Thirty-some years ago I gave my life to Jesus Christ, as I sat on a bench overlooking the Pacific Ocean near my home, in San Diego, California. I was a broken woman at age forty-two, divorced from my first husband, about to marry my second, separated from two of my children, and in the dog house with my father who was disappointed that I had walked away from the faith and life-style he had taught me. But God’s grace has seen me through the ups and downs and helped me reconcile with my dad before he died.
So when I think of what it means to grow in grace and to stay close to God over the long haul, many verses in the Bible spring to mind, especially this one:
Galatians 5:22-23. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
LOVE: We love because he first loved us (1John 4:19 NIV).
God is love. So primary among the fruit of the Spirit is love. When I give and receive love I’m growing in grace. So I want to wake up each morning with the word love on my lips and then put it into practice each hour of the day.
JOY and PEACE: You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; (Isaiah 55:12).
I love this verse. God assures us that if we follow him he will lead us in joy and peace regardless of the circumstances—whether death of a loved one, illness, job loss, financial upset and anything else that may come our way.
PATIENCE: . . . imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised (Hebrews 6:12).
It’s hard to wait, isn’t it? I’m not good at it. I like things to happen now. I want people to return my emails and phone calls immediately. But life isn’t according to my agenda. Time and again God has proven faithful after a long wait on a sale of a home, a book proposal hanging by a thread, an investment that didn’t pan out and so on. You probably have dozens of examples in your own life.
KINDNESS: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons (Acts: 14:17).
When I think of how kind the Lord is in the little things as well as the big, I feel humbled. I never have to beg for food or rain. All of my needs are met by his gracious hand. Each morning I say a prayer of gratitude for the Lord’s provision—a good night’s sleep, a hardy breakfast, the sun in the sky, a warm home to live in, fine friends and family to relate to. Following the Lord’s example, we can extend a hand of kindness to those around us. And as we do, the closer we stay to God.
GOODNESS: How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you (Psalm 31:19).
“He’s a good man.” “She’s a good woman.” How often we say or hear these words spoken about someone in public life or someone we know in our family or community. Such a person is one of moral excellence and virtue. And when we meet a good person we are impressed, for goodness is not common in today’s world. My friend and spiritual mentor, Fran, was such a person. She wasn’t a perfect woman, but she was a good woman—one who in her mature years continually reached out to counsel and encourage me as a new Christian.
FAITHFULNESS: “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness (Joshua 24:14).
It is difficult in today’s culture to remain faithful to anything or anyone, but when we are, it is a tremendous example and blessing to those who observe us. I heard not long ago a woman speak about her marriage to an alcoholic and drug addict. She wanted to leave, to start over, to admit her mistake in choosing him as her mate, and to make a fresh start. But every time she brought her ‘case’ before God he told her to “Stay put.” She has stayed put—for nearly 40 years—and everyone who knows her admires her for her faithfulness—to God. She says she is ‘married’ to the Lord first and to her husband second. And as a result of this long journey of fidelity, her husband went into recovery.
GENTLENESS: Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, (1Peter 3:15).
When I think of gentleness I think of my grandfather, Gerald. I remember peeking in the doorway of his room in the house we lived in as I was growing up. There he sat at his desk each afternoon reading the Bible. I realize now that I’m a grandparent myself, how the Word of God filled him up, guided him through the trials he endured, and refined the rough places within him. The result was a gentle man who had a bright smile, a kind word, and a loving hug for everyone who knew him—right up to the day he died. He taught me more about growing in grace than almost any other person. I still miss him.
SELF-CONTROL: Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:13).
Living in the fruit of the Spirit comes down to living a life of self-control—surrendering ourselves to God and giving him full reign over every thought, word, and deed. And though such a commitment may seem restrictive and daunting at first, it really is the path to freedom and peace. With the Lord in charge we cannot help but grow in grace and become the mature Christians we want to be—and our example will spill into the lives of everyone we meet, helping them to continue to do the same during their journey over the long haul.