Growing old is an adventure. No one is good at it. No one has had any experience at it when they first get old, so it takes time to learn the ropes. There are definitely some difficult things that are a pain—terrible balance and mobility, impossible to sleep more than 3 hours at a time, not being able to do things you would like to do after 5:00 P.M. when your energy plug is pulled.
However, there are some really good things about growing old as well, not the least of which is not being able to do things you don’t want to do after 5:00 P.M. when your energy plug is pulled!
Another good thing—during those sleepless times in the wee morning hours after I have been up prowling since midnight and have gone back to bed because I know I will be exhausted tomorrow if I don’t get any more sleep—is that I am learning how to meditate.
Meditation is mentioned all through the Psalms, but not being the pensive, thoughtful, measured type, I never thought much about it. I am just now, as an octogenarian, starting to learn a little bit about what seems to have been King David’s go-to method of communicating with his Heavenly Father.
For example, over the years I have memorized, just by reading it many times, the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22, 23, but I have never thought deeply about each of the nine fruits mentioned. Recently, my sleepless nights have caused me to do so, and the result has been amazing to me, and I want to share a brief snippet of my discovery with you.
Any reading of Galatians 5:22, 23, if we pay any attention at all as we read, is to recognize that those qualities listed by Paul would be very desirable ones for me to possess. My life would be radically changed for both me and all those around me if they were consistently present in my life. A closer reading, with some accompanying thought and any degree of self-awareness at all, would reveal to me whether or not I am experiencing each and to what degree. Let’s briefly look at the first three of these today.
1. Love. Another of Paul’s lists of godly qualities is in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. This passage is the definition of this “love” that begins our fruit of the Spirit list, and it is totally different than the general conception of what love is. In verse 5, Paul describes love as not being “provoked” in the NKJ version of the Bible. I originally missed the fullness of the meaning of what that word means in the original Greek. Thoughtful meditation led me to the Amplified Translation: “Love takes no account of the evil done to it (it pays no attention to a suffered wrong).”
The implications of this are staggering when I apply it to my heart attitude toward those whom I am called to love. Even though they may have wronged me (i.e., my wife, a family member, a brother in the Lord, or even my enemies), I am to take no account. How could I not be offended nor even react in any way when I have had evil done to me but instead continue to love them? I am an utter failure, with no hope of ever having this kind of love.
2. Joy. Paul, James and Peter all instruct us to “rejoice (‘make joyful’) always” (Philippians 4:4), even in the midst of “various trials” (James 1:2-4), and rejoice “to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings” (1 Peter 4:13).
Is the Bible actually telling me that I am to rejoice to the extent I am able to experience the sufferings Jesus went through, because it is desirable for me to get to do so? Does this not sound like madness?
The verses above tell me that joy must not be anything like happiness, because I can always have it, even in the midst of trials and tragedies, and they seem to be saying that I will have more joy the more I suffer! Joy obviously must have nothing to do with circumstances, whereas happiness is completely dependent on them. How can I ever experience such a thing?
3. Peace. “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Jesus tells me that as long as I live in the world, I will not have peace, neither externally in the world and with those around me, nor even internally in my heart.
Another word for peace is “satisfaction”—being completely satisfied with myself and my circumstances. This means wanting nothing, right now, but what I have, right now, because I have Jesus and He brings me peace because He has given me, right now, what I need, right now, and nothing more, nothing less. Impossible!
Ironically, the first step in experiencing these fruits of the Spirit, and the other six as well, is to see and acknowledge that—I don’t! I have been a failure at loving in my heart those who have wronged me, and my joy and peace have been dependent on my circumstances. It is hard for me to leave the “fruit of the Spirit” to the Holy Spirit totally and not try to produce the “fruit of Robert’s wonderful, godly character.”
This is what living by faith is: recognizing and embracing the fact that I have no “wonderful, godly character,” but I am, in my heart, a wicked sinner, described perfectly by Paul in Romans 3:10-12: “Not even one person is righteous. No one understands. No one searches for God. All have turned away. They have become completely worthless. No one shows kindness, not even one person!
Hallelujah! Living by faith is knowing and believing, right now, that this sin is all completely forgiven. God remembers none of it against me any more, and the Holy Spirit lives in me right now, producing His fruit in me, with absolutely no effort on my part, while I am eagerly embracing my sin!
Does anything make less sense than this? But this is God’s truth. He tells us “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8, 9).
Embracing my sin while simultaneously believing they are all forgiven comprises “walking by faith” and releases the Holy Spirit to produce love, joy and peace in my life! Next week we will investigate the next three fruits: patience, kindness and goodness.