"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Gal. 5:22-23).
The fruit of the Spirit in the verse just quoted have long been a goal for my Christian walk, as they epitomize the essence of the Spirit filled life. Yet, to the degree I thought they were something I could obtain by self effort, they eluded me, leaving me in bobbing in the wake of a speeding boat wondering what happened. We dialogue with friends about their similar experiences with struggling which gains for them the exact same results it did for me in my earlier years of trying to become what I already am in Christ.
As He often does, God gave me the perfect metaphor for the futility of struggle right here in our little 5th wheel home. Our cat Taffy has allergies which cause her to tear out her fur (though she hasn't learned how to run screaming into the night yet. I suppose that's next). In the past her condition improved with a steroid shot given by the Vet. That stopped working and the Vet suggested we try giving her oral medication twice a day. I knew that would prove nearly impossible to do. Like all cats, Taffy hates to take meds, and will fight and scratch and bite to keep from doing it. It's a painful proposition for both cat and master and it takes two of us to have any chance of succeeding. Lenny holds her on his lap, restraining her with a large bath towel. Only her face is showing as I approach with the pill slathered in butter, wedged in the "piller," a soft plastic tube designed to help you get the pill to the back of the throat without being bitten. She knows what's coming and wide eyed, begins to resist immediately. If he doesn't restrain her totally, we risk pain and loss of blood from her sharp claws and teeth.
He reassures her, while I firmly grip the back of her head so can I pry open her jaws. I quickly put the piller in her mouth and release the pill. She immediately spits it out. Round one to her. I tell her she IS going to take the pill, as I apply more butter, put it back in the piller, and have another go at it. She spits this one out even quicker than the first one. By now, I'm getting mad and say, "Taffy! This is for your own good you know. We're trying to help you." Many times, I lose 5 rounds before finally getting the pill down. I hold her mouth shut so she can't spit it out, trying not to suffocate her, while stroking her throat until swallows it, which she eventually does. She's either amazingly strong or I'm weaker than I thought, but the frustrating thing is that the pill does work and it is for her own good, but she thinks we're torturing her and being mean old cat parents. After about 3 days of this ordeal for all of us, she stops tearing out her fur and we go back to peace, except she eyes me suspiciously while she's on Lenny's lap where she likes to nap, thinking I'm going to give her a pill.
You see where I'm going with this, I'm sure. After the last time we went through this trauma, a friend wrote to complain about God's dealings with him, which are undoubtedly harsh. He feels free to tell us how he really feels, which is healing and allows me to respond accordingly. I suggested to him that he's the cat resisting the pill which God is determined to give him. What I've learned after many sessions of being bound in a towel while He pushes the pill down my throat, is that it really is to help me. A lot of the pain evoked by terrible situations comes from what we tell ourselves about the event, specifically, what it means in terms of our relationship with our heavenly Father.
Nothing in this life or in death either hurts as badly as thinking that God hates us, is mad at us because we're such miserable pukes, and that He is punishing us. Such wrong conclusions strike a death blow to our soul and bring us down to the pit quicker than anything else can. This is why we recoil and our stomach aches when we read Jesus' plaintive cry from the cross, "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" In that cry, we see and feel and embrace His humanity and know that He indeed bears our burdens with us and feels our pain and loss. Without that realization, Christianity would be a sterile walk amongst the rules and laws, which sadly, it is for some.
That sense of His loss and deprivation on the cross represents the curse of humanity, it seems to me, the essence of Adam's fate when he was summarily tossed out of the garden. It is the "thorns and thistles" that God told him would be his lot in life. It is our lot in life as we walk this "mortal coil" and try to make sense of what we actually experience in our life as opposed to what we've been told is supposed to happen when we're following Christ.
One of the gals at Medicalodge, who has endured a large portion of thorns and thistles, likes to say that when she got saved 50 years ago, the preacher said she should come and bring all her troubles to the cross, where Jesus would take care of them. If she did, he promised, all would be well. She concludes with a grin, "It didn't work out that way."
It has been my experience and observation that the elect often feel like we're being dragged through a cactus patch backwards, or to use another metaphor, we're being dragged through smaller and smaller knotholes so that when we get to the other side, much of our baggage has been scraped off, the outer layer peeled away. We had a friend in CA who had a very unusual job. He worked at the Marina in Ventura removing barnacles from the hulls of the yachts moored there. For him, the job was wet and cold and messy, which sort of describes both giving a cat a pill and being dealt with by God, but it had to be done, to get the desired results.
For me, peace only comes from knowing that IF God is sovereign (and if He is not we've got way worse troubles than any we could imagine), then Isaiah was right. It is God who creates both light and darkness, good and evil (Isa. 45:7). God brought our troubles to us and praise His name, HE will hold our hand while we walk through them. I said to well meaning Christian friends, back in 1997, who like Job's comforters, sought to correct our theology so we wouldn't lose our house, "God brought this upon us for His own purposes, which we don't know right now, but we do know is that He is not out to kill us or harm us. It will all work out for our good and His glory." That turned out to be a prophecy, for had He not shut us down in California and brought us here to Missouri, there would be no Glory Road ministry.
The woman at Medicalodge I quoted before often says that she has learned so much from me in the time I've been there, and I always tell her that it is I who have learned a great deal from them. In the process, I have also learned why love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control are referred to by Paul as GIFTS of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). There is nothing we can do to earn them, or deserve them or be worthy of them. The good news is that they are all characteristics of Christ, who lives in us and through us. The spirit showed me a fuller meaning of Verse 24, "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires."
On the surface it may appear that Paul is telling us we have to do something ourselves, but the truth is that we cannot crucify ourselves. It is physically impossible. Only God can do that, which is why Jesus said we must take up our cross and follow Him. Paul insists that we can't even do that without His help. "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith of the Son of God who loves me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). To try to do it on our own means we have fallen from grace and are attempting to live by LAW! (Gal. 5:4).
We have a beautiful friend in Texas who trusts us enough to share her struggles with us. She wrote, "Thanks Mom for the reminder that we are already victorious in Christ. Knowing that Christ is all the good that we are not but long to be brings rest for the soul (though the neurotic/egocentric self continues its resistance to this wonderful news).
"So if our neurotic/egocentric self (the flesh) tends towards codependency (and overeating, etc.) which may be our thorn in the flesh (symbolized by Christ's crown of thorns), how do we rest in the grace that helps us endure until the death of that same neurotic/ego/self?
"Paul says in Romans 7:18, "For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot perform it. [I have the intention and urge to do what is right, but no power to carry it out.]" (Amplified Bible). Messages like these help me not to beat myself up about my thorns (it's definitely a pain to not be free of codependent tendencies). So like Paul (Vs. 24), I say "O unhappy and pitiable and wretched man that I am! Who will release and deliver me from the shackles of this body of death?" Basically, I've been feeling imprisoned by all these "tendencies" and would like a moment to feel free and enjoy sunshine.
"I would imagine that His grace helps us to accept our temporal, yet challenging imperfect condition of the flesh, while cherishing the new creation in us through Christ. The hardest thing is to refrain from being so darn disappointed when the flesh fails (like consuming a whole box of delicious bunny grahams after experiencing a successful time of exercising). I wonder whether this roller coaster ride of a life will help us to appreciate being in His presence more, once freed of the shackles of this fleshly mortality (outwardly we waste away while inwardly we are renewed each day)? We'll know in the by and by; for now we see dimly but then we will see quite clearly.
"However, since we are kind of a "now" bunch, if most of us cannot even live with ourselves (flesh and spirit) well, how the heck can we expect Israel and the Palestinians to live peaceably for any appreciable amount of time let alone the Hatfields and the McCoys of life (right in our own backyards, among our own flesh, etc.)? In the interim, it would just be nice to be more forgiving and merciful to ourselves without feeling guilty as though we are "giving sin a break" by not being more harsh with ourselves when we have failure. The inherent consequence of failure, built in by the laws of God, should be more than sufficient and His mercy and grace more than welcome for none but Christ could bare the true cost of sin." End quote.
As to what this life is all about, why the traumas, why the pain and hardship, the disappointment and guilt and shame caused by many failed attempts to please God, my thanks to Jeri Fox for reminding me that Paul says the reason for all our trials and tribulations is so that we can EXPERIENCE God:
"Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope; and hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given unto us" (Rom. 5:1-5). The only way we can actually glory in tribulations is to see that all our trials are for the purpose of making us vessels which pour out God's love to the world.
It is the experience we gain from our sufferings that brings us ultimately (not an over night process), to knowing God in a deeper, fuller way, seeing His glory revealed in all circumstances, and filling us with hope. Only with His hope can we endure the frightful circumstances which surround us today, and indeed, afflict the whole world. And then comes the inevitable question, "How do we surrender?" The answer is, WE can't. It's impossible for us to do. Surrender is a "God job" from Alpha to Omega. He helps us pray, "Thy will be done."
And since our friend mentioned codependency, let me add that not only can we not save ourselves from the struggle we must endure to see God, we cannot save anyone else from theirs either, no matter how much we love them. How we long to spare our children and other loved ones the pain we have endured by wrong choices, failures of omission and commission, but we cannot, for it is in the failure that we ultimately give up, not that we want to, but like our Taffy finally swallowing the pill, we're too worn out to do anything else.
There was a very silly song from the 60's whose words went like this: "Pain, remorse and agony on me; deep, dark depression, excessive misery. If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all. Pain, remorse and agony on me." When you feel that way, remember our kitty Taffy and God's grace.
Father, reveal Yourself to us in Your beauty and holiness, in Your caring and compassion for the sick and dying, the fearful, the hungry, the homeless, and yes, even the failures, especially for the failures. You came to save us from ourselves Father, and we thank You for gifting us Your power to walk by the Spirit rather than the dictates of the flesh, and for Your revelation of Yourself into every circumstance in which we find ourselves hopeless, helpless, and struggling. You are the deliverer, and we continually need to be delivered; we have been delivered from all things which bind us in Christ, and we will be delivered from everything on earth and in the cosmos which separates us from Your love, Your joy, Your peace, and Your self-control. We love You Father; we fall on our faces in worship to You and to our Lord Christ. With all creation, we praise Your name; we give You all glory and honor now and forever. You are our God, our King, our Abba. Amen. Jan Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
Working for Jesus? Surrendering to God, II
Fighting the Good Fight? Surrendering to God, III
A Covenant With Death? Surrendering to God, IV
The Family Fix, Surrendering to God, V
Your Mortal Body, Surrendering to God, VI
Echoes From Sodom, Surrendering to God, VII
Judgment: His or Ours? Surrendering to God, VIII
Why did Christ have to die? Surrendering to God, IX
The Pearl of Great Price,Surrendering to God, X
Tested by Fiery Trials, Surrendering to God, XI
Sibling Rivalry, Surrendering to God, XII
When Parents and Churches Fail, Surrendering to God, XIII
The Blessed Hope of His Appearing, Surrendering to God, XIV
Does God Need Us? Surrendering to God, XV
Does God Need Our Faith? Surrendering to God, XVI
The Glory Road
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This site was created on 01/07/09
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister