Posts Tagged 'Fruit of the Spirit'

Love is Patient

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Last week while writing in my journal, it occurred to me — what with all hearts and red ink I was using to decorate its pages and with Valentine’s Day imminent —  that it might be a good time to focus on “love” for a few days.

I started out asking, “What is love, really?” And was nudged to start with the traditional “love passage” in 1 Corinthians 13.

“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant.”  1 Corinthians 13:4

Only one verse and already five characteristics.

My first thought about them was that since God is love, all these characteristics  describe Him. He is patient, kind, never jealous (what a concept!), and is not arrogant. On the bragging… well, maybe… but then He’s God, so it’s not really bragging, just a statement of fact.

Moreover, “we love because He first loved us.” 1 Jn 4:19

The first and most obvious interpretation of “first loved us” is that He set aside the privileges and independent use of His deity to take on the form of a man and live among us entirely without sin, ultimately going to the cross as a substitute for us all, the perfect sacrificial lamb on our behalf so that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Jn 3:16b

But how about looking at it another way? How about considering the fact that these qualities of love are being directed toward us byGod Himself?

He is patient toward us who have believed in Him. He knows my frame, knows how very weak I am, knows my circumstances in every detail. He knows how stupid I am, how headstrong, how very often I blow it. And yet… every day, He’s still here, still with me, still loving me, still providing for me, blessing me, gracing me out, ever day. The same is true for you, as well, if you have believed in His son.

I have always approached this love chapter in terms of me finding out how to love other people, and trying to be patient, kind, etc. with them as a way of doing that.  But that makes it mostly about me, trying to be loving.

What if, instead, we start with God again? We love Him, because He first loved us, yes, but we have to know that He loved us. Key to loving Him then, is knowing Him.

Knowing He is always right, and never lies, that He is all powerful and loves me beyond my ability to comprehend, that He has a perfect plan for me, that He always does what is best and gave His son for me when I was still His enemy, and that my times, my days, are in His hands, and knowing all that… well, how can I not love Him?

Knowing that He has promised never to forsake me, to work all things in my life for good, that nothing in it is an accident, nor out of His control, nor even out of His mind. Out of His mind in that He wasn’t paying attention or didn’t realize that  would happen; no, He not only realized it would happen, but also everything else that could have happened and chose that particular event as the best possible thing to happen at that time in my life). And provided for that happening in every regard as would be consistent with His overall plan

So knowing all that, how can I be impatient with things that happen in my life? His timing in all things is perfect. That traffic light that delays me might be there to keep me out of an accident at the next intersection. Or it might just be training me to relax over the small things in life, because He’s got the big ones covered so why do I have to hurry and rush about all the time?

Jesus was never in a hurry.  Why should I be?

Knowing that He loves all men and gave His son to die for them, and that He especially loves His children, those who have believed in Christ, those who have been declared perfectly righteous in His sight forever at the moment of salvation… that knowledge changes one’s perspective, too. He knows exactly what’s going on in their lives, just as he does in mine — all their failings and faults and faux pas… just as he knows mine. And he’s allowed theirs just as He allows mine. Yes, it grieves Him when they go off on their own, “following a plan but not His.” It grieves Him when I do the same.

And for me to say of another, “Oh that’s AWFUL! How could they do such a thing?!” is certainly NOT love. We think the part of us that says/thinks those things is good. It’s not. In fact, it’s the part of us that Jesus went to the cross for.

He’s patient with them and with me. How can I not also be? Patient with God as He opens and closes doors in my life, even when He holds them closed for what I consider to be a long time. Patient with others when they do not act as I think they ought. Patient with loved ones, friends, neighbors, patient with Quigley, with people in traffic… I am not the queen in charge of all, to whom everyone must defer, after all.

I think one way of looking at patience is of being at rest. Not having to make snap judgments or give quick, off the cuff responses, but taking a breath and giving a slow, considered answer (or maybe none at all), willing to wait in whatever circumstance without agitation or expectation, knowing God is there and has His hand on it all.

It’s interesting how the five qualities mentioned above go together, interlock with one another. In loving God because of who He is, you slow down, you stop demanding, enter His rest and are “patient.” When you are patient with people or self, you are also kinder to both. When you are patient with God’s timing in providing blessing, knowing that timing is the best, you are less inclined to jealousy. When you are patient with people, knowing none of us is perfect, all of us are fallen and struggling because of it, and the only good thing in any of us is courtesy of the grace of God, then you are not so likely to brag, or be arrogant…

And the more you have your eyes on God, the more, you will manifest His love because… how can you not?  We love Him because He first loved us, but we also love Him because we have come to know Him through His word.

Self-Disicipline is a Boxing Match

A couple of weeks ago, on the advice of my agent, I attended an online Webinar by Michael Hyatt, former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, and its present chairman. He’s a “professional blogger, author and speaker whose blog is consistently ranked in the top three for Productivity, Leadership, Publishing and Social Media Marketing.”  This last from the jacket copy of his latest book Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World.

The webinar was very informative, and I took a lot of notes, though I have yet to go back through them. I ordered his book, as well, though I have yet to officially read it. I have sampled here and there, and it looks good.

My lack of reading notes or book, however, is due to one of the first pieces of advice Mr. Hyatt offered during his webinar, which was that if you’re going to blog, commit to doing it regularly. He has himself committed to posting five days a week for some years now (though he invites guest bloggers to present material on Fridays). 

Since I’ve been anything but consistent with my own blogging  for the last few months … years?… I thought maybe I’d make a change. I know I had a schedule of four posts a week for some time, so I’m pretty sure that’s doable. For the last  couple of weeks though, I thought I’d try out five days a week and see if that might work, reserving Fridays for something fun and easy, like pics of Quigley.

And so I have done that. 

In addition to that, using a technique I discovered through Hyatt’s website, I’ve been working steadily on Sky. Well, until last Thursday when I sort of wandered off the track. Sometimes things come into my life that get my flesh going… it can be anything from worry, frustration, self-pity, guilt… and it’s hard to turn that off and get to work.

I also got caught up in the blog posts and the comments and… just never seemed to get around to Sky again. I don’t really know why.

Sometimes at the end of the day I can’t recall how I ended up doing the things that I did. I wonder… am I getting dementia?

Or might it be…

lack of self-discipline?

Oooooh nooooo!  Not THAT again! I thought I’d put all that to bed. I thought I was done wrestling with all that. Self-discipline is a fruit of the Spirit. I’ve learned well and truly that I can’t do much with it apart from Him.

But… have I consistently asked Him to help me in this area? Have I confessed my sin of self-indulgence when I wandered off? Or maybe not self-indulgence, because often  it’s more… mindless distraction. Sometimes I feel like the dog in one of Koontz’s books (I think it was Dragon Tears) who had been given an assignment but on the way kept getting distracted:

“Ooh! An old shoe! What a lovely smell. must stop and investigate this … and what’s this? a puddle of water… and a bee… ooh, chase the bee…. now the smell of cat… there it is!  Off!  After it! “

That was all a paraphrase. I no longer have the book to quote from, but it was something like that. I particularly remember the bee. And the whole portrayal was so spot on….

But I digress. The fact is, this bugaboo of self-discipline has returned for another round. And why not? The last time I wrestled with it, I ended defeated, not really understanding how it was to be implemented.

If it’s a fruit of the Spirit, are we to TRY to have it? But then might we not run the risk of doing it in the flesh? It’s clearly something those who aren’t saved can exercise, like the very athletes that Paul references in 1 Corinthians 9:25 – 27

Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

Strong’s definition of hupopiazo, which is the Greek word for “discipline,” means “to hit under the eye (buffet or disable an antagonist as a pugilist), that is, (figuratively) to tease or annoy (into compliance), subdue (one’s passions), to keep under, to weary.

That is not at all the notion I had of “disciplining the body”. My notion was of one who ALWAYS ate the right amount of food, got up at dawn to exercise, went down the gym on schedule every day to train… whether you felt like it or not. The above definition gives quite a different image.  One of a battle.

A boxing match where you’re hitting your opponent again and again with a lot of effort while he keeps hitting you back. Paul’s seeking to make his body a slave, and slaves don’t want to be enslaved. They rebel. They fight. They run away. Especially arrogant and willful slaves like our flesh, determined as it is to set itself against the Spirit.

This metaphor implies a lot of effort and tenacity. A lot of sweat and blood and bruising. The opponent is not going to go down easily.  And in fact, the only way it’s going to go down is if you are boxing under the power of the Spirit.

So that would mean confession of sins, so as to be under His control,  and bringing the word of God to bear upon the situation. Not necessarily in recalling this verse where Paul talks about what he’s doing, so much as the part about why he’s doing it. So that he won’t be disqualified for reward — that imperishable crown he mentions first. 

Wow. I never thought of it like this. It definitely warrants further consideration…

Journal Entries – Part 3: Affliction

4 – 5  November 2011

6:27pm  I’m in the midst of re-listening to last night’s message. Pastor John’s talking of how we have affliction to bear more fruit and that instead of reaction and resistance, our response to affliction and suffering should be:

“I’m going to allow the Holy Spirit to develop in me those virtues the Bible says He’s developing in me: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

“I won’t resist, react, panic, despair, go to the world’s way to solve these problems. I know what’s happening now. I trust my Father to handle them.”

Can having more things to do than you can get done be affliction? Yes. I think it certainly can. The temptation and too often the result is that I do resist, panic, react and despair and often go to the world’s way to solve the problem — be more organized, follow Flylady, get more discipline.

And yet… our world and the prosperity we enjoy in the United States especially gives us more choices than ever of how we can spend our time. Not only on activities but possessions — for every possession takes a bit of our time in some way, if not in care and maintenance than in the guilt it inflicts on us for not doing the care and maintenance (or simply not being able to find the time to use the possession as we thought we would).

And then there is the barrage —  the tsunami? — of information and social contact we endure, even sitting alone in our homes. It’s greater than at any time in history. Mind-boggling. Perhaps literally.

And as I mentioned yesterday, even Pastor John brought this up with his reference to the article he’d seen in the Wall Street Journal article called “How to Get More Done” which, he said, really means “How to be More Busy!” And then he exclaimed, “God help the people who want to be more busy! Who wake up every day and say, I want to find a way to do more things (get more things done).”

That’s just what I do: wake up every day and wonder how I can get everything done. And it’s not fun. But to even consider I might not  have to get all those things done, starts a panic in my soul: No! If you do that, you’ll never get anything done. You’ll live in chaos and squalor!

Well, not if I trust God the Holy Spirit to move me.

It occurs to me that I haven’t heard any of the pastors teach that Colonel Thieme phrase about the organized believer having a schedule for each day according to his priorities, so that he has a time for everything and uses his self-discipline to carry it out… Haven’t heard that in a long time.

Instead what I’ve heard has been that as fallen creatures we don’t have the self-discipline. Most of us can’t do it. (Yes, I do think there are areas where we can be disciplined… but most of us if we’re honest can pinpoint at least one in which no matter what we do, we just can’t hold the line for very long). And today the phrases that are coming to mind are “you set yourself to do a thing or not do a thing, have a couple days of success and then it all falls apart. We can’t do it!”

That’s pretty much been my experience.

In fact, Pastor Bob has often spoken of the problems and hindrances and people brought into his life to disrupt his plans. Of God the Holy Spirit changing his message at the last minute. Even in the midst of a message he and the others sense the leading of the Spirit and go off on a tangent and often it’s the best, most important part of the message! I’ve experienced times when I was wrestling with something and the pastor went off subject for just a bit to say something tangential that was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment. How can one ever schedule that? And why would one insist on ‘sticking to the notes’ when to deviate might be precisely what someone needs at the time?

Pastor John actually challenged the whole organized life/plan-out-your-day-and execute-it thing with his teaching a few years ago when he said that was actually a function of the flesh. We, in our own souls, from our own standards, make a list of things to do today and then watch ourselves fail and condemn ourselves for it.

Pastor Bob says,”Don’t try to plan too much. Let God the Holy Spirit plan your day and lead you through it.”

I’ve experienced that leading repeatedly, yet it’s still hard to really trust it. That is, to believe that this could actually be the way I’m to live. I like the idea of making plans and then executing those plans and all being in order. It’s safe. It’s known. It requires no faith, no moment by moment guidance from and reliance upon God.

If only the plans would work out as I had … planned.

Next: Part 4 – Busy-ness is Not Devotion

Is Self-Discipline Overrated?

This exploration of self-discipline I’ve undertaken lately is a work in progress. I used to think understanding is straightforward — that you suddenly understand, all confusion is removed, you’ve finally found THE answer, and can apply with ease and confidence.

It’s more like going over and over and over a subject, grasping a new bit of it, trying to apply it, seeing that it doesn’t quite work, going over it some more, dropping it altogether, coming back for another Eureka! moment only to fall flat on your face and conclude that you have no idea what it’s about and never will… then getting hold of a new tidbit that shifts the whole picture again… There is much doublemindedness and blundering about.

So it would probably be better not to make such things the subject of blog posts until you’ve finished with all the blundering and have some solid conclusions. Or at least have some idea that the conclusions you’ve come to seem to be working out as correct. But that would mean I’d write a blog post only about every two years, so I’ll stick with this.

So what is the difference between the self-control produced by the Spirit and the self-control produced by the flesh? Because there are definitely two categories. My dilemma springs out of the fact that if it’s supernatural, if it’s a fruit of the Spirit and the Spirit produces it, then I must not do anything to produce it. Like trying to be “self-disciplined.” On the other hand, we’re commanded to do things that do require forcing oneself to do things one may not desire to do…

Like sit in Bible class, be quiet and pay attention to the pastor as he teaches, for one.

So… which is it? Or is it both?

And what exactly do I mean by self-control anyway? In my last post on this subject I mentioned the blog post by Aaron Swartz about being more productive, from which I followed a link to an article on “Why Self-Discipline is Overrated: The (Troubling) Theory and Practice of Control from Within.” It’s written by Alfie Kohn, who is an educator, something of an academic and a liberal. A fair amount of what he had to say I disagreed with, but some of what he brought out was quite illuminating.

First was a picture of what human self-discipline looks like — and how it can be a system of bondage. This is not helped by the fact that our culture lauds self-control and treats it as invariably wonderful. Self-control is good and admirable and virtuous, whereas impulsivity is not. This dichotomy is communicated especiallyclearly in schools . Good students are well-mannered, do their work right away and pay attention and are thus admired; bad students throw spit balls, distract everyone with their antics and drive the teacher batty, and are problems that need to be solved.

Part of Kohn’s intent in his article was to challenge this unquestioned value system and to do so he used the findings of research psychologist Jack Block. Block defined “ego control” as

“the extent to which impulses and feelings are expressed or suppressed. ‘Those who are undercontrolled are impulsive and distractible; those who are overcontrolled are compulsive and joyless…’ It’s not just that self-control isn’t always good; it’s that a lack of self-control isn’t always bad because it may ‘provide the basis for spontaneity, flexibility, expressions of interpersonal warmth, openness to experienced and creative recognitions.'”

I think that was the first time I ever read something in support of “lack of self-control,” but again, I saw the truth in that statement as soon as I read it. I experience those impulses — to give someone a hug, to go look in a book, to call someone, to do something other than what I’d planned — and often they turn out to be the guidance of the Spirit. So clearly there is an element of self-control that has to do with the flesh trying to control things, and that’s not the kind we want, though that is the kind that most people in this world have (being unbelievers; or believers not operating under the power of the Spirit) and laud.

“Overcontrollers tend to be complete abstainers from drug use, but they are less well-adjusted than individuals who have lower ego control and may have experimented briefly with drugs, [while] a tendency toward overcontrol puts young women (but not young men) at risk for development of depression.”

He goes on to illustrate the point with the example of a student who always gets her work done right away. Superficially this seems laudable, but inside, what is her motivation? He points out that it may be the reason she isn’t doing the things she’d prefer to do over homework is because the intense discomfort that comes from having an unfinished task hanging over her drives her to do it. “She wants — or more accurately, needs — to get the assignment out of the way in order to stave off anxiety.”

A clear, clear picture of the sin nature producing what appears to be self-discipline but in reality is just the knee-jerk function of a slave hopping to. Until she gets the work done the master inside her is going to flog her with guilt and anxiety. I can totally relate to this illustration.

Kohn suggests that in many cases self-discipline may actually be a sign not of health but of vulnerability, reflecting the “fear of being overwhelmed by external forces or by one’s own desires that must be suppressed through continual effort.” This is the poor person who is relying upon self and not upon the power of the Spirit and the word…

Then he said this, and it blew me away:

“In his classic work, Neurotic Styles, David Shapiro described how someone might function as ‘his own overseer, issuing commands, directives, reminders, warnings, and admonitions concerning not only what is to be done and what is not to be done, but also what is to be wanted, felt and even thought.”

We can do this with God’s plan for our lives, again, not in the power of the Spirit but solely through the function of our flesh. It’s yet another example of legalism. From reading the Bible we see all these things we should do and be and want, and how easy to just take it upon ourselves to see that we carry out those demands. Of course, the end is going to be failure, because we’re fallen and it’s not going to work. And even if it appears to work externally, inside there is no peace, no joy, no capacity to love…

He goes on to point out that an extremely disciplined person often sees everything as a means to an endand can’t “feel comfortable with any activity that lacks an aim or purpose beyond its own pleasure and usually do not recognize the possibility of finding life satisfying without a continuous sense of purpose and effort.”

Here, of course, we stray into some of the stuff I take issue with. I’m not sure anyone is truly comfortable living a life without purpose, and that’s one of the wonderful things a relationship with God gives us. But all these descriptions I’m setting down refer to the function of man in the flesh. And the flesh can base all its worth and satisfaction on achieving stuff. (One of Solomon’s eight experiments, written about in Ecclesiastes; and not one of those experiments produced the desired result of happiness) The purpose in the above quote refers to a purpose you can see, not something you must take on faith. The control freak has to see the purpose in what he’s doing or it’s not any good. “I’ve wasted the whole day dinking around with cards,” she wails, “and didn’t get anything accomplished! I’m a BAD girl.”

A few years ago when he was standing in for Pastor Bob who was ill, Pastor John Farley taught this:

“Guilt can arise from perfectionism. This is an unbelievable insult to God: I’m going to live by my standards and everything that’s good or bad is going to be decreed from the court of my soul. If I said I did a good job, I did. If I said I did a rotten job, I did. I don’t care what God says, it’s rotten. Everything is you and your standards. You’re living in the old man, letting the old man say what’s good and bad. Instead of saying, “I know I’m rotten. I’m going to let God change me. I’m going to live in His freedom and let Him be the arbiter of what’s good and bad, let Him take me away from that old man and let me live the way He wants me to live and… I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THAT IS!!! There is no standard, no expectation about your future destiny in Jesus Christ. You haven’t gotten there yet!”

And with that, I’ll leave off with this for now. There’s more, but once again my post has grown way too long.


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