You can pick your own path or model for getting to spiritual maturity. Some ideas:
“Get a seminary education.”
“Work in an orphanage.”
“Be more disciplined!”
“Walk in freedom!”
The subject of spiritual growth is fuzzy. Am I behind or ahead? Should I work harder or relax?
I’d like to suggest that a person’s growth in the spirit is related to their ability to wield authority. I see four realms in which we all have the opportunity to wield spiritual authority. We’re not necessarily more mature because we have authority in one realm as opposed to another. But if you have authority in all four of the realms, then you have certainly grown spiritually.
Where we need authority
Where do we need to use authority and where does authority come from? In the first chapter of the Bible, God delegated spiritual authority. We humans lost it, and he’s been looking to help us get it back ever since. He told Adam to “take dominion,” meaning, “exercise authority over a given realm.”
We need to understand the realms where God wants us to take dominion. Ephesians 6:12 says “We are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world.”
I see four different levels or realms where we’re called to wield spiritual authority. This is where the “authorities of the unseen world” contest us for dominion.
1. Self – Keeping your heart pure, devoted, and passionate. Keeping your head free from lies, Maintaining your priorities and key relationships.
2. Family – Those you are committed to love for life – those people you’ve permanently taken into your heart. Sons, daughters, spouses, and parents plus others God has given you.
3. Tribe – Your community of friends who share your spiritual DNA, who encourage you and call out greatness in you. You may covenant with them to share life and to do your dreams together.
4. Kingdom – God’s rule and reign on this earth. He cares for all people and especially targets the poor in spirit – the widow, the orphan, the sick and the oppressed. He expects his followers to bring hope to them.
David is a good example of a man who we can observe progressing through each of the four realms. We see him first as a shepherd. It’s a solitary life – his sole stewardship is his flock and himself.
But then David is anointed and promoted. He’s given a national stage and a contest in which to test his authority at a new level. It’s not his aim with a slingshot that gets tested, it’s his courage and authority. Not only is his fate in the balance, but the fate of his tribe.
Eventually, David is given stewardship as king over the entire kingdom. He has been faithful in exercising stewardship over lower realms, and God gives him a divine promotion.
Not that David ever “arrived.” We see that, though he is one of the finest kings in Israel’s history, he continues to be tested and to occasionally fail in each of the four realms of spiritual authority. The principle at stake is that the enemy is always going to look for your weak spots. You never get to rest on your laurels.
Many people struggle all their lives in the realm of the self. They have got their hands full just fighting off attacks from the enemy. Maybe it’s loneliness or depression or some issue where they continually struggle like pornography.
Meanwhile, because they can’t even defend themselves, they are not much help to their family or anyone in their tribe. They want to help, but they just don’t have the authority to do much. Parents who have struggled through broken relationships watch their own kids repeating the same mistakes.
Jesus announced the path of growth at the outset of ministry. It’s forgiveness and grace that sets us free. Get free in one realm and you are able to help others in another realm. “It’s for freedom that we are set free.”
So our enemy distracts us at the lowest level possible. As long as we are focused on our own identity issues, for example, we don’t have what it takes to help others get free wherever they are.
How we grow
Jesus understood that we have to practice taking authority. If you’ve not wielded authority before, it may not feel natural. You may feel awkward – all of us need practice.
We can advance in our ability to exercise authority in a new realm by experimenting – trying new things. These experiments may be as simple as identifying lies and exchanging them for truths. Instead of “I am ugly. No one likes me,” we think, “I am beloved. God has made me to be loved.”
An experiment looks like a departure, leaving a way of thinking and acting. Often a physical change of scenery can initiate a spiritual change. Experiments can take the form of journeys like the one that Jesus sent his disciples on.
Going on spiritual journeys can be a great way to accelerate the growing process. This is why short-term missions are so important – when done as Jesus did his, they help us make significant spiritual growth steps.
When Jesus sent his disciples on journeys in Luke 9 and 10, he gave them spiritual authority and told them to practice using it. He gave them authority over demons and authority to heal. He knew they needed small-scale journeys to try using it for the first time.
Taking stock of your life
How much authority do you have in each of the four realms?
As you periodically take stock of your life, you may be happy with the way you’ve grown in a given realm. Perhaps you experienced regular attacks of self-doubt and fear while growing up. But now you’re confident in who God made you to be.
If you hear a lie floating through your mind, you can exercise spiritual authority in that realm and dismiss it. And if you do, you’ll grow. It’s a thrill to experience spiritual growth like that.
The next question is, how much authority do you have in the realm of the family? And some follow-on questions: Do you belong to a close-knit family? Are you part of a tribe of people that has your back? Have you begun to understand what Jesus calls “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom”? Matthew 13:11
If not, don’t settle for less. God wants to give you greater spiritual authority if you’ll reach for it. If you feel stuck, why not decide to move on? God made you for more.