Fruit of the Spirit as Landmarks in our Spiritual Journey…….
I had wanted the stairs at Titus 2’s residential recovery program stenciled with the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23 since the home was purchased in November 2014. Finally, in 2019 as we were working on the post- Hurricane Michael renovation, it got done! The Scripture stencil was donated by Cinda Trexler. The fruit stencil I searched for until I found one I liked. And the work was done by Tamyra Dawn, a lady I have known for over 10 years and whose recovery work often frustrated me, but who has, in recent years become solid and faithful in it! There is a reason that the Fruit of the Spirit is so intertwined with recovery work, in my experience. I’d like to tell you why.
“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”
As I have observed over the years during which I have worked with women with life-limiting dysfunctions, when we begin discipleship work they need a “roadmap”… some sense of what the landmarks of spiritual journeying are. This is one that is quite readily available to set the tone and establish some common ground. There are a few ground rules one must understand in order to use them in recovery work.
- They are given in a definite order, according to the manner in which they may be observed
as one moves along her spiritual journey. (As a Bible student and teacher, I have come to believe that EVERY jot and tittle of the Word is there as it is for a reason. When studying for understanding and application, one would do well to be faithful to the text and its placement and order.
- These attributes arise naturally, but not easily, in one who is earnestly asking, seeking, and knocking to enter the Kingdom of God. (Matthew 7:7-8; Luke 11:9-10) As one progresses in a 12 Step study work, these attributes begin to be evident in the life of a believer who is “hungering and thirsting for righteousness.” (Matthew 5:6- One of the pivotal Beatitudes, each of which also provides landmarks on a roadmap for assessing one’s own spiritual growth!)
So, if these are the attributes of the God into which the renewing heart-under-construction is being formed by the presence of the Holy Spirit in her life, how do we begin to observe and affirm that this process of transformation is occurring in the new disciple? Let’s take each one step by step. (Pun in-tended)
As I have observed the emergence of these attributes in new disciples and have taught these nine attributes over the years, I have noticed that they tend to arise in sets of three. The first three, Love, Joy and Peace come quickly and together. I call this triad the “low, hanging fruit” and God pours them out in abundance when a new-believer comes to Christ. As the new believer experiences the love of God she responds to God’s love with love in return and knows Joy and the Peace that passes understanding. It overflows her heart. She tastes the goodness of God. It is like scooping up dew-laden strawberries and being fed until one is satiated or plucking tasty berries off of full bushes. One comes to know that there is more than enough. God’s love overflows in her heart. It is a “honeymoon” stage of being new in one’s relationship with Christ. She begins to see God’s love at work around her through God’s people, as well. She begins to feel safe and secure and sees how God has been present and has protected her.
This stage may last for a while, depending on how cloistered and protected she is and how focused we can keep her. For some there are so many outside distractions that as soon as she settles into this comfortable place of safety, her attitude is, “Alright! I’ve got peace and relationship with God. This is all I need. I’m good to go! And they are off and running, having failed to sit still long enough to get the deeper and more nourishing fruit of the Spirit.
If they are truly broken and longing and have suffered greatly, they will wait and give God time to do the deeper work. The next triad will begin to form – Patience, Kindness, and Goodness. Patience comes only through testing and being bumped against, through having one’s frustrations and temptations exposed, through being humbled and learning to be accountable and how to hold others accountable. It is hard work. They will learn the need for mercy and be conformed to pure hearts and how to become peacemakers through conflict. Or they will run from it. If they hang in the nature of the through Goodness of God will be being born in them. It will be like learning to peel the oranges and dice the apples and take the seeds out of grapes to make ambrosia or learning to eat pomegranates or scuppernongs and spit out the seeds. One has to do some work to savor the flavor but it is worth it!
Over time, eventually the final triad emerges – Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control. The Faithfulness is observed as one maintains the spiritual disciplines she has come to love and knows the reason for her hope! The gentleness is present as she is able to express compassion and mercy without defensiveness. And Self- Control she knows is her own self surrendered to the control of the Holy Spirit, not controlled by herself at all! It is a good place to be! She knows that to try to do it in one’s own strength is like trying to crack open a coconut using one’s fingernail, it is an exercise in futility. But to surrender one’s life to God’s Holy Spirit brings the power, authority and presence of God so that one has all that is needed for every moment!
We pray for each woman to be patient and await the fullness of the Fruit of the Spirit to arise in her. But some will take the low-hanging fruit and run with it. If they do, they will likely eventually find themselves having run out of it again in time and found themselves in want again at some point. Those who wait and are sustained by cooperating with the Holy Spirit for the deeper and more satisfying aspects of the Fruit of the Spirit will learn to live at peace through all things, easy times and difficult times alike. They will have learned the true source of their strength in Christ, not in the world.