Intentionality. “Very few people have a conscious plan for developing their spiritual lives. Most Christians are not intentional, but rather functional, like cars on autopilot.” Peter Scazzero
Francis Shaeffer, the great evangelical scholar of the last century, thought that up to 50% of church attendees in the West were not Christians. I suspect one of the reasons for his estimate had to do with the lack of intentionality on the part of most of the people he saw in our churches. Consider that most nominal “Christians” think in terms of being cultured, democratic, egalitarian, kind, and “nice” (whatever that means). We evaluate ourselves and others based mostly on what we and they do not do: Do not swear, kill, steal, commit adultery, or lie, and if you are reeeeally good, then you will also not worship any other gods, not make idols, honor your parents and not covet (whatever that means). Oh, and maybe you will keep a “sabbath” of some kind, you know, go to church on Christmas, Easter and your sister’s graduation, and get married by an ordained minister.
When I was a kid, the joke was,
“We don’t drink, smoke, cuss or chew,
And we don’t go with girls who do.”
This is what being a Christian meant . . . and some actually believe this. Be a nice person and God will let you into Heaven when you die. Oh, at some point you had to “accept Jesus into your heart,” but that was easy enough, too. Just do a simple telepathic communication to God that, yeah, Jesus was okay and really nice to pay for my sins (we called it “the sinner’s prayer”). “Say this prayer after me, but only if you mean it . . . ,” and you were golden. Your sins were forgiven, you would live forever, now just keep being “nice!” Don’t beat your wife, don’t steal from your boss, don’t kill anybody, and if you do happen to slip up and murder someone, God with all His grace will let a couple of dings slide.
As Peter Scazzero points out in his excellent book, Emotional Healthy Spirituality, chronological adulthood is relatively easy: just don’t die. But emotional and spiritual adulthood is a completely different animal! Consider these adapted lists of emotional children/adolescents vs emotional adults:
- Are content only when they get what they want
- Are easily hurt
- Complain, withdraw, or manipulate to get their way
- Are threatened by criticism
- Look for others to take care of them
- Are usually preoccupied with themselves
- Have difficulty listening to another person’s pain
- Are critical and judgmental
- Are able to ask for what they need or prefer
- Take responsibility for their own thoughts and feelings
- Can state their beliefs under stress without belittling others
- Give people room to not be perfect
- Appreciate people for who they are – not what they can give
- Accurately assess their own limits, strengths, and weaknesses
- Able to discuss these with others
- Can enter into the feelings, needs and concerns of others
I wish I could say that I am an emotional spiritual adult, but looking at Scazzero’s lists, I still have some work ahead of me. The good news is that God’s grace actually does cover a multitude of sins and the sin that is so clingy to us (Hebrews 12:1). Here again, “sins” are the actions resulting from our “sin” that is part of our falling-shortness (Romans 3:23) before a perfect God. By His grace He does forgive us, even when we murder . . . if we ask, and repent of it from our hearts.
His design however is that we go on to spiritual maturity, and not continue as newborn babies. Babies are always cute, even when they cry, but how unfortunate for a parent to take care of a 45 year old son who never develops past a two year old brain. Even sadder is a God who must coddle and stroke His children who refuse to grow up into the men and women He created us to be.
“Let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.” (Hebrews 6:1) And further, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:24)
The best plan to avoid being a 45 year old Christ-follower with a two year old brain is to do just that: make a plan!
- Decide now when and how much you will read in the Bible. Make a Bible-reading plan that will cover the entire “library” in one or two years. Thirty minutes per day will do it for most of us; if you are a very slow reader, plan for two years; if you are a fast reader, you can cover the library in a couple months. See for part one of a three part series on Marked by Bible Reading and Bible Study.
- Decide now when and how much you will pray. Consider the different types of prayer and develop a plan to grow into a rich prayer life. ”If you want to have a great prayer life, just show up every day!” (Margaret Therkelson) See for a “Catalogue of Prayer,” part of a series on Marked by Prayer.
- Decide now how you will begin various disciplines of the Spirit-led life. Don’t try to do them all at once, but think clearly about when to begin each one and grow them into the garden of your life. See for the first of 20 Disciplines of the Spirit-led life ending on .
Most of all Practice the Presence of God every day. Let His Presence permeate all that you do. Allow Him to fulfill His promise, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) And grow into the man or woman He created you to be . . . intentionally.