It’s been six months since my last chemo and I started thinking about this blog and my purpose for it. One purpose, of course, was to keep people informed on what was happening with me and the cancer. But another purpose was, as I said in my “about me” page, to go through this journey intentionally trusting God. So I wanted to take a look at how I’m doing with that intentional bit.
While I was in the rapids of chemo, it was easier somehow to stay really latched onto God than it is in the calmer waters. The rapids kept me very focused. The lazy river lets me drift and relax and doze a bit. It’s easy at times to just go from one day to the next, not really doing anything “wrong”, but not grabbing on to God for strength and help in everything.
Then it occurred to me, the Bible actually gives a checklist to see if I’m walking more in God’s strength or in mine. Like a lot of things in the Bible, I’ve heard it and read it so often that it’s easy to kind of mentally slide past, kind of like that spot on my carpet that I don’t even notice anymore till someone is coming over. I know it’s there and it’s meaningful, but it doesn’t always make an impact when I hear it. Something needs to make me actually pay attention to it.
Today I decided to pay attention. The Bible talks about fruit that comes from either living by the flesh (my own strength and way of doing things) or by the Spirit. Right away I start picturing a little cross-stitched sampler with apples on it. But this isn’t just a cute little saying to hang on my wall. So, seriously – what is fruit, except the natural outgrowth of life? Apples, since I’m on the subject, are what naturally grow from an apple tree.
When I was a little girl, I had an apple tree. I loved that tree. There were two trees in our yard, but I never bothered with the second one. It didn’t interest me, even though it was pretty similar to “my” tree. My tree had a great crook where I could sit, hidden by leaves, and read a book. It was quiet and cool in the summer. In the spring it was an explosion of pink blossoms that, all too soon, covered the lawn with delicate petals. Shortly after the petals fell, tiny apples would appear. And there came the one shortcoming of my tree. Those apples were inedible. It didn’t matter what you did to them, they couldn’t be made fit to eat. They weren’t red delicious or jonathan or granny smith – they were crabapples. And they were the only kind of fruit that would grow on that tree. I could pretend they were good apples, but they still weren’t going to be a snack.
So when the Bible talks about the fruit that grows from following the Spirit, or following the flesh, that totally makes sense. It’s what naturally comes out. I can fake it on occasion, but it doesn’t really fool anyone, least of all God.
Here’s one translation of those verses: (Ephesians 5:16-22)
If you are guided by the Spirit, you won’t obey your selfish desires. The Spirit and your desires are enemies of each other. They are always fighting each other and keeping you from doing what you feel you should. But if you obey the Spirit, the Law of Moses has no control over you.
People’s desires make them give in to immoral ways, filthy thoughts, and shameful deeds. They worship idols, practice witchcraft, hate others, and are hard to get along with. People become jealous, angry, and selfish. They not only argue and cause trouble, but they are envious. They get drunk, carry on at wild parties, and do other evil things as well. I told you before, and I am telling you again: No one who does these things will share in the blessings of God’s kingdom.
God’s Spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled.
And here’s another version that is very different from the one I’m so used to hearing. It makes the fruit of the spirit really come alive.
My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?
It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.
This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom.
But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
Go back and read that last paragraph again – who wouldn’t want that?? That is what walking by the strength of God’s Spirit instead of my own desires will create. If I (or others) are seeing some of those qualities in my life, then I am walking in the Spirit. If I (or others) are seeing some of the first set, then I’m letting my own selfishness get in the way too often. It’s a simple checklist – almost like one of those tests in a women’s magazine. I want the Spirit fruit, not the crabapples.
If you skipped the scripture, go back and read it. It’s really, really worth it.