But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering [patience], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
This is the second part to this post. Last week I spoke about joy, peace and patience [longsuffering], deliberately leaving “love” till last.
KINDNESS: Ordinarily speaking, kindness is another one of my strengths that I usually display to people easily, naturally and abundantly – until they tread on my toes. Then my heart becomes full of fury, and I just want to retaliate, usually by letting them know how little I think of them, in a way that is not very kind at all. I am so happy to let all readers know that just over the course of this week, the Spirit of God has made strong inroads into the way I think of people. I am not sure whether “kindness” is the most relevant fruit to attribute to this new thinking (or vice versa!) It’s probably more relevant to love. For probably the first time in my life, it occurred to me that even where other people try to pull me into one of those unspoken games of “one-up-manship” to battle it out as to who is “better” between them and me, I don’t have to join in! Rather I can humbly desist and just try to love them anyway. For the first time in my life I can envisage interacting with people in a way that is truly about creating kindness and joy between them and me – no matter how they might initially behave, in a way that truly demonstrates unconditional Christian love! I am so excited about this! It feels as if my horizons are being stretched beyond belief, and I cannot wait to put this into practice, with everyone I meet.
Basic plan for improvement: I’m thinking that the most important part of this new understanding is to remember to cultivate this positive, loving approach to other people from my heart outwards. By God’s grace as this new attitude fills my heart, then that will flow from my heart to influence how I behave towards other people.
Becoming a Christian?!
As I write this out, these are the thoughts that occur to me: I can’t help wondering whether this new understanding in my heart might, once again, be due to (a certain) someone’s determined prayers for me. It is almost like they are patiently praying for me to become a Christian, and through their prayers I am slowly but surely becoming that Christian; that is, embracing further and further attributes of the true Christian walk and character. Which is somewhat ironic because I myself have prayed so many times for other people to come to faith…And then there is of course the irony that I have already considered myself a Christian for a long time, and with good reason, I would suggest!
GOODNESS: Once again, I would think of “Goodness” as one of my strengths. By goodness, I mean adherence to God’s laws. I was brought up in a very committed Christian home, and it was very strongly built into my understanding that God’s law was not to be broken. In a way it’s quite funny because concerning societal rules (including those unbiblical Church prescriptions – shibboleths) I am a total non-conformist and in many ways I am a law unto myself. However I don’t mess with God’s rules at all. In all I tend to demonstrate non-conformist ways to be completely obedient to God’s truth. However, God has also granted me a very strong moral compass and I have a very very strong sense for justice and integrity. Perhaps this is why I am at such a good vantage-point to notice and point out hypocrisy in the church: these people will reject you or denounce you for not proclaiming Christ in the “right” way – meaning their own way, which is not biblically superior in the slightest. And yet these same people will wilfully close their eyes to blatant injustices – like you know all those people who used to keep slaves, but were dedicated churchgoers? It’s a bit like when Jesus criticised the Pharisees for tithing their mint and rue and herbs, while ignoring justice and righteousness and “weightier matters of the law” Luke 11v42. And I am minded to remind you all that as a man Jesus too was a non-conformist! Perhaps because of my strong moral compass and the fact that I am a non-conformist, it must of course be the radical authentic Gospel that I will subscribe to – nothing else will do! There is so much unrighteousness and injustice reigning in our world that I am tempted to suggest that anyone who wants to be a true disciple of Christ must be a non-conformist – after all the Gospel itself is non-conformist.
Basic Plan for Improvement: To be honest, by the grace of God, I know that I am already quite strong in this area. However, something else that God’s Spirit has been strongly communicating to me this week has been HUMILITY. Where last week I said that lack of patience was my greatest failing regarding other people, it become clear to me over the course of the week that actually, it is overwhelmingly (overwhelmingly!) humility that I need to work on. I am so grateful to God for the understanding that He has given me, the moral compass, sense of justice, integrity etc. But I really have to embrace humility to be gracious to people who do not yet have this understanding, and also to remember that I am not “all that”. Also I know that there must be ways that I can improve in goodness itself and I pray that God’s Spirit would reveal those ways to me.
FAITHFULNESS: Am I a faithful person? I’d say “yes” and “no” in that I’d remain faithful to you as long as I believe that you remain worthy of my faithfulness. Which is another way of saying “no”, isn’t it?! To be honest, it is part of the big complex confusion that I have been battling through regarding Church stuff. The big difficulty is that I would go out and build a friendship or interaction with someone based on a certain understanding of who they are, and who they claim to be. And then I would find out that they are not after all who they have claimed to be. How does faithfulness act in that situation? I’m thinking that possibly the most authentic Christian response would be to remain “faithful” to keep loving them as a person, as a human being, even if it is no longer appropriate to relate with them on that previous basis. I guess that this is the real test of “faithfulness”; when someone demonstrates their seeming unworthiness, or lets you down, or betrays you – will you then continue doing what you should do, and relating to them in love and grace?
Basic plan for improvement: I have only just grasped this (very basic!) understanding that no-one is worthless, even if they consistently demonstrate bad character. I believe that faithfulness is something else that will flow out of learning to cultivate love in my heart towards these people. As long as I am able to remember that no-one is worthless, then I pray that that would enable me to keep loving them even when their behaviour is less than beautiful. I also
hope need to pray that God will give me patience to endure “unbeautiful” behaviour from people who normally do behave beautifully, and that I will continue to persevere with them until they come back on track.
GENTLENESS: I have to say that I’m quite happy, because last week I did not have many positive things to report about myself, and I thought that this week would be more of the same. What I have been forced to see and reveal about myself this week may not have been fantastic, but it has also not been as bad as I feared. Concerning gentleness, things are pretty much the same as with patience. I am so gentle with children (usually!) Actually… (considers) Hmmm! OK, I am so gentle with babies, and with animals…OK, baby animals! To be honest, when I feel justified in anger I know that my words can be very harsh, simply because I release myself to thinking harsh things. That has been as true on this blog as it has been true anywhere else.
Basic Plan for Improvement: As I am writing this, it is so clear to me that the “Fruit of the Spirit” truly is only one fruit. As I learn to cultivate loving thoughts in my heart towards people no matter what, then that will result in more gentle ways of talking to them and talking about them, even as it simultaneously results in greater patience and faithfulness and kindness towards them.
SELF-CONTROL: It is quite ironic because over the course of my childhood I always thought of Self-Control as my weakest “fruit”. However that has changed dramatically over my adult years so that it is now one of my strongest points. I am so grateful to God for what He has already done in my life regarding Self-Control. However, I know that there is always room for improvement. I am eager to lay before Him all those small things in which I still sometimes cause myself pain; things like (blush!) eating too much at parties (blush again!) , struggling to force myself to go to bed on time; as a child, I found it hard to force myself to work. Now the opposite is true, and I find it hard to force myself to stop working!
Basic Plan for Improvement: I guess it is just more of the same; learning to commit all these issues to God, knowing that He does care about these things and trusting that He will grant me the grace and empowerment to make the necessary changes in my life! Mental self-control is also something that I am working on a lot by meditating on relevant Bible verses to counteract angry impulses etc. I anticipate that this is going to be a significant ongoing project in my Christian life (which is my life fullstop!)
LOVE: And so we come back to love! I think that this “Fruit of the Spirit” audit has revealed that in relating with people it is all about love; all the other relational aspects of the Fruit of the Spirit flow out of cultivating a heart of love towards other people. This is something in which I have been very weak. To be honest, I have not been very strong either in cultivating love towards people even when I have wanted to cultivate the people themselves in my life. It is hitting me strongly in my mind as I write this that I have to take time and conscious deliberate effort to build up abundant resources of love in my heart towards other people, to not just take it for granted, or to run on the supplies of goodwill that incidentally get deposited in my heart through the joy of my relationship with God.
Basic Plan for Improvement: Love is such a big thing. I think that I am going to have to schedule time in my prayer life daily to meditate on loving thoughts, to fill my heart with loving thoughts, to find Bible passages about love. Also, something I have been doing this last week is this: whenever an angry thought has occurred to me in my mind, I would try to counteract this by thinking of Bible passages which talk about love, and repeating the Bible passage in my mind for a full five minutes. I have to say that I have not always succeeded in this. However, I have only just started. I have to look ahead and know that by God’s grace, as long as I continue with discipline and determination, in a few months from now my mindset will be so different. My heart will be so different. My attitude to people will be so different. All by God’s grace, and so let it be, Amen!
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