Living the Fruit of the Spirit: Self Control

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23

I suppose it requires a bit of self-control to write anything about self-control. So, seriously, what qualifies me to write about it? Because this is the fruit of the Spirit I struggle with most. To keep my heart with all diligence as the graphic below instructs, I must be submissive. (Raise your hand if you absolutely love being submissive.)

I believe the fruit of the Spirit don’t come to us in the order they’re listed in Galatians. In other words, we aren’t first given love, then joy, then peace, etc. The Holy Spirit grows each of them simultaneously because we always need each of them to live a holy life.

Certainly, love leads the way. Without the same love the Lord commands, we’ll never understand the other fruit.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” Matthew 22:36-40 

“The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31  

When Paul the apostle said we would grow in grace according to God’s plan, he was aware of God’s commandment given to the children of Israel. He knew Jesus had also commanded that love each other. “As I have loved you.” “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34

Describing what self-control looks like isn’t easy. We may be exercising self-control without anyone around us even knowing it.

  • At the restaurant buffet, you select only one dessert.
  • Your teenager grumbles about his punishment for breaking the rules and you refrain from threats of making the punishment more severe just because you can.
  • In traffic, although you’re in a hurry, you stop and wave the driver into the lane ahead of you.
  • You decide you don’t need to have the last word.

My default mode is “Self,” so in any given circumstance, without the help of the Holy Spirit, I’ll think of my desires first. The circumstance may be pleasant, or it may be unpleasant, but I’ll find some way to make it all about me. Self-control was—for me anyway—first practiced with a white-knuckle grip. Eventually the Spirit only needs to whisper for me to loosen my grip. I give up what I want for the sake of harmony.

Most good ideas are simple ones. As my relationship with God became deeper, I could see how his ideas are simple; we’re the ones who complicate things. The idea of self-control is simple: it comes down to submitting to God and to others. However, carrying out a simple idea isn’t always easy. When we submit to God, allowing the Spirit to work in our lives, he makes it easier and easier to submit to others until it becomes a natural response.

For my next feat of self-control, I’ll stop writing this blog post before I start to sound like a wind bag.

Be a blessing to someone today.

Praying a Humble Prayer

She prays this earnest prayer when she realizes she is prone to behaving like, as we used to call it, a ‘fuddy-duddy.’ I believe the prayer fits no matter what our age is.

Lord, you know better than I know myself that I am growing older and one day will be old.

Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion.

Release me from craving to straighten out everybody’s affairs.

Make me thoughtful but not moody; helpful but not bossy.

With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all; but you know, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end.

Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point.

Seal my lips on my aches and pains, they are increasing and love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by.

I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of other’s pains but help me to endure them with patience.

I dare not ask for improved memory, but for growing humility and a lessening cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others.

Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.

Keep me reasonably sweet. I do not want to be a saint, some of them are so hard to live with, but a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the devil.

Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places and talent in unexpected people, and give me O Lord the grace to tell them so. Amen

Anonymous Nun, Seventeenth century

 

Living the Fruit of the Spirit: Gentleness

In some Bible translations, the word ‘meekness’ replaces the word ‘gentleness’. Many of us struggle with a clear definition of the word ‘meekness,’ but we know for sure the demonstration of gentleness when we see it. We picture a mother … Continue reading

Living the Fruit of the Spirit: Goodness

Goodness may be defined as “the deliberate preference of right to wrong, the firm and persistent resistance of all moral evil, and the choosing and following of all moral good.” (Easton’s Bible Dictionary) However, goodness is also difficult to define it without using the word ‘good.’

As I continue to learn about how the Holy Spirit works in me to produce fruit, I’m glad that Easton’s dictionary uses verbs like choosing and following because the words imply I need to be aware of what’s going on around me.

When a rich young ruler approached Jesus hoping for a place in the kingdom, Jesus asked him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:19)

The Greek word translated “goodness” is agathosune and means “uprightness of heart and life.” While God sees me as righteous because of my right standing with him, I might want to let others make the judgement call about how upright I am in life. After all, Jesus, who is God, gave all goodness to God alone. He could have claimed it, but in his humility, he glorified his Father.

So can I refer to myself that way, or is it up to others to call me good? Jesus told the man that inheriting the kingdom was more than obeying commandments; he was expected to show his heart, then follow.

I also appreciate that, to be considered good, I must be deliberate, firm, and persistent. Indeed, according to Easton’s Bible Dictionary, being good is not a passive quality. The Spirit leads, I listen, I obey.

Ultimately, the fruit of the Spirit called “goodness,” is defined by, as are the others, the Holy Spirit himself as he works in us to make us good. With the Spirit working in us, we’re able to live a fruitful life. We love, we exhibit joy and peace. We act with kindness, and we have the potential to be good.

So far, so good.

Gracious Father who is all that’s good, continue to lead me in the way. Help me to see the life of Jesus as my model, growing in goodness and giving you all the glory. Amen.

Living the Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness

When someone says the word ‘kindness,’ what we think of can be a mixture of other words as we consider how to define it. We think about how people are nice; that they act in a loving way; or that … Continue reading

Living the Fruit of the Spirit: Peace

 

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

In the list of fruit which will be evident in our lives as we submit to the Holy Spirit, peace is mentioned third in line. But that doesn’t mean we should master love and joy before we can have peace. The Spirit begins working all fruit in us as soon as we give our lives to Christ and decide to follow him.

If you’ve read my thoughts on Love and Joy, you might begin to understand that we don’t ‘tackle’ them as if striving to exhibit the fruit. Jesus says these are for the taking when we’re surrendered to his will. After a while, peace is our natural state of being. In my experience, agreeing with God about his purposes and the way he does things has proven to be a pretty good idea.

“Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.” Psalm 119:165

When Jesus healed a woman who had suffered bleeding for twelve years he told her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” (Luke 8:48) Likewise, a local woman known for her sins crashed a party and poured expensive perfume on Jesus, washing his feet with her hair. While others criticized her, Jesus affirmed her. “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” (Luke 7:48, 50)

When a Jew talks about peace, the word means ‘shalom.’ Shalom encompasses more to a Jew than a state of mind and body. To wish someone this kind of peace is to also wish them prosperity and wholeness. I think it’s significant that Jesus also recognized the faith they had in him. Trusting God completely will bring that kind of peace.

“And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

From the moment Christ’s birth was foretold, peace defined him. His character and attributes never suggest chaos or unrest. His wholeness, peace, love, and joy become ours. The peace the world offers is fleeting and often based on emotions, but God’s peace is based on the faith we have in him. It’s based on his gifts of unconditional acceptance and unconditional love. With the peace of God, our condition can be calm and not anxious, regardless of what’s happening around us.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Do you know someone who seems to always be at peace? What can you learn from them about living a life of peace? How do you respond when your circumstances challenge your inner life?

Jesus, we offer ourselves to you and trust you. Thank you for sending your Holy Spirit to grow us and mature us in the grace you give, a never-ending grace. Your peace is what we need. We ask you to not remove us from the world, but protect our hearts from the anxieties we see there. We come to you for rest and worship you as our Prince of Peace. Amen

Living the Fruit of the Spirit: Joy

“The joy of the Lord is your strength.”Nehemiah 8:10

Joy is a gift. Like the other fruit of the Spirit, it’s not something we conjure up. It’s present in our lives because it’s the joy of our Lord. For instance, when Jesus sent 72 of his disciples to spread the gospel, on their return, he got super excited about the results of their efforts.

“At that time, Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” Luke 10:21

If Jesus could be filled with joy ‘through the Holy Spirit,’ why would anyone turn down a gift that creates spontaneous worship?

Joy is a permanent possession, but happiness is fickle and fleeting. While it may be hard to distinguish between joy and happiness, I like to think of joy as something I simply can’t explain. My happiness is usually expressed as something I have or don’t have. For instance, if I say “I’m not very happy today” or “I’m so happy right now!” you might ask me what’s causing my happiness or lack of it. I’d probably be able to tell you why. If I can’t tell you exactly why, it’s most likely joy.

If you look up the word joy in a dictionary, you’ll see descriptive words like exhilaration, delight, sheer gladness. When defined like this it can result from a great success or a very beautiful or wonderful experience like a wedding or graduation. But this definition of joy, one that most people understand, is from a whole different perspective. I’m here to tell you, it’s not nearly as amazing as the joy I experience from knowing God.

The joy we experience as we follow Jesus can feel a little overwhelming. It can be confusing because we’re joyful and, like I said, we can’t explain it. Sometimes I will try to figure it  out. And when I do that, what I usually find is oodles of gratitude for the grace God gives. But my little brain can’t figure out that kind of grace so anymore, I don’t even try.

Because I’m experiencing the joy of the Lord I don’t fret over things much. I’m certainly concerned about important things; I just don’t lose sleep over stuff like I used to. Experiencing joy lets me lead a simpler life. My life is more full because God has emptied me of most of the extraneous stuff I used to think was important. That sort of change in my life has brought me peace and I more easily trust God that things will eventually be okay.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

Joy comes from contact with God and availing ourselves of His love. When we know our identity in Christ, joy naturally follows. That’s a joy we want everyone to experience, so we take the story of Jesus to everyone as often as possible.

On the night he was arrested, Jesus took his closest disciples to a private place and prayed for them. It gives me great joy and brings me to tears when I learn that he also prayed for the people they would reach with the gospel. People like you and me. He prayed that we would know God as he knows God and to be filled with his glory. He prayed for our protection. He prayed that we would know the unity he and his Father know. He prayed that we’d have his joy in all things.

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.” John 17:13

When Jesus says “full measure,” he means it. “Full measure” will be another thing–like joy–we’ll probably never be able to explain. Because if God is eternal, how much is “full?”

I don’t know, but it sure does make me happy!

Dear Father in Heaven, remember your promise that your joy will be in us and that our joy will be complete. We praise you in our joy for your faithfulness to complete the work you’ve begun. Help us to walk in the Spirit and show evidence of you that others will see, then come to know your joy as we do. Amen

 

Living the Fruit of the Spirit: “Love”

 

Isn’t it wonderful that we don’t have to work hard at creating the fruit of the Holy Spirit? God gave us his Spirit so that we’ll be filled with fruit and exhibit that fruit by his grace. For that matter, isn’t it wonderful how often we see that God ‘gives’? As we follow Jesus and are obedient to Him, we naturally bear fruit just as a tree blossoms, then produces fruit. The tree doesn’t strive to create fruit; it does what it was created to do. When we become the new creation, likewise, the Spirit works in us.

“His divine grace has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” 2 Peter 1:3 (NIV)

If by God’s grace we’re given these things, it’s a comfort to know he’s growing us up in Love. The fruit of the Spirit means just that: fruit produced in us that we don’t create ourselves. We can consider it a comfort and a relief that we aren’t required to work so hard at being loving, joyful, at peace, patient (and the rest). The Message translation for Galatians also uses this analogy.

“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.

Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.” Galatians 5:22-25, The Message

That said, we have a responsibility to keep our eyes on Jesus and our hearts tuned to the Spirit. Even as God is creating fruit in us, we’re better equipped to live out and preach the Gospel when we remain ‘in him.’ A branch that’s come loose from the tree stops creating fruit.

“For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself.” Galatians 5:14

“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” John 13:34-35

“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. John 15: 11-15

“Now that you’ve cleaned up your lives by following the truth, love one another as if your lives depended on it” 1 Peter 1:22

We love because he first loved us and they will know we are his disciples if we love one another.

Be a blessing to someone today.

(Unless otherwise noted, scripture references are from The Message)

 

Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life: a book review

Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life by Henri Nouwen; copyright 2013; Harper One; 256 pp. (audio 7 hr. 14 min.)

Nouwen wastes no time in his story before he defines his conception of discernment. To him, discernment is finding the spiritual answers that help us live our lives from day to day. Even more, he says–and this seems to be his purpose for writing–discernment is listening to the voice of God to find a purpose for our lives.

God speaks to us, he says, directing us as we discover what we’re passionate about. And once we’ve determined what we’re passionate about, God directs us to fulfill our purpose in His Kingdom. Vocation, however, is not the same as passion, according to Nouwen. Work can be anything we do to accomplish tasks. When we’re fulfilling our purpose, the work comes so easily and is so gratifying, we come away not even feeling like it was work. It becomes ministry at its best. Because it’s ministry at its best, it also means it’s service to others. And as we so often say, it’s “not about us.”

In fact, Nouwen makes the case that the attitude of humility helps us discern God’s meaning in things more correctly. Conversely, discerning God’s meaning brings humility.

Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest who spent nearly twenty years as a professor, also lived the Trappist life for a short time and worked with the poor in South America. But he discovered his purpose according to God’s will at L’arche Daybreak community in Ontario. Here, he worked with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

So, according to Nouwen, the idea is to listen. To God, to mentors, to those who’ve gone before us, and to the rhythms of our lives. Nouwen often quotes Thomas Merton, apparently a role model for him. It sounded like Nouwen felt kinship with Merton because their pilgrimages were similar. Both struggled with finding where they belonged if they were to serve God the way they hoped to. For me, hearing some of Merton’s ideas was a bonus because I enjoy his works as well.

Nouwen is considered among the mystics; at least I’d put him in that category. He talks a lot about his experiences in learning discernment, and for the most part, the stories are pertinent to the narrative.

Since I was reading an audio book, which he narrated himself, my mind would wander because he tends to ramble as he drops little gems of wisdom. But I want this to be a go-to book so I’m probably going to buy a copy. Then I’ll be able to mark it up and take notes in the margins. There’s meaty content and wisdom here I want to experience a second time.

Happy reading and be a blessing to someone today.

16 Questions to Ask a Friend

The Bible teaches us that friendship is almost like lifeblood.

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” Proverbs 17:17

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

When we have close friends around us, our burdens are lighter because they have our back. They support us emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually.

Sometimes we find it difficult to make friends because we’ve been hurt. But we can rely on some simple tips to make friends and stay somewhat safe. We start slowly. Even small talk can help. While some of us eschew it, finding out the ways that people relate in those initial conversations helps us to move on to more intimacy.

The graphic here has some fun questions to ask to get acquainted. Naturally, we don’t want to use it as a template as if we’re interviewing someone for the job of friend. But the questions can spark fun conversations with unexpected ventures into your own desires. When you ask questions like these, you find out how you and the other person ticks.

Not every person we come in contact with becomes a close friend. Some will remain simple acquaintances. That’s okay. A friend of mine referred to a few of the people at church as “Hello Friends.” She had the type of relationship with them that, while not intimate, was pleasant to have nonetheless.

A goal of mine this year is to make a new friend with at least three women at my church who have been only “Hello Friends.” They’re people I’d like to get to know better. Kathy and I have talked about trying out a restaurant we’ve never been to so we can get better acquainted. She seems like a fun person, someone who can help me understand more about God. Or at least challenge my thinking.

She may or may not become a close friend, but I have the feeling she’s the type of person, along with her husband, Larry, who would have my back if I needed that. Besides, I’d sort of like to know what kind of dinosaur she’d choose to be.

Maggie and I have become Movie Buddies and we usually like the same type of movie. She also is keen to watch the credits with me. Not many people are that patient to indulge me, but since we watched several of the Marvel superhero movies together, it always paid off.

Friendships within the Body of Christ will be some of the ones we treasure most.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25

Have a fun time with a new acquaintance or a longtime friend. See what happens. While you’re at it, spur that person on, encouraging them like you would your children. Meet together often and don’t let your relationships drift.

You know what? God also enjoys the conversations with him that we set into our busy day. He’s the best Friend you could ever have. He always has your back.

Father, guide us to people who, like you, can teach us more about ourselves. Help us to understand the value of friendship. Holy Spirit, we welcome you as the link between us and God. We ask you to link us to the people God wants us to connect with in our walk here on Earth. Thank you for being everything you are and for being the best Friend we have. Amen.