It's time to grow up.
I never used to RSVP for get-togethers, but would show up at the last minute. My friend Darren once told me that a single man's social life is based on the "last best option." In other words: Never commit, because a better alternative may come along.
I had a friend named Chris who dated his girlfriend for quite a while, spending lots of time with her, but never defining their relationship. Only when she asked would he reluctantly start considering his feelings and intentions.
Another friend, Bob, was not a member of any church, but he went to three of them. He liked the music at one, the teaching at another, and preferred the social scene at a third.
So what did Chris, Bob and I have in common? A desire to maximize our options. It seemed logical, even wise. It was easy to live this way to the extent that the impact on others was (apparently) negligible. In truth, in disregarding others our attitude was selfish and made it difficult to assume significant, fruitful ministry or professional responsibilities. And I'd suggest it short-circuited the depth of our friendships. The best word for this condition is immaturity.
Paul said, "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways" (1 Corinthians 13:11). The implication is that there is a certain type of behavior that is appropriate for children, but not for adults. Children need to be told to pick up their toys and reminded to finish the task. Adult behavior is characterized by assuming responsibility (decisiveness) and following through (faithfulness) on commitments. And Christian adult behavior has an added dimension of spiritual maturity — a continual longing to grow into the image of Christ (1 Timothy 4:12, 15), which involves consideration for the interest of others (Philippians 2:4-5; Matthew 20:26-28) and a desire to fruitfully steward one's gifts (Matthew 25:14-30).
Maturity is an elusive concept. How do we know if we have it? And what does it look like if we don't have it? (While women struggle with immaturity as well, I'm going to write to young men out of my own experience. I invite women to read along and encourage their friends.)
A Portrait of Immaturity
Indecisiveness is the inability to take a reasonable risk, to make a decision in a timely manner with limited information. The classic image is the 35-year-old guy who can't commit to marrying his girlfriend of three years, but the pattern generally extends to other areas, like church membership or employment.
Commitment involves the cost of investment, the creation of expectations on the part of others who can then be disappointed, and, at least in the case of church membership, lifestyle and even financial implications.
Regardless of the context, to make a decision is to intentionally limit oneself from other, potentially good options. As a single guy, it was a challenge to think of marrying the woman God had clearly given me, since I would no longer have the option to pursue the women I might meet someday. An indecisive man is recognizable by a perpetual inability to make and keep commitments — a failure to "swear to his own hurt and not change" (Psalm 15:4). A decisive person, by contrast, can choose what he loves, and later (when the going gets tough) nurture the love he previously chose.
Indecisiveness renders significant accomplishment (and the deep joy that often comes with it) out of reach. It hinders our progress in the Christian life, because God calls us to steward our gifts and talents. Non-growth is not an option.
My friend Jason was willing to hang out if it involved doing something he really wanted to do, like seeing the latest movie. But if I was going through a hard time and needed some brotherly encouragement, he was nowhere to be found.
An inconsistent man will get a job done if it's convenient, but if you ask him to do something that doesn't interest him or is uncomfortable, it will never happen.
Such an employee disappoints his boss: "Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to those who send him" (Proverbs 10:26). And an inconsistent friend is a poor friend: "A friend loves at all times" (Proverbs 17:17a). His ambitions and allegiances change. Since measurable growth in a friendship or productivity in a career take both time and effort, inconsistency often short-circuits fruitfulness.
I think that's enough. I'm guessing we all struggle to some degree with indecisiveness and inconsistency. So what does it look like to cultivate biblical maturity?
A Portrait of Maturity
1. Decisiveness: Recognize Priorities
You may have heard the phrase, "Do you want something done? Then give it to a busy person." At first glance, it makes no sense. How are they supposed to find the time to do more? But wait: How did they get to where they are? By assuming responsibility, stewarding this responsibility, and thereby growing this responsibility. It's like the guy who turned the five talents Jesus gave him into 10 (Matthew 25:14-30).
Assuming responsibility means embracing risk. Though we can distinguish between "good," "better" and "best," there is no perfect job. Or perfect church. Or perfect marriage. Each will require us to roll up our sleeves and give of our time and energy to make it better. The key is that you're saying "no" to one good so that you can say "yes" to something better — the opposite of indecisiveness.
But how can we tell what's best? If we don't pray, it means we think we're self-sufficient. If we don't read our Bible, it's because we think our wisdom is good enough. So prioritization starts with acknowledging our total dependence on God.
Paul said that we are to "grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ" (Ephesians 4:15). Our minds should be on things above, not on things below (Colossians 3:1-4). This way we can walk as children of light, trying to discern what pleases God, making the best use of the time (Ephesians 5:8,10,16). This world and our fleeting days are but a vapor, so our work, relationships, and use of time and money should reflect the infinite value of God (1 Timothy 4:8). This fosters an eternal perspective, which makes the priority of sacrificially giving to church and to missions a joy and not a burden. And just as we worship God by our financial gifts, so our entire lives are meant to be offerings to Him (Romans 12:1). The opportunity cost of aimless meandering is simply too great in light of who we are in Christ, and the fact that our actions today echo into eternity.
2. Faithfulness: Delay Gratification
Christian self-denial is the refusal of a lesser good (or pleasure) for the attaining of a greater good. I had promised to help some friends who were moving. But when my alarm clock went off that morning, I really didn't want to get out of bed. But I was able to say "no" to blowing them off because I truly love them and want to bless them. We recognize the latter as the greater good, and find joy in being a faithful friend (not to mention the love for God that this reflects).
Or we choose a job, but after a few months discover that the boss is annoying or the work harder than expected. We can say "no" to feeling dejected or discouraged by reflecting on the reasons we originally chose that position, acknowledging God's sovereignty in the process, and by seeking (in the strength that God supplies) to optimize our witness for Christ in a difficult environment. Through our work, we do far more than just pay the bills; we love our neighbors as ourselves by providing goods and services that benefit their lives. And God cares that we do so cheerfully so others know that we have a good Father whose commands are not burdensome (Colossians 3:17; 1 John 5:3; Matthew 5:16).
Then there is the issue of moral authority. Moral authority is the twin sister of dependability. Most of you men will marry, and your wife will be biblically obligated to respect you as her head. But your behavior and attitude can make all the difference in the world as to whether this is a duty to her or a delight. Biblical authority comes with merely being the husband of your wife. You can be a complete jerk, but God still holds you accountable (as the head) for your wife and children. But moral authority is earned by the successful stewardship of assumed responsibility.
A Journey to Maturity
The journey to maturity, like the process of sanctification, is not easy and it does not happen overnight. In fact, since I first drafted this article my wife has kindly quoted parts of it back to me as I've been tempted to make immature decisions!
But it's worth pressing on. Resolving to live with impact, we can fruitfully steward the talents and opportunities with which God has richly blessed us. Let's be decisive and then faithful. In our work, relationships and church, let's take the long view that turns five talents into 10. By taking responsibility, moral authority will naturally follow. And we will be cultivating an attractive steadfastness and God-directed, channeled strength summed up in a word: maturity.
Copyright 2007 Alex Chediak. All rights reserved.