Friday, February 28, 2014

Growing the Fruit of Patience

In writing this final post in my three-part blog series on, The Three Fruits of the Spirit with Which I Struggle, it has become apparent to me that the three fruits with which I struggle most are quite related--they all have to do with me trusting in God and His timing.  They all have to do with me relinquishing ultimate control to Him.  Comically and casually-speaking, they all have to do with me, "chilling out!"  All three of my problem fruits, peace, self-control, and patience, seem to also have a great deal to do with my personality.  I am a driven, "perfectionistic," worry-wart, goal-oriented, somewhat restless, and high-stress person by nature.  I want things done, I want them done right, and I want them done now--and I don't want anyone or anything causing any problems in the interim (and even if nothing or no one is, I'm worrying about that changing)!

In looking honestly at the nine, Fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, I bet you would find that the three lowest grown fruits on your personal tree would also have some similarities.  When we are low in one fruit, it can readily affect other fruits that are similar in nature.  I am guessing those who struggle with joy, probably also struggle with kindness and gentleness.  If you are a serious-type soul, you probably prefer to keep to yourself and you secretly wish others would do the same.  You probably struggle to find humor in day-to-day life, and therefore, laughter isn't something heard from your lips often.  Perhaps you are even borderline crabby much of the time and a bit cynical in life.  You prefer to think in private and keep those thoughts to yourself--and you wish others would just do the same.  In line at the grocery store, you are one of those people at whom I purposefully try to smile, and you look at me like you'd rather eat me for lunch than return the nicety.  You prefer to handle your own problems--and wish others would do likewise.  Your jaded soul does not understand people who compliment you or others, and assume it is flattery driven by weakness or impure motives.  You find yourself putting your foot in your mouth often, and privately glean sick pleasure in preying on the weaknesses of others.  People who wear their hearts on their sleeves deserve it, in your view.  They are, "easy targets."  You tend to say things in a, "tell it like it is" manner, and may not have many friends due to that.  Oh, well...that's less trouble for you, in your mind.

If you are someone who needs more love, goodness, and faithfulness, you perhaps struggle to treat your spouse or family in ways that show them they are second only to God.  Perhaps you have lost touch with relatives and friends because you just do not know how to maintain good relationships or show others they are loved and valued.  It all takes so much energy, you would rather just let those relationships go by the wayside than exert any effort in showing others they matter to you.  Maybe you don't really understand God's love or His personal love for you.  Therefore, you aren't very faithful in your walk with Him or anyone else.  You might even view God as a strict, distant disciplinarian Who expects too much of you.  Since you cannot find the faithfulness to live-up to His grand expectations, you have given-up trying.  Maybe you aren't even very faithful, loving, or good to yourself.  Perhaps love and faithfulness are things you have not been shown by many people in life--so you do not have them readily available for others.  Maybe you view relationships as avenues for superficial joy and fun, but the moment it gets tough or real, you are gone--or you run others off.  Your love is superficial, selfish, and lofty.  You by all means expect people to be good to you, but you do not spend much time trying to be good back to them.  Forgiveness is easily afforded to you, but you do not desire to return the favor.  You make goals for yourself and rarely see any of them come to pass.  You are flighty, easily bored, and self-concerned.

I do not say those things to be harsh.  The simple fact is, none of us exhibit all nine, Fruits of the Spirit 100% of the time.  If we did, we would be perfect like Christ (and we know that is a far-fetched notion)!  I say those things only to get you thinking about your own need for God's fruits in your life.  All nine fruits are related--they are all traits God desires for us to grow abundantly in our lives through the power of His Spirit.  They are for our betterment and blessing, and more importantly, for that of those He has placed in our lives.  But I believe they can be grouped in threes by further similarity.  For example, there are many kinds of apples--whether they are Galas, Fujis, or Honey Crisp, they are still apples and are all related.  But some apples are even more similar--some are better for baking and some are better for raw eating.  Likewise, the Fruits of the Spirit are all related, but some more closely than others.  I believe the lack of any of them in our lives is easily linked to a deeper sin-issue or tendency.  But they are all fruit and we are supposed to exhibit them, or at least, work to exhibit them if we know Christ.  They are the product of a life lived knowing God.  They are a sign to the world that we are different somehow.

The Pastor of my church, Jim Congdon, began the New Year with a sermon series entitled, "Simplify."  In our quest to create New Year's resolutions, Pastor Jim asked us all to, "keep it simple," and pick ONE WORD to carry with us through the year.  He encouraged us that by having just one word upon which to strive, we would be better able to improve and less likely to give-up.  When we try to tackle too many goals, we tend to quit, and hence, fail.  The word I chose for this year is fittingly, patience.  It happens to be the last fruit on which I am writing for this blog series.  My husband and a few close friends know this is my word for the year, and it has already been a great help (as well as, great comedic relief) to have that word present itself as the need arises.  Just the other day while taking my friend out for lunch, I began to lose my cool with another driver who pulled out in front of me, and she lovingly, softly said to me with a wink and smile, "Paaaaatienccccce."  We had a big chuckle!  The word presented itself a few more times that day (hey, it's not my fault the people of Lawrence don't know how to drive...pray for me, people)!

I have written about patience at length in a former blog post entitled, "While We Wait."  In that post I share of the fact that we are all waiting on things in our lives.  None of us ever really "arrive" at having every personal need met and every desire fulfilled.  I don't need to bemoan or repeat myself with the same thoughts here, and you can easily put that blog title into the "search" tab (to the right on this blog page) if you want to read more on, "waiting."  Essentially, we all have small issues of needed patience in our lives and we have big ones.  In some of the big areas, God is teaching us patience and then some!  Perhaps we have waited many years, even decades, for some prayers to be answered or fulfilled.  But I believe the main reason God wants us to exhibit patience is so we will learn to let go of trying to control our lives and just trust Him.  If we got everything we wanted or needed every moment we asked, we would be intolerable, spoiled brats (I already am one, and I certainly don't get everything I need or want)!  God wants us to see that He can sustain us regardless of the things we are lacking in this life.  He wants to prove to us that He is all we really need (because He is).

When I think about my moments of impatience, some of the things that are going through my head (or that have gone through my head and are now fueling the impatience) are the following:

"Well, crap.  I am going to be late--as always!"
"I swear--I never have enough time to do ANYTHING."
"Why is this happening to me?"
"Why did God give that to him/her and not to me?  He/she doesn't even want it or value it.  They squander it.  They take all credit for it."
"This person is doing/saying this on purpose to hurt me."
"I am so tired of being manipulated and used."
"Do I have a sign around my neck that says, 'Make fun of me?!'"
"Do I have a sign around my neck that says, 'Kick me--I don't kick back?!'"
"I don't deserve this."
"This could turn out disastrous."
"All my hard work is for nothing."
"This is never going to change."
"This person is never going to change."
"There is no way God will ever turn this around."
"This situation is hopeless."
"I'm not going to get this done now."
"I'm never going to get this done."
"This is going to set me back."
"If I don't get this done today, tomorrow will be worse."
"If God doesn't change this, life won't be right...and it's just going to get worse."
"I should have been able to tackle all this--I am such a loser."
"Why does it seem others can juggle way more than I?!"
"I'm just so tired, Lord.  I'm just beat."
"I can't do this anymore, God.  I'm done."
"God, I sowed 'good' in that person's life.  Why I am reaping 'bad?'  It isn't fair. I thought You were just?  Your Word says, 'We reap what we sow.'  Come on, God!"
"There was no point in that, God.  What were you thinking?!"
"What is the point of any of this?!  It is a waste of my time!"
"God, why am I everyone's whipping post?! I get so tired of being everybody's door mat."

Now, please understand that these are not thoughts I have daily, weekly, or even monthly.  In my desire to be vulnerable and transparent, the last thing I need is someone reading this and thinking, "Oh, my.  She REALLY has issues!"  My answer to that would be, "Yes, I do.  And the fact that you are thinking that, tells me you do, too, friend," (i.e., critical spirit and opinionated negativity)!  I only share this list with you to help you recognize mental triggers that will start you down the path to impatience.  Many times they are subtle thoughts I don't even realize I am having.  Some times I believe they aren't even my thoughts, but the whispers of the enemy spurring me toward impatience and negative discouragement.  I do think we have to be cautious giving too much credit to the enemy.  We get ourselves into plenty of trouble, too!  As I look over the list though, I realize yet again what a fearful, over-driven, type-A, people-pleasing, do-list-crosser-off-er I am.  I see clearly what a worry-wart I am.  It is obvious to me that I need to spend more time, "chillaxing," so to speak!  I can see a few items on the list that display doubt and a lack of trust in God (as well as, the prideful boldness to think I can bargain and argue with Him).  It is also very sad to me to see how the actions and words of others too often provoke negative, hurtful, angry thoughts in me that then manifest as impatience.  Impatience is simply me trying to be God of my own life--God of my time, my do-list, my relationships, my plans, my ministries, my work, my everything.  Yes, friends--I'm a control freak in recovery.  If you have ever struggled with impatience, you are, too.

When we get impatient, we display the ugly side of ourselves.  It comes out as anger and perhaps even some choice vocabulary words.  But the essence of that is an impure heart--and we ALL have one of those from time to time.  When we exhibit impatience, we are essentially saying that we don't have the desire or the time to deal with things or people who are beneath us (ugh) and our much more important lives and plans (ugh, again).  We are self-absorbed and greedy with our time and our desires.  When we have to wait on something--even something little--and we are impatient, we are basically demanding something of God in utter greed for ourselves.  We possess the fast food mentality of, "Give it to me now and give it to me my way!"   It is pure ugliness.  It is rotten fruit.

Honestly, a severe lacking of any of the nine, Fruits of the Spirit, brings ugliness.  People who refuse to return a smile suffer from it.  People who refuse to offer up a kind word of encouragement but constantly expect it, suffer from ugliness.  People who are nice to your face but "talk smack" on you behind your back suffer from it.  People who are always looking for the negative in others and critically picking apart everything and everyone in life suffer greatly from it.  People who cannot be faithful to their spouse, their family, or their friends suffer from rottenness.  As I thought about the rotten ugliness that comes from a lack of fruit, and the opposing beauty of a healthy tree or vine filled with luscious, ripe fruit, I was reminded of what Jesus said in John 15:5, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing."  Without living a life in Christ the ugliness will rear its head--and the fruit will either not grow or it will rot.  Perhaps you're thinking, "Well, I've succeeded at a lot of things in my life and not lived 'for Christ.'  So I'm doing just fine, thank you."  My response to that would be the following:  Evaluate your heart and your life seriously and honestly.  Ask God how you are doing, and listen patiently for His reply.  I believe any successes we have that aren't done for the glory of God or done with a heart that has given all credit to Christ may be fruit, but they are rotten fruit.  What good did it do anyone that you succeeded if you have given the wrong person credit?!  It is all folly and all in vain.  It will be dust one day and no one will care.  Nothing good we do here will make any difference in the lives of others without a legacy of Christ being left behind with it.  That is a fruit that never rots and it multiplies a harvest of sound-living for generations to come.

In closing, I leave you with this prayer: 

Dear Lord,

Thank You for loving me in spite of my constant battle to grow more fruit in my life.  Thank You for Your mercy, patience, and forgiveness in my life.  I feel like I am a loser-Christian many times, Lord.  I fail you daily, and I have been an embarrassment to the throne of God many times in my life.  But I feel Your love, care, and provision in my life, and it keeps me going.  I know that apart from You, I will either be fruitless, or I will drop rotten fruit from the branches of my life.  I'm sick of doing both, Lord.  Help me this year to remember my word, PATIENCE, and immediately relinquish control of my life to You whenever I am tempted to fret and stew with negative, worrisome thoughts.  You will take care of all the things pressing upon me and my life in Your time and in Your way.  I trust You, Lord.  You are the best time-keeper of my life, and I know You want only the best for me.  Nothing and no one can harm me without it going through Your hand first--and even then, it will only bring good and betterment to my life.  So I relinquish all fear, and ask You to shelter me and my life from things and people that bring harm and pain, and that are not helpful to me.  I trust that You know what is best and will bring what is best.  I ask You to close and lock doors that are not Your will, and remove those things and people in my life that/who are not good for me and are stifling my growth of fruit.  I ask You to bring only those things and people that/who will spur me on to growing more fruit abundantly for Your Name and Your purposes. I praise You, God, for giving me just what I needed in a husband.  Thank You, God, for Matt~that he helps me to relax quite regularly, and that he has such a calming presence and is a precious, laid-back soul.  Thank You for giving me someone with whom to share this life who is all that I am not.  Help me to never take him for granted.  Help me to never take YOU for granted.  Help me to do everything in Your name, in Your strength, and for Your glory so that I am not tempted to become impatient. Help me to stay closely connected to Your vine so that my branches produce a harvest that will make You proud.  I love you, Lord.  I need you every second of every minute of every day.

I ask all these things in Jesus' Name,

Be fruitful, friends.  Much love in the harvest to you!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Growing the Fruit of Self-Control

 "A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls."
Proverbs 25:28 (ESV) 

In my prior blog post, I stated that out of the nine, Fruits of the Spirit, found in Galatians 5:22-23, there are three with which I struggle to possess.  I discussed how, peace, is one fruit I don't always have ready for the picking.  Today I will share the second fruit upon which I prayerfully hope to have an increased harvest--that of, self-control.

As I came across the key verse above in my study of this fruit, two things stood out to me.  One, I found it interesting that a lack of self-control in your life is as if you have been violated (or, "broken into").  I tend to think of self-control by its name--an issue of being able or unable to control yourself.  But this verse hints that it is not only a, "self" issue, but also one of being controlled by an external force.  Something trespasses your boundaries and invades your space.  Two, not only has a breach occurred, but you are left vulnerable (you are, "left without walls").  In researching Scriptures on self-control, I found many more verses that spoke to the idea of choosing to control oneself than I did verses like this which include the power of the external issue.  It makes sense to me that there is more involved in the matter of self-control than just me.  It typically involves being under attack. 

Even Jesus, Who was perfect and never succumbed to His temptations, was not just dealing with a, "self" issue when tempted.  Scripture makes it clear that He was being prodded by the enemy.  Since Jesus was perfect and had full access to God the Father (He was God the Father in the flesh--John 10:30; Colossians 2:9), He was never provoked to sin by Satan (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15).  We, however, are human and sinful.  Therefore, we are not only easier to prod, but we also get provoked to sin quite readily.

Friends, I desire to share with you the areas in which I struggle with self-control--not because I view you as priests to whom I must confess.  I don't need a priest--I've already got a perfect One (Hebrews 4:14-16).  I am desirous of sharing because it will perhaps bring to mind your own particular areas where improvement is needed.  When we do not have "get real" moments with ourselves, our progress is stifled.  To reach any goal, specific targets must be identified.  I am also sharing in order that my words may bring life, peace, hope, encouragement, and help to someone else.  So here goes...

The areas with which I particularly struggle with self-control are as follows:

*Over-eating.  Let me be clear--I do not struggle on a ridiculous level with this.  I have never been someone who eats an entire box of cookies (or even desires that) or half a bag of chips in one sitting.  I don't struggle with improper snacking.  Chocolate even gets stale in my candy dish (and I crave chocolate).  But I have a healthy appetite at meal-time.  My stomach prefers three squares a day and I want them to be reasonably hearty.  I don't want "seconds," I would just like to eat around 1,800-2,000 calories per day versus 1,400-1,600, as is recommended for a woman my height, age, and activity-level.  Therefore, I have a battle with maintaining the preferred weight at which I feel the best.  Since turning 40, I am perpetually trying to manage 5-10 pounds.  Middle-aged women cannot eat three squares a day--certainly not average or hearty ones.  Health experts say we should instead eat five tiny meals throughout a given day, or 2 to 3 light snacks and one smallish, healthy meal.  Basically, none of the food I love qualifies (Mexican, Asian, Italian, BBQ, etc.), because a typical meal in any of those food genres is well over the suggested calorie max for one meal (unless you take two bites and call that a feast).  Well, I think this stinks.  But it has become apparent to me after a discussion with my sister in-law, that it is an issue of self-control with which I know God desires to help me.  It doesn't help that in my twenties (and even thirties) I could pretty much eat whatever I wanted and not gain much, if any, weight at all.  It came off much easier, too.  You get spoiled with that blessing and it becomes a curse later.

* My thought-life (worries/fears/harboring hurts).  When your personality is such that you are prone to certain sins or destructive behaviors, look out.  They can become fierce bad habits and we all know that our minds are the control-centers for everything else--our emotions, our mental/physical health, our behavior, and our beliefs.  The Bible says we all have sins to which we are susceptible, and my mind is my biggest obstacle.  God has been dealing with me on these things my entire life, but I praise Him for the strides I have made with regard to worry and fear in the past year.  I am also done with regrets and holding grudges--I honestly have none.  I figure God is best suited to deal with everyone who has ever wronged me intentionally or who chooses not to forgive me for my wrongdoings.  I can also happily deduce that those who have chosen to walk out of my life made the right choice for them, me, or both.  When we truly know God, He is our ultimate Protector.  He is fair, just, and knows more about all our hurtful situations than even we do.  So He is best-equipped to manage who stays and who goes.  He promises to fight our battles and we only need to sit still (Exodus 14:14). 

* OCD tendencies/perfectionism.  Okay, people.  It's, "get real" time, and I would plead for your discrete grace, maturity, understanding, and ethical mindset here.  I have never been diagnosed with any mental illness.  But if I am utterly honest, I know I have had times where my perfectionism has been borderline OCD, at best.  When you cannot put your groceries away until they have been wiped-off (because those items have been touched by Lord knows who and will eventually end up on your kitchen counter), and the labels are facing front for quick location, you probably have an issue with perfectionism.  (Now you perfectionists can make fun of me for that, but you probably have your own odd annoyances, too.  I once was mocked for being a germaphobe by someone who takes her own sheets to every hotel and puts a huge scarf down on her movie theater seat)!  But God has been working with me the past several years with the realization that perfectionism is a colossal waste of time.  I am still battling this.  My church's Head Pastor, Jim Congdon, once shared a sermon on perfectionism.  I recall him stating that if we, "perfectionists," could learn to just be happy with doing every task to our own 80% approval-rating, we would still be doing them to a much higher level than the majority, and saving ourselves an enormous amount of time, energy, and stress.  I have often used that grading scale when I am doing tasks that I would rather do, "perfectly" than a mere 80% (Lord, help me)!  Our time and lives are short, so it is time to get real about the idiosyncrasies that bug us--are they really worth the effort?!  All OCD really is, is an issue of over-control (that could be an alternate for the acronym)!  OCD is self-control on acid.  It is a lack of trust in God on meth.  You are motivated by pure fear and therefore, trying to control your life so that you don't have any ridicule, illness, pain, trials, problems, more work later, and so you can feel better about the stuff you cannot control.  It is a desire to over-compensate (ah ha, another alternate for the acronym) for things that are really bugging you.  The sad reality is that you are not in control of any of it anyway.  If your family or friends are going to mock you for not making your bed with hospital corners or not keeping your car tires glowing from Armor All, they need to get a life--and you need to get new friends and tell your family to step-off!  If you get sick, who cares?!  There's always a great film on Netflix you haven't had time to watch!  Friends, if any of this is ringing true for you, please know that I have prayed in advance for any and all who battle this on any level.  I give you a sisterly hug and much love via this post!  I don't know about you, but I don't care to be remembered as the lady who could serve you dinner off her immaculate floors.  Dear Lord, I pray I have more influence and more to give in this life than that.

* Diligence with health/fitness.  I am probably being too hard on myself with this one because I know for a fact that I workout more than most. I am also one of those crazy people who actually loves to workout!  But on the days when I would rather be lazy, those are the times when I especially need to get off my hiney and drag myself joyfully to the gym.  Why be so fanatical?  Because those are also the days when the above issues tend to begin to surface.  When you are sluggish in one area, it can be a slippery slope (as the key verse states--your city is without walls).  I want to be a disciplined athlete--and diligent people do things even when they don't "feel" like it.  Any doctor will tell you that every human needs to be physical and sweaty at least three times a week.  I am faithful to this many weeks...then there are other weeks...

* Faithfulness with reading God's Word.  I have made significant improvements in the past few years with having a daily quiet time where I at least read a devotional and have my own prayer-time.  Intercession is one of my spiritual gifts--I am a person who readily prayers throughout the day (and I don't even want to know the kind of person I would be if I didn't--I need it)!  But as for serious Bible study, I need to work harder at making my time with God less of a, "do list" item.  He cannot speak to me when I rush through my relationship with Him.

* Controlling my temper (in my car) & watching my tongue (set a watch over my lips, Lord, Psalm 141:3).  I have previously shared of these sin issues ad nauseum.  They are not major issues, but 1/4 Latina does rear its ugly head from time to time.

It is funny yet sensible that a few of these areas of mine are so closely related to my other weaker fruits--peace and patience.  I mentioned in my prior blog post on peace that to get victory over bad habits, you have to replace them with good ones.  It is truly about choices--what are we going to choose to do with regard to our self-control:  Are we going to suppress bad tendencies, or go with them?  Are we going to let our borders be violated and open to further breachings, or set-up boundaries and guards?  Are we going to create disciplined choices that bring life to our beings, or follow the same old unsuccessful patterns we are trying to beat? Are we going to do this in our own limited strength, or utilize the endless power of the Holy Spirit given to each of us who know Him...?

Some of the stuff with which we need to exercise self-control is going to require us to control our own behavior.  Some of it will require relinquishing control over it to God.  What did Jesus do when tempted?  He prayed asking God to deliver Him from it (invoking God's help and protection). He quoted Scripture to the enemy (setting His mind on the right things, reinstating the boundaries, and using the strongest weapon He had against His nemesis).  He fled the temptation (shoring up His borders and changing the setting so as to secure the best outcome).  We have to do the same things.  Just as with the fruit of peace, we have to choose to exercise self-control, as the word itself suggests.  We have to guard the borders of our personal city.  But we are never alone in that battle--God is always with us and there to help us.  We first make the choice, and then use His wisdom and strength to bring it to fruition and harvest.  Help us all, Lord--especially me.  Thank You for loving us regardless of our imperfections, quirks, and failings.  Thank You that Your grace is enough.  Amen.

Related Scriptures:

*  2 Corinthians 12:9, "But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me."

*  2 Timothy 1:7, "For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control."

*  1 Corinthians 9:25, "Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable."