Do you feel uncomfortable praying out loud? In front of people? I know many people who do. Fear of public speaking is one thing, but when the public speaking is a prayer, isn’t that even harder? Some people will do all that they can to avoid it, but when you have been asked directly to do so, it seems a little awkward, and unspiritual, to say no. Once you start praying, feeling self-conscious will only make it harder to find the right words, thus making you feel more inadequate. It’s a vicious cycle.
The truth is, we often have similar problems even when we are praying quietly by ourselves. We know that we should pray, but we’re not quite sure just how, nor about what specifically. We still have trouble finding the words. If we have just been diagnosed with a serious illness, or we are having financial or relationship difficulties, or if any of those things are happening to a loved one, what do we ask God for? Do we ask for healing or resolutions? Do we ask that we would become more like Christ through the trial? Do we ask that God’s will would be done? As humans, we don’t get to see the big picture. We don’t know all the details of what God’s plan entails. We don’t know the end from the beginning. We don’t always know what’s best for us. We only know that we want help right now.
The good news is that God understands how we feel. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and He has promised us that when we don’t know what to say, what to ask for, the Holy Spirit is here to help. Romans 8:26-27 tells us that the Spirit not only steps in to help us communicate with God in a way that is beyond our understanding, but also that it is always in accordance with God’s will. Since the Spirit and the Father are one, the Spirit always knows the right thing to ask for.
But we don’t get off the hook completely. Verse 26 says that the Spirit helps us in our weakness. It doesn’t say that the Spirit sees that we can’t do it, or don’t want to do it, so He steps up and takes over. No, the word translated as helps is used only in one other place in the New Testament, and that is in Luke 10:40 when Martha asks Jesus to tell Mary to help her. Martha wasn’t planning to quit and make Mary take over the meal preparation; she just wanted a little assistance. The Holy Spirit is not going to do our praying for us either. We need to start. We need to try. We need to express our prayerful thoughts the best way we know how. But, whether we are praying alone or in front of others, we can ask the Spirit to help us, and He will.
Well here we are again December. Sometimes the days and months seem to fly right by, and sometimes they seem to move so slowly. The fact is the length of a minute, day or week doesn’t change; it is all about our perceptions and expectations. Do you remember when you were younger--or maybe not so much younger--waiting for Christmas? You had asked for something you really wanted, and you could hardly wait until Christmas morning to see if Santa / a parent / a sibling… had listened to your request.
The Israelites had been waiting for not weeks or months, but years, centuries even, for the Messiah who had been promised to them. As a matter of fact, God gave them a hint in Isaiah 7:14, and it was still about 700 years before the promise was fulfilled. As I said in my last post, waiting can make you doubt. Some of the Israelites may have even forgotten what they were waiting for. But a man named Simeon didn’t. (Luke 2:25-32) He was very devout, and he was waiting patiently for the Lord to reveal His gift, the Messiah. He had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Messiah before he died. (Luke 2:26) Just as an aside: isn’t it a good thing that Simeon recognized when the Holy Spirit was speaking and then listened to Him? That is what brought Simeon to the temple the day that Mary and Joseph arrived with Jesus. The Bible doesn’t tell us how old Simeon was, but it does tell us that now that he had seen the Messiah, his life purpose had been fulfilled. He was ready to depart from this world. (Luke 2:29)
The people of Israel had been waiting an incomprehensibly long time for their Messiah to be revealed, and many of them, like Simeon, remained faithful to the task. The very same Messiah is here knocking at our door, and all we have to do is open it and let Him in--no waiting required. (Revelation 3:20) It can be Christmas morning for us at any time. All we have to do is accept the gift.
Do you ever take a really close look at yourself, at your character? Can you be honest in your assessment, or does pride get in the way? Are you doing the things that you know are right? One of my husband’s favourite quotations comes from Anatole France: “It is human nature to think wisely and act in an absurd fashion.” You know the right thing to do, the wise thing to do, but you don’t always do it. Maybe you get distracted or redirected, or you do things without thinking at all. Or maybe, for whatever reason, you give in to the temptation of doing what you know is wrong.
The Apostle Paul faced this same struggle. In Romans 7:18-19 he tells us that he wants to do good, but he doesn’t. He does the very thing that he doesn’t want to do. There was a constant battle within him, and there is a constant battle within us, between doing what will please God and doing what will please Satan. Satan is always trying to win our hearts, and is always presenting us with opportunities to mess up. Each time we take him up on it, he wins a small victory. But we can’t blame it all on Satan; we always have a choice. And more importantly, we have the power to overcome the temptation. What is the answer? It is not in the removal of temptations, because they will be with us for all of our lives. The answer is in allowing the Holy Spirit to work through us. This option is only possible because of the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Because He conquered sin, He fulfilled the righteous requirements of God, which allows us to be forgiven for all the bad choices that we make. We make a one-time decision to accept Christ’s gift of salvation, but we need to choose daily, sometimes hourly, to accept, to invite, the power of the Holy Spirit into our lives to fight the temptations that we face and to help us to make the right choices.
This is something that cannot be done without humility. Do you think you have it all together? Are you not willing to admit your weakness against temptation? Is your pride telling you that you don’t have a problem? If you were to be honest with yourself, you would see that we all struggle with this issue. (Genesis 6:5, Romans 3:23) The good news is that God delights in forgiving and healing the hurts of those who will humbly ask for help. (II Chronicles 7:14) Don’t let pride get in your way.
Preparing to compete in the Olympic Games takes a great deal of training and self-discipline. The Isthmian Games that took place near the city of Corinth were very similar and were well known to Paul’s readers. Therefore Paul knew that they would understand the symbolism he used to make his point in I Corinthians 9:24-27.
There was no legal requirement, then or now, that anyone should have to run a race or compete in any other athletic competition. Why then did people do it? Why did people put so much time and effort into training for the events? Once an athlete committed to competing in the Isthmian Games, they were required to go through a ten-month training program. Olympic athletes generally invest much more time than that. Obviously they see some value in exercising that much self-control. Living the Christian life is like running a race, or preparing for an athletic event. We don’t need to do it; we can choose not to, but if we want to and if we see value in doing so, some self-control will be needed. The good news is that in the Christian race there is more than one winner.
Paul saw the value of exercising self control in his Christian life; he had a more important goal in mind than that of his own comfort. He knew that by living in a way that was pleasing to God he would be qualified to tell people about the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Because of that grace, we have freedom, but we should not use our freedom to live selfishly. Living to satisfy our own desires can send the wrong message to those who don’t know Christ and cause them to be confused or to reject belief in God. This is what Paul meant by subduing his body so that he would not be disqualified. If we have accepted Christ’s sacrifice and His gift of salvation, we no longer live under religious laws, but under grace. This of course does not mean that we should give in to sin. (Romans 6:15) By having self-control, we can focus on more important, more eternal matters and be an example to others of the qualities that are found in Christ.
Like all other elements of the fruit of the Spirit that we have discussed in this series, the way to have more self-control is to have more of the Holy Spirit. But to have more of the Holy Spirit we need to spend more time with God, in Bible study and prayer. For most of us, that takes some self-control.
Gentleness is not something that I’ve ever been known for. I have to say that as I get older, I have mellowed considerably, but I’m still not sure I would be described as gentle. When I was younger, and I felt wronged, I would always fight back; I didn’t know how to just let it go. My husband calls this my heightened sense of justice. The fact that gentleness didn’t come naturally to me, however, was no reason not to work towards the goal of being more gentle, for the Bible instructs us to. We are told to be gentle (Ephesians 4:1-3, Titus 3:1-2, James 3:13, I Timothy 6:11, Proverbs 15:1, II Timothy 2:24-26, Philippians 4:5) just as Christ is gentle. (Matthew 11:29)
In the early verses of Matthew 10, Jesus sent His disciples out to the people of Israel to preach that the kingdom of heaven was near. He gave His disciples the authority to heal the sick and to cast out unclean spirits. He instructed them about what to take with them and what to do when they entered or left a town, and He warned them that it would be dangerous for them. In the Bible in Basic English translation, Matthew 10:16 is worded this way: “See, I send you out as sheep among wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents, and as gentle as doves.” Other versions use the word harmless or innocent in place of gentle, but the point is still the same. To be gentle means to be pure and innocent. Even though they were going to face persecution from the world around them, the disciples were not to retaliate. They should not be naïve about the dangers, but they should not contribute to them either. The most they could do would be to shake the dust from their feet as they left the town. (Matthew 10:14) Let it go!
With gentleness, as with all the elements of the fruit of the Spirit, it is good to pursue the goal of having more in your life, but the only sure way to have more of the fruit of the Spirit is to have more of the Spirit. If you have a problem with gentleness, or more specifically not enough of it, pray. Ask God to fill you with more of His Spirit so that you may have more of the fruit.
What does it mean to you when you give your word? When you tell someone—your spouse, your employer, a friend—that you will do something, do you do it? Faithfulness is about being reliable, trustworthy, and constant. It’s about being loyal, devoted, dedicated and true. It means that when you give your word you keep it. It means that you don’t betray another’s trust. You don’t go behind someone’s back to dishonor them or to gain your own advantage.
Proverbs 25:13 says that a faithful messenger is as refreshing to those who send him as the cold of snow is at harvest time. Be careful not to misinterpret this. This verse is not suggesting that there would be a blanket of snow on the ground at harvest time; this would only ruin the crops. But bringing in the crops in the Middle East at harvest time would have been hot, tiring labour. The cold of snow—in a drink of water, on a cold cloth for your forehead, or in a gentle breeze—would have been most welcome. In the same way, an employer who can trust in his messenger service, has no need to be concerned. That too would be refreshing.
One of the definitions of faithfulness is to be true to the original. There is no one more faithful than the Creator. Deuteronomy 7:7-9 assures us that God loves His people, not because of anything that we have done, but because He is faithful, and He loves us. He made a promise to the ancestors of Israel, and He was faithful to keep His promises. God has made promises to us too, and He is still faithful, for He is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8) Galatians 5:22-23 tells us that faithfulness is part of the fruit of the Spirit. We can strive to be faithful, that’s a good goal, but the more we have the Holy Spirit, the more God’s faithfulness will shine through us.
Perhaps you’ve heard the term “random acts of kindness”. In my opinion, acts of kindness should not be random, but should be the norm. I think that the world would be a better place if we took others into consideration more often. You may be the kind of person who counts the cost when you give to others, but if we all gave more we wouldn’t lose out, because others would be caring about us too.
Verses like Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 3:12 tell us to be kind to one another, but what does that really mean? How do we do it? Romans 12:9-21 gives us concrete, practical suggestions. First of all, Paul tells us that our love, our kindness, must be genuine. We must truly care for others, and not just show them kindness because of what we might get out of it, but do what is best for them, and do it enthusiastically. We must do what we can to meet others’ needs and show them hospitality. Provide a meal or a place to stay for the night. Care enough about others to know what they are going through; celebrate when they celebrate, and mourn when they mourn. Don’t judge people or think less of them based on what they look like, how they are dressed or what they own. Do your best to get along with everyone. Don’t start needless arguments, and don’t fuel arguments that are started by someone else. Bless, say good things to and about, others even if that is not the way that they’ve treated you. Treat others the way that you would like to be treated. (Luke 6:31) Do not respond to unkind behaviour by being unkind. Satan just loves to win you over to his side by giving you an excuse to justify your actions. You may convince yourself that you are justified, but you won’t convince God. Always strive to be the person that God wants you to be, rather than following bad examples that you may see around you, because God sees how we treat others as the way we are treating Him. (Matthew 25:40)
There are sad, hurting and needy people everywhere, but you can’t always see the need. Many people try to keep up the appearance that they have everything under control, but you can be sure that they don’t. No one does completely, so everyone could use a little kindness. It starts with love, the first manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit and the essence of the two most important commandments. (Matthew 22:37-40) If we are filled with the Holy Spirit, God’s love will flow through us, and showing kindness will become more regular than random.
A while back (July 15, 2011), I suggested that perhaps God was trying to teach me patience, even though I hadn’t prayed for such spiritual development. In the last couple of weeks, the lessons took on a new twist. Those of you who follow me on Facebook and Twitter may have noticed that my posts have been a little shorter and a little less frequent than usual. That is because I was visiting the land that technology forgot. I was there because my parents live there, and I like to see them even if it means disconnecting from the rest of the world. They live in a small community where there is no cell service, and my mother uses an eight year old computer to connect to the Internet by dial-up. Some of you may not even know what that is; suffice to say it is a slow, slow process. For my mother it is perfectly sufficient, but anyone who wants to use Twitter is out of luck. Thus the lessons in patience, as I tried to connect with my phone on any occasion that we happened to drive through an area with a signal.
A lot of people refer to Job—as in, he has the patience of Job—when they are looking for an example of patience, but no one is more patient than God Himself. After all, He has to put up with all of our inadequacies, mistakes and outright rebellion. He is patient with us because He thinks we’re worth waiting for; He does not want a single one of us to perish. (II Peter 3:9)
David understood this quality of God when he cried out to Him in Psalm 86. David was once again in a position where he desperately needed God’s help; he was being pursued by ruthless men who sought to take his life. (Psalm 86:14) But in Psalm 86:15, David recognizes the attributes of God that are able to save him from his situation. We too, can have these attributes in us. By inviting the Holy Spirit to live in us, and getting to know God better, we will have more of this fruit, (Galatians 5:22-23, August 8, 2011) including patience.
We live in a turbulent world. We never know what is going to happen to us next. It could be a natural disaster like a tornado or a flood, a house fire, a car accident, a sudden death in the family or a rebellious child who takes our focus away from what we would rather be doing. Somehow things never seem to go according to our plans. Thankfully, we don’t have to rely on our circumstances to find peace.
The word ‘peace’ was a common Hebrew greeting; it was said as we would say ‘good-bye’. That is why in John 14:27, Jesus emphasized the word ‘my’ when He was saying good-bye to His disciples. He was about to leave the earth and return to His Father. Rather than just saying the word ‘peace’, He said ‘my peace I give to you’. He clarified that He wasn’t giving peace the way that the world does. His peace was different, all-sufficient, ever-lasting. His peace would ease their sorrow at His departure, and bring them courage to continue without His earthly presence.
Jesus had already given the disciples an example of His peace when they were out in a boat on the stormy lake. (Luke 8:22-25) Jesus had been asleep in the boat when the storm came up, and the disciples were afraid. Jesus rebuked the storm, and then addressed the disciples, “Where is your faith?” That is the key to peace: faith. If we completely trust God to take care of us in every situation, if we believe His promises that He wants the best for us, (Jeremiah 29:11, Matthew 7:11) if we know that somehow everything will work out for our good because we are called according to His purpose, (Romans 8:28) we will have peace.