Where Did My Joy Go?
You probably know the "Fruit of the Spirit" verse by heart...
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23a)
Why is it that we Christians --who have the Holy Spirit living within us-- are missing the Spiritual fruit? It's like a fruit thief sneaked in and stole it when we weren't looking!
A thief broke in and stole it!
For years my wife and I would tease each other when we misplaced something. We would blame the loss on a mysterious thief who must have broken in and taken it --knowing full well that the misplaced item would be discovered later somewhere in the house. Nonetheless, the teasing would go on until the day it was found.
When confronted by troubles, the first fruit that I notice missing from my life --stolen by that thief-- is joy. I asked some of the other members of our house church what fruit they first noticed to be missing when their difficulties began piling on. Their answers varied. One said self-control, another --faithfulness, another --gentleness, and another --kindness, and for two of us --it's joy.
Let's set the record straight here before I mislead you. The fruit of the Spirit is not really given to me for my own consumption; it's God's provision for others. I am merely a "fruit tree" that He uses to feed my brothers and sisters. But how can I give what I don't have?
Now, I know that the Holy Spirit brought joy along with all of the other fruit when He took up residence in me. So what is it that blinds me to that fact? It's strictly a lack of trust. Trust in God is not the issue --it's my many other insecurities --my relationships with my family, boss, coworkers, neighbors, just about everyone. There are even times when I struggle with trusting myself!
It's apparent that my joy is gone when I find that circumstances aren't going the way that I think they should. I feel out of control. Helplessness creeps in and brings along its party companions --anxiety, frustration, depression and misery!
"Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into."
- Oliver Hardy
What's the answer to this mess that I find myself in? Let's look at that Galatians "Fruit of the Spirit" passage again, but this time in context to see what God is trying to tell us.
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. (Galatians 5:13-15)
When our flesh is in control, we indulge ourselves with self-love, self-service, self-pity and even self-righteousness. Attitudes of self-importance lead to destroying others so that we can stay on top --be in control-- of our situations.
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. (Galatians 5:16-18)
When circumstances (trials, tribulations) arise, the first thoughts into my mind are to respond defensively (the natural response to fear). The battle lines form in my mind: My flesh with its emotional thoughts on one side and the Spirit with God's truth on the other. If I dwell on my emotions, the result will be angry words and acts of retaliation or even aggression. But if I redirect my thoughts to Spiritual truths, I will experience God's peace --the peace that is beyond understanding.
Regardless of which one I choose, my actions will follow my thoughts --it's the way we were designed. Let's take a brief side trip to Ephesians 2 to get a better understanding.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.
All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature [our flesh] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions --it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:1-5)
"Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does.
Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up." - James Baldwin
Everyone --Christian and non-Christian alike-- has a natural tendency toward evil behavior. For those without God, it is just their normal life, they have no choice. However, Christians can choose follow the Spirit. It is that Spirit that leads us into all truth and is our seal --God's proof to us that we have been separated from the rest of the world and that we belong to Him.
So let's not get conceited --we Christians do basically the same things whether in actions or merely in our thoughts. The difference is that we have had our hearts (our inner beings) circumcised (cut away) from our fleshly attitudes and behaviors. And --thank God-- our flesh will not accompany us into His presence when this life in the body is over.
The acts of the sinful nature [or flesh] are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
Here we are back to where we began --the fruit of the Spirit. In context this passage depicts a wholesome person that overflows with the good things of God. It's the person that we all want to be around --especially when the tides of troubles come rolling in.
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. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. (Galatians 5:22-26)
What causes a fruit tree to be fruitless? The answer is simple. We focus on ourselves instead of Jesus. And what causes that? The law does that. The law --God's or one we create and impose on ourselves-- reveals nothing but flaws and failures. And the more we Christians think about them (our mistakes, sins, transgressions, errors) the more self-consumed we become. It's a vicious cycle of expecting something good to come from our fallen humanity.
"When you've seen beyond yourself, then you may find,
peace of mind is waiting there." - George Harrison
The only effective way to break this cycle is to accept the truth --God's truth.
- First, He removed all of the barriers between people and Himself. Jesus paid the required price for all sin and for all people --it cost Him His very life.
"Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation" (Colossians 1:21-22)
- Second, He has offered a new start for each of us --a new birth --a new creation --no guilt, shame or condemnation.
"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death." (Romans 8:1-2)
- With that new beginning, He also began a process of showing us a new and better way to live.
"But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:26-27)
Life is based, has its foundation, has its security, is totally dependent, on Jesus. We have security --whether we recognize it or not-- because all of the bad in us has been crucified with Jesus --there is no more penalty to be paid --leaving us free to live a life pleasing to Him.
Knowing that I am not chained to my flesh --with its emotional thoughts of insecurities-- frees me to be fruitful. He has set me free through His Son. His Spirit has filled me with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. With my focus on Him, He shows me those who need His fruit.
I hope that when you find your fruit missing, you will remember that God is at work in you --setting you free to see the needs of others and serve them in love. Amazingly, His fruit will be there for them to be encouraged. And your life will be miraculously full. May God richly bless you.
Continue reading more of Doug's blog: "Communicating"
Law (Legalism) vs. Grace
Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: 'This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.' Then he adds: 'Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.' And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. (Hebrews 10:13-18 - NIV)