Living the Fruit of the Spirit: Patience

The word is Patience, but in some Bibles, it’s translated as ‘longsuffering.’

That’s interesting. “Suffer long” isn’t something I would say I’m good at. Compared to even a couple years ago, I’m more patient, but I still experience times when I want immediate relief.

Patience is a fruit of the Spirit. And when the Spirit fills us, we will develop patience. The Holy Spirit begins to grow us in virtue and character when we decide to fully devote ourselves to Jesus. Patience isn’t dropped from Heaven in one fell swoop. We listen to what God’s Spirit is saying, then it’s up to us to behave in a patient manner. We bloom, then reap a harvest of fruit.

It isn’t necessarily a bad idea to pray for patience. But we want to remember that saying “Be careful what you pray for.” A friend of mine shared her experience praying that way. She said, “I prayed for patience, but God didn’t send me patience all wrapped up in a box with a bow on top. I got pregnant.” She was happy about the gift God did send and she certainly learned patience raising that boy.

We learn to love by exercising love. We have joy and peace when we exercise faith. God says, “Come now, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18).

Listening to the Holy Spirit, whose native language is love, joy, peace, and patience, means we’re hearing the logic of exercising those things. Surely God has emotions and he gives us emotions to help us in our times of need. But he also wants us to think. Things just go better for everyone when we are patient, not wanting our way or being unable to accept whatever is going on in the moment.

“Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way” (Psalm 37:7).

The wisdom from Heaven is mature, for it is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy” (James 3:17).

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like what patience must be like. I confess though, sometimes it doesn’t sound like me at all.

Patience is associated with maturity. We put away childish things. How I exercise patience and what the lack of it looks like became more clear when I could make this distinction: there’s a big difference between being childlike and being childish.

Simply put, our lives can be so much better when we see how patience smooths the way.

How has God spoken to you about patience? How has he given you opportunities to exercise patience?

Lord, you are patient with us; teach us to be the same. We ask for the humility we need to exercise patience and to give up control. Lead us through every circumstance and show us what’s getting in the way of trusting you and keeping our heads in things great and small. Amen

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: “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)

 

Be Silent or Keep Grumbling; Be Stiff-Necked or Get Moving

Faced with a big choice–or a small one, for that matter–my decisions are usually more complicated than “Just do it.” However, the Lord will be clear with a solution and the instructions are usually simple. Not easy to carry out, but simple to understand. Listen to his encouragement to the Israelites when he told them to cross the Red Sea on dry land.

  • “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” ESV
  • “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” NIV
  • “The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.” KJV
  • “The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.” NASB
  • “The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” NLT

After a search for various translations of what Moses’s said to God’s people, I saw that the ones I found all say God will fight for me.

In the story of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, the people once again grumble, moan, and in effect blame Moses for the current predicament. When I’m up against a wall, as they were, I can easily begin to wonder—sometimes loudly—”What in the world is this all about? Weren’t things bad enough already? Now what?”

I will sometimes exaggerate situations, but things are rarely so bad that I have my back against a wall. I do well to examine my situation and always, no matter its severity, keep my mouth shut, be still, and wait for instructions by listening to God.

God had led the Israelites to the Red Sea for good reason; it was to give Pharaoh time to plan a strategy and to harden Pharaoh’s heart.

The Egyptians found them, but God knew they would. I mean, He’s God after all. He wanted His people to trust Him. It was a way for them to see Him. To watch Him do what He does best. To know Him even better. This is no less true for me.

On the other hand, when I find myself in difficult situations, whether with my back is to the wall or not, I believe God always expects me to do my part. (In scripture we’re often instructed with an “If…then.”) In the context of this story, the Israelites could have stood in their immobility continuing to rant about the situation or get their butts moving down that dry path through the sea. With a wall of water thundering on either side. Sometimes doing my part means moving through a situation that’s kind of scary.

One of the best things I ever heard about this aspect of using patience and trusting God is from a friend who used to say, “God feeds the birds, but He doesn’t throw the food into their nests.” Ultimately, my trying situation may go on for a while and my patience will continue to be tried. But God knows that too. I mean, He’s God after all.

Here are some of my favorite “If…then” verses.

“Then Jesus told them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more.” Matthew 21:21

“If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Galatians 3:29

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” John 11:40

“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:12-13

“…and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” Isaiah 58:10 (reference to fasting)

“And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Joel 2:32.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35

“Heavenly Father, I know you’re fighting for me. I know I need to leave my hands off things and allow you to act according to your love for me. Help me to be patient and stay calm while you do what you do best. I also pray that you’ll show me the part I need to play so that, together, we will fulfill your purpose for me. Amen

 

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.

Acting on Affirmations

next-life-chapter-cropRead this quote all day until you have it memorized. Repeat it to your friends any chance you get. Type “amen” in the comments because you believe it’s true. Print it out and post it on your fridge. Do all those things if you want. But…

I’ve discovered we have to deal with whatever is in the former chapters of our lives and get over what’s hurting us. Those hurts can include resentment, regrets, and open wounds because we won’t forgive. Real and meaningful progress doesn’t occur if we don’t deal with those things.

Affirmations are okay. But an affirmation is only something positive we tell ourselves which doesn’t become real for us until we’ve acted on it. Take for example one I found on a list for Christians:

“I see others as God’s gift to me.”

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? I believe this so-called affirmation is true. But if, in my daily walk-about, I don’t treat everyone as the gift I believe they are, my words are hollow.

God’s promises are the same. He offers so much to us that we don’t have to work for. However, even though many of those promises are a faith matter, even the most recognizable work in our lives can be accompanied by his “Now, go.” There’s usually something he wants his disciples to do so they will receive the full benefit of the gift.

Read about a man who was born blind in John 9:1-34. He wasn’t healed simply because Jesus put mud on his eyes. Jesus put the mud there. That was God’s part. Then Jesus told the man to go wash his eyes in a pool and he’d be healed. When the man acted on Jesus’s instructions, he went home with the gift of eyesight.

A friend of mine says, “God feeds the birds, but He doesn’t throw the worms into their nests.” Quite often,  God doesn’t just come through with our need and that’s it. On the contrary, we’ll discover that there’s work for us to do which coincides with the work he’s already doing for us.

Go ahead and read your “last chapter.” Then ask God how he’d like you to deal with it. I’m guessing that for you, as it was for me, he’s expecting you to do something. Listen with humility to what he’s saying to you.

Then, “Go.”

And be a blessing to someone today.

Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living: a Review

by Reuben P. Job, copyright 2007, Abingdon Press, 77pages

This book is based on John Wesley’s three simple rules: Do No Harm, Do Good, Stay in Love With God. The editor, Reuben P. Job, says in his preface that these three rules “have the power to change the world.” I’m a Wesleyan and am familiar with the Discipline, so the book had some attraction for me when I first picked it up.

It’s a book which can be read perhaps in one sitting, but I believe it needs to be read more slowly so the reader may chew on the wisdom of Wesley. For instance:

“When I am determined to do no harm to you, I lose my fear of you; and I am able to see you and hear you more clearly.”

While “Three Simple Rules” is intended for a general audience, I believe the message is especially relevant for leaders. Emphasis, in my opinion, should always be on staying in love with God. When I do that, I’m more likely to remember the greatest commandments. Then it follows that I’ll “do no harm” and “do good.”

This tiny little book includes a Daily Guide to Prayer and sheet music for “Stay in Love With God,” which is adapted from words by John Wesley. Epigraphs for each of the three chapters are taken from Psalms and the New Testament.

I keep reading this book over and over again because it’s like a guidebook. There’s so much to learn and apply. Certainly it will take a lifetime for me to be true to its principles.

Acting on Affirmations

next-life-chapter-cropRead this quote all day until you have it memorized. Repeat it to your friends any chance you get. Type “amen” in the comments because you believe it’s true. Print it out and post it on your fridge. Do all those things if you want. But…

I’ve discovered if we don’t first deal with whatever is in the former chapters of our lives and get over what’s hurting us (resentment, regrets, open wounds, and unforgiveness, for example), real and meaningful progress in our lives doesn’t occur.

Affirmations are okay. But an affirmation is only something positive we tell ourselves which doesn’t become real in our lives until we’ve acted on it. Take for example one I found on a list for Christians:

“I see others as God’s gift to me.”

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? I believe this so-called affirmation is true. But if, in my daily walk-about, I don’t treat everyone as the gift I believe they are, my words are hollow.

God’s promises are the same. He offers so much to us that we don’t have to work for. However, even though many of those promises are a faith matter, even the most recognizable work in our lives may be accompanied by His “Now, go.”

Read about a man blind from birth in John 9:1-34. He wasn’t healed simply because Jesus put mud on his eyes. Jesus put the mud there; God did His part. Then Jesus told the man to go wash his eyes in a pool and he’d be healed. When the man acted on Jesus’s instructions, he went home with the gift of eyesight.

A friend of mine says, “God feeds the birds, but He doesn’t throw the worms into their nests.” Quite often, we mustn’t be content to sit and wait for God to simply come through with our need. On the contrary, we’ll discover that there’s work for us to do which coincides with the work He’s already doing for us.

Go ahead and read your “last chapter.” Then ask God how He’d like you to deal with it. I’m guessing that for you, as it was for me, He’s expecting you to do something. Listen with humility to what He’s saying to you.

Then, “Go.”

And be a blessing to someone today.

Why? Why? Why?

Guest Post by James N. Watkins

If you have children, nieces and nephews, or younger siblings, you know that a three-year-old’s favorite word is “why.”

“Johnny, hold my hand while we cross the street.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t want you to run out in front of a car.”

“Why?”

“Because if a car hits you, you’ll be hurt or killed.”

“Why?”

“Because if it’s a contest between a thirty-five-pound boy and a three-ton SUV, the truck is going to win every time.”

“Why?”

“Because the laws of physics state that mass plus momentum equals . . . Just take my hand!”

And on it goes—right into adulthood!

“Why didn’t God heal my friend?”

“Why do bad things happen to good people?”

“Why do I still have acne at 50?”

I’ve worked up way too much spiritual perspiration trying to answer why my second-grade Sunday school teacher committed suicide, why I was laid off from the perfect job in publishing—twice—or why bad things happen to such good people as you and me.

I have learned that while why is often a futile question, God is more than willing to answer other questions. But, like the popular game show, Jeopardy, the answers are in the form of a question.

What can I know?

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:5-8).

So, while I’ve struggled with hundreds—probably thousands—of questions about God’s workings, I have grown in my knowledge of who he is. While agonizing about an estranged relationship, I burst into tears—for God. I had described to a friend my pain: “It feels like my heart has been cut out with a chainsaw, run over by a logging truck, and then fed through a wood chipper.” If I was feeling this excruciating pain for one broken relationship, how was God feeling about billions of heartaches? It was one of the few times I actually felt I understood God.

I can also find the answer to . . .

How can I grow?

I’ve always leaned into Romans 8:28:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (NIV).

But what is that “purpose”? The very next verse answers: “To be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). So do other verses:

“And the Lord—who is the Spirit——makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18b).

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1).

That’s our purpose! So ask, how can I grow more like Christ through this difficult time.

Who can I show?

Second Corinthians 1:3-6 has become one of my favorite passages in encouraging me while I’m going through terrible times:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer” (NLT).

The Greek word translated comfort isparaklesis. It is a calling near, summons for help; a prayer, a plea; exhortation, admonition, encouragement; consolation, comfort, solace, refreshment; or a persuasive speech, motivational talk, instruction. And it’s feminine case. No one comforts like a mother.

We offer our best comfort to those experiencing what we have personally gone through.

So, sorry, we can’t always answer the “why” questions, but we can answer these three.

Condensed from The Psalms of Asaph: Struggling with Unanswered Prayer, Unfulfilled Promises, and Unpunished Evil by James N. Watkins.

Follow Your Heart?

Often, I hear the phrase “Follow your heart” as an encouragement to people to do whatever they think is best based on ‘gut feelings.’ They might also say “Follow your gut.” I believe we all have a conscience given by God and our conscience along with leadings from the Holy Spirit will help us to make decisions based on right and wrong.

And I admit the idea of following my heart used to be something I didn’t think too much about. I know I’ve let even major decisions be based on emotions. Then I became familiar with the Bible and what it had to say about just how poorly my heart acts as a leader in such cases.

Here’s some biblical wisdom I’ve picked up over the years

Jesus speaking in a short sermon: “For each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs aren’t gathered from thornbushes, or grapes picked from a bramble bush. A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.” Luke 6:44,45

“The heart is more deceitful than anything else and desperately sick–who can understand it? I, the LORD, examine the mind, I test the heart to give to each according to his way, according to what his actions deserve.” Jeremiah 17:9,10

“All a man’s ways seem right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the motives.” Proverbs 16:2

In addition to heeding what God says in his Word about our actions, words, thoughts and attitudes, I like this advice from Oswald Chambers.

“The only test as to whether we ought to allow an emotion to have its way is to see what the outcome of the emotion will be. Push it to its logical conclusion, and if the outcome is something God would condemn, allow it no more way.” From “My Utmost For His Highest”

Most of the time, I know exactly what God would like me to do. I know his heart. Since a person’s heart is the seat of emotions, following God’s heart is always the best decision.

Father, I know my selfish tendencies. I ask you to constantly remind me that when I give over to my emotions, I often fail to make right decisions. I want to please you. Guide me with your Truth. Test my heart and lead me in the way everlasting.