How would you chart the movement and direction of your spiritual life? How would you describe your spiritual maturity or immaturity?
The criteria that so many Western Christians use for spiritual measurement and evaluation, I believe, are non-issues with God. Many Christians in the West measure their level of spiritual maturity by looking at two components: All the religious, church-related activities they are engaged in, or the beliefs they have adopted. Neither component concerns God all that much.
Beliefs are important to the extent that they determine attitudes and lifestyle. Spiritually healthy beliefs are important for a healthy, transformative spirituality, but in- and-of themselves beliefs are not the measurement of spirituality.
Religious activities can be a mixed bag. They can be instrumental and vital in nurturing spiritual growth, or they can be stifling and spiritually diminishing. The prophets railed against the people of God and their religious leaders when they became engrossed and entrenched in religious activity and worship, and yet neglected to care for the poor and oppressed—the widows, orphans, and the most vulnerable in the land (read Isa. 1).
There is one overarching measurement that is true for Christians in all cultures, times, and places, though it has many different traits, qualities, and cultural expressions: LOVE. Our capacity to and expression of love is the ultimate measurement of our spirituality.
Are we growing in love? If we are growing in love, then as we age, we will be, like Jesus, growing in wisdom and grace—with God and our sisters and brothers in the human family (Luke 2:52). Are we becoming more patient, understanding, forgiving, self-giving, generous, compassionate, and inclusive?
This involves much more than being nice. Richard Rohr has commented: “One of the best covers for very narcissistic people is to be polite, smiling, and thoroughly civilized. Hitler loved animals and classical music.”
Healthy Christianity and churches will be continually looking for ways to help disciples of Jesus grow in love. Consider how much emphasis today is given to externals, doctrinal formulas, correct rituals, Bible quotes, flags and badges and pledges, personal success, and superficial emotions. It’s mostly sentiment and style, with very little spiritual substance.
To know God well is to love well—sacrificially, inclusively, graciously, and unconditionally. The question to ask regarding our spiritual growth: Am I loving others (all others, including the creation) today better than I did yesterday?