I used to have such a wrong idea about the Fruit of the Spirit. I’d read the verses in Galatians like a laundry list of so many things I couldn’t do enough, be enough. I would either flip to another book of the Bible, or vow to work on being more loving, joyful, peaceful, kind, etc. But the next day, I wouldn’t even be able to list all nine.
This post is the fifth in a series on walking with God instead of pursuing idolatry. You’ll find the previous one here.
I remember the day I vowed, “No more cash for strangers. Ever.”
It was one of those headache days. My temples were throbbing.
I’d dropped my girls off at a birthday party and headed to a nearby Burger King to pass the time. After lunch, I walked outside toward my car. I planned to drive across the highway for a bottle of Ibuprofen and some water.
A scraggly man sat in the dirt with his back against the brick wall. “Could I trouble you for five dollars? I’m so hungry.”
I shook my head and kept walking. “Sorry.” I only had a few minutes before I needed to pick up the girls, and I didn’t want to put off getting pain relief.
But when I got to my car, my conscience pricked me. How could I, with a belly full of lunch, let this man sit hungry in the dirt?
I pulled a five-dollar bill out of my purse and walked back to the man. “Here you go.”
He took it with an incredulous look on his face. “Really? Thanks!”
What I saw there stopped me in my tracks. Scraggly man. Picking out the biggest bottle of beer they sold.
You lied to me!
For a split second, I opened my mouth to demand my five dollars back. But then I thought better of it.
He pretended he’d never seen me before. He didn’t even seem to notice me staring. I grabbed a bottle of water and followed him to the cashier. Watched him hand my five dollars over and take his beer out of the store.
That was the day I let a big callus grow on my heart.
Have you been burned like this, friend? If so, I understand the hesitant feeling the next time an opportunity to be kind arises. It’s often those times we feel taken advantage of, or when recipients are critical and lacking gratitude that we pull back.
When I’m focused on good feelings about my acts of kindness, callousness easily sets in when my feelings change.
But when I’m walking with the Spirit, my heart yearns for the things He yearns for. I don’t have to be rewarded with a grateful response, because that’s not my goal. If I’m in step with the Holy Spirit, I don’t place any value on what others think.
As I learn to walk with God, I’m less prone to call anything (whether time or material goods) “mine.” If I think of everything I have as His, I am more likely to listen to His prompting when I have an opportunity to be kind.
I’m not proposing a blasé attitude about handing out cash in all circumstances, mind you. Now that I’m wise to the ways of addicts, my offer mostly comes in the form of food or other material goods. And never simply to soothe my sense of guilt.
The mistake I make with doing kind things versus allowing the Holy Spirit to work through me is thinking that I’m doing something significant for God. But that leads to disappointment, which leads to callousness. One is idolatry; one is true worship.
But how do we know in the moment if it’s from the Spirit? Kind acts and the fruit of kindness often look identical from the outside.
I think it all comes down to heart motives. Do we want to be approved by people, or by God? When we seek God’s approval, the recipient’s response doesn’t sway our feelings about showing kindness.
If we’re exhibiting the fruit of kindness, it’s from a deep sense that God couldn’t love us any more at this moment, regardless of what or how much we do for Him. Walking by the Spirit, we know that our worth doesn’t come from doing kind things for people, but simply being God’s priceless treasures in creation. Kindness naturally follows.
Want to read the rest of the posts in the Fruit of the Spirit series?