I’ve been thinking about how I said it’s easy to produce the fruit of the Spirit. I’ve decided it’s like everything else when it comes to being a Christian – yes and no, already but not yet, easy but difficult. We are still human and have to deal with our human nature and all that goes along with it.
It’s very encouraging to understand that God plants us in the soil of his love, waters us with the living water of the Holy Spirit and then lets the Son shine his warmth and light on us. But then I remember Paul’s words about wanting to do what is good but doing what is bad. The pull of the flesh is strong and as a friend of mine used to say, even though we walk in the Spirit we are always only one step away from the flesh.
I guess that’s why Paul also said we die daily. Every day, we ask for and rely on God’s grace to give us the will and the strength to continue in this life of already but not yet. We ask for our roots to grow deeper, for the living water to nourish those roots and depend on the light of Jesus to help us stretch up tall and straight in his love. And every day, even though we may not be as patient, kind or loving as we would like, God is still producing his fruit in us, perhaps slowly, maybe even imperceptibly, but it’s growing, nonetheless. No matter what, let’s stay attached to Jesus, holding on to him for dear life, even if it’s by our fingernails.
Many of us can probably recite from memory, give or take one or two, the nine things listed as fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. But sometimes people look at them as a to-do list rather than the result of life lived in Christ. As I was thinking about patience the other day, I pondered how the fruit grows in us and why some of it sometimes seems small rather than lush.
I’ve owned fruit trees and have watched them grow, bloom in the spring and develop fruit over the course of a few weeks. I’ve chased birds and other critters away, picked the fruit, dried it, frozen it, made crisps and pies and enjoyed, well, not the fruit of my labor, but what comes naturally to the trees. I can’t make the fruit grow. All I can do is plant the tree in a sunny, open space, water and fertilize it and then let it do its thing.
It seems the fruit of the Spirit comes about in our lives in much the same way. God plants us in the soil of his deep, rich love. He waters us with the living water of the Spirit and shines the light and warmth of the Son on us. And just as fruit appears on a tree, it shows up in our lives. All we have to do is stay put, as Jesus said. “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” John 15:4-5, NIV.
This image of being planted in God’s love, watered by the Spirit and warmed by the Son can help us keep our eyes on Jesus and aware of the fruit he’s forming in us. It’s a joint effort in a way, as we apply ourselves to staying attached to the vine and focus on our roots growing deeper in Christ.
I’ve noticed some Christian authors use the phrase “allow God to do” this or that in your life. “Allow his goodness to cause thankfulness to well up within you.” “Allow the soil of your hearts to make you receptive.” “Allow Scripture to fill your heart.” “Allow God’s word and his Spirit to teach you.” At first this might seem like a good thing, as God does give us choices in life and encourages us to come to him. But is there a better way to say this? The words we use to describe God and how he interacts with us are important.
To me, allowing someone to do something means I’m giving them permission. It also implies I’m in control and I’ve decided to let them do something for me or to me. That’s how it works between people because we often don’t trust each other. It takes a great deal of good experience and trust to allow people in, to allow them interest or liberties in our lives.
With God, it’s a bit different. He is completely trustworthy. Jesus is my friend and we have a relationship of trust, and yes it has built up over the years. We talk to each other and I share my concerns, questions, doubts, fears and feelings. As I do this, I grow closer to him and trust him more. As my trust grows, he works on my heart, transforming and strengthening me, helping me in my weakness – becoming my strength.
Too much of the time, Christianity is portrayed as transactional – if I do this, God will do that. If I allow him access to my mind and heart, he’ll do things for me. In a relationship of love (he loved us first) what we do together is not a matter of giving him permission or allowing him to do things in me and for me. It’s a matter of love. He loves me, I love him back and in the course and flow of that love, because he always wants the best for me, he works in me to make me more like Jesus.
People pray for many reasons – help, encouragement, praise, gratitude, desperation. And we’ve probably prayed for all of these, in different prayers or even in the same one. We pray silently, out loud, through tears and sometimes laughter. God listens to all kinds of prayers, said for all kinds of reasons.
Maybe you don’t need another reason, but this quotation might give you something to think about. It sure struck me as worth consideration. “If you are not praying, then you are quietly confident that time, money and talent are all you need in life” (Paul Miller, A Praying Life).
More than a reason to pray, this is an underlying attitude to a life lived in and for Jesus – surrender of our wills, dying to self and acknowledgment of the sovereignty and supremacy of God. Our time, money and talents all come from him anyway and on our own, aren’t worth much and don’t get us very far. But in the hands of God, they are like the loaf and bit of fish Jesus used to feed the multitudes.