The current tagline for a magazine I read each week is “Dig deeper. Think harder. Look further.” The slant of the magazine is thoroughly secular and humanist, so I am not going to suggest adopting their perspective. However, anyone serious about a commitment to following the way of Christ could benefit from adopting their motto. We could all dig a little deeper, think a little harder, and look a little further.

In the sole account in the Gospels of Jesus’ adolescent years, Luke tells us that Jesus’ parents, after searching for him all over Jerusalem, found him in the Temple, debating with the elders and teachers about his “Father’s interests” (Luke 2:49 NRSV alt.). While he may have been offering instruction to them, I’m certain they were teaching him a thing or two as well. Luke follows up the story with the comment that “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor” (Luke 2:52). This progressive understanding of Jesus’ development says something about how we are to grow in our faith too. If Jesus developed on his way to full maturity, shouldn’t we do the same?

There are too many Christians who heard the admonition to “become like little children” (Matthew 18:2-4), and decided that they would never move beyond their child-like faith to become the kind of mature disciple who could be useful in God’s world. Simple dependence and trust are commendable, but working out our salvation in this chaotic and complex world requires maturity.

So dig deeper. Move beyond whatever Scripture verses you may have learned in Sunday School as a child (or thought you learned — some of them may not even be in the Bible) to plumb the depths of God’s written word. Explore the meaning behind words like “righteousness” and “reconciliation.” Seek to understand the cultural environment of the earliest Christians and see how their stresses and challenges connect with our own. Read both the Hebrew Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament) and the New Testament to gain a better grasp of the great panorama of God’s dealing with people. There is nothing easy about this approach, but it is well worth the effort.

Think harder. If you’re not used to that, if you are used to being spoon-fed everything you think you are supposed to believe by a single news source or an autocratic religious figure, it may hurt at first, sort of the way your leg muscles feel when you first take up distance running. But the more you do it, the better you get at it. The more often you read something that is hard, engage in conversation with people who know more than you do, think about subjects on which you believe you already have your mind made up, the better you will get at it. And the better you will be prepared to engage in dialogue with people who do not already share either your faith or your point of view.

Look further. Consider prayerfully (always prayerfully) the ways your discipleship can be stretched. Think of people with whom you can share God’s love, missions you can undertake, even positions you can adopt, that will bring you closer to the example of Jesus and that will make you a more useful disciple.

In my all-time favorite television show, the President of the United States is running for re-election. He suggests to his opponent that he might want to surround himself with really smart people who could help him to understand issues with which he has little familiarity. The opponent’s response was, “How many ways can you think of to call me ‘stupid’”? The President wasn’t calling him stupid, just suggesting that he still had a lot to learn.

I’m not saying anyone lacks the intelligence to do these things I’m suggesting. In fact, I am asserting the opposite. We all have God-given intellects that can be used to hone the skills that will make us better Christians. The only sin is in not using them.