Religion tends to get a bad press in popular culture.
Intolerance, bigotry, pride and a judgemental attitude while certainly not exclusive to religious people is often presented as a characteristic of religious faith.
But it need not necessarily be the case.
Gordon Macdonald is a writer and speaker who I have been following and learning from for about 30 years. I recently had the privilege of meeting him at a conference. One of the questions Gordon addressed at this conference was the issue of spiritual maturity. What is spiritual maturity and what does it look like? How do we go about developing spiritual maturity?
Gordon shared some powerful examples of observations of 4 people with deeply spiritual lives. They are worth reflecting on:
Chris Wright on John Stott (1921-2011):
“There are (three) characteristics I have observed (in John Stott) that I will emulate for the rest of my life. The three are rigorous self-discipline, absolute humility, and a prayerful spirit. Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is that faithfulness to God is a combination of these three things.”
Eberhard Bethge, friend and biographer of Dietrich Bonheoffer (1906-1945):
“He was all humility and sweetness… he always seemed to me to diffuse an atmosphere of happiness, of joy in even the smallest events in life, and of deep gratitude for the mere fact he was alive… he was one of the very few men that I have ever met to whom God was real and close.”
Jonathan Edwards on his future wife Sarah (writing in 1793):
“They say there is a young lady in (New Haven) who is beloved of that Great Being, who made and rules the world… She has a strange sweetness in her mind, and singular purity in her affections… and you could not persuade her to do anything wrong or sinful if you would give her all the world…. She will sometimes go about from place to place, singing sweetly and seems to be always full of joy and pleasure; and no one knows for what. She loves to be alone….. and seems to have someone invisible always conversing with her.”
John Hoyland on Rufus Jones (1863 -1948):
“To a whole generation of us he was a prophet and a saint and a shining light. We loved him and we venerated him. He was the leader of our lives. His writing was secondary. It was his personality, his outgoing love, his humour, his congeniality, his luminousness. The Holy Spirit was in him to his finger tips. He made each of us feel worth while and that he saw something in us and loved us individually. He had an extraordinary gift for creative friendship.”
These 4 examples, while very different characters and temperaments, as well as spread out over centuries, have some common themes.
Gordon then also listed some very helpful characteristics of these Christian disciples. He described them as ‘deep people’:
- Demonstrate a consistent loyalty to Jesus: his life, his teachings, his challenges.
- Have a hunger to keep on growing in every aspect of their lives regardless of age.
- Have a clear sense of how a disciple of Christ conducts himself/ herself in the larger world.
- Maintains personal relationships which are healthy and life-giving.
- Are respected because of their wisdom and integrity.
- Have a sense of personal mission, call and giftedness.
- Love to inspire and lead others toward personal Christian growth.
- Have firm convictions about faith as a way of life, yet are not pushy, rigid or judgemental.
- Are generous with what they have and always seem to know just how to serve others.
- Are compassionate, the first ones to spot people who need counsel or encouragement.
- Are people you love to be with because they love life and seem to know the best way to live it.
- Cultivate an enlarging initiative of prayer in all matters.
- Are influential wherever they go.
These are certainly worth pondering over. Such people also exhibit resilience over the long haul of life.