Do you ever have a passage of Scripture– a really familiar one, maybe even one you have memorized– jump off the page at you and hit you over the head with its holy hammer? Just when you’re thinking that maybe you’re starting to get things just a little bit figured out, you turn the page and WHAM! There it is, the Word of God, living and powerful and sharper than any sword, piercing you right to the quick.
For me lately, it’s been this–
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control . . .
I distinctly remember when I memorized the fruit of the Spirit– it was a Vacation Bible School at my church in Wisconsin, and I was pretty little. The theme that year had to do with gardens and the theme song’s chorus listed all the fruit, and even now thirty years later I can’t usually get past kindness without singing the song to myself.
For a lot of years I thought that these fruits were like Christmas tree ornaments and I would try to hang them on myself and make myself look nice, which of course is missing the whole point of this being the fruit of the Spirit that we’re talking about here. That is a big problem with legalism. I would read these and know that they didn’t describe my life– that, in fact, the works of the flesh mentioned in the preceding verses described me much more accurately– and so I would write down a detailed list of How I Was Going To Get Self-Control. Get up early. Read my Bible. Eat less. Work out more. Keep a planner. Stick to my planner. Do my work on time. Go to bed on time. Work harder. Be Better. BECOME GODLY.
I’m not saying those aren’t good things, good goals, all things I need to do. But becoming godly is the work of the Spirit, not the work of a checklist. And the work of the Spirit comes as I learn to abide in Christ–
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
And that is a slow process, one that takes time and constant returning again and again to Scripture and to my Savior. And I’ve discovered that the fruit in our lives isn’t like the fruit of an apple tree that follows a predictable growth cycle. The Holy Spirit knows what needs to be dealt with and sometimes we’ll see lush growth on one branch while others still seem barren. And sometimes there will be one lonely little fruit hanging there, but it will be the most beautiful fruit that has been created by a time of hard pruning and digging deep and discipline. It might not look like much to everyone else, but the God Who Sees knows that it is glorious.
All these things I have learned over the last few years as God has graciously and patiently worked in my life.
And now He takes me again to Galatians 5 and says, Woman, look at your life and look at this fruit that I want to bear in you. We have work to do.
Sometimes that sword cuts deep; the hammer hits hard; and I know the pruning shears are next. None of this feels nice. We don’t like to admit it, but the words of spiritual growth and walking with Christ are painful words– words like prune and sword and crucify and yoke and work. But the help that comes– things like grace and joy and I am with you always— this makes it possible and makes it entirely worthwhile.
Today, the mirror of God’s Word tells me that on the branch of my life that says “motherhood” I am failing to bear much love or joy or patience or gentleness. We have work to do, the Spirit whispers, and then He reminds me Do not grow weary in doing good, for in due season you will reap if you do not give up. He tells me that I am loved and that I am accepted in the sight of my Father, but that He has something better than mediocrity for me.
I don’t know what God’s Word is saying to you today. If it’s not saying anything, maybe it’s time to prayerfully open it up. We are all invited into the best of God’s plan– holiness and the privilege of His presence. I would like to encourage you with this reality: Whatever the world or other believers see in your life, one real piece of fruit brought forth out of suffering and pruning and hard faithful obedience is worth infinitely more than a whole tree’s worth of fake plastic fruit tied to the branches. Let God keep working in you to do His good work, in His time.
And don’t be surprised when, now and then, the Sword of the Spirit pierces you to the quick. Don’t be surprised when things are tough.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Deep breath, everyone. Eyes on Jesus. Let’s trust Him to change us, to bear fruit in our lives, to do His good work, and to help us every step of the way.
By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.