By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23a (NRSV)
Love. Joy. Peace. We all want them. The irony is that many of the ways we try to get love, joy, or peace of mind work against us.
We try to earn love—or at least admiration and attention—by trying to impress others or make ourselves indispensable. It doesn’t always come off so well…especially if others are trying to do the same thing. We end up competing, feeling envious, or self-righteous—not very lovable qualities.
We pursue happiness only to find it elusive. After all, if the things we bought made us happy, we wouldn’t have to keep buying more things. If we think we can’t be happy until others to do what we want them to, we might spend the rest of our lives waiting.
It’s easy to think serenity would come if only life were problem-free, but when one problem gets resolved, sooner or later another pops up.
The paradox is that we open ourselves to the fruit of the Spirit when we let go of trying to force things according to self-will. When we can accept life as it is on any given day, peace and patience flow naturally. When we aren’t wearing ourselves out trying to earn love or happiness by getting our way, we are free to enjoy what we do have. Without self-imposed pressure, we can afford to be kinder, gentler, and all the rest. Life can be better by when we make room for the Spirit. Let’s get out of our own way.
Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, and fill my heart.
Reflection for sharing: Which fruit of the Spirit are you most longing for today? What do you need to let go of to make room for it?
“…the Kingdom of heaven is like this. A man is looking for fine pearls, and when he finds one that is unusually fine, he goes and sells everything he has, and buys that pearl.” Matthew 13: 44
The other day I felt sick and tired of my struggle with self-will. When do I feel disappointed or frustrated? When things don’t go my way. I wish I could surrender to God’s will all the time, but I suspect that isn’t going to happen on this side of the heaven/earth plane. So I prayed, “Lord, why did you let me have such a strong will? It’s so hard to let go of it and defer to Your will.” In my heart, I felt like God answered by saying, “Because that’s how you know how precious something is. If it cost you nothing to obtain, it wouldn’t be worth anything to you. It would be trash.”
The parable of the pearl came to mind. The man who found the pearl sold everything he owned to get it. Then I thought – What if he sold everything and only thought the pearl was precious…what if it really wasn’t precious after all? But even if the pearl wasn’t valuable on the world market, it was to the purchaser himself. He gave up EVERYTHING for it. It didn’t matter whether others valued it or not.
I have such a long way to go in my faith journey. I want to lay my will down but it is so hard to do. When I do lay it down, it just springs back up again a little while later or in some new area. Maybe I have to be content with just practicing, by sheer repetition, to lay it down over and over. Maybe it will get easier as the habit gets strengthened. Come to think of it, isn’t that what pearls are made of? Layers of response to some irritation inside the oyster?
Prayer: Lord, please grant us the trust in Your Love that relieves us of the bondage of self.
Reflection for sharing: What does your heart treasure?
With a loud cry Jesus died. Mark 15: 37
Apart from all else that could be said about his passion, what strikes me today is that Jesus cried out. I find it reassuring that—even though he rose to new life in victory—he wasn’t above crying out when he died.
Jesus told us we need to die to ourselves in order to follow him. We believe His promise that if we lose our lives we will gain them, but dying to self still hurts. We don’t have to pretend we’re above the pain. It’s okay to admit it.
Opportunities to give up self-will, in both large and small ways, are all around. Some times I miss them as I plug along on self-propulsion. Sometimes I’m aware of the opportunities but choose my own will anyway. Then there are the times when I let go of getting my way. I’m always glad when I do, but no matter how many times surrender works out well, my self-will always springs back up the next time. My “self” never goes down without a fight—even over the most trivial things.
During a hurricane some months ago, our house lost power for days. It got pretty cold. My husband was in another state on business and asked me to join him. I resisted for two days. I wanted to tough it out at home. Finally, I agreed to pray about it. After praying, I saw that there was no good reason for me to stay in a house without power—other than my own stubborn pride. I also saw that I wasn’t considering my husbands feelings. He was concerned but I was too centered on my resilience to see it. Why was I resisting in the first place? Because the blow to my ego hurt. I had to surrender my fear of being a wimp and taking the easy way out. Letting go of my pride enabled me to join my husband until our power came back on. Those days away together were a blessing to both of us: he felt relief, I felt warm, and our relationship grew stronger as I learned that I don’t have to exercise my will on general principle.
Prayer: Lord, grant us the courage to acknowledge our pain in letting go of self-will.
Reflection for sharing: When is it hardest to say no to your self will? How can Jesus’ example strengthen you?
Happy are those who work for peace; God will call them his children! Matthew 5: 9
Not all of us are called to settle disputes between nations, or to mediate legal disputes. We may or may not be in a position to take part in peaceful demonstrations. But all of us can work for peace in our own little corner of the world. Whether we step in to settle a quarrel between squabbling children at home, patiently listen to all viewpoints during meeting, or stop second-guessing a decision when we are at war with ourselves, we are working for peace.
We work for peace when we treat others and ourselves with respect and simply hold our tongue until we cool down enough to express ourselves without lashing out. If you’ve ever tried it, and you are anything like me, you know restraint until cooler heads prevail can be a lot of work. Removing ourselves from the situation, working through our anger in a safe way, and then addressing the conflict in a reasonable way is easier said than done. Every time we pray for patience in a heated moment, we are working for peace and we are more in touch with what it means to be a child of God. We may not look like the winner in the middle of a confrontation, but we have given ourselves and the other person the gift of dignity that all God’s children deserve if we have not given in to provocation.
“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.” John 14: 27 Jesus, God’s only begotten son, invites us to receive the gift of peace and share it with the other children of God.
Prayer: Thank you God, for your gift of peace.
Reflection for sharing: How are you being called to work for peace in your life today?
Then Jethro said, “You are not doing this right. You will wear yourself out and these people as well. This is too much for you to do alone…” Exodus 18: 17-18
Moses led almost a million men, women, and children out of slavery in Egypt. During their desert journey, God empowered Moses to meet the people’s needs by parting the Red Sea and providing water out of a rock. According to Exodus 18, Moses also took it upon himself to personally settle every dispute that came up: a million hot, tired people on foot…in the middle of a desert. That’s a lot of disputes. People lined up, morning until night to complain about each other, one by one until Jethro convinced Moses to delegate.
How many times have we—with the best of intentions—taken on more than we could do, perhaps more than was humanly possible, and then ended up frazzled, worn out, and feeling like failures?
I used to start the day with an impossibly long agenda and end up feeling defeated if my time or energy ran out before the list did. Even if I got everything done, I added more to the list and always ended up exhausted. I thought I was industrious. I was just foolish. Underneath all that ambition was fear that I wasn’t of value if I wasn’t productive. My plans were unrealistic. It took time for me to trust that what was meant to get done would get done without exhaustion, that it was safe to let some things go for another day or for someone else to do.
Following Jethro’s suggestion, Moses delegated responsibility, choosing wise leaders to settle all but the most major conflicts. That freed Moses to represent the people before God and teach them God’s instructions, to do the work that was meant for Moses to do.
Prayer: Lord, teach me to make wise choices about what to do and what to leave undone.
Reflection for sharing: When are you most likely to wear yourself out? How can prayer help you prioritize?
And so I say to you: Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. Luke 11: 9
When I was a little girl, we had several apple trees in our back yard, which meant plenty of homemade pies and applesauce every summer. Late one summer night, my parents heard voices in our back yard. It turned out to be our new neighbors. Six kids, to be exact, were grabbing apples as fast as they could. Their father had been out of work for a while and I all those free apples seemed, well, just ripe for the picking.
I didn’t know what my parents would do to these trespassers, but when my mother confronted them, she simply said, “You can take all the apples you want, any time, but first, please just knock on our door and ask.”
Aren’t we like those kids sometimes? We all want good things—who doesn’t? Sometimes we feel like we have to take matters into our own hands. Maybe we’re afraid our requests will be denied or maybe we think it’s easier to get forgiven than permission. Maybe it wasn’t safe to ask the people in our past for what we needed.
But God has good things in store for us, just ripe for the picking. He wants to give us all the good our hearts can hold. Maybe the problem is we’re asking for the wrong things. Jesus concludes the above passage by saying that if we imperfect humans know how to give good things to our children, how much more, will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him? We may not want the Holy Spirit. We may just want our wish list to be fulfilled. When we are weighed down by problems or sorrow, it’s understandable. But the Holy Spirit offers better, longer-lasting gifts than a quick fix: stronger faith, courage, wisdom, gifts that not only get us through the problem at hand, but become part of our character, lasting long after the crisis of the moment has passed.
Prayer: Lord, we ask you to send us Your Spirit.
Reflection for sharing: What can help us trust God to give us what we need rather than what we want?
And so I have been prevented many times from coming to you. Romans 15:22
How many times have your plans been derailed by circumstances beyond your control? Sudden illness, a missed connection, last minute changes and instantly all our planning goes right out the window.
Last year I had a speaking engagement that I was really looking forward to. I worked on my presentation enthusiastically and was thoroughly prepared. I was convinced the event was part of God’s plan for me. Shortly before the event, I broke my ankle in two places. Complications prevented me from attending the event. Intellectually I knew that God could bring good out of this change of plans, but I still felt bitterly disappointed and frustrated. Eventually the feelings passed and I learned to surrender my will just a little bit more.
Life doesn’t always go the way we want it to. Apparently St. Paul had wanted to visit the believers in Rome for quite a while, but had been “prevented many times” from getting there. St. Paul didn’t scrub his mission because his itinerary got changed. He simply went where his call took him. Easier said than done, especially when we can’t see the whys and wherefores. When our schedule is thrown off, maybe we’re being given an opportunity to let go and walk by faith and not by sight.
Prayer: Lord, may I trust Your plans, rather than mine.
Reflection for sharing: Think of a time when things did not go according to your intentions. What happened? What helped you cope with the change in plans?
Tell them that as surely as I, the Sovereign Lord, am the living God, I do not enjoy seeing sinners die. I would rather see them stop sinning and live. Israel, stop the evil you are doing. Why do you want to die? Ezekiel 33: 11
The concept of “sin” isn’t very popular these days. I guess it’s human nature to resent being told what to do. But sometimes, restrictions can be good. I remember hearing about a restaurant in the mountains whose parking lot ended at the edge of a steep cliff. On the fence along that end of the parking lot was a sign: “No parking beyond this point.” Anybody in their right mind would be grateful for that limit on their freedom.
God makes it clear in the above passage that He doesn’t create hoops for people to jump through so He can take pleasure in watching them fail. God wants us to stop sinning—not for His sake—but for our own. Thinking we can achieve happiness by self-centered living is as shortsighted as resenting the “no parking” sign on that cliff-top parking lot. When self-will is in control, we’re apt to collide with other people whose self-will is also in control. Deferring to God’s plan for us instead of our own—even when we don’t feel like it—leads to more life, not less.
Prayer: Lord, help me choose life.
Reflection for sharing: When has accepting restrictions helped me? How might my concept of God and sin need to be challenged?
Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20: 22
Christ couldn’t have made it easier for his followers to receive the Holy Spirit. All they had to do was inhale. We receive the Holy Spirit; we don’t earn it. We can’t. It is pure gift.
It’s easy to get caught up in thinking we have to achieve our place in God’s kingdom, but what we have to do is accept the gift. We can’t guarantee the supply of air we need to live, much less control God’s Spirit. Just as God breathed life into Adam, Christ breathes new life into our weary souls. When we receive and say thank you, we grow spiritually. Our right relationship with Our Creator is renewed. We are freed from self-righteousness and pride.
We have an ongoing need to stay close to our source of life. We can’t just take a one deep breath and say, “Okay. Been there, done that.” After our initial reception, accepting the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives is a continuous process. After all, we can’t just take one deep breath and say, “Okay. Been there, done that.” Just as we inhale and then exhale, there is a time to take in and a time to give back out. But unless we first receive, we will have nothing to give.
It is common knowledge that breathing slowly and deeply is a great way to calm ourselves down when we are anxious or slow ourselves down when we are frantic. How much more powerful might it be if, as we inhale, we picture ourselves breathing in the Holy Spirit, and breathing out stress, self, and whatever is not of God. Let’s receive the gift and give thanks to the Giver.
Prayer: Thank you Lord, for the gift of Your Spirit.
Reflection for sharing: What happens when I spend a moment breathing in the Holy Spirit and breathing out stress?
Selfishness only causes trouble. You are much better off to trust the Lord. Proverbs 27: 25
Ironic, isn’t it? By definition, we act selfishly to benefit ourselves, but this proverb warns us that acting selfishly is not in our best interest.
It causes trouble. Whether it’s pre-schoolers fighting over the same toy or family members, co-workers or politicians running on self-will, looking out for Number 1 creates conflict with others who are also looking out for Number 1. Win or lose, we add stress and conflict to our lives. Damaged relationships and stress-related physical illness are evidence of the trouble selfishness can cause.
Is there a better way? The proverb suggests trusting God. If we trust that God has our best interests at heart, we don’t have to struggle to make things go our way. Even when we’re convinced our way is really best for all concerned, we can stop trying so hard to exert our will. When we trust God with running the world—including our little corner of it—we can let go. If we do and say what we think He wants us to, we can leave the outcome to Him and be at peace. We can have a good day even when things don’t go our way. Who wouldn’t be better off trusting the Lord?
Prayer: Lord, increase our trust in You.
Reflection for sharing: When am I most concerned about having things turn out my way? What helps me relax, let go, and let God?