Galatians 5:22–25 (NIV)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
Now we come to the end, not of our stories, but of this series on the fruit of the Spirit. In some ways I fear the series has been self-indulgent with all of these stories from my life, yet at the same time these stories have carried a sacramental quality for me. At least they have given me what feels like a quality of insight that needs little further explanation. I have one last story to tell here which will serve as a kind of cautionary tale to close us out.
It was the peak of the wheat harvest; a warm and exceedingly dry day in the month of May. We hurried to get the crop out in order to come behind the harvest with a second crop of soybeans. This day found us at the farm we called, “The Levee.” Per usual, Lee and I were on hand driving grain carts and otherwise helping out around the edges. We took Uncle Martin’s aging truck to go to town to get the lunches for everyone. As we arrived back, it had been decided to keep everything moving and eat on the go rather than the usual lunch break under the shade trees. Rather than distributing the lunches through the grain carts, we decided on a shortcut. We would drive Uncle Martin’s truck through the cut parts of the field, from combine to combine, to hand deliver the lunches. And I think I failed to mention Uncle Martin’s truck was on the fritz with a bad catalytic converter.
As we sped our way to the third combine, we noticed the driver stopping and frantically coming out of the cab and waving his arms at us. To our horror we looked behind us to see a long trail of small intermittent fires burning across the wheat stubble. And did I mention the winds were high that day? All of a sudden, we faced a worst case scenario crisis. Within minutes, these small fires came together into a raging infernal wall, moving simultaneously in opposite directions in the swirling winds. Half of the wall moved toward the largely uncut part of the wheat crop and the three John Deere combines. The other half of the fire moved toward the pristine uncut grass of the Arkansas River Levee. Even before noting the possible loss of life, we faced catastrophic losses on all sides. Burning the levee results in massive fines and it went on for miles on end. How could it ever be stopped? And the loss of three combines we could not afford to replace and a hundred plus acres of high yield wheat would have been devastating.
Just then I saw my dad jumping off his combine and running full bore through the fiery field toward a parked tractor under the shade trees. By the grace of God a disc also happened to be nearby. He and Uncle Martin hitched up the disc faster than a Nascar pit crew could change four tires. Dad threw the tractor into eighth gear and began discing through the now burning wheat stubble, creating a barrier of broken ground between the burning and the wheat on the one side and the levee on the other. The tractor would disappear into the thick smoke and we wondered if it would come out with a driver on the other side. Back and forth and back and forth he drove, holding his breath through the smoke while we held ours. As the fire kept crawling across the wheat straw, Lee and I stamped it down as fast as we could. After a couple of hours, the fire was miraculously contained. Though lives were risked, losses were minimized. And yes, lessons were learned. I am still learning lessons from that day to this one. Here are a few:
- The absence of self-control is like a wildfire burning out of control. We see it in people and when these people operate in communities or organizations, their lack of self-control has a way of burning down the whole organization. It spreads like fire, scorching the earth of familial bonds, stirring up dissension, discord, and factions. It is the lack of self-control in our elected leaders on all sides, that is literally burning down this country as we speak. (Now try to imagine what gentleness might look like in our political and civic discourse). The evacuation of gentleness always precedes the fiery invasion of the loss of self-control.
- Self-control is not a “grit-your-teeth-and-don’t-sin” way of life. Self-control is the Holy Spirit–empowered, internal governance of love. As the fruit of love matures, so does self-control. It is not the legalistic governance of law but the freedom of love. It is not a holding in check of sinful behavior but a disabling of the whole systemic sin-sick structure of our inmost being. There is nothing better than Spirit-empowered self-control. It is the essence of living freely and lightly. Yes, sin can remain a rogue hindrance and at times an encumbrance, but it has lost its power.1
- If our “self” is not governed by the Spirit, we are governed by what the Scriptures call “the flesh.” The most ironic feature of a person who lacks Spirit given self-control (or whose life is ruled by their appetites), will be their insatiable and uncontrollable need to control everything and everyone around them.
- Gentleness comes before self-control because it is prerequisite to it. Spirit-given gentleness works at the level of our inmost being, receiving and attuning to the gentle bearing of the whispering Spirit. This becomes gentleness with oneself and then gentleness with others. This deeply inward gentleness flourishes into an outward bearing self-control toward others.2
Wake up, sleeper! Jesus whispers by the Spirit into the deepest places of your inmost being. He comes with gentleness and he invites you to be aware of, attentive to, and attuned with his gentleness. The path to self-control is not in trying harder to control your broken self, but in becoming gentle with your own brokenness and welcoming Jesus the healer into the broken places.
Father Farmer God, make of my life a farmers’ market. Make of the garden of my inmost being a place of the faith-filled fruit bearing of gentleness becoming self-control. I want to be so captured by the gentleness of God that it becomes, in me, instinctive, impulsive, compulsive, and compelling—governed by your Spirit. Holy Spirit, fill me with your gentleness that I might become gentle with myself, and then with others; even my enemies. Praying in Jesus’s name, amen.
How is your view and vision of self-control challenged by today’s reflection? What are you learning about gentleness? Do you consider yourself a gentle person? Are you learning to give way to the gentleness of Jesus at the core of your being? What would that look like?
THE HYMN (We sing on the Recording)
Today we will sing the hymn, “All to Jesus I Surrender,” on page #607 of our newly released Seedbed hymnal Our Great Redeemer’s Praise.
Giving Tuesday marks for Seedbed the beginning of a thirty-three-day festival of fund receiving (not to be confused with fund-raising). God gives through saints like you and we receive, and God gives through saints like us and you receive. Far from a worldly quid-pro-quo, this is how the fruit of the Spirit works ala agape love. To aspire to what we are aspiring for—which is nothing less than great awakening (of which the Wake-Up Call is only the tip of the iceberg) will require receiving $1,000,000 this year. I encourage you to explore the opportunity here.
For the Awakening,
NOTES FOR FURTHER REFLECTION
1. There is a curious word at the close of Galatians 5:23: “against such things there is no law.” This is a reference to the law of sin and death, into which we are born and with which we struggle. The way of the law of sin and death is masterfully described by Paul in Romans 7. This describes a pre-Spirit filled person who continues to fight the losing battle against sin. Romans 7, while unfortunately describing the reality of most Christians, is not a description of the Christian life. Romans 8 introduces us to the life-giving law of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is beyond the law because it transcends the law. It displaces the self-oriented life, disabling the law of sin and death and re-orienting the inmost being toward agape love—who is Jesus. The fruit of the Spirit means living in the reality described by Scripture in Romans 8 when it says, “The life giving law of the Spirit has set you free from the law of sin and death.”
2. Let’s be honest—few if any of us have ever given gentleness much thought have we. The consensus view of the spiritual masters across the ages is that gentleness is the foundation of the spiritual life. Think of it like a flame retardant coating on our inmost being. When gentleness is absent in our interior life, things catch on fire and burn down quickly in our exterior life.