I just finished listening to a sermon that my pastor preached at the start of the new year. He was challenging us to stop and think about what areas of our lives we think are in need pruning. Near the end of the message he challenged us to go through Galatians 5:22-23 and pick one or two things that we feel we need to take the time to prayerfully and humbly submit to growing more in for the upcoming new year. Basically, he was challenging us to do a “heart examination.” I was so convicted and encouraged by this challenge mostly because this is such a well-known the passage of scripture that I think as a Christian I have grown numb to. These characteristics that are essentially the makeup of what the life of a believer is to exhibit. We are called to pursue Christ-likeness. Here are some practical ways in which I have chosen to tackle each of these attributes and my prayer is that God’s word is able to actively live out in your lives as well.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
But the fruit of the Spirit is…
Whenever I think about what it means to show God’s love in my heart my mind automatically goes to how I treat others around me. Whether it’s my husband, my family, friends, co-workers, I am always faced with the reality of wanting to show love towards those I am closest to and simply just tolerating others who I am not. For me, I am more naturally inclined to show love to my husband over a customer that walks into where I work. (I work part-time in a Christian bookstore).
However, there are moments in which I feel as though I am forced to be nice to some of our more difficult customers. The feeling of showing them love does not come naturally. Their negative attitude tends to cloud my desire to show them, love. But, when one actually focuses on the underlying act of love, it should not be based on how others treat us or how close we are to that person. When Christ came down to die for us, that was driven by His unconditional love for us. That means there was nothing that we did or could do to earn His love. It came naturally. Despite our sin, He still paid the ultimate price and showed an act of love that cannot be compared to anything else.
Romans 5:8 depicts that exact message for us “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God loves us despite our sin as the outflow of that we should turn and love others the same way He has shown His love towards us.
Whenever life is going well, it is easy for one to say that they are joyful and happy. The feeling of joy is more naturally and easily expressed during the absence of trial or a difficult circumstance. When we are suddenly faced with a hard situation, our joy is tested.
Right now, my husband I am facing a challenging circumstance. We are forced to be apart and I have to wait to get my visitors visa in order to be with him. When we were first faced with this, I felt the complete opposite of joy. The feelings of marital bliss and the excitement of us not having to be in an ongoing long distance relationship anymore was immediately taken away and replaced by anger and hurt. I kept asking myself how could one possibly be joyful in this situation?
I kept crying out to God and demanding for answers, trying to make sense of it and all the while trying to maintain my joy. It brought me back to the passage in James 1:2-4,
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Our true Joy is not to be based on our circumstances or how well things are going. Our joy is to always be constant and present no matter because we know that our God is always faithful to see us through any hard trial.
Peace can be defined in several different ways. It can either mean experiencing calmness in the midst of a troubled time or it could be applied to the way we interact with others when faced with a potential conflict. Of course we tend to think of peace as an absence of trouble. All of these scenarios are ones that I have experienced in my own life. Regardless of what the situation is, God always calls us to live in harmony with another and to remember that He is always with us during a scary and uncertain time in our life.
Whenever I think of peace it reminds me of the passage in Matthew 8:23-27. This is the scene when Jesus and the Disciples were out in the middle of the ocean and were caught up in dangerous, life-threatening storm. All the while we read that Jesus was sleeping,
“And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep” (Matthew 8:24)
Despite the chaos and madness that was going on around Him, Jesus remained perfectly calm. That is a true picture of what it means to have peace. There is no sense of fear or doubt because He as God, is completely under control. Even as the circumstances around us get change, our peace can be grounded in the fact that God not only in control but He grants us His peace to take a hold of and live out in our lives.
“ Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” John 14:27.
Patience is a very hard characteristic to live out. It can be applied in different ways, from not responding to a screaming child, pushy customer, spouses who we think are not being understanding, siblings who say or do things that can irritate us or waiting for the end result of something. For me, the hardest part about being patient is when it comes to waiting for a major decision to go through that I know will affect the rest of my life.
Whenever I feel as though something is delayed and is going against my schedule, I begin to get antsy. I begin to wonder and ask why things are taking so long to happen. I also start to get nervous and edgy about whether or not things will work out. It is a game of waiting but without exercising my faith and remembering that God’s timing is perfect in all things. This often reminds of the story of Abraham and Sarah.
Abraham trusted in Gods timing to use him, an old man and his barren wife Sarah to produce a mighty nation with an offspring as numerous as the stars.
“And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.” (Hebrews 6:15 )
Abraham hung on to the promises of God because He believed in God’s faithful and perfect timing. When things don’t happen according to our timeline, we must be patient because God has a plan in mind that will be perfect. Our role is to trust Him and wait on Him to work on our behalf.Waiting does not mean doing nothing. It includes us actively seeking God out and praying to Him and showing that we trust in His perfect plan and timing to work all things out
I do believe that kindness and goodness go hand in hand. One cannot show an act of kindness without also having good residing in their hearts. Throughout the course of Jesus’s ministry, He exemplified true acts of kindness to those who He came into contact with. He showed it through the healing of the sick, giving to the poor, and showing compassion to those who were in great need. He forgave sinners and constantly taught His Disciples and those who were around Him to act out in kindness and to do good to others.
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets “(Matthew 7:12).
In my own experience, I have been taught the value and positive results of returning kindness when met with hostility and anger. You will be surprised to find that when your kindness is tested, that if you choose to show kindness, often people’s level of anger will decrease. That verse in Matthew explains that it is not only important to treat others with kindness but we need to stop and think about what it would be like if the roles were reverse. We should take this verse seriously as a reminder that an act of kindness truly exemplifies Christ reigning in our hearts.
I was convicted by this attribute in one main way; believing in God’s unwavering faithfulness towards us. There are certain areas of my life that I feel are easier to say committed to then others. When it comes to trusting in God’s unwavering promise in my life, one verse that comes to mind is Numbers 23:19
“God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?”
This same principle still applies to us. God may not answer us in the way that we want Him to, but He is still faithful to answer and will provide for us in ways that we can never imagine. I am thankful that God does not hold the same characteristics as man and is above all and will continue to show us that He will remain the promise to love, care and protect us from all harm.
Some may categorize this in the same category as kindness or goodness. However, I think that gentleness is a very powerful and affective attribute that is distinct from kindness. During my first placement in teachers college, I was teaching a grade 1 class. The class was filled with all different kinds of personalities. Kids who were shy, loud, energetic, and some that I would like to call testers, because they particularly enjoyed testing the waters with myself and the associate teacher. However, I learned very quickly that responding with a gentle tone, rather then a raised angry voice, had a much stronger affect then if I would have raised my voice. I never had to raise my voice once with them, because I knew the second I did that, the immediate response from them would be to either ignore me, get annoyed, or become fearful. Being in that grade 1 class taught me so much about the value of being gentle with these kids and other people.
Gentleness does not translate to being passive, it means to have a controlled response especially when the occasion calls for dealing with a challenging person or situation. It is an attribute that we are called to exhibit because when others see gentleness, they see Christ. Philippians 4:5 says,
“Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.”
8. SELF CONTROL:
This last and final fruit of the Spirit is one that sets the foundational structure for embodying all the other attributes. When we have self control, it helps us choose to love instead of hate, feel joy instead of sadness, experience peace instead of worry, be patient and rely on His timing, to be kind and do good, trust in His faithfulness and practice faithfulness ourselves, to be gentle instead of harsh and aggressive. When one is able to fully understand what it means to have self-control, then our desire to choose all these Christ-like attributes will increase and be displayed more in our lives each day.
A charge to seek the fruit of the Spirit
All in all, these characteristics are what show Christ living in and through our hearts. Each of us is called to examine ourselves and ask in what ways can we grow and improve? Our hearts are in always constant need of pruning and cleansing away of things that are pulling us away from representing Christ. It is a daily challenge and it is not one we can do on our own. Seek God’s help through prayer and mediating on His word and ask Him to change your heart to become more aligned with His each day.
[Featured image from www.denverbaptist.org]