I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly…
1 Corinthians 3:2-3
This is very basic social science, but you can measure the physical health of a nation based on just a few contributing factors: obesity, exercise, diet, education, cultural trends, and lifestyles, among the most significant. By and large the highly developed nations and the undeveloped nations have the worst diets – the highly developed nations plagued by too much fast food and an absence of exercise due to busy schedules.
Spiritual maturity among Christians is also measurable by a few factors: spiritual diet, the exercise of our faith, the Christians we fellowship with, and the general trends of the Christian movement as a whole. Along with an unhealthy physical diet, many Christians have given into spiritual fast food also because they are too busy with other things. We tend to think that if we had all of the money we needed, then we would have time to eat properly, enjoy family, get our priorities right, spend time reading the Bible and the best books, pray daily, and serve the Lord. Some people in healthy and developed nations do such things, but many others seem to continue in bad habits of poor spiritual nourishment and a lack of spiritual exercise.
Our spiritual health has a direct correlation to our spiritual diet and exercise. If we are taking in the right things – especially the reading of and meditation on His Word, along with good devotional books and worship and participation in a church where the Bible is proclaimed and shared among the people – then we are getting the right diet. If we are serving the Lord, seeking to make a difference in the church and in the world – then we are getting the right exercise.
We need to watch out for spiritual junk food – ideas, sermons, and seminars that make us feel good momentarily but do not provide the real spiritual meat we need. The Bible only mentions “milk” and “meat” – two classes of spiritual diet, one for babes and the other for adults – but the principle would apply more broadly. We need to have appropriate spiritual nourishment, the nourishment that meets us where we are and also encourages us to grow to the next level.
We need to watch out for spiritual exercise that is to easy or that has no real challenge to it. We can over exercise physically, hurting ourselves, straining ligaments, overstressing joints, etc., or we may under exercise and not do enough. All good physical exercise usually produces some pain – “no pain, no gain,” we say – but it should not seriously injure us. Good spiritual exercise, if it will help us, should also have a bit of pain to it, where our patience is tried and our courage is challenged. Loving the lovely, for example, does not normally test our faith nor reveal us to ourselves nearly as much as loving the unlovely.
We need honest evaluation if we intend to progress in any field, and spiritual progress requires the most honest of all. It requires us to see in ourselves what we cannot see by ourselves alone. It requires us to put on God’s spectacles and let His lens reveal to us our true shape, and to hear from others we respect as they assess how we are doing. Real spiritual honesty is more God’s achievement than our own and the best we can do is to willingly cooperate with Him, to follow the Spirit’s lamp into the crevices of our cavernous souls, sorting out the dark spots, cleaning out the filth and refuse, being honest.
Honesty touches us, and produces more honesty. C.S. Lewis, in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, writes about the remarkable honesty of a fellow atheist that shook him.
Early in 1926 the hardest boiled of all the atheists I ever knew sat in my room on the other side of the fire and remarked that the evidence for the historicity of the Gospels was really surprisingly good. “Rum thing [meaning “odd thing”],” he went on. “All that stuff of Frazer’s about the Dying God. Rum thing. It almost looks as if it had really happened once.” To understand the shattering impact of it, you would need to know the man (who has certainly never since shown any interest in Christianity). If he, the cynic of cynics, the toughest of the toughs, were not – as I would still have put it – “safe,” where could I turn? Was there then no escape?” … Amiable agnostics will talk cheerfully about “man’s search for God.” To me, as I then was, they might as well have talked about the mouse’s search for the cat.
But bit by bit, the honesty grew, until it bloomed into simple faith in Christ. As Lewis brilliantly puts it:
I know very well when, but hardly how, the final step was taken. I was driven to Whipsnade one sunny morning. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did.
The honest assessment of a soul before God resulted in faith, a changed heart, and transforming life from God.
Our spiritual health and progress will depend on our spiritual diet, exercise, and evaluation. How healthy is your spiritual diet, how challenging your spiritual exercise, and how honest your spiritual evaluation?