by John Franklin
As we mature in life, let’s continue to grow in our prayer life.
IN A SCENE FROM ONE OF THE HOBBIT MOVIES, our hero Bilbo Baggins and his traveling party must journey some days through the vast, maddeningly, confusing Mirkwood forest. Having hopelessly lost their way, Bilbo hits upon the idea of climbing a large tree to its very top until he breaks through the forest canopy to get his bearings. Having done so, he at once sees clearly and easily the way forward.
This scene has reflected my own spiritual journey with God on several occasions. On quite a number of times, God’s purpose has remained hidden until some glorious revelation in Scripture punches through the forest canopy of disorientation and confusion to point the way.
Most recently, I had that experience about understanding why I had been stuck in prayer. It shook my world. I saw why the great Bible characters matured until the power of God flowed through them mightily in prayer.
God will develop our prayer lives the same way if we let Him. He will help us determine what to look for and what to expect Him to do in this process. God can help us get unstuck.
This is my story.
The Light Bulb Comes On
I was meditating on how we grow spiritually. I began to compare stages of human development to spiritual growth. Suddenly, I had a thought, How would a parent with multiple children communicate with each of their children? Would they communicate with their 2 year old the same way they communicated with their 12 year old? Would they do the same with their 22 year old?
I continued meditating, Conversely, would the 2, 12, and 22 year old communicate with their parents differently according to their stage of maturity?
Suddenly, in a flash of insight, a new understanding dawned upon me: In relationships, we communicate and relate to others and they with us according to our stage of maturity. My mind began spinning. If prayer is communicating with God, I wonder what implications this carries for prayer? Does God also communicate and relate to us according to our spiritual stage of maturity?
Reading how Jesus related to the disciples reveals this. Understanding this truth has radically exploded my prayer life. It has caused me to know where God is taking me, what to look for, and how to help others grow in prayer. I’m certain it will do the same for you. Here are four key truths regarding spiritual maturity and insights they carry for our time of prayer with our Father.
In relationships, we communicate and relate to others and they with us according to our stage of maturity.
▶ Growing with God
God spiritually develops a Christian through four basic stages of maturity: Baby, Child, Young Adult, and Parent. I borrowed this categorization from Jim Putman’s discipleship model. This pattern can be seen in the Book of Acts by how Jesus matured His disciples from their call in the Gospels until He could entrust them with great responsibility. In the beginning, the disciples were spiritually immature; however, by the events that were recorded in the Book of Acts, we see how God turned the world upside down through these unlikely men.
INSIGHT: When we lack a sense that God is taking us somewhere, we see prayer as a stand-alone activity. We may very well believe statements such as, “There’s power in prayer,” “Prayer changes things,” and “God answers prayer.” But without a sense of direction, we merely try to pray more and more in order to do more and more good. This greatly limits effectiveness in prayer. Since we don’t know what to look for when we pray, recognizing God’s voice, answers, and activity proves more difficult. We infrequently see answers to prayer.
▶ Lessons to Be Learned
In the Child, Young Adult, and Parent stages, the lessons fall into two broad categories: relationship lessons and work lessons. Just as a child must learn how to relate to their parents, such as speaking respectfully, saying thank you, and obeying immediately, so must a Christian learn to praise God, give thanks, confess sin, trust, love, fear the Lord, and obey immediately. Just as a child must learn to work in the family, such as making their bed, putting up the dishes, and taking out the trash, so must a child of God learn to work alongside his or her heavenly Father and be accountable.
INSIGHT: If we don’t coequally learn relationship and work lessons with God, we cease growing. Vitality in prayer dries up. We must learn both how to relate to God and do His will.
▶ Tests to Pass
If you have lessons, you will also have tests. If you discover a new insight about faith, you will soon have a situation to try your faith. When praying for patience, don’t be shocked when frustrations arise next. This is normal. Jesus constantly tested the disciples to gauge their progress (see John 6:6), and He will do the same with you.
INSIGHT: Each stage has tests about the lessons you’re learning and an endof-course exam before you move on to the next stage of maturity. Failing a test means staying in the same stage we’re in or going backward. We become stuck.
▶ God Speaks to You
What God communicates with us in prayer will primarily be the lessons and tests He is giving us. This makes sense, right? God speaks to us particularly regarding His activity in our lives.
INSIGHT: Knowing this truth gives us a huge clue what to expect and look for when we pray. Also, if we become stuck, it can help us become unstuck.
Your Life Prayer Template
In order to make this clearer, the following chart illustrates stages of maturity, lessons, and how tests for each stage affect prayer.
As we mature, we don’t quit practicing what we’re doing in one stage as we move to the next. We build on it. For example, in the Baby stage we must desire God’s Word. That continues for the rest of our life — throughout the Child, Young Adult, and Parent stages. Relationship and work lessons likewise never cease in prayer, but only deepen in each stage.
The majority of Christians become stuck in the Child stage. First, our sin nature naturally tends to stay focused on self instead of on God and others. Second, it may be that some churches don’t emphasize or train their members effectively in how to recognize and grow in Work Lessons with God. Third, our passion for God and His will is undercut by our love of the world and comfort.
The Work Lessons God teaches us move from small tasks (Child stage) to stewardship responsibilities (Young Adult and Parent stages). Children learn to work and that they’re accountable but they don’t bear stewardship responsibilities. As a child, God gives you things to do and works through you, but as a young adult or parent He increasingly grants you authority over people and outcomes as you obey Him.
I pray that these words encourage you as God works in your prayer life. May His grace be upon you. May He take you deeper with Himself than you have ever known. May your prayers increase in knowing Him and doing His will.
John Franklin is president of John Franklin Ministries, and pastor of Edgewood Baptist Church in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. He is a former Prayer Specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources.
This article originally appeared in HomeLife magazine (August 2020). For more articles like this, subscribe to HomeLife.