To my friends,
It seems like so many of you are going through hard times right now. In life, there’s always a storm that's brewing. So many of you are hurting, and I wish I could fix your hurts. I can’t, but I can pray for you, and God will help. He always does, whether you realize it or not. He will help you weather the storm.
I want you to know that some good is coming from your hurts. You might not know it, but it is. You are serving as an example to your children, your family and your friends, like me. You are an inspiration to me, and I wanted you to know.
This is to the one who is in a struggling marriage. You have stood by your husband and offered him forgiveness though he didn’t deserve it. You have been patient, but at the same time, you’ve done what was needed to protect your children and yourself. By being a good mother and a good wife, you inspire me.
To the one who is struggling financially right now, you have held your head up high. You haven’t even told most people how badly you are hurting. You are wondering how you will pay for groceries next week or how you will keep your electricity on. You have inspired me by not giving up and by keeping the faith. God knows, and He will provide. You inspire me.
To the one who was hurt so badly by your church family. You have kept a positive spirit, even in times of turmoil. You have made the best of the situation, and you have looked positively at what the future has to hold. You could have been bitter, but instead, you had faith and joy. You inspire me.
To the one who is sitting by her child’s hospital bedside. You have been there for him and given unfailing love. You have not rested, and you have not complained because that’s what a mama does. I pray that God will give you an energy and strength that only come through Him. You inspire me.
To the one who is by her adult child’s side as he struggles physically. Although he is a grown up and you could easily have said you were too busy to help, you dropped everything and were there for him. You showed the world and me that a mother’s job is never done. You have helped him with a smile on your face and without complaint or thought of your own needs. You’ve made me want to be a better mother to my own kids. You inspire me.
To the one who is by her husband’s side as he is grieving, my heart goes out to you. You are a good wife, and you are there for your husband in any way he needs you to be. You will drop everything to do whatever is needed for him or his family. You inspire me.
To the one who has lost her husband and is grieving day by day. You still pick yourself up and go on to be a good example to your kids and those around you. You face life with a faith that God will heal your wounds. You inspire me.
To the one who is living in pain every day. You go about life without complaint. Most people don’t know how much you are hurting physically, because you never say it. The smile on your face hides how badly it hurts, and your joyous spirit is great camouflage. You inspire me.
So many of you are hurting physically, spiritually and emotionally, but you encourage me and uplift me. I am praying for all of you. You know who you are, and you know that I love you. I hope that, on dark days, knowing that you inspire others will help you keep going.
Much love, Al
While working on this study, as I started thinking about gentleness, I was pretty sure I had already been disqualified from this fruit of the spirit. I am anything but gentle. I am big, and I am loud. Have you heard my laugh? It echoes for miles. Mr. Everything says I can wake up the neighborhood just by being me on the mornings when I am trying to quietly get up before everyone else. He says I am the loudest morning person he’s ever heard, and sadly, at that point, I’m trying to be quiet!
Luckily, gentleness doesn’t mean quietness (thank goodness). Although I think there is value in knowing how to be calm and quiet. I wish I could learn that. Another translation of gentleness is meekness. I think I can develop meekness. Maybe.
The Bible says, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth,” in Matthew 5:5. That’s near one of my favorites to quote to my children: Matthew 5:9, “Please are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.”
In our country and in this day and age, I don’t think we are taught to be meek, and many of us don’t even know what it means. The dictionary defines it as, “the feeling of patient, submissive humbleness.” Another way I saw it described was, “strength under control.” I like that definition.
Meekness is not weakness. It is not making yourself a doormat and allowing others to trample you underfoot. It is a decision, though you could go against them, to submit to other people and to allow other people to be more important than you. Meekness actually takes a lot of strength. It is a choice.
Meekness is putting other people first. It is putting God’s will first. It is making a decision to allow other people’s needs, wants or opinions to come before your own. It is a fruit of the spirit that God will develop in us as we grow as Christians. The Bible tells us in Psalm 37:11, “But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.”
Reading about meekness made me start wondering how I could become meek. There were some things I found as I studied.
First, pray about it. God answers prayer. If you ask Him to help you become meek, He will. However, be prepared before you pray. God has a way of answering our prayers differently than we expect. If you pray for meekness, you will be given opportunities to be meek. (Just like when you pray for patience, you will have your patience tested!) Sometimes, it is scary to pray these things, knowing that God will give us circumstances to help us develop, but it is worth because we will become better people in the long-run.
Second, look for opportunities to put others before yourself. This can be as simple as holding the door open for someone or waiting to go last at the potluck at church. You can let others out in front of you in traffic (and test the meekness of the person behind you in traffic). You can give to those in need. You will probably be amazed at how many opportunities there are to put others first.
Volunteering at a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter or anywhere that there are people less fortunately than you is a great way to find meekness and humility. As you are there, think about what it would take for you to reach that point in your life. Could you be homeless? Could you need help buying groceries someday? I think you will find that you are closer to needing assistance than you might think.
Having to leave our house at the end of 2007 really changed my perspective about that very subject. I don’t think I judged homeless people, exactly, but I do think I thought I was too good for that. I thought they had messed up and it was through their own lack of intelligence that they had ended up poor and without a home. Leaving our home and living with relatives and eventually living in a single wide trailer has certainly changed my perspective there. It made me realize that we are all really just one or two steps away from being destitute. How can we judge others when we could be in that exact situation so easily? And, if you think you are above being in that situation, you’d better watch out. God may just allow your circumstances to prove you wrong.
I pray that God will develop meekness in me. I hope my children will learn to put others first by watching me. I will start looking for ways to purposely put others first. Then, eventually (hopefully), meekness, or gentleness, will be easier and easier. Maybe in the process, I’ll learn to be quiet while I’m at it! (I wouldn’t count on it, though.) -Al
Whenever I think about faith, I think of the verse that says, “He replied, 'Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.'" When I hear that verse, I think of a family who used to attend our church. I always loved the husband’s story of the mustard seed. He said when he was in elementary school, he had been given a bookmark with this mustard seed verse on it. It also had a tiny mustard seed stuck to it as a visual for the verse. When he and his wife were dating, they were sitting in church one day, and he opened his Bible to the page where that bookmark was kept. As they sat there listening to the sermon, she looked over and saw something stuck to the bookmark. She reached over and flicked it off, thinking it was a piece of dirt. She had thumped away his mustard seed! Years later, they still laughed about how she flicked his faith away in one thump. Luckily, faith is not something that can be thumped away. Real faith grows and grows and becomes easier and easier.
A perfect example of faith in the Bible is the story of Abraham and Isaac. This story can be found in Genesis 22. Abraham and Sarah had prayed for this child. Sarah had a baby much later in life, when it wasn’t even physically possible for her to do so. Their prayers had finally been answered. Then, God tested Abraham’s faith. He told Abraham to sacrifice his only son. Abraham, showing great faith in God, led his son up the mountain and prepared an altar. When Isaac asked his father where their sacrifice was, Abraham told him that God would provide. Abraham tied his own son up and put him on the altar. It was not until Abraham’s blade was over the boy that God told him to stop. Abraham was willing to go through with it, if that was God ordered him to do, but I’m sure he was relieved to see a ram in the bushes that could serve as a sacrifice. Abraham showed ultimate faith. He was willing to give it all for God.
This story is an example of big faith! Most of us will never be able to show our faith in such a big way, and not everyone would even react in the same way. Many of us would run in the other direction if God told us to make such a sacrifice. Faith is hard! Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” It’s the whole “believing in something you can’t see” thing that is difficult!
Have you ever taken the Lipton plunge? There used to be a commercial (back in the dinosaur ages, according to my kids) where people would drink Lipton tea and then they would free fall backwards into a pool of refreshment. When I was little, I used to do the Lipton plunge into our swimming pool. Each spring when the pool was opened, the first time I took the plunge, it was really difficult. I had to close my eyes, work up my nerve and just fall. Once I had plunged and realized I wasn’t going to die, it got easier and easier to do it.
The same can be said of faith in God. The first time you just let go and trust God, it is so hard. Your mind is full of “what if’s.” “What if He forgets me?” “What if He doesn’t come through?” “What if He doesn’t catch me?” You have to pray and make your brain hush. Then, you hold your breath and trust. God comes through, and He does catch you and He does not forget you. Then, the next time you have to trust in God and your mind starts asking questions, you can remember that God didn’t let you fail the first time. This gets easier and easier and easier as God proves Himself to you.
For whatever reason, God has really worked on me to give me faith. I may not have many other fruits, but I’ve got faith. Oh, sure. I used to have plenty of doubts. I did not grow up believing in God. Once I thought I had “found” God, I still had years of doubts. I had my “atheist” period in my teen years. Then, I was gung-ho for Jesus (sounds like a T-shirt, doesn’t it?). Then, I went through the “He might exist” stage. I have bounced back and forth and up and down. I have purposely done things against God just because I was mad at Him. I have judged other people because I was so righteous and they were not. I have been every color of the rainbow when it comes to Christianity. Finally, through years of struggles, I can firmly quote and believe 2 Timothy 1:12, “Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.”
I have seen Him. I have known Him. I have been saved by Him. I have been carried by Him. I know He will protect me, yet I doubt it. I am a contradiction in myself. Mark 9:24 says, “The father instantly cried out, ‘I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!’” That pretty much sums up how I feel, and it is how all Christians feel (if they are honest about it). We believe, yet we don’t. We have faith, yet we doubt. We pray to God that we trust Him, and then we worry. Faith takes practice, and it is never perfected.
Many times, if we lack faith, we beat ourselves up. We think we aren’t good enough Christians. We think everyone around is so faithful, but we are so weak. The truth is, we are all weak, and we are all full of doubts. Even Abraham was weak, and he had doubts! He was a man of great faith. He was willing to kill his only son, if that was God wanted him to do. He was listed in Hebrews 11 in the “Hall of Faith.” Abraham was one of the tops in faith, as far as I’m concerned. However, Genesis 15 tells us of a conversation between Abraham and God. It tells us about Abraham’s “what if’s.” He had them too! When God said he would make a nation out of Abraham, Abraham started questioning. He had fear and doubt. So, if Abraham, the father of all nations, had doubts, how can we not? Our doubts don’t make us bad. They make us human.
So, face today with as much faith as you can muster. God doesn’t expect 100% faith all the time. He says if you have faith that is the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains. I’m pretty sure we can manage a speck of faith, and when we find ourselves doubting, we can pray, “Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief.” -Al
Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
I wasn’t really sure what to say about goodness. I have struggled to know what to write, because I really wasn’t sure how it was different from kindness. It seems to me that if you are showing kindness, you are showing goodness. However, the Bible differentiates between the two, so they are different.
We tell our kids to be good, and what do we mean? We’re not asking them to be perfect. We aren’t asking them to be angels. We just want them to act like decent human beings who have a mother and father. Instead of telling the Beetle to be good when he was little, for some reason, I always used the phrase, “Behave.” He would say, “I’m bein’ have, Mama!” I can still hear his little voice telling me that. I want to make sure I’m bein’ have for God!
So, if we are going to develop goodness as a fruit of the spirit, how are we going to change? I think we will begin to act like we are decent human beings who have a Father. As we become more like Him, we will naturally develop goodness, because God is good. Just as we wait when our kids are little to see them show signs of a conscience and goodness toward others, I think God watches for us to show signs of a conscience and goodness. We are proud when our kids quote us (assuming they are quoting something good we taught them), and God is proud when we quote Him.
A dear preacher that Mr. Everything and I have known for a long time always says, “God is good all the time.” When he preaches, he has the congregation finish the statement. He’ll say, “God is good,” and the people will say, “All the time.” He repeats this several times. His point is that God is good, even when things aren’t going our way. He is right. God is good all the time.
So, if God is good all the time, it only makes sense that as we develop in Him, we will become more like him by growing goodness as a fruit.
Psalm 31:19 says, “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!”
The fruits of the spirit are not a grocery list of things we have to force ourselves to do. Instead, they are a promise of things we can expect to see in ourselves and other Christians as we grow. As we grow in God, we can look forward to bearing more fruit, including goodness. What are some signs that we are becoming good?
We begin to look for ways to help others. Instead of waiting for others to ask for help, we seek ways to bless them. Galatians 6:10 says, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” This morning in church, it was announced that someone had put gas cards out in the foyer for anyone who needed them. They were free to take with no strings and no obligation. The person just wanted to be sure there was no one who was worried about how to pay for gas to get home. That’s goodness in action.
We treat others as we want to be treated. Matthew 7:12 is known as the “Golden Rule.” You can quote it with me, I’m sure. I have to quote in the version that I learned it in: “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” This really is easier said than done, but it is a great rule to live by. When we follow this rule, we are showing the goodness that only comes through God.
We change our focus. Colossians 3:2 says, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” The things in this world become less important. If this world is all there is to offer in life, that’s sad. But, if we can look forward to eternal reward in heaven, every tear, every sadness, every hurt and every pain will have been worth it. As we grow closer to God, we become more like him, and we show his goodness by the things we focus on.
Goodness seems to come easier with experience. For new Christians, focusing on others and focusing on God will not come naturally. We live in a “me” world, and it is hard to let go of those tendencies to look out for ourselves. As we grow in Christ, we will find that being good becomes easier and easier. I hope that one day, putting others first and focusing on God will be second nature. Then, we can know that we have developed the spiritual fruit of goodness. What a great day that will be!
“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.” Psalm 107:1 -Al