You shattered my deafness
You drove away my blindness
You shed Your fragrance
and I drew in my breath
I pant for You
You shattered my deafness
You drove away my blindness
You shed Your fragrance
and I drew in my breath
I pant for You
At the beginning God expressed himself.
That personal expression, that word, was with God, and was God, and he existed with God from the beginning.
All creation took place through him, and none took place without him.
In him appeared life and this life was the light of mankind.
The light still shines in the darkness
and the darkness has never put it out.
(John 1:1-5 Phillips)
I’ve heard that glory is however God chooses to express himself.
When the light of Jesus shines in dark places, when forgotten dreams and shattered hopes spring to life, when love flickers in a heart grown cold, when the beauty of creation glows in unexpected places, he is showing us his glory.
Ideas have consequences. What we truly believe plays out in action when our guard is down. Finding out we have some shifting sand foundations is an unsettling feeling, but I have discovered that when the Lord points out areas of wonky thinking he makes provisions ahead of my questions. And he has something to do with the circumstances that make me frustrated enough to ask questions.
The recent frustration that has pushed me to examine my thinking is my lack of self-discipline, or self-control. I call myself a divergent thinker. I’m usually reading a dozen books and working on a dozen projects simultaneously. I like collecting clues and making connections, but I have a hard time getting things done. If I was organized enough to run a business I could call it Rabbit Trails Are Us.
I’ve been learning about the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. One of the big clues that these are virtues that characterize the Holy Spirit’s interactions with us and come from God is Jesus’ statement that the peace he gives is different from the peace we try to make ourselves.
“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” (John 14:27)
I came to the horrible realization years ago that, on my own, I am incapable of loving some people. Tried. Tried hard. Can’t do it. Years of depression taught me that I cannot pull myself up by my bootstraps and fake joy for more than a few hours. And peace? I could talk about peace, but many 3:30 a.m. wide-eyed ruminating sessions proved I didn’t have a grasp on that either. The same for the rest of the list.
That’s depressing. I went into a major funk. What kind of Christian was I if I couldn’t be a great witness to people with my superior behaviour as a major selling point? (Being just a bit sarcastic here.) I was sure God needed to fire me from his P.R. team. Then I was afraid he would, so I scraped up some willpower and self control and got up to do the stuff again.
Willpower works – until I’m tired, or hungry, or in pain, or angry, or bored, or feeling guilty, then willpower is not sufficient.
I was raised in an evangelical tradition where the will seemed to be the only aspect of the soul that escaped being tainted by the fall. Will-oriented verbs featured largely in every sermon application: decide, determine, choose, act, achieve, purpose, volunteer, engage, carry out, serve, and do. Do, do, do. “Faith without works is dead,” I heard over and over. (Somehow the fact that works without faith is as winsome as last week’s leftover potluck casserole was overlooked.)
The other side of the discussion came in the form of don’t, don’t, don’t. The don’ts, spoken and unspoken, loomed as large as a dirty snow avalanche bearing down on people who are constantly reminded they are sinners. We placed fences around fences in an effort to avoid that which we thought we were powerless, as sinners, to consistently resist. We apologized a lot, then flagellated ourselves emotionally in the self-punishing guise of self-discipline.
The Lord has been teaching me that it is possible to love others because He loved us first. When we know we are the recipients of his love, and that there is plenty more where that came from, we can start to give out of the abundance the Holy Spirit pours into us.
This has been a huge revelation to me. The fruit of the Spirit is His joy, His peace, His faithfulness, His kindness etc. We cannot give what we have not received. But we do need to open our hearts to all He has for us.
So far, so good. Then I got to the fruit at the end of the list: self-control. Everything came to a screeching halt. Suddenly I felt responsible for producing this fruit in my life via willpower and following rules again.
This doesn’t make sense. It’s frustrating! And frustration forces me to ask questions.
I searched for articles on self-control. Most of them talk about saying no to lust for sex or lust for sleep or lust for brownies. Seriously. Brownies – especially fudge brownies– seem to be the greatest temptation North American evangelicals are willing to admit they face.
A recent article in a popular publication talked about the science of saying no and the means to work with willpower weakened by excessive demand. The author suggested techniques to develop better habits, thus lowering stress on the willpower muscle. That’s useful information if the problem is failure to exercise or resist the urge to eat too many – you guessed it – brownies.
Of course, we need to learn the benefits of delayed gratification, healthy habits and consideration of others. This is the kind of self-control we dearly hope our kids have picked up by the time they leave home. It’s the kind of self-control we demand other drivers display. This is also the kind of self-discipline that can be natural to some personality types (often first manifesting as stubbornness or even OCD). But still, I wonder. The fruit of the Spirit has got to be more than something available to anyone determined to put in effort.
I looked up the Greek word in Galatians 5:23. Enkrateia. The root, krat, is found in demokratia (democracy) meaning “government by the people.” Akrasia means chaos, a disorganized leaderless mess. Kratos means power or strength or dominion and in the scripture nearly always refers to a characteristic of God.
Be strong in the Lord and in the power (kratos) of His great might. (Ephesians 6:10)
Enkrateia means self-governance. Governing is about being in the position to make wise choices in the best interests of the governor’s charge, in this case, oneself.
Greek philosophers used the word in the context of having authority or power to choose well. That’s when I began to see it differently. What if the self-control of the fruit of the Spirit is not about the obligation to say no to all the things we have been told are bad or could be the first step on a slippery slope that will dump our sorry backsides in perdition? What if self-control, enkrateia, is supernatural empowerment to choose well, beyond the natural ability one might expect?
The Bible says we were formerly slaves to sin. (Romans 6) When Christ lives in us he empowers us with His enkrateia – his authority, power, and strength to govern ourselves well, to make good choices based on love. It’s a manifestation of freedom!
What if self-control is not about concentrating on saying no to sin?
What if self-control is about shifting our concentration from what we do not want to do to realizing we are now empowered to see better alternative choices?
What if self-control is about having our eyes opened to possibilities and opportunities to express his goodness, his kindness, his gentleness, his faithfulness, or his love by saying yes?
What if self-control is all about saying no to both depressing slavery to sin and oppressive rule-keeping by saying yes to delight in the majesty of God?
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:12-14 NAS)
Compared to all his delights, last week’s mouldy hamburger and macaroni casserole looks like a woefully sad choice.
I’m including photos that remind me of the abundance of God’s goodness today. I am choosing, with the authority he has given me to choose, to see self-control in the context of an abundance of beauty symbolizing his grace upon grace upon grace.
The Lord is my light and my salvation—
so why should I be afraid?
The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,
so why should I tremble?
When evil people come to devour me,
when my enemies and foes attack me,
they will stumble and fall.
Though a mighty army surrounds me,
my heart will not be afraid.
Even if I am attacked,
I will remain confident.
(Psalm 27:1-3 NLT)
We’re going to have to let truth scream louder to our souls than the lies that have infected us.
Love must be sincere.
Hate what is evil;
cling to what is good.
Be devoted to one another in love.
Honor one another above yourselves.
Never be lacking in zeal,
but keep your spiritual fervor,
serving the Lord.
Be joyful in hope,
patient in affliction,
faithful in prayer.
(Romans 12:9-12 NIV)
“If a man just stops to think what he has to praise God for, he will find there is enough to keep him singing praises for a week.”
-Dwight L. Moody
Two years ago the leaves on our double flowering plum suddenly started shriveling up. Within a week most of them had fallen off. Many of the trees on our street suffered the same fate. Leaf miner bugs staged an invasion while we were out on the porch enjoying our ice tea.
We sprayed and fertilized and watered, but it was too late. It was a sad sight. On her way to her car after a visit, my friend Rhonda stopped and held the tip of a barren low-hanging branch in her gentle hand. I knew she was praying for the tree’s recovery. Rhonda is sensitive to nature. She could feel the tree’s pain and she had compassion.
Last spring the tree sprouted leaves, but there were no blossoms. My husband suggested cutting it down, but I couldn’t bear to let go as long as long as it still lived. I pruned it back and fertilized hoping for revival even as more leaves browned and blew away.
This morning as I look out the window above my desk, branches decked in beautiful pink blossoms wave in the breeze. I can’t see them hiding in there, but I can hear the birds singing. Buzzing bees don’t even trigger my fear of them because they are far too busy with flowers to notice me.
The thirty-five-year-old double flowering plum made a dramatic comeback this spring. We marvel in the show because we feared we had lost her.
This week also marks the fourth anniversary of our son-in-love returning home from the hospital. He was miraculously healed after doctors gave him a 0% chance of survival from flesh-eating disease. We thought we had lost him too. But God had other plans, and we still marvel.
To be honest, this has been a year of set-backs. Half of our house is still uninhabited and awaiting restoration after heavy snow-melt floods destroyed the renovation work barely finished. Just when I thought my nagging health issues had finally been dealt with, the tests say ‘not so fast.’ This will require more treatment and more recovery time.
You may be in a season of hope deferred as well.
One thing I have learned in my life: Complaining attracts spiritual forces who are quite willing to help you with dismal projections and align to undermine hope. Praise attracts the angels who live in the atmosphere of worship of the God of Love. They align to bring about God’s purpose – reconciliation between the Father and humankind and restoration of all creation.
Today the plum tree is vibrant with petal colour and birdsong and the hum of honey-makers. Today I have a reminder right outside my window that God is still in the restoration business and there is always, always something to be thankful for.