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 eighth in a series on walking with God instead of pursuing idolatry. You’ll find the previous one here.
Out running errands the other day in the sweltering heat, I noticed one thing about the people in my normally friendly, helpful town: they were grumpy.
Horns blared. Tempers flared. Scowls crossed too many faces.
Cashiers all had a “meh” attitude, even in the stores where they’re normally perky and cordial.
Well, I thought. I’m not going to let a little heat get to me. I’ll be kind and cheery anyway.
It worked, too. Until I’d sat idle too long in my stuffy car with a puny air conditioner that couldn’t keep up with the soaring temperatures. The parking lot emitted so much heat, you could almost see waves of it coming up from the asphalt.
Then a man pulled out in front of me, ignoring my right of way. I had to stomp the brake.
Though I didn’t blow the horn, I did feel every muscle in my face crunch together as I scowled. So much for kind and cheery.
After a stop at Starbucks for venti iced green tea, I realized that my scowl was not the first moment I wasn’t exhibiting gentleness. Inwardly, my judgment of people’s attitudes and lack of patience had built into pure contempt. Though I didn’t show it outwardly, I was a little miffed at the barista’s mediocre service.
It’s one thing to look kind and patient on the outside, but another to actually be that way.
Zohdiates’ New Testament Word Dictionary describes the Greek word translated gentleness as “getting angry at the right time, in the right measure, for the right reason.” It’s not from a natural disposition or outward behavior, but an “inwrought grace of the soul.”
Anything else comes from a place of weakness. When our comfort is compromised, all we can do from our own strength is lash out (whether inwardly or outwardly) at someone who either caused or exacerbated our discomfort.
We can even be deceived into thinking that weakness is strength. For example, my weak moment in the parking lot, brought on by physical discomfort, temporarily made me feel empowered. Hey guy, watch it! I’m drivin’ here!
But when we rely on our own strength to be nice, it only goes so far. When we run out of strength (and boy, heat can zap it sometimes!), we lose the ability to be nice. Our actions (indignation, puffing up) may look strong on the outside, but they come from a place of weakness.
Walking in the Spirit, as I’m learning little by little, means tuning in to His presence, amidst the other demands on our attention—traffic, kids, problems—urgent and important demands, that require focus in order to avoid disaster.
How do we do that in the middle of traffic on a melt-lava-hot day when we’re hangry and there’s two (or more) quarreling little people in the back seat? Or when there’s too many bills and not enough cash? Or a mile-long to do list and only a couple minutes to finish?
Here’s what I was reminded of as I’m learning how to walk in the Spirit:
1) Know my weaknesses. We all have certain circumstances that grate on us. We can’t always avoid them, but we can ask God to soften our hearts to be sensitive to the Spirit’s prompting.
2) Let the fire refine me. When we do have high-pressure circumstances, we can learn from our reactions and lean in to the Spirit’s teaching. Learning to walk doesn’t happen in a day, and neither does walking with the Spirit.
We’re not always strong enough to be gentle, but God is. “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).
Letting Him take the lead and resting in His strength allows the Fruit of the Spirit to show itself in even the roughest of circumstances.
Want to read the rest of the posts in the Fruit of the Spirit series?