing but little blobs of "need." They are driven by those needs, and squawk when they don't get them met. It's a matter of survival.
But as babies grow older, this tendency remains.
Their natural tendency is to want everything for themselves. All of the stuff, all of the time. I have seen small children surrounded by toys, but still wanting the one thing that someone else has.
A childish spiritual outlook is greedy, coveting recognition, approval, money, possessions, power – whatever it is that this life tempts us to crave.
Spiritual maturity learns that earthly treasures are not treasure at all – they’re just worthless trinkets not worth grasping.
3) Children are selfish
The gift of sharing doesn't come naturally to a child.
However, it is completely natural for them to go through the "It's mine!" stage. In fact, it's a good sign of behavioral development. It signals the fact that they are experiencing a greater sense of self, and learning how to attach complex feelings to inanimate objects.
They are asserting ownership to maintain a sense of order and control.
But if you ever try to take something away from them, look out!
That phrase: "It's like taking candy from a baby."
A childish spiritual outlook does not share easily, and insists on personal ownership, order, and control.
Spiritual maturity recognizes that all things come from God, and holds lightly to things, always willing to let go.
4) Children consider themselves the center of their own world
We celebrate the growing sense of independence as a baby grows up.
But we also harbor an expectation that they will continue to develop beyond a self-centered focus on themselves – their thoughts, feelings, desires, wants – to a place where they consider the needs of others.
Narcissism – defined as an inflated sense of one's own importance – doesn't look good on anyone over the age of 3!
A childish spiritual outlook focuses only on the self, and selfishly pursues the satisfaction of the self, often to the ignorance of the needs of others.
Spiritual maturity learns to feel empathy, and to reach beyond the self to sacrifice and surrender.
If those are some characteristics of being childish, what about being childlike?
Let's ponder some of those:
1) Children have a sense of wonder
Have you ever looked at the world through the eyes of a young child?
Everything is wonder-full!
They are endlessly curious, continually fascinated by the wonder of the world that surrounds them. A sense of awe is a familiar companion.
Every day begins with wide-eyed marvel at the beauty and complexity of life.
There is no room for complacency, apathy, lethargy, or indifference.
Childlike faith greets each day with wonder, insisting on seeing the beauty of God's world with awe and astonishment.
2) Children are affectionate
Don't you just love the image of children crawling up into the lap of Jesus?!
I can see a bundle of them surrounding Him – some of them sitting on His lap, some stroking His hair, some touching His face, some playing with His sandals, some snuggling into His robe.
Unmitigated, unhindered, unreserved affection.
Children know how to love Jesus!
Childlike faith holds great affection for the Lord, and is willing and eager to pour out love at His feet like an offering.
3) Children are curious for knowledge
Little children are like sponges – soaking up every piece of information they can get.
Children are not easily satisfied with pat answers. They do not desire trite or cliché or routine. They are constantly curious, always looking for new insight, new revelation, new wisdom.
They want to learn new things, and they are willing to pursue knowledge in single-minded focus.
Childlike faith isn't satisfied with one-dimensional knowledge, but rather, pursues spiritual insight, revelation, and wisdom with single-minded focus on the Author of Truth.
4) Children find joy in simple things
Children love to giggle and laugh – mostly at the simple things in life.
They are happy creatures who live as if life is profoundly simple, and simply profound.
Blowing dandelions in the wind, flying a kite, building a sandcastle, holding a butterfly, licking a lollipop, skipping rope…children enjoy simple things with great delight.
They haven't yet become distracted by the weight and worry of the world.
Childlike faith bears in mind that circumstances don't dictate the condition of the heart, and remembers that simple joy can be found by delighting in the Lord.
So, to sum up, I have to assert that personal maturity does not necessarily correlate with longevity. Just because we have a greater number of years on this planet, it doesn't mean that we've grown into maturity.
Maturity must be mindful.
And it's the same in our walk of faith.
Being a believer for a certain number of years doesn't automatically guarantee spiritual maturity.
Spiritual maturity must also be mindful.
Spiritual maturity takes intentional work – prayer, study, discipline, application of truth.
It takes purposefully pursuing Jesus, emulating His ways, and letting the Holy Spirit continually renew and redirect us into the path of spiritual growth.
It requires discerning between what's childish and what's childlike.
No, God does not want Peter Pan Christians.
He wants His children to grow up into maturity, reflecting accurately His Truth – while at the same time exhibiting a total surrender of self to the joys of pursuing and obeying Him.
A tall order sometimes?
Yes, but we can do it with His help.
He can teach us how to carry ourselves with dignity, wisdom, and grace – while still maintaining a childlike faith.
Yup, that's what I want – to grow up…
…while still being a Kid of the King!!
Though growing older
may show in my face,
I'll do it with dignity, wisdom,
"'My people are fools; they do not know me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding.'" (Jeremiah 4:22, NIV)
"Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation…" (1 Peter 2:2, ESV)
"Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn't talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren't ready for anything stronger. And you still aren't ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature."
(1 Corinthians 3:1-3, NLT)
"For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil." (Hebrews 5:13-14, NASB)
"When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things." (1 Corinthians 13:11, NLT)
"Dear brothers and sisters, don't be childish in your understanding…Be innocent as babies when it comes to evil, but be mature in understanding matters of this kind." (1 Corinthians 14:20, NLT)
"Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity…" (Hebrews 6:1, NIV)
"…when I am among mature believers, I do speak with words of wisdom, but not the kind of wisdom that belongs to this world or to the rulers of this world, who are soon forgotten. No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God…" (1 Corinthians 2:6-7, NLT)
"So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ." (Ephesians 4:11-15, NIV)
"He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ."
(Colossians 1:28, NIV)
"So now through the church the multifaceted wisdom of God [in all its countless aspects] might now be made known [revealing the mystery] to the [angelic] rulers and authorities in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 3:10, AMP)
"Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, 'I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.'" (Matthew 18:2, NLT)
"'I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn't receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.'" (Luke 18:17, NLT)
"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." (Proverbs 9:10, NIV)
Do you struggle in an area where you're lacking spiritual maturity?
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