Thursday, June 14, 2012

Fruit of the Spirit

Galatians 5:16-24 (NIV)

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

The acts of the 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.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
This is one of those passages I read through four or five times and I’m still not sure what to type. I feel lie if there were two checklists, one for the acts of the flesh and one for the fruit of the Spirit, I’d have far too many checks on the wrong side of the ledger. And while I know I can pray for forgiveness and find salvation through God’s grace (and grace alone), I think I’d be happier with myself if I was a lot more of a fruit of the Spirit guy. Being able to ask for forgiveness is tremendous — but so is not doing things that cause you to seek forgiveness.

The more I think about it, the more I realize how similar this feeling is to the situation I often find myself in with Jack (and Max to some extent) — Kristie or I explain something over and over again, day after day, and it never sinks in. I realize this doesn’t make us unique. But there are certain things Jack will do (I am struggling for a specific example) where as soon as one of us says something, he’ll reel off “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” and we just have to tell him if he hadn’t done it in the first place, he wouldn’t need to apologize. So simple and yet so hard.

So where does that leave me? As a person, I know my own failings. I either catch myself in the midst of a thought or behavior I would rather not engage in (but am doing anyway) or, worse, I think, I have the foresight to avoid something regrettable and ignore my better judgment. I’m in my 30s. I can hardly expect an 8-year-old, who shares a sizable chunk of my genetic code, to control his impulses any better than I do. But as a parent, I have to keep working for him and his brothers to help them make better choices, to have self control and to avoid the types of behaviors that will lead to them seeking forgiveness.

During a small group discussing several months ago, awe were discussing the idea of growing up in the church and how that might deprive a person of the notion of what life is like without God. If you’ve always had some degree of faith, does that not make it hard to speak to someone else about how faith changed your life? You’re baptized, you grow up going to church school, you get confirmed — the ideal outcome is for faith to deepen throughout your Christian education experiences and eventually make it wholly your own, carried through your adult life. But you always have it — you always know what it means to try to be led by the Spirit.

Within that conversation, one of our group members shed some new light (for me) on the subject. He explained he knows his own weaknesses and tendencies and how his faith life helps him keep focus. Just knowing, he said, what kind of person he might well become without following the Spirit’s call is window enough to understand the effect of trying to live a life worthy of God.

Turning back to the children, I can see a practical parallel. I am envisioning giving the boys 24 hours with no rules whatsoever. The bathtub would stay dry. Every tooth would go unbrushed. There would be crumbs everywhere (all right, that one happens now…) and every last bag of fruit snacks would be consumed. I’m reasonably sure they’d use the toilet, but neither would flush it (again, that one happens now…). What would become of them with no one around to break up their fights? Would they simply stare at the TV all day? Would they actually crash form the sugar high, or just keeping taking hits as often as they could? How many broken toys could pile up in one day?

I think it’s unfair to accuse kids this young of “sinning” in this regard, as most of the things I described are simple indulgences. An adult “allowed” to be fully indulgent for 24 hours could get in unfathomably deeper trouble. If I simply think about all the times I catch myself before I think or act, then picture what kind of person I’d be if I never refrained, well… in part that exercise makes me feel better about the person I am. But I know I have room for improvement. Feeling like you’re doing a pretty good job probably is a sign you’re not, or at least you’re not being honest with yourself.

And for me, being honest with myself is its own challenge, kind of a major impediment to addressing all the others. I can and must do better. I owe it to myself and especially my family.

A prayer for June 14:

Lord, I am a sinner and ask your forgiveness. Too often I am aware the direction the Spirit is trying to lead me and insist on following my own path. I strive for the fruits of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control — and ask you to open me to such things, to make room for them in my heart and to drive out wickedness in all forms. Amen.

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