I learned about the Fruit of the Spirit when I was just a kid going to Sunday school. I’m not sure I understood what they were, but I absolutely had them memorized thanks to a catchy tune. Here’s the verse that addresses the fruit:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23, NIV
Background info: Galatians is a letter written by Paul to a church in Galatia. In the paragraphs of chapter five, Paul is talking about having freedom through Jesus from sin and death and also how to live by the Spirit, rather than by the flesh… meaning my own selfish desires. He lists all sorts of behavior associated with living by the flesh, and it’s not a pretty picture: hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions… the list goes on and on and doesn’t get any better.
But… (there’s a but) Paul then says that the fruit that comes from the Spirit are these 9 great characteristics. These are the FRUIT of the Spirit. So how does one grow a specific trait… say patience?
Patience is one of nine traits listed in the Fruit of the Spirit. Plant yourself, connect yourself, abide with Jesus and the Bible says that the fruit produced will be these nine eye-catching things. (Don’t you notice when someone oozes kindness or patience?)
But what happens if you feel like one or some of these fruits aren’t defining character traits for you? Is this yet another time to throw up your hands and shift the blame elsewhere?
I don’t think so.
We were born with personality traits I’m fairly outgoing but my husband tends to be more of an introvert. He can speak to a whole room of people if needed, but he won’t enjoy it as much as I will. The Fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22-23 aren’t personality traits. They are different aspects of godly character– and character is something that can be developed and grown. I don’t get to blame impatience on my personality, even though I certainly might like to!
You see, usually impatience comes because I have unmet expectations. (We’ve talked about these before!) We had a plan for the day and it didn’t involve the printer jamming, our friend making us late, or the driver in front of us going 15 under the speed limit. It’s all about control and it is all about ME. Notice that none of the Fruit of the Spirit have to do with self-promotion. That’s just it… it’s not about ME.
Step #1 to cultivating fruit: Recognize that it’s not about me because it’s all about Him.
Check out 2nd Corinthians 5:17: “If anyone belongs to Christ, there is a new creation. The old things have gone; everything is made new!”
This passage talks about a definite change in our lives. When we recognize that we can’t hold it together, that we’ve made mistakes (yes, sinned), and that we need a rescuer… that’s when Jesus steps in to make us new. Notice it doesn’t say that we receive perfection in that moment. You and I are a work in progress for our entire lives. Remember that God is FOR us. He’s not waiting for us to mess up, He is coming along-side us right where we are!
I recognize that sometimes impatience isn’t associated with irritability. Sometimes our impatience looks more like anxiety and worry. That’s still a problem because it’s basically saying that we distrust God and what He has for us. God is head over heels crazy about us and (thankfully) He is in control. His timing is for His people.
Step #2 to cultivating fruit: Strengthen your muscles.
While there is no growth or change happening without the Lord, gaining strength in this area requires exercise. I take the time to strengthen my arms with weights, and my spiritual life isn’t any different. I have to daily notate where I am living selfishly and not producing good fruit. Thankfully God seems to be totally aware of my blind spots and seems more than happy to keep giving me situations in which to recognize the lacking fruit. “I have the slow cashier again?!” Maybe that’s an opportunity to meet the cashier and show kindness… and in doing so you utilize vast amounts of patient strength you didn’t know you had! Growth is going to take some strength training, so don’t get frustrated if you feel like a lightweight when it comes to patience. The time devoted will pay off.
Cultivating good fruit in our lives is a process that will take a lifetime. I will not arrive at a point where I am never impatient, but perhaps one day I will be thought of as a patient woman.
Oh would that day come sooner! ;)