Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the fruit of the Spirit. I want to grasp and apply what it looks like to walk in the Spirit. A promising and adventurous ride is underway. After a long detour on the road to nowhere, God is teaching me much and giving me great hope. For starters I’ll admit where I’ve been.
Despite my best “good girl” intentions, most of my life I’ve misunderstood love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control as Christian virtues I should strive for.
The Bible is a Love Story — Genesis to Revelations. There’s always danger in lifting even a seemingly straightforward verse out of context. Let me illustrate.
If I tape Galatians 5:22-23 on my mirror as God’s standard and set out each day to be more loving, joyful, peaceful etc., the fruit of the Spirit may still allude me entirely. In the midst of fatigue, distractions, bad circumstances, and even mountaintops, I can so easily forget my goal. Then you’ll find me defeated and frustrated with myself — wondering why I’m so slow in becoming more like Jesus.
Other times I may experience limited success. Friends and family may describe me as kind, gentle, or even loving. Those times make me sincerely happy that I’ve been a positive light. It feels good, but I see the reality of my insides and claim only partial victory. Besides, I still want the fruit I’m missing — especially the elusive JOY that gave Paul a heart to sing in prison.
At the end of those “good” days I remember to thank God for the successes. I ask for more of His fruit that I can’t seem to reach. Maybe even seek His direct assistance in my quest to live out His Christian virtues — especially the lofty fruit on the uppermost branches. I’m trying hard, but those are just too high for me to reach alone. I need a little help, please God. Sounds like an okay system of prayer and fruit production, right?
100 percent NO!
If I try in my own power to be more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good,faithful, gentle and self-controlled — I may experience some fragmented success. But most of all I will have fueled my self sufficiency which produces pride. My goal is performance and recognition (for myself and God at best). I am self motivated, even if I sincerely want to be salt and light for God. And I seriously doubt my prayers that He assist in the work of my flesh line up with His desires. It’s subtle, but all I’m doing is opposed to the dead-to-self, dependent, God-focused life of walking in the Spirit.
I’ve given my best efforts to the task for fifty years, and Louise is simply not a spiritual fruit smoothie! No matter how diligently I seek to follow Jesus and to be like Him, I fail. My heart ultimately deceives me.
I’ve settled for little tastes of the various “fruits” at different times. Thankful for the larger servings, and resigned that the Big Kahuna of spiritual fruit just doesn’t come that easily. Maybe I should focus more on developing patience? Or just determine myself to be more self disciplined?
If you can relate, don’t despair… there is a simple and wonderful answer, that really is doable! Shift gears with me to a metaphor of explanation I’m borrowing from John Ortberg. It’s powerful.
How do we follow Jesus or walk in the Spirit?
Think of a pace car (Jesus) at the Daytona 500. All the cars (you and me) rev their motors, dreaming of the moment when the checkered flag (Holy Spirit) gives the signal to race. We have fine tuned our engines. Filled them only with the very best fuels. Painted, polished and prepared for the race to come. Until then, we obediently follow the leader. We mirror His pace and direction. Where He goes, we go — well as best as possible on a crowded track. We wouldn’t dare break lose without His direct command (opened door). We are Jesus followers!
Like when I tried to chase the virtues, we’re looking to Jesus. Following His lead. Waiting for His opened door, desiring to do great things… sounds like a good posture. “There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death” (Proverbs 16:25). Good ideas and best intentions aren’t enough. Every race car eventually crashes and burns. Leave that track for another. Consider a locomotive with a long line of humble freight cars…
Jesus is the engine. We (the body of Christ) are hooked to Him, each in the place God chooses with the functional composition He desires. He provides our power, our direction, our purpose, our life. Without Him we are nothing. We belong to Him to be used as He sees fit. We do nothing at all except in His strength. He doesn’t need us, but He lovingly wants to use us to carry out His purposes… what a privilege! What a joy!
It’s not up to us to worry about all the details or the outcomes. We just need to cling to Him and let Him do the work through us. In John 15:5 Jesus says it this way, “”Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” It’s a different metaphor, but a similar picture.
God is revealing so much to me about how I’ve conformed to the world’s view of life, even as I struggle to understand what it looks like to walk in the Spirit. Here’s a taste of simple truths I’m learning.
I no longer deliberately set seeking His fruit (yep – it’s singular) as the goal. I realize I can’t be all those things, but I can surrender to let His Spirit have His way with me. In those times, I will exhibit fruit. With the help of more learned minds than mine, I’m looking to all of Scripture to give context to Galatians 5:22-23.
When I’m focused on trying hard to be fruity (a good Christian), it’s a sign that my love for Him is incomplete. When being in a continual, trusting relationship with God is my focus and priority, He transforms me. His fruit flows with regularity and spontaneity from His nature within me. It’s happened a few times, and oh is it sweet.
I can’t explain it, but I know it’s all Him. All credit, honor and praise for anything good in me goes to God. His work through the Holy Spirit producing the fruit of the Spirit in me and through me. That’s a ride I don’t want to miss!
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