One of the highlights of the summer months are the Farmers’ Markets in Arkansas that sell some of my favorite things – sweet corn, tomatoes, and watermelon. The varieties that you can buy in the supermarket during the winter months just don’t measure up to the fresh home-grown produce you can get during the summer. Recently, I had a desire for some watermelon, so on January 16 I tossed a handful of seeds on the floor. As of today, there is still no sign of watermelon. Why? Because the carpeted floor isn’t the right environment for seeds to grow! For seeds to mature, certain “environments” have to be present.
It’s the same for spiritual growth. For us to mature spirituality, we have to put ourselves in environments that are conducive for growth and that provide the elements God uses to bring us to maturity. The longer I follow Jesus, the more I’m convinced that there are four:
God’s Word – The Bible is God’s primary tool to give us direction, wisdom, and correction. It is how God has chosen to reveal himself, his plan of reconciling the world to himself, and his will for our lives. (See Psalm 119.) We have to put ourselves in environments – corporately and personally – where we are studying God’s Word, meditating on God’s Word, and applying God’s Word to our lives.
Prayer – Prayer is a trait in the lives of all whom God has used greatly. Not the “out-of-habit” prayers that we say at meals or in religious services, but honest communication that is based on a relationship with our loving Father. We are called to “pray without ceasing”. (I Thessalonians 5:17) Prayer is to be the atmosphere in which we live.
Community – “Community” and “fellowship” are words that Christianity has cheapened to mean such things as eating together or taking part in some fun activity. The type of community that we need to grow is one that sharpens us and makes us better, that picks us up when we fall, that “spurs us on” to better things, and that defends us from the attacks of our enemy and our world. (See Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.) It involves relationships that are marked by devotion, openness, transparency, honesty, and accountability.
Mission – God has called us to join him on his mission to reconcile all things to himself and to bring all things under the leadership of Christ. One of the greatest traps of modern Christianity is our tendency to get wrapped up in prayer and Bible study and “community” and forget that we are to be a community on a mission of restoration and reconciliation. We have come to measure spiritual maturity by how much we know and how many Christian meetings we attend. But if we aren’t involved in God’s mission of restoration and reconciliation in our communities and in our world, we’ve missed the point of God’s call on our lives. (See II Corinthians 5:16-21.)
I believe that an absence of any of these environments in our lives will keep us from reaching maturity – being conformed to the image of Christ. A lack of God’s Word can lead to a subjective religion where we pick the “truths” that fit the life we choose to live. A lack of relational prayer can leave us with a “rational” belief system that doesn’t engage our hearts. A lack of community can leave us unaware of where we need to grow and people who know us well enough and care about us deeply enough to help us mature. A lack of mission can leave us self-absorbed and inwardly focused as individuals and bodies. I’m less concerned about the exact “methods” we use in these environments than I am making sure that each of them is present in our lives and in our Christian communities.
We each have different personalities and our lives have different rhythms. My way of studying the Bible and praying may look different than yours. The community that I am committed to will look different than your community. The places where I am involved in God’s mission of restoration and reconciliation will be different than the places where you are involved. Regardless of your preferred method, get yourself in the needed environments. Commit to studying and meditating on and obeying God’s Word. Make prayer as much a part of your life as the air your breath. Commit yourself to a community of godly people. Stretch yourself to be a vessel of restoration and reconciliation in the world you live.
When you do, God will produce fruit in your life that will be much sweeter than any found in a Farmer’s Market and that will last through eternity.