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What Does Spiritual Maturity Really Look Like?

Moses started out by telling God, “No.” He did not want to go. He wanted nothing to do with helping the Hebrew people break free from their cruel bondage under the oppressive rule of Pharaoh in Egypt. But God has a way of persuading people.

In Egypt, circumstances reinforced Moses’ first instinct about this mission. Not only did Pharaoh oppose him, but the very people that he went to save wanted nothing to do with him. His plea for Pharaoh to let the people go made their lives even more difficult. Moses complained to God but he did not quit his mission.

As events unfolded, Moses began to trust God more and more. Eventually he saw the Lord rescue the Hebrew people with astonishing miracles. God’s deliverance took time and required patience from Moses and the Hebrew people, but his methods left no doubt about his power and authority.

Once they were out of Egypt, the people began to test Moses’ patience, perhaps even more than Pharaoh’s stubborn behavior had. They complained about the lack of food and water. They even talked about going back to Egypt. . . .

Then the people sinned against God by making an idol and worshiping it, at the very place where they agreed to worship the Lord only! The anger of God was stirred and he threatened to do away with the people and start over with Moses.

Moses now demonstrates striking spiritual maturity and insight. Instead of stepping aside and allowing God to destroy the people, Moses intercedes. He offers to have his own name blotted out from God’s Book of Life as a substitute sacrifice for them. Very Christ-like behavior! Of course, only Jesus can do such a thing, but Moses’ action displays amazing spiritual growth since his refusal to obey God’s call at the burning bush.

The Hebrew people, however, are slow in their spiritual development. They continue to gripe, grumble and complain. Then, in a breath-taking act of disobedience, they refuse to go up and take the Promised Land, which prompts God to condemn an entire generation to nomadic wandering in the desert. The next generation will enjoy the fruits of the Promised Land.

Now, after 40 years, the time has come for that next generation to answer God’s call, to carry out his plan, and to enjoy his blessing: a land flowing with milk and honey. Moses is now 120 years old. He gives his farewell address to the Hebrews, the people he has devoted his life to serving.

In his last message (the Book of Deuteronomy), Moses seems to have a bone to pick with the people. He says to them, “because of you,” the Lord was angry and refused to allow him entrance into the land.

He is referring to one of the many times during the years in the desert when the people grumbled against Moses and against God. On this occasion it was because water was scarce. Moses prayed and the Lord instructed him to speak to the rock. God would provide.

But this time Moses could no longer contain his frustration with the people. He scolded them harshly and then struck the rock with his staff in anger not once, but twice. As a result of disobeying the Lord’s instructions, God would deny Moses entrance into the Promised Land.

Now, in his farewell address, Moses tells the people that he pleaded with God to let him enter the Promised Land. But God refused to listen, telling him to stop asking. Moses would die east of the Jordan.

As Moses recounts this episode in his farewell address, his disappointment is evident. He blames the Hebrew people for his failure, not once, but three times (Deuteronomy 1:37; 3:26; 4:21).

His resentment is understandable. Moses’ life has been devoted to leading God’s people into the Promised Land. How many times in their wilderness wanderings when the people grew weary and wanted to give up did Moses inspire them to carry on by reminding them about the land flowing with milk and honey that awaited them in the future? And now, at the climax of his life’s work, he is being refused the opportunity to experience the blessed land which they had waited for all their lives.

Moses may complain, but he does not give in to the temptation to walk away and give up on the people. He does not say, “If I can’t go in, then I don’t care what happens to these people!” He does not stomp away and sulk.

Instead, Moses recognizes God’s authority in the matter and works to prepare the people for the next step in God’s plan. He gives his farewell address, readying the people for their lives in the Promised Land. And he encourages their new leader: Joshua.

At first blush, Moses’ struggle with resentment and bitterness indicates that he may not be as spiritually mature as he appears. If he were really mature, would he even be struggling with such ugly emotions?

On further reflection, however, we should take note that Moses’ continued commitment to God’s plan and God’s people reveals a remarkable level of spiritual maturity. Moses is somehow able to act right when he feels wrong!

The world says, “Follow your heart.” But doing only what we feel like doing, only when we feel like doing it is a great definition of adolescence, not maturity. God’s word reminds us that our hearts are deceitful. People often do what they know is wrong or even dangerous. Why? Because they want to.

We need a more dependable source of guidance. Moses followed God’s direction in his life, even when it was painful and disappointing. He valued God’s judgment above his own. When his own heart was not in harmony with God’s, Moses chose to trust God’s heart.

The Lord gave Moses a consolation. From the height of Mt. Pisgah on the east side of the Jordan River, God showed his faithful servant the blessed land which his people were about to inherit. Was Moses given a vision that surpasses what natural eyes can perceive?

That short time with the Lord on the summit of the mountain, viewing the prize, was precious for Moses. It was worth far more to him than many days or years of bowing to his disappointment and walking away in defiance to God’s word.

Moses’ experience with the Lord on Mt. Pisgah has become a powerful symbol in Christian thought. In fact, the entire Exodus has been used by believers for generations to give expression to the Christian experience.

Egypt symbolizes our former life in bondage to sin. Crossing the Red Sea is a powerful picture of salvation through faith. The wilderness wanderings often epitomize our struggles to obey God in a world full of temptations. The Jordan represents death and the Promised Land is heaven.

In this theologically rich vision of the Christian life, Mt. Pisgah occupies an inspiring place in the minds of Jesus’ followers. It has come to picture a vision of heaven enjoyed by the faithful when they draw close to physical death, an encouraging foretaste of glory provided by the gracious hand of a loving Father.

This beautiful idea appears in hymns. “Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer; May I thy consolation share, Till from Mt. Pisgah’s lofty height, I view my home and take my flight.” What a view! And what a flight!

Moses really was a man of great spiritual maturity. He knew that whatever God withholds is worth nothing compared to what God grants. Better to be in fellowship with the Lord on Mt. Pisgah than to be in defiance of him in the Jordan valley. What God shows us is always better than what we can see for ourselves.

May God’s Spirit transform us into the image of Christ from grace to grace and glory to glory,

Richard Foster

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