Tag Archives: Galatians 5

Just a bit..desperate, Lord!

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

(Jn 15.5,7&8)

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

(Ps 2.1-3)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…

(Gal 5.22&23)

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God.

(Eph 3.16-19)

Bare twigs, dead leaves, no sign of life or fruitfulness.

Barren life, bitter thoughts, wasted hopes and faded dreams, no signs of life or fruitfulness.

A spirit warped by self-centredness that cannot break free; a mind that is enslaved by its own small troubles and incapable of really embracing anything else.

Telling stories of my life that are full of darkness, pain, failure and inadequacy; as though my eyes are bound in dark and distorting spectacles so that I can see no other way. Weighted down by the shame of bringing burdens not blessings to those closest to me, of being so hard to live with and so little joy to be around. Above all, and underpinning it all, the utter awareness of failure to bear witness to the transforming power of the Christ whom I profess to be Lord of my life.

If I were truly rooted in Christ, his words living in me, dependent upon him hourly and daily for my life as the branch depends upon the vine….would I then be in this condition? Is it not a reproach to call myself a follower of Jesus and live with such a negative spirit? Where is the fruit? Where the joy, peace and patience? Where the love which boldly and tenderly speaks truth for the sake of the beloved, willing to suffer that they might thrive? Where the self-control that drives me to do the hard things – instead of the fear-driven withdrawal which allows wrong to continue for the sake of avoiding conflict?

Forgive my sins Lord – above all the sin of unbelief, which allows me to get stuck in my own small despair. Forgive me for living as though I alone were beyond your saving power! Take my distorted vision, and correct it by the lens of the gospel, so that instead of the negatives, I see the great positives of your love, mercy and grace – see you at work even in me, to bless others.

Let me believe that you are still at work, in me, that I am not a dead branch, withered and fit only to be flung away. Let me see buds which are your promises of life, of hope, of fruit that may yet be.

O Lord, make it real in me; this life of abiding in you, make it true and vivid and constant. I don’t know what to do, how to change so that your word takes root, transforming my thoughts and my attitudes. But I know that you are my only hope for the days that remain to me in this world – and for the sake of those who have to live with me, as well as for your glory, I pray you will bring new life to this branch, that I might yet bear fruit for you…

Just be gentle…

“Go out and stand before me on the mountain”, the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

(1Kings 19. 11-13)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. the Lord is near.

(Philippians 4.4&5)

My father was a ‘gentle-man’, it was one of his outstanding qualities. He was strong, physically and emotionally, stubborn and loyal, but very gentle. He had big hands, but would delicately cup a rose bud or seedling as he transplanted it. He never shouted or snapped at us as children – and I don’t think I have just forgotten it either! I have no memory of him talking about others to demean or mock them, but sometimes he would express regret that their actions and words had unfortunate consequences.

As I go on in life I increasingly appreciate gentleness, and thank God that in my father, I was shown such a clear example of God’s own gentleness in his dealing with his children. I will always be a child of God. I will always need my Father’s love and provision, and part of that provision is for the balm of gentleness.

When a child is frightened, hurt or astray and worried about coming home in disgrace, they need above all to be met with gentleness. That quality speaks of a love which understands our weakness, and knows that we need above all reassurance, not a brisk reprimand or exhortation to ‘get over it and get on!’ Perhaps in due time, the reprimand will be given – gently – or the exhortation to continue on the way will come. But first and foremost is the comfort, the healing of a forbearing love.

True gentleness is hard to fake, and easy to recognise. It is a quality which draws people towards itself, as moths to a flame, as cold hands to a warm glowing fire. Jesus had it, and so drew to himself so many wounded and rejected, worthless and despised people. They knew that he was different, that he would not add to their pain but would recognise, respect and minister to it.

Jesus valued everyone as a child of God, created to know and love and be loved, to add their own unique voice to the eternal song of glory to God. When we fail in gentleness, we are failing to demonstrate that same awareness of the priceless value of each person. Surely that is part of what Paul is driving at when he exhorts the church in Philippi to be known for their gentleness, by reminding them that ‘The Lord is near.’┬áThis Lord who crafted each person in his own image; who longs for each one to come into a loving relationship with him; who longs for each one to know life in all its fullness within the community of God’s people here on earth.

I know what it is to crave gentleness from those around me, in times of distress and even in times of gladness, I find it hard to be handled brusquely and feel somehow diminished and irrelevant. A lack of gentleness tells me that I do not matter, that my feelings don’t matter, and I am of little value. This is not what the story of God’s love tells me, and I cling so closely to his gentle arms, listening for that gentle whisper which speaks his presence and his constant love. He tells me that I am special, beloved, worth everything to him, and that gentle voice brings healing.

Let me minister this healing to others, since I know how precious it is for me. Let us all seek to grow this Christ-quality in all our dealings with one another, so that we may build one another up, and not cause any to fall down or become discouraged, thinking that they do not matter to us – or to God.

Let our gentleness indeed be known to all, that God might be glorified and his people blessed!

Fragile.. Handle with care

But the fruit of the Spirit is love,

joy, peace, patience,

kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

gentleness and self-control.

Against such things there is no law.

(Galatians 5.22&23)

Which of the words in that list, describing the various aspects of a character increasingly dominated by the Spirit of God in us, are most precious to you? They are all beautiful qualities, and perhaps it is unhelpful to single one out as if it were of more worth in itself, but that is not what I am doing. I think that for each of us, there will be things here which we will prize highly because we so often miss them in others.

If we have experienced deep betrayal by those closest to us, then faithfulness will be a particularly prized quality; while those whose lives have been chaotic and full of uncertainty will value peace. For me, the two words which touch me very deeply are ‘kindness’ and ‘gentleness’. This is not because my family were cruel to me as I grew up, far from it! Rather, that because of the character of my parents, and their love for us, we grew up in a home where teasing and mockery were almost unknown..

I know that for many people, these ways of relating to others are quite natural, and meant entirely without malice, but if one has not experienced them, it is very difficult to believe that they are not meant to wound. I am the person who leaps to defend the one being teased, only to discover that no one else is taking it seriously, and to my sense of hurt on behalf of the one being targeted, is added the embarassment of being judged to have overreacted!

I have described this lack of resilience as being ‘think-skinned’, or ‘raw’, and can think of no better image to convey the vulnerability which it brings. Things which other people laugh off, will cut me deeply, and leave me distressed and frustrated with my inability to respond in kind. For me, this behaviour is neither gentle, or kind, and I struggle to understand why it should be accepted by those who are following Jesus.. Does God ever tease his children, or mock them? Where in the whole of the revelation contained in Scripture do we find God laughing at us for our weaknesses, or mocking our distress when we have got ourselves into a mess – again!?

Jesus shared his life for three years with a group of men who had their share of faults and weaknesses – the gospels record many episodes which demonstrate their humanity clearly, as they squabbled about who was greatest, jostled for attention, doubted their teacher and spectacularly failed to live up to their own estimations of themselves. But nowhere do we find Jesus laughing at or mocking them in their distress. When Peter stepped out of the boat in faith to tread the waves, and then began sinking, he was saved and gently rebuked, but not laughed at! Jesus loved his disciples, he was patient with them and faithful to them, even though one would betray and all would desert him.

I know that for many people, humour is a way of dealing with difficult things in life, and for some it is used as a shield – I think perhaps many of those who tease are in reality suffering deeply inside but afraid to show it, to show their vulnerability, and so they turn aside all genuine efforts to engage with them by taking nothing seriously. But how would Jesus have dealt with such people? I don’t believe that he would have joined in the mockery, and left the person alone in their pain. He loved people, and that meant taking them seriously, recognising that each one is a divine creation, unique and beloved, and worth infinite pains to redeem.

Do we deal with one another like that, refusing to be brushed aside by humour and persevering with earnest love, so that we offer genuine acceptance to the hurting and lost? Let me commend gentleness and kindness to you, they are exquisite characteristics, modelled by our Lord throughout his ministry, and there is nothing like enough of them around in our world today! The definition of love given by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians is particularly effective in the paraphrase of the Message, and a fitting challenge to us as we seek to love one another as Jesus has loved us…

Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force itself on others, isn’t always “me first,” doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, DOESN’T REVEL WHEN OTHERS GROVEL, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end.

(1 Cor 13.4-7, the Message)

In Christ…..

I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace….For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love.

(Galatians 5 4&6, the Message)

Sometimes as followers of Jesus, we find ourselves grappling with phrases which are very familiar and yet almost impossible to translate for those who do not yet believe. This concept of being “in Christ” can be one such challenge, and yet to fully grasp it is so gloriously liberating!

I believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus is the only and the utterly adequate way by which humanity can be restored to a relationship with a holy, just and mighty God. I can add nothing to that work, I am incapable of making it more effective by any efforts I might expend. I cannot unleash the potency of that work in my life by labouring to reach some perceived standard of ‘good behaviour’ and thus achieve merit in God’s sight. I cannot cajole or persuade God to be kind to me on any terms other than those which He has revealed, and those are very clear…

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made know…this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace…

(Romans 3. 22,23,24)

There is the key… justified (meaning declared innocent, free of any condemnation) freely (at no cost whatever to ourselves) by God’s grace. And what brings about this astonishing transformation in our circumstances before God? What great labours are required? None, on our part, since all has been done by Christ, and therefore it is as we identify Jesus as the source of our salvation and trust in the completeness of his work that faith is born in us, and we receive the righteousness (meaning a new and right relationship with God) which is promised.

A great Christian writer once said “Faith is the gaze of the soul on a saving God” (AW Tozer), and as I gaze upon the Christ who died for me, confessing my need of him as saviour, so God looks upon me as it were through the prism of Christ’s saving work. I am seen by a holy God as a beloved and welcome child, because God looks on me and sees the holiness of Christ, the beauty and perfection without which I could not endure God’s presence. It is as though when I finally admit my helplessness before God and claim Jesus as my Lord, then “I” die – the proud, rebellious, wilful me perishes. When by faith I rejoice in the forgiveness and fresh start I receive from God, then a new “I” is born, one who is no longer bound by the old rules, and who now lives in direct loving relationship with the Giver of Life! The apostle Paul puts it like this to the church in Colossae..

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God….. you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.( Col 3. 2,9&10)

So when I think about being “in Christ”, I consider how my assurance of eternal life depends on him; how my daily walk with God depends on him; how my need for forgiveness and cleansing is met in him; how all my feeble efforts to truly love others are only possible because of his love for me. And yet I know that I have not begun to express the full riches of what it means to be “in Christ”. I think I am not alone in this, and it will be good to revisit the subject again! But today I will close with one of Paul’s wonderful outbursts of praise:-

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ!

(Ephesians 1.3)