The fruit that takes away life, and the fruit that gives it
“Surrender don’t come naturally to me.” (Rich Mullins from his song Hold Me Jesus)
As you see more dearly that your vocation is to be a witness to God’s love in this world, and as you become more determined to live out that vocation, the attacks of the enemy will increase. You will hear voices saying, ‘You are worthless, you have nothing to offer, you are unattractive, undesirable, unlovable: The more you sense God’s call, the more you will discover in your own soul the cosmic battle between God and Satan. Do not be afraid. Keep deepening your conviction that God’s love for you is enough, that you are in safe hands, and that you are being guided every step of the way. What is important is to keep clinging to the real, lasting, and unambiguous love of Jesus. Whenever you doubt that love, return to your inner spiritual home and listen there to love’s voice. Only when you know in your deepest being that you are intimately loved can you face the dark voices of the enemy without being seduced by them. The love of Jesus will give you an ever-clearer vision of your call as well as of the many attempts to pull you away from that call. The more you are called to speak for God’s love, the more you will need to deepen the knowledge of that love in your own heart. The farther the outward journey takes you, the deeper the inward journey must be. Only when your roots are deep can your fruits be abundant.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (St. Paul)
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One of the hardest things I’ve learned (correct that: am learning) is that surrender doesn’t come naturally to me. Rich Mullins was right. I’d rather cling to the old rags of Egypt rather than surrender to the infinite treasures of the New Eden. Emerging out of the sufferings of the wilderness, I find myself stripped of those old rags…yet I remember them. And in remembering, I sometimes lust after them again. In their day, they held great weight.
I’ve found that my prayer in recent years has become a simple one: Hide my life in yours, Jesus. It comes from St. Paul: For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. This is vintage ‘New Exodus’ Paul. It’s the death-to-life pattern of Jesus, living out the Exodus pattern of Israel. We were lost in the wilderness, but now we’re found – found to God, found to others, found to ourselves.
I hide in a thousand other things. I avoid God, and in doing so avoid myself in the many false selves and false identities I live out of. After a while, I’ve forgotten myself, and feel lost to God. Descending into the wilderness, I am stripped of these counter-identities, and reminded of my Eden-born identity as God’s image, never completely lost but hidden as a treasure in God’s heart. The lessons of the wilderness are hard. I find that I’m stripped of reputation, identity-through-achievement, love when I want it, progress on my terms, and more. But as we’ve said before, it is a stripping down which actually reveals our hidden life in God, our real selves, our deepest identity.
The journey up and out of the wilderness leads to the freedom of life as it was meant to be lived. And St. Paul gives definition to that, as well. He calls it “fruit” – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Love, once mis-directed to a thousand false loves, is now re-directed and renewed in its First Love. Joy, once found in a temporary pleasure that could be bought or controlled at will, is now found in longing, sometimes without immediate gratification, for the greater Joy. Peace, defined as conflict avoidance and repressed desire, now becomes a verb – the renewal of shalom, the re-ordering of relationships and the reconciliation of those at war with one another. Patience, replaced by remote-controls that falsely convince us that we can control pleasure and quick spiritual fixes which sell us on 3 steps to our best life, now finds renewal in a heart that waits longingly for a deeper satisfaction. Kindness, domesticated in fixed smiles on Christian faces, now becomes a risky compassion (suffering with another) that deepens relationship and bestows dignity on another. Faithfulness, crushed into definitions mandating dogmatic certainty at the expense of relationship, now flourishes in commitment to living out (delightfully) the command to love our neighbors and relentlessly pursue (rather than demonize) those we differ with. Gentleness, exposing our need to power over and control, invites a vulnerability which may in fact expose our weakness but show Christ’s strength. Self-control, rather than a behavioral call to pull-ourselves-up-by-our-bootstraps, actually manifests in surrender to God, which can feel like being out-of-control to control freaks like me.
These are the fruits of the New Exodus journey.
But Henri Nouwen is right. Read the quote at the top of the blog again. It is precisely at this moment that the memories of Egypt stir, the old demons awake, and we imagine that the control we had and the pleasures we experienced and the identities we formed back then might actually be better and more satisfying.
Hide me in you, Jesus.
Ever since Adam and Eve took a bite into the deadly passion-fruit, we’ve been hiding…hiding from who we were truly meant to be, how we were truly made to live. Freedom and joy awaits the one who finds that hidden self bound up in God. That is fruit that nourishes…us, and those around us…
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What are the old identities God is calling you to surrender?
What is the cost of losing that identity? How has it defined you…to yourself, and to others?
What “fruits of the Spirit” do you feel are most difficult for you to live into? How does your struggle reveal what you are most attached to right now, and how you might need Jesus?