I have always felt like I was an old soul, and I’ve always felt like I needed to be prepared.

 

For example, when I was 7, I walked through our pantry taking note of which products we bought so I knew what to buy at the grocery store when I was older. Nevermind that I didn’t know how to cook or do laundry. And still avoid those things at all costs.

When I was 8 or 9, I started trying to learn to blow dry my hair myself because at 13 I knew I would have to self-sufficient, and I only had a few years to get there. Today, I do whatever I can to NOT blow dry my hair and have cut washing it down to only twice a week to avoid it.

 

When I was in college, I started working out because I knew when I got out of college I would get married and have a kid before I’m 30 and I wanted the healthy habit in place so I could lose my baby weight. I’m now 32, and I don’t plan to have children — and I’m only now getting into the swing of working out regularly  … well, for now anyway — it’s the new year.

 

I basically planned for all the outside things … but I was never really working to be prepared for what mattered most. Things like …

 

How to deal with anxiety

How to establish real friendships

How to navigate conflict well

 

I thought that the outer things would be the measure of my maturity. But the older I get. I realize that maturity means something more than that, and you often can’t see it. It’s subtle but important, and I think that as a society and even as the Church {that’s big C there} that we’ve not fully grasped this idea of maturity either.

 

Fortunately, in this first part of 2 Corinthians, I think Paul was teaching a masterclass on spiritual maturity so I’m just gonna tie a bit of a bow {I hope} on all the things we looked at this week.

 

Here’s the first thing I really took away: We have to be willing to do hard things.

 

I once sat in a church in Myanmar, and I got to listen to these men and women share their stories. One survived a bear attack to share the gospel. One beat lifelong alcoholism to share the gospel. One is a buddhist monk. One lived in this village where all you can hear are looms clickety clacking all day and night to share the gospel. All I could think of was that one time some girl in a Facebook group said she didn’t like me because I was a believer. I mean, I live in the Bible belt like you. My suffering for the gospel is minimal.

 

And as we were leaving the church I saw a sign over the door that stopped me. As I was reading this week it kept coming up over and over again to me. It said: The more you suffer, the more you get blessing.

 

That stuck with me — and it’s been 3 years since I was there. What it really encouraged me to do is to get comfortable being UNcomfortable. It reminded me just how different the Christian life is meant to be than the world’s.

 

Paul was great at this. I mean, he shared a hard message about suffering that he tempered with the message of God’s comfort.

 

He said he had authority but he wasn’t going to use it for power but for service.

 

He didn’t send a passive aggressive text message or email about the issues. He wrote plainly about what he saw that needed addressing.

 

He talked openly about the challenges he went through, not for pity or one-upmanship but for real connection.

 

He saw a man being left out because of a disciplinary issue and said it’s time to forgive and bring in with no bitterness.

 

Paul knew how to do hard things with grace because he knew what mattered most: the growth and discipleship of those in Corinth.

 

But it’s not enough to do these things. We have to do them with the right motivation.

 

Y’all I was a pro at doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons. I think this is because I’m a rule follower at heart. I’ve been a believer since I was young and I went to Christian school for most of my education. So I knew the rules and I was great at playing them.

 

But if I’m being honest, I didn’t practice them for God’s glory or pleasure — but for my being able to compare myself with others and know that I was doing better. And if I corrected someone it was from that place and not a place of love. I’m just being real.

 

In my adulthood, I became a conflict avoider. I basically spent the last 2 years of news in our country with a blanket over my head. But my husband Daniel goes at it a whole different way. He is a conflict seeker. In fact, I joke that conflict is his family’s love language. They will argue even when they agree for no good reason. It’s exhausting for someone like me.

 

And what I’ve realized is that we actually need a middle ground between our approaches.

 

Yes, we need accountability and correction sometimes — I truly believe that. We need honest discussions about issues we care about. But we need those things to come from love and with love. And that’s where I see it break down.

 

Most of the time, we address issues or differences of opinion from wanting to be right — and how do I know? I have FAcebook. and don’t get me wrong, y’all, I looooooove to be right. One of my friends once asked me what I like to do for fun, and all I could think was: anything that I can win at.

 

But when we approach every opinion issue as wanting to be right we miss out on a whole spectrum of nuances and ideas and community that could be worked out by actually listening to understand.

 

And we see that too with how we correct. We need to correct from a place of love and reconciliation for that person. Our heart needs to be for the person in front of us and their standing with God. Imagine what conflict would look like if we took it from the place of having abundant love for the other like Paul did here. Our world and our witness would look radically different.

 

And here’s the really hard part: I don’t think we can come at this on our own.

 

I loved Kyle Martin’s sermon yesterday because he dug deeper than I have time for in this particular application point — but all of that comes from letting God refine us. And that comes from the Holy Spirit and in community that is also filled with the Spirit.

 

So here are a few practical ways to cultivate that:

 

  1. Remember that you have the Spirit in you already. The only thing you need to work on is listening better. You have all the Spirit you’ll ever need.  
  2. Be in the Word regularly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a verse I memorized in AWANA at 10 have new life when I needed it most. Or how the Lord spoke something to me through His Word that day. It’s happened at least 3 times in the last week alone. But you’ve got to give it time to sink in and intentional seek his wisdom. 
  3. Find some silence and listen expectantly. I hate silence. I seriously do all I can to fill my time with some kind of noise, but it’s in the moments that I’ve given myself space and silence — and it doesn’t have to be much — but those are the moments that I really heard from God and knew what to say or not say. And if you ask for something, expect God to give you an answer you’ll understand and be at peace with — even when it’s a “no.” 
  4. Be in REAL vulnerable community, and if you can’t find it already, then you go first. Demonstrate vulnerability and lead by example in loving others well in community. The last few years, I’ve had to take off my pride mask of having it all together because I realized that if I wanted a real community with real friendships I would have to be real myself, and if I couldn’t find it already I would create it by leading by example. So I share what’s really going on, and I ask for feedback and prayer around issues or people I’m wrestling with.  
  5. And when you see an issue you feel needs to be addressed or corrected in yourself or someone else, check your motivations first. Ask for help from the Lord in approaching that, and speak personally and plainly but all out of love. If you’ve been doing all the above, that’ll be easy.

 

Because, friends, spiritual maturity comes with handling life with grace — and not like the grace of Jackie O — but the grace of God. It doesn’t run away from the deep and messy things. It goes full force into them and wrestles them with love.

 

Here’s why this is especially important for you in this room: the more I read the Bible and the more I see faith around the globe, the more I’m convinced that women are a key part of bringing about the reconciliation of the world through Christ. YOU are important to his mission, and that means YOU need to be going through the pains of growth for your spiritual life and doing the deep work every day. Because the world doesn’t need more Stepford wives and superwomen, what it’s needs — to borrow from Ann Voskamp — is more women who know how to do hard and holy things.

 

And if we’re willing to do those hard and holy things, we will see the change we want to see. But just like every change that’s ever made a difference, it starts inside of each of us.