In one of the books known by Protestants as part of the Apocrypha and as part of the biblical canon by Catholics and Orthodox, you can find a book called the Wisdom of Solomon. The tenth chapter portrays Wisdom's engagement with, watching over, and guiding of, seven leading Old Testament figures: Adam, Abel (Cain's murdered brother), Noah, Abraham, Jacob (Israel), Joseph, and Moses. The text does not name these figures, but if you know their stories, you can recognize them quickly.
The interesting thing about them is how God works providentially through their lives and the circumstances of their times, to accomplish God's purposes. That is a hard thing to say about poor Abel, who makes a cameo appearance in Genesis 4 before dying. The Lord "had regard for Abel and his offering," which provoked in Cain a terrible jealousy. All we know of Abel is that he was a keeper of sheep and that he brought a sacrifice from the first fruits of the new lamb crop to the Lord. As Genesis tells the story, even though Abel had a small part, his murder and the generations who succeed from Cain lead directly to the call of Noah to build an ark and prepare for the deluge. Abel is a hero in the sense that his life and death represent a hinge point in the story of God's actions among the world's peoples.
All the others alluded to in Wisdom of Solomon 10, we recognize as people passionately in pursuit of God (Jacob wrestling with that angel/man) and responding to God's call (Noah building that ark; Abram hearing God tell him to leave Ur and then Haran for Canaan; Moses saying yes to the Lord's call to lead his people out of slavery). In hindsight we see how mightily God used them all. We cannot imagine the history of God's people without them. As part of the people of God, we are beneficiaries of their obedience, as we are to God's faithfulness to each of them.
But reading that chapter in Wisdom and, in much more detail, reading Genesis and Exodus, we see also how much each of these heroes of the faith had to endure. Abram and Sarai suffered childlessness for a long time. Imagine (maybe you know directly) what it is like to want children and fail to have them. This yearning, this desolation, leaves an emptiness in one's soul. Joseph was sold into slavery as a teenager by his own brothers and wound up in prison for a time before being vindicated and coming a leader in Egypt. Some days, he no doubt feared for his life. As an older man addressing his brother's betrayal, he has the wisdom to say, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for God." That's an insight only God can give someone. Jacob was tricked by his father-in-law and estranged from his brother and, as the father of all those sons, had to live much of his life with family internal tensions. Moses' leadership struggles are the stuff of, well, history.
There is a lesson in the stories of these heroes of the faith about spiritual maturity and it's a hard one. First is God's blessed providential oversight of all our lives. We are not alone and we're never alone. Our lives are not aimless meanderings based solely on our own decision-making prowess. But also, second, no one grows to maturity without hardship, privation, difficulty, or bereavement. Yes, these biblical characters are larger than life and the vast majority of us have not endured and will not have to suffer so much for the sake of following God. Still, if you have lived any length of time, you've had a taste of at least some of the challenges in their stories.
This reflection raises a question: how much, really, do we want God? When push comes to shove, what matters to us more? It's a gut-check question.
In asking it I do not suggest some trite "no pain, no gain" lesson. We cannot reduce the Christian life to slogans. God does not engage in quid pro quo transactionalism, an idea common to the world's way of thinking, which is easy to infect our understanding of God, but this is not how God acts. God's lovingkindness is everlasting. His mercies are new every morning. God is love and we love because God loves us.
Nonetheless, we live in a fallen, broken, sinful world. The best-laid plans go awry. People get sick and sometimes die. We suffer financial setbacks and estranged relationships. Sometimes, life is just hard. And when it's hard, our maturity, or lack thereof, shines through.
When things got hard, those heroes in Wisdom 10 kept pursuing God.
Spiritual maturity is much more than stoic resolve. It's not a stiff upper lip in times of trouble. It is clinging to God no matter what because we know God to be good. Christians growing to maturity know joy and hope in their privations and difficulties, because they know God's goodness. "Whom have I in heaven but you?" the psalmist prays, and follows up with "And there is none on earth I desire but you." Mature disciples know God is sovereign and just and merciful, no matter what. They don't whistle past the graveyard just to keep their fear at bay. They don't pretend nothing is wrong. They feel the fear, the anxiety, the heartache AND they know that God is good.
So, back to the question: how much, really, do we want God?
And back once more to Abraham, for a moment, and one of my favorite biblical images. Hebrews 11 says that Abraham, hearing God's call to go to the land that God would show him "went out, not knowing where he was going" (Hebrews 11:8). That verse makes me laugh. Can you relate? Why would Abraham do such a thing? Because, the scripture says, he was seeking "the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God." There it is. Abraham knew God was in his hunger and he followed wherever the Lord led him.
Spiritual maturity involves persistence, grit, determination, steadiness, and patient endurance. But these dispositions are not good simply for their own sake. The spiritually mature demonstrate persistent faith precisely because God is active in and and through their lives. Those heroes of the faith alluded to in the Wisdom of Solomon were used of God as faithful followers of the one true God. Your persistent faith, your pursuing God above all else positions you in a similar way. The circumstances of your life are every bit the arena for God's action to accomplish God's purposes, not just in you, but through you. Your life matters. That is why persistent, courageous faith and growth toward maturity is so important. God bless you as you continue to grow.