I appreciate it when those who are many years older than me can still participate in activities that they enjoy. It might be running, gardening, working around the house, or practicing a hobby. For these people, sayings like, “Age is just a number”, and “You’re only as old as you feel.” are reminders that there are some who can remain active and fit, keeping up with those that are much younger than them, even at ages that might be dismissed by others1.
On the other hand, if it’s true that, “You’re only as old as you feel”, there are some days that I’m much older than the calendar would suggest. A day or two after helping a buddy move furniture, or working outside, I’m stuck on the couch with the pain of strained muscles, and a reminder that I’m not in very good shape, compared to others my age. In fact, some days, I may feel like I qualify for the senior discount (despite still having a few years to go before I qualify for reduced-price entrees at most restaurants), but the servers generally don’t accept my aches and pains as justification for paying less!
When following Jesus, I have observed that age doesn’t guarantee maturity in the faith. Even for those who may have chosen to side with Jesus at an early age, it is possible for them to get to their golden years without having spent a lot of time with Him. Of course, there are many people who have had more birthdays than me, whose wisdom and faith I value. I want to learn from these mature believers, as great examples of what it means to live like Jesus. It’s just that there are also exceptions to this, as described by the author of Hebrews in the following passage:
There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen. You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.
Hebrews 5:11-14 NLT
This is a good reminder to me not to take maturity for granted, even with those who have been Christians for a long time.
Some may have missed out on basic teachings about what it means to follow Jesus effectively, and never acquired the habits that help one become more mature. Maybe they missed the chance to learn about prayer, Bible study, or worship, and after doing their best for a while, everyone just expected them to somehow know the answers (so, they kept up appearances, and didn’t ask for help).
So, what do we do about it? For one thing, I think that we can create an environment (and relationships) where it’s perfectly OK to ask any honest question. without fear of being looked down upon. When it is clear that we each have more to learn, and that sometimes the most basic topics are worth reviewing from time to time, that gives others some comfort in knowing that they can ask to be taught, whether the answer might be introductory material (to some), or a graduate-level research project.
So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 NLT
For those in this situation, I hope that you can find a safe place to learn. While Bible-based lessons on the Internet provide a good opportunity to learn without the risk of judgment, if you can bring forth the courage to ask questions in a loving community of believers, I suspect that you’ll find plenty of others around you with similar questions, just waiting for the ice to be broken.
Others in the “long-time spiritual children” category may have heard the commands of Jesus, and the advice of mature Christians, but chose not to follow them. It is possible to learn just enough about God to fit in, without actually letting Jesus transform your life into something better.
Here, I think that responsibilities are shared between the person making this choice, and those around him or her. Healthy church environments should not allow followers of Jesus to feel comfortable remaining where they are in their walk. Sanctification is a life-long process, and without growth, we are left with stagnation.
On the other hand, for the individuals who haven’t taken even the initial steps of faith to try out what Jesus commanded and promised, I think that there’s a point of decision: whether Jesus can be trusted at His word. Was Jesus correct when He promised an abundant life, and said that those who love Him would obey Him? When we make Jesus our Lord (and not just our Savior, as if a half-way commitment like that even makes sense), that requires more than going to church or looking righteous – it’s yielding our lives and wills over to Him.
However, whether we find ourselves in the first situation or the second (or maybe we are obliged to help others who are in one of these scenarios), the value of living the way God wants us to is summarized nicely in this verse:
The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 1:8 NLT
- I’ve thought that, if I could have lunch with [American] football hall-of-famer Kurt Warner, I’d ask him for advice on how the wisdom that comes with age helped him succeed against teams with younger players. The older I get, the more I’m interested in what it takes to age successfully! ↩