This is hardly unique. Everyone grows and matures, ideally throughout their life.
Our Heavenly Father's design is for us to develop godly character qualities. I was blessed with great parents who went out of their way to help make this happen.
My very first area of character growth was at home. I learned to share, to say please and thank you, and to consider others' feelings. I learned personal hygiene, the importance of listening and of obedience, and the importance of doing your best at whatever task you're given.
As I grew, outside organizations also contributed to character building. Church had a major part between Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, confirmation classes and regular services. School, of course, provided lots of opportunities to grow and mature. Then there was the Boy Scouts, an organization I can't say enough good things about. They challenged me to go beyond what I thought I could do, and stressed morality and responsibility with the Scout Oath* and the Scout Law.**
In my teen years, the faith I learned in childhood turned genuine, and I became a committed Christian. The whirlwind of activities that is pretty typical of every American teen's life was completely faith-related for me. Nearly every night was busy with Bible studies, prayer meetings, praise gatherings, concerts, church gatherings and outreach activities. It was a very intense time of rapid spiritual growth that lasted throughout my high school years.
College brought new challenges and opportunities for growth. God saw to it that I was immediately part of a traveling singing group consisting of 12 students.*** I learned so much about group dynamics, about trusting God to provide, how to improvise harmonies and how to graciously receive kindness from strangers. On campus, I had to learn to operate in newfound freedom wisely and responsibly. I learned some hard lessons, but definitely sensed God's guiding hand throughout this period of my life. Lots of stories - enough to fill several future blog posts.
Then I got married and the learning curve got steeper still. We moved around, found a church home, finished school, started a career and a family. I learned how to be a father and how to live my faith in a secular workplace. We bought a house and got involved in the neighborhood. So many opportunities to grow and mature...
After several years I began to feel restless, sensing a desire to work full time building the Kingdom of God. And I didn't really know what I meant by that. After a couple of years of searching, a fellow named Fred Bishop came to our church. He was head of a Christian men's ministry called No Greater Love Ministries (NGL) with a mission to raise up "faithful men who will be able to teach others also." (2 Timothy 2:2) As a result of meeting him, I ended up working at a Christian TV station in Illinois (another of those stories for another day.)
No Greater Love is the greatest ongoing discipleship training in my life. Being a part of NGL has made me a better husband and father, brother, son, employee, and Christian. I have learned to live my faith on a practical basis every day. And I have a band of brothers who stand with me even in the toughest of times.
Basic entry-level NGL teaching is called Cross Training. Sure, it's a corny pun - but it's also a visual aid to help one remember four of the basic elements of Christian life by picturing the cross.
At the bottom of the cross, the foundation of our faith is Study. At the top of the cross, we reach out and communicate through Prayer. These two elements form the vertical segment of our faith as we connect with God. One horizontal side of the cross represents Fellowship, the other Witness. These are ways Christians can relate to other people: fellowshipping with other believers and sharing their faith with those who haven't heard.
Each of these four topics has a Scriptural basis. I'm going to spend the next few days examining each one and telling how they have worked in my life. Getting older isn't optional - becoming mature can be. Studies like this can help each of us grow up to be all God has planned. According to Him, our destiny is to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. (Romans 8:29)
I'm certainly not there yet - but I'm a lot closer than I was 40 years ago. It's a lifelong process, a great adventure filled with the wonder of discovery. I wouldn't trade it for anything!
*Scout OathOn my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country;
To obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.
A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous,
kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.
***Our group was called the Maker's Dozen. (Clever, huh?) We traveled around the country on weekends and school breaks singing in churches and youth gatherings. I have an old promotional poster which includes an idea of the stylish matching '70s era outfits we wore. I'll try to get it scanned soon, and I'll write a post about that time of my life.