I already used “the goal” as a beginning of the year subject line, but there is more to add to that post regarding forgetting what is behind and looking to the finish line ahead.
“People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”
– D.A. Carson
Every year I fail in something. Not in everything (by the grace the of God), but despite the grace of God, lots of things.
- I think every year I tell myself I’m going to go deeper in prayer, and every year that I tell myself this, it is because I know I didn’t go deep enough the year before. You won’t be surprised by my admission that I’ve never come to December 31st and come to the shameful realization that I spent too much time in prayer that year.
- Daily devotions. I know you have never struggled in this area, but I am positive that I’ve started out many more years intending to completely read through the Bible in a year than years in which I finished that goal. Many seem to do it effortlessly. I’ve never had that problem.
- This year, I’m locked in and being as it is January 8, I’m on “Day 8.” So far so good. Only 358-1 days to go (leap year wasn’t accounted for on this plan, so I get one makeup day!). Also, this year, for the first time (I’m embarrassed to admit), I’m reading through in Spanish, which really means I’m reading through in Spanish and English, because I keep finding words and phrases I don’t know and need to figure out.
- The best part of this is I’ve challenged our house church members to give this a try. I think only a couple of them have given it a go. So far, I think I’m already the last one standing, but I keep encouraging them. We have a secret Facebook page for our house church and every day I post a question asking them if they’ve read their Bible today, and then comment that I’ve read mine along with the references of the daily readings I completed. I told them I’m doing this not as if I were proud of reading the Bible but as a reminder to them and an encouragement to them too. Every once in awhile, one of them will reply, “I didn’t get it all read, but I did read (some particular chapter).” Hey, if I can read a few chapters in Spanish everyday, surely they can too. I think this has helped them because the weeks are long and while almost everyone checks their Facebook, they (we) don’t always check our Bibles!
- Keep my office and desktop neat, organized, and generally tidy. I realize I’m being embarrassingly transparent here, but the two of you reading this already know what my desk and office look like, so I’m not really stepping out very far with being vulnerable. By the way, I’ve spent the last couple hours finally getting some annual desktop and office cleanup and organization done. It’s amazing. I never had this much success in childhood Easter egg hunts. The things I’ve found have caused so much excitement, so much so that I think it’s possibly counterproductive. I am torn between keeping things organized and knowing the great excitement I’ll have when I finally work through the piles of stuff next year!
As Dr. Carson mentioned, our spiritual journey and battle is not even so much the disciplines of reading and praying and memorizing (oh…let’s not go there today), but rather the habits of our lives in loving God as we delight in Him, obeying Him unto godliness, and walking in the Spirit to the point of bursting with the fruit of the Spirit (taking Carson’s point a bit further here) are all elements of the daily challenge and struggle.
- Do we really love God and others? (“Calvary love”…with no little cracks of something unloving toward someone in there somewhere?)
- Do we live joyfully? Do we have the joy of the Spirit? (At what point does the Spirit of God look around at His circumstances and say, “I don’t have joy right now. I’ve just never been a morning God.” Ridiculous right? And we? Does the Spirit of joy not live within us?
- Do we have peace? Real godly peace? Peace that passes understanding? Peace when times are good? Peace when our world is completely falling apart? Not just peace with God, but the peace of God?
- Are we patient? With others? With ourselves? With God? With circumstances?
- Are we kind? All the time? With all people? With every word? With every thought?
- Are we faithful? Faithful to God? To our family? To our spouse? To our children? To our earthly masters? To our word? To our brothers and sisters in Christ? To our profession of faith? To the lost, to all the lost…to the dirtiest of them all…who need a faithful real-life presentation of the gospel of compassion?
- Gentleness. Why do the “G” words here seem so mild? Nothing Jesus ever said or did contradicted goodness or gentleness. He was perfectly and completely filled with the Spirit. He certainly exhibited amazing goodness and gentleness to the least deserving (that means you and me btw). He also exhibited a goodness and gentleness that overturned the tables of greed and corruption too. There is no lack of power and righteous anger in these two aspects of the fruit of the Spirit. We should not be fooled by any mild preconceptions regarding them. (Note: don’t get carried away with the “righteous anger”…we all know we’re not very good at it being “righteous.”)
- I will practice Self-control. I will practice Self-control. I will practice Self-control. (x 100…just a little childhood chalk and blackboard flashback)
What strikes me about the fruit (not “fruits” plural…you knew that) of the Spirit, is how interrelated these characteristics are. They are a perfect mirror of the law in the sense that if we break one law, we’re guilty of all. If we fail in one of these characteristics, we’re failing in all. That point about “fruit” (singular) is an important one. We can’t divide these up and say, “I really need to work more on patience this year.” If we lack patience, what we lack is the fruit of the Spirit. All of the fruit of the Spirit. Not just what we may perceive as one facet. The facets are all perfectly connected and overlapping.
I think we can be fooled into thinking we are pretty good at most of this, “but we just have one or two areas to work on.” If we realize we’re deficient in exhibiting just one or two of these characteristics, dare I say the rest of them are merely blind spots that are sorely lacking as well? Show me a kind person who is impatient, and I’ll show you a person who isn’t very kind when they’re impatient. Show me a gentle person who is unloving, and I’ll show you a person who doesn’t treat others gently when love is failing. Show me a person who lacks peace, and I’ll show you a person who in his anxiety loses self-control. (“Be anxious
for just a few things….”) You get that, right?
God doesn’t divide up His nature and characteristics and only lives out parts of them at whatever moment He deems appropriate or when He divinely feels like it. He is completely, perfectly, and always all of His characteristics and nature at all moments, eternally and infinitely. We are not inhabited by only parts of the Holy Spirit. Walking in the Spirit and bursting with the ripened fruit of the Spirit is a complete and full experience of God in our lives.
So…back to that daily challenge and “the goal.”
Need God much?