The book edges were mildly worn and its glossy plastic cover boasted a few tears of frequent use. I pulled the white hardback from the library shelf and thumbed through the pages looking for pictures. I hated reading, but a few visuals often made the arduous task bearable. I was a sixteen-year-old high school student with a newly found zeal for Jesus. I had a passion to grow and I was searching for a spiritual pathway that promised success. Earlier that morning I felt a strong impression to go to my school’s library and find a book to read. I knew it was God speaking because I would have never thought to go to the library.
Glancing at the book cover, I felt a calm impression within saying, “Read this book.” The title read “No Compromise. The Life Story of Keith Green by Melody Green.” On the cover a man with bushy brown hair and a slight grin greeted me. “He looks like a hippy.” I thought to myself and tucked the book into my backpack.
Later that evening I began to discover Keith’s story. His message and zeal for Jesus was unique and bold. I liked this guy. A few chapters later, I was disappointed to find that he had died in a tragic accident in July of 1982. Then I discovered his music. It was outdated. But I managed to find and listened to every cassette tape or cd of Keith Green that I could. I was a little embarrassed to play his music for anyone else, but I loved it. I had no idea of the profound impact he had on the culture of the Christian music industry. Later I would discover his urgency for world missions. Hundreds were inspired to bring the gospel into various nations in response to the news of his death.
A few weeks later I returned to the library with the same unusual urge to find another book. Reaching down to the lower shelf marked with the letter R, I pulled out a small book entitled “Why Revival Tarries by Leonard Ravenhill.” There were no pictures in it either. I reluctantly slid it into my bag and went on. That book rocked my world. Ravenhill wasn’t a salesman peddling the gospel. He was a revivalist proclaiming the urgent message of God’s love for humanity.
As the months passed, I devoured the writings of Winkie Pratney, C.S. Lewis, Lester Sumerall, Ravi Zacharias, Joyce Myers, Philip Yancey, John Osteen and many more leaders in the church. These writers thrust me out of my minimal church-attending faith into a new awareness of God. I didn’t tell many of my literary journey mostly because I didn’t want any objections or criticism.
In book after book, each author hinted to common milestones of character development they had experienced. Over the years I’ve found their writings to be true. What are these indicators of growth? I’ve listed four common marks of maturity you may recognize in your own life as you progress in your walk with Jesus.
- From Feelings to Faith
When we begin our relationship with Jesus, the feelings are over the top. The weights of addiction, fear, and condemnation fall off and we revel in the new liberty we are given. Our feelings confirm what has happened in the spiritual transaction of being rescued from our broken nature.
Then it happens. You enter into a regular time of prayer or worship and feel nothing. You play the same worship song list, but the previous effect of God’s presence isn’t evident. You begin to search your conscience. Did you do something to offend God? Have you sinned? What do you need to do to get back to the experience you had the last time? And the questioning goes on. A few days or even months may pass as you hope for the affirming feeling that God is with you. What’s happening? You are growing.
Is God withholding His presence from you? No. He simply is not allowing you to rely on your feelings to validate His presence. He graciously will move you from a place of feeling His nearness to knowing He is with you. You are being challenged to believe He is with you in the absence of emotional affirmation. The warm feelings will return as you continue the discipline of pursuing Him. He will never leave you. (Matthew 28:20) God’s primary desire is that we experience His constant Presence with us whether you feel it or not. (John 14:23)
Followers of Jesus will find themselves in this formative tension at one time or another. You will have an idea that you feel God has given to you. With eagerness, you’ll share your thought with a pastor or a person who mentoring you. To your surprise, they will disagree or ask you to not proceed with how you feel. Then you have a choice. You can humbly honor the direction of the authority over you or you can follow what you feel is best for yourself. This test will weed out the roots of pride and independence.
Will you obey those whom you’ve trusted to be God’s voice in your life? Can you put aside your strong feelings and trust those who watch for your soul? (Hebrews 13:17) The truth is that you cannot successfully lead in God’s kingdom if you fail to honor His appointed authority. On another note, mere compliance to authority is not the mark of passing this test. The manner in which you humble yourself and honor leadership when you disagree is the real test.
It should go without saying, but so many miss this crucial milestone. Progress in following Jesus is marked by obedience. Christ’s command to you may not be to forsake all and go into fulltime ministry. It usually begins with a simple act of obedience. It may be a request to turn off your Netflix binge watching, or forgiving a relative, or not speaking negative about someone who has hurt you. The first step of obedience leads to another and this progressively becomes a lifestyle of dying to self. As you decrease, you will see Him increase in His influence over your thoughts. If you remain willing to lay down your self-worship, He will provide you with grace to become the ones you were created to be.
We will never outgrow our call to serve others. When you climb into a place of seniority and feel that others must serve your needs, you’ve not risen to a soaring new height. You’ve fallen into a ditch of self-worship. Serving others will keep your soul refreshed with the reality of humanity’s need for Jesus. As you serve others, you’ll discover you are serving Him. (Matthew 25:40-45)
If these traits feel familiar, you are growing in your relationship with Jesus. These dynamics are not mere milestones to pass. They are perpetual characteristics we must pursue to see our identity transformed into the nature of Jesus.