Sunday, March 22, 2009

Growing Up

You're a spiritual teenager...


You're about 15 years old...

What? I am??

Michelle, it's okay.



Okay. Cool!

I had that conversation with the Lord about a year ago. I had been asking Him what was wrong with me for some time before He finally answered. As surprised as I was by His reply to my persistent questions, my heart was lightened by what He said. I heard laughter in my heavenly Father's voice as He spoke, and His delight warmed me.

Technically, if we count spiritual growth in terms of chronological years, I'm a little over 20-years old. I was born again in July of 1988, at the age of 22. Five months later, I was filled by the the Spirit. What I didn't know at the time was that spiritually I was in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), and that I'd be spending quite some time there.

My background is one of occult involvement, and I had a lot that I needed to unload. As a new Christ-follower, I heard about demonic oppression but it didn't really mean anything to me because I was coming to Christianity with no frame of reference.

When asked about my salvation experience, I usually tell people I was born bassackwards - feet first. I didn't understand about sin or the need for redemption. I didn't understand anything about the Cross, or salvation, or any of the things that I came to understand and appreciate as my relationship with the Lord deepened. All I understood was that God is a Person who loves me, sees me, and wants to be known by me.

This understanding, about the personhood of God, and the love that He has for me, was utterly new. It was such a novel idea that my heart was captured. The rest of me was clueless, which shouldn't have been too surprising because I was reborn with what was tantamount to a spiritual infection.

This spiritual infection was due to the fact that I had grown up in the occult, even though the "church" in which I was primarily raised had the word "Christian" in its name. I've come to see that it wasn't Christian. Not truly. It couldn't be since, by definition, to be Christian means to accept Jesus the Christ as exactly who He claims to be - Lord, Savior, GOD. The Unity Church of Practical Christianity, in which I spent most of my formative years, denies the truth of Jesus. It's a hodge-podge of all sorts of eastern mysticism, reincarnation, spirit guides, ESP, witchcraft, and assorted other occultic practices. Nothing we were taught indicated the unique and divine Personhood of God. Factor in the reality that, as a young teenager, I actively pursued witchcraft and the power it promised and it should be no surprise that I had a lot of darkness in my soul.

So, as a newly born again Christ follower, I was spiritually infected by the malevolent forces that I had embraced while growing up. Light and darkness cannot dwell together and, though I was newly born again, those things which had taken taken hold of my sould did not automatically go away when I said "yes" to Jesus.

Paul told the Philippian church that they were to work out their salvation in "fear and trembling." (Phil. 2:12) When we come to Jesus, we're still lugging our baggage with us. I had to take ownership of my baggage before I could dump it. It had become a nasty, oozing infection that required medical intervention before it could be drained and cleansed. In other words, I needed deliverance.

Deliverance is messy, like draining a pus-filled wound. It's bloody. It hurts. But there is no shame in needing deliverance.

Consider this: In the book of Exodus, God showed the Promised Land to Israel and told the people to go take it. He told them that His angel would go with them to defeat all of those who stood in the way of the Israelites entering into the Promsied Land and making it their own.

"I will not drive them out before you in a single year, that the land may not become desolate and the beasts of the field become too numerous for you. I will drive them out before you little by little, until you become fruitful and take possession of the land." (Exodus 23:29-30)

I had to be ready to go through deliverance before it would genuinely benefit me. That's what I mean by saying I was in the NICU. I didn't truly start growing spiritually until the infection of my soul had been drained and cleansed, then it took time to walk out the healing process.

While I might want to leap from childhood to adulthood, and most children do want to grow up quickly, it's not good for me to do so. If you think about it, trying to be more grownup than we actually are is counterproductive to becoming a mature believer. Whenever we try to run before we have learned to walk, we spend a lot of time falling down. We get hurt when we try to take on more than we're mature enough to handle, and those wounds can hobble us if they're not properly tended. That's one of the ways people get stuck in their spiritual growth.

It doesn't help us when we find ourselves battling expectations that are placed on us about who we're supposed to be or how grownup we're supposed to be - whether those expectations are ours, our spiritual parents', fellow believers' or the church's. The Lord is the only Person whose say matters. We have to be willing to genuinely hear His voice, and do what He says, even if it is counterintuitive to what we think we're supposed to do. For me, it meant the NICU and deliverance and healing my inner land.

God took the time He needed, kept me in the spiritual NICU, until I was able to start growing in a healthy way so I could become fruitful and possess my inner land as He promised I would.

It has been a process, a battle and an adventure.

The enemy of our souls comes to kill, steal and destroy. There is nothing more threatening to him than a mature Christ-follower who fruitfully walks in wisdom and power. It's in his interests to keep us blindly stuck somewhere on the road to maturity. If he can hobble us then he can keep one more soldier of Christ out of commission.

We are to "...grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ..." (Ephesians 4:15).

So, last year the Lord told me that I was a spiritual teenager. Hearing that set me free and explained the frustration I'd been feeling. I was given hope, because it meant I was still growing up. I hadn't gotten stuck.

I am still growing up. Jesus isn't going to leave me as a teenager any more than He left me in the NICU. He started a good work in me and He'll finish what He started (Phil 1:6), while I have the pleasure of holding His hand and walking with Him.

What the Lord has done for me, He will do for you. That's His plan: For us all to grow into gloriously mature, wise Christ-followers who are joyfully and freely living and being who He intends us to be.

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