August 25, 2016

Grace, Grace, and More Grace

It is a blessed morning here in sunny and warm Phoenix. Yes, our monsoon has slipped to the east, and is now moving into other parts of the country (New Mexico, I guess). This means that for the next 10 days or so, we are in a typical and very seasonal drying out period. We may till get some rain, but the likelihood is slim. The temperatures are moderate, which is such a good thing. Our expected highs are between 98-103, which is a good change of pace from our normal 105-109 that has been a regular thing since late May. Now, if only we could experience some early fall change (woohoo!) Yes, that would be sweet! Oh well, perhaps I will get to experience change of seasons soon. I pray it is soon, very soon, indeed.

It is a good day today. I am feeling well, and I slept very well last night. In all, I woke refreshed. My ongoing pattern of dreaming has ceased, well, at the least, I think it has ceased. I don't recall dreaming anything last night nor do I for the past couple days. I am thankful that I seem to be resting well again. Perhaps it is simply my stress level and the fact that I am feeling less and less stressed as the days pass by. I am guessing my low stress level is the result of something I did toward the weekend. I can't really put my finger on it, but suffice to say, I read something by my favorite Christian author, Joyce Meyer, that made me think twice about my attitude and my ability to "control" my everyday experience. Let me explain...

Bearing Good Fruit

A couple days ago, I was on Facebook and as usual, I read a Joyce Meyer quote. I subscribe to her feed, and her people are pretty good about posting some encouraging message or quote (with a link to her website or conference materials) every day. I was feeling a bit of stress over my second week at work, and while I wasn't consumed by it, I was annoyed and distracted. The quote I read said,

"Every single one of us has all the Fruit of the Spirit in us if we're believers in Jesus Christ. You have love, you have joy, you have peace, you have patience, you have goodness, kindness, meekness, gentleness, humility, self-control, it's all in you. So stop saying you need it. You don't need it. You got it. What you need to do is access it and walk in it".

I am not sure why this particular quote caught my attention, but it did. All day on Sunday, whenever I prayed or talked with the Lord, the last part of the quote kept bubbling back up to me. When Meyer (2016) said, "So stop saying you need it. You don't need it. You got it. What you need to do is access it and walk in it," my mind clicked on, and for a moment I thought, "A ha! I get it." It wasn't until Monday, though, when I was back on campus at ACU, that I really started to think more and more about this idea of "walking in the fruit," so to speak. You see, I have always known that the fruit (the evidence) of the Holy Spirit was to be manifested in the life of the believer as a testimony to not only the believer's walk or progressive faith in Christ, but also to the Body of Christ and the world, in general. I believed that growing the fruit was the domain of the Holy Spirit, and by that, I mean that my job was to NOT get in His way, so to speak. I was to not hinder His work in my life. In this way, I took on my role as passive, sort of a "get out of His way and don't prohibit His work" attitude as I grew in faith. However, I never really accepted the idea that I was to be active, that I was to become an active collaborator with the Holy Spirit. As such, I simply tried very hard to not keep that blessed fruit from growing, rather than actively living in the bearing ability of the Master grower (if you get my drift). Yes, I believed that fruit would grow as I let the Holy Spirit do His work in and through me. And, for the past 40 some years, I have been a passive vessel. 

In some ways, I think being passive is a good thing, so don't get me wrong here. It is just that recently, I have found myself lacking fruit, specifically the type of fruit that has the ability to counteract stress.

Stress in its most insidious form eats away at our life. In my case, stress causes me to become anxious, to be fearful, and to feel unwell. I have lived in a stress-fueled and stress-filled powder keg most of my life, and while my faith in Jesus Christ has been a blessing to me, and often, it has been my faith that has helped me feel safe during high times of stress, I have not been able to really counteract the effects of stress despite my faith walk (prayer, praise, bible reading, etc.).

So when I read this quote earlier in the week, my interest was piqued. I started to wonder if it was really true. Can we walk in the fruit of the Holy Spirit? Are we supposed to be active in this pursuit, and not just passively sitting by waiting for fruit to sprout in our life?

Galatians 5:22-23 (NASB) says,

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law."

As I thought about Meyer's quote and recited Galatians 5:22-23, I realized that if I applied this teaching to my life, I might just find the answer to my stress. Or at the least, a way to deal with my stress. 

I started my day on Monday with a prayer of confession, and then I asked the Lord to help me understand this principle of walking in faith or walking in the fruit of the Holy Spirit. I prayed specifically for the following fruit to be demonstrated to my students:
  • love
  • joy
  • peace
  • patience
  • self-control
Of the nine fruit, these five were the ones that I felt were most needed as a teacher of young men and women. I asked the Lord to help me walk in these particular fruit, and I have to say that whatever I did (or didn't do), He approved. I didn't notice any great influence on my students, per se; rather, I noticed the direct effect on my attitude, my countenance, and my ability to de-stress.

The Process

First of all, I made the conscious decision that these fruit were present in my life. If the Holy Spirit is in my life, then all of His works are in my life. Selah! Thus, I have everything I need to live a life that is pleasing to God the Father and to His Son, Jesus. You see, I don't have to do anything for this fruit to be manifested, and in that way, the passive part of this story is still true. As a believer in Christ Jesus, I have the Holy Spirit. 

In this way, every attribute that is His, well, it is with Him as He lives and works and moves within me. I don't have to ask for any of His attributes because that would be like asking God to be good to me (as if He had both good and bad in Him). God is Good because His nature, His very essence is GOOD. Therefore, He cannot be any way that is contrary to His nature. Likewise, the Holy Spirit cannot be anyway contrary to His nature. Thus, all of His fruit, His nature and characteristics are part of Him, and that means that everything that He is, is present and is active in my life.

Second, I confessed that the lack of peace in my life was causing me the most pain (as in physical pain or a lack of wellness). I said that of all the fruit needed, I felt that I needed peace the most. If I was at peace in every area of my life, then I believed (and I do believe) that I would easily live and walk in joy (happiness and contentment). Furthermore, peace would bring me patience or the ability to wait and be still while God worked out the details in my life. And last, with patience, I would be able to control my appetites, my desires, my wants with more authority and rule. 

My prayer to the Lord wasn't anything special. It was more a confirmation of a belief statement. I said something like,

"Lord, if this is true, then this would mean that today, right now, I have the ability to manifest peace in every area of my life. I can be at peace. I can express love and joy. I can be patient. I can be controlled." 

The Outcome

As I prayed that prayer, I went on about my day. Nothing earth-shattering happened to me. No major change was noticed. But, after a couple days (it is Thursday), I have noticed a calmness in my spirit, a more peaceful attitude and definitely less stress than before. Yes, I have noticed a lessening of the stress effects in my life. Keep in mind that what I am saying is that my circumstances haven't changed, and that the triggers that cause stress haven't mystically disappeared (though I do believe they have diminished). It is more so that I have begun to walk in peace right in the MIDST of my stress. You see, I have put into practice what Meyer (2016) was saying when she wrote, "When you operate in the Spirit, you have a supernatural ability to overcome" (para. 5).

I don't mean to assert that somehow I am now this wonderful Christian who can control their life in super powerful ways (like a super hero). No, not at all. I am still flawed, failed, and fragile human flesh. But, I have experienced His peace, and I have most recently experienced a rest from the stressors in my life. Meyer (2016) says, "Through the Spirit you can experience joy and peace in every circumstance, no matter how difficult or painful" (para. 1). In this way, I am experiencing the fruit of the Holy Spirit right in the middle of my current life struggles. Nothing has changed for me except for my attitude and my countenance. I have experienced blessing in the form of His peace. Now, my heart desires to experience more love -- for my family, my friends, and for those whom I meet day in and day out. Yes, my heart desires to experience the Holy Spirit's love for the world so that I can manifest His grace, God's marvelous grace, to everyone I meet.

Praying for Peace

As I pray for peace, one thing comes to mind, and that is that if we desire peace, joy, hope, love, etc., we must understand that every attribute that is God, is part of our arsenal or accessory tool belt. Yes, we can do all things through Christ simply because in CHRIST are held all things. If it is joy that I need this day, my Savior is able to manifest His joy to me through the blessed indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. I simply must activate it -- take that tool out of my belt -- and begin to use it. I trust the power to Him and Him alone, but I must actively take hold of the tool and put it to good use. The days of passively waiting for these good gifts to show up are over. I realized this week that I have everything I need to live a life that is pleasing to God. And, in this way, I can live a transformed life simply because of His finished work. He has done this for me and for you. He has made it possible for us to live in blessedness -- in hope, in joy, in love, and in peace -- it is finished, it is done. We must simply walk in these Godly attributes and characteristics.

In Closing

As I consider this truth today, I realize that for many years (and I mean MANY), I believed that the fruit of the Holy Spirit was simply imparted to me over time and by His design. I believed the way to bear fruit was to stand by and let the fruit grow. I was a passive partner with the Holy Spirit of God. I never saw myself as a workman, a carpenter or builder, as some one who was equipped for good work. But, God's word clearly teaches that we are workers in His kingdom, and as such, we are given the tools we need to do His work. Ephesians 2:10 (ESV) says, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." We have everything we need today to do His work. We are ready. We have been prepared, equipped, trained, and developed -- so now we must simply start doing this good work -- we must start to put hand-to-plow and do this good, good work! Selah!

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