“God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son.” (Rom. 8:29 The Message)
Several years ago I learned something about the male brain that helps explain the mysteries of adolescent and young adult male behavior. A professor from Duke said the male brain takes longer to “wire up,” a process that extends into a man’s mid-20’s, several years longer than the female brain.
I am not making this up! Young men typically are later in being able to use some of the higher brain functions, such as the ability to weigh decisions. The biblical word for this higher function would be wisdom. Wisdom generally comes later with our sons, no surprise to parents. By about age 40-45 most guys catch up. Now I did make up that last part, though women would probably agree.
Good parenting, teaching, and role models all make a difference, but some maturity simply takes time. The brain needs to grow. You can’t force it. Doesn’t this help explain the dumb things young guys often do? An 18 year old’s brain simply is not fully developed.
Neither is a 52 year old’s soul. Doesn’t that help explain some of the dumb things I still do?
Surprisingly, spiritual growth is deeply mysterious. You don’t necessarily grow spiritually by attending worship services every Sunday, or going to Beth Moore Bible studies weekly, or even by receiving degrees from a seminary. Trust me. My education does not make me more deeply spiritual. All of these things can help, but they can also hinder by playing to our pride.
Fundamentally, what does help us to be “shaped along the same lines as Christ?” The answer is not “what” but “who.” The phrase from Romans 8:29 highlights God’s work in shaping us. Christian growth is not mechanical and it cannot be forced. A common mistake is to believe that “more of _______” (fill-in worship, prayer, Bible study, etc.) will make me a better Christian. Not necessarily. That approach reflects Pharisaical thinking. “I do this in order to earn this benefit.” No. Real spiritual growth is not a mathematical equation. It is a function of a loving relationship with God, cloaked in grace, trusting that He has begun a good work in you and will bring it to completion (Phil. 1:6). [By the way, this explanation helps us understand the “righteousness that exceeds the Pharisees” in Matt. 5:20]
So what do you do with this? First, stop trying to manufacture your own spiritual maturity. Too often that degenerates into an attempt to impress other people. Or it results in a tendency to critique everyone and everything around you, for you have a sense that “there should be more.” It’s at that point we often turn our discontent on others: a spouse, a church, or even God Himself.
Second, simply love and serve God, trusting His love for you and His timing for “wiring up” your soul. You may not be able to discern meaning in every event (test or blessing) of your life, but you can always trust your Father’s heart. He truly does have your best interest in mind. He has not forgotten you or left you behind. But the Master Craftsman will not be rushed!
You may struggle with the same spiritual failures over and over. Do not lose hope, and do not give up! You may not be where you want to be spiritually. In fact, I hope you realize you are not! Rather than discontent and disappointment, however, I hope this creates in you a sense of joyful expectation. Be patient and persistent in feeding your soul through worship, study, and devotion. Your commitment is vitally important. But enjoy the life God has given you and the place where you are at this moment. Remember, God is at work deeply in your soul, bringing you to full maturity in Christ. Give Him time to do His work.
Dr. Terry Ellis