I've recently been captivated by songs from a Christian artist called Benjamin James; his songs are quite unlike any I've heard and really made me think about what it means to be a maturing Christian, and I found myself drawn to put my thoughts into writing. The good, God-centred worship we are used to is usually triumphal; declaring God's faithfulness, how He has conquered and His promises stand. These are obviously important declarations that we should meditate on daily... and yet, I can't help but feel a disconnect between the declarations of church and the actual walk of faith. The conflict between what "is" (our oft-flagging, oft-stumbling walk), in contrast with what "is to come" (purity, holiness, eternality), is rarely discussed in sermon or song. In many of Benjamin James' songs, this conflict is the core theme. In the song "Singing like a bird", the lyrics progress as follows;"Through dark and solemn days / I've been haunted on my way...Still that face it hides when I turn to the light / But in the deep of night constellations rise...As a seed I was buried / But my sepulchre was a womb...Now the thousand weights I have carried / Fall from me as the dew...And all the paradise I have wasted / Springs forth still true"There is something to the narrative that runs throughout this song that resonates deeply with my walk with Christ. It begins mournfully, confronted with darkness that seems to haunt us. Even as we seek God's light, so often His face is not readily apparent to us. Yet, "...in the deep of night, constellations rise"; amidst the darkness and the trial, there the Light is revealed. In our weakness, we see our true Hope; Christ is revealed as perfect in contrast to our utter inability to satisfy ourselves, find our completeness, and silence our inner shame at the extent to which we fall short (2 Corinthians 12:9). The song goes on to the theme of how death brings forth life; I love the line "my sepulchre (basically, grave) was a womb". As we behold Christ we see that we are indeed dead in our own ways, and this revelation brings forth life as we die to what we were. We move from a place of self-reliance to surrender, and "the thousand weights I have carried fall from me as the dew". The moment we cease our striving to control our situation and secure ourselves is the moment we find peace. And the song ends with "All the paradise I have wasted, springs forth still true." - even our despair at the time we wasted in the darkness falls away, because Christ is timeless and eternal; every stumble is a lesson, not a setback, and every scar is a testimony of grace.This is not the linear progression of a Christian's life. We do not start self-reliant and sinful, and end up in perfect peace some years down the time. This song is a sequence we endure daily. Until Christ comes we will see dark and solemn days, we will be haunted by our own inadequacy, and we will lose sight of God's face. Growing in spiritual maturity is improvement, it is knowing God more, but it is also an increasing intolerance of our own shortcomings, ones that we cannot seem to shake. Maturity brings sorrow as well as joy. Yet in "Singing like a bird", does not paradise look all the more glorious having travelled through the darkness, and having glimpsed the distant constellations? As we mature, we might find glory even in our sorrows; Christ shines even more brightly as we realise that we are subject to futility in this life. We will ever be hopeless sinners, and no amount of sanctification will release us from the grip of the flesh until the day He returns. As 1 John 3:2 says, "...what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is." How hopeless we are now; how all-sufficient He always will be. How inconsistent we are; how immutable are His being and His promises.In another of James' songs he writes;"You break my back and crush my ribsThen give me flowing, and endlessly growing forgiveness...I long to know the things you keep from me withdrawn"How we suffer from our sins! And yet, through our suffering, we behold the goodness and mercy of our Lord. There is a beauty to behold through our stumbling, and yet we "long to know the things you keep from me, withdrawn." We mourn the inconsistency of our affections, our sporadic motivations. God could impart an overwhelming and constant love for Him by His Spirit; we could know Him infinitely more, but these glories are kept from us at this time. There is something to meditate on there, I think. Our imperfection shows God's perfection as all the brighter. Yet, we should not tolerate our imperfections on account of this, rather, we should long for the perfect things currently “kept from us”. At the same time, we submit to the fact that God is sovereign over it all; our trials, our victories, our defeats.We are brought back to the reality of our imperfection, and the truth of God's holy transcendence made all the more glorious by His mercy that we rely upon completely. As a younger Christian I had always thought that maturity was equivalent to better behaviour. Ten years into the faith, I think that is quite incorrect. Maturity and sanctification is a paradigm shift away from what is worldly (and this includes our tendencies of self-sufficiency disguised as 'righteousness') and into truth. It is a growing knowledge and wisdom of who we are, in relation to who God is. This will of course, by God's grace, lead to inner transformation. But even Paul had his "thorn" (2 Corinthians 12:7); even Paul cried out "wretched man that I am" (Romans 7:24). Do not be surprised or discouraged when we do not see release from these things, rather behold the Light that is magnified by its contrast with darkness. Long for that which we cannot yet be. Through a deeper appreciation of this truth we can say, whether in times of darkness or of joy, "To God be the glory."