Do you ever have those days when you just know that you've blown it? That you really wasted the 24 hours given to you? Maybe you lay your head down on the pillow that night praying that God would erase any memory of the day from your thoughts, while looking forward to His new mercies that will come with the next sunrise.
I've been having some of those days lately. Days when my words are far less than kind, when my attitude is anything but patient, when my heart is far from feeling at peace, and when anger triumphs over gentleness. Gosh, I hate those days.
On those days, I feel like a piece of rotten fruit. All dark, mushy, stinky, and ready to just be discarded of. Not coincidentally of course, those rotten fruit days occur when I've neglected my First Love.
In the book of John, chapter 15, Jesus says:
"I am the true vine, and my Father, He is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the Word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches." (v.1-5)
As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. Makes total sense. How can I be living out my days with a Christ like heart if I haven't been cultivating one? Instead of having those days that end in feelings of defeat, I could be, and should be, living out and ending my days in victory.
My morning Bible study is currently walking through Paul's letters in the New Testament. Last week I read through the book of Galatians where we find his words on the fruits of the Spirit. Here is what Paul has to say about cultivating a heart like Christ:
"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness,
self-control; against such things there is no law". (Galatians 5:22-23)
Meditating on those verses made me think of some other well known words of Paul. In his letters written to the Christians in Corinth, he boldly proclaims that their works aren't what matter most and that they better have their hearts in the right place first. (AKA the branches better be rooted in the vine or their good works don't count for squat) It's in 1 Corinthians 13 that Paul instructs them, and us, of what a Spirit life filled really looks like:
"Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on it's own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoings, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends".
(1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
Since reading those two passages, I think I have written then rewritten them at least 3 times each in my journal. I also made them the backgrounds on my phone. I need to be constantly reminded of what a life rooted in the Spirit looks like. Why? Because when I rely on myself or my 'good works', my life reads more like this:
Annie is the opposite of patient. Annie is kind when she gets her way. Annie is envious of what she doesn't own and sometimes boastful of the good things she does have. Annie is rude when she's tired. Annie always demands her own way. Annie is especially irritable at home and resentful when other's disappoint her; Annie bears the things she thinks she can handle on her own and endures situations to a certain point, then totally blows up on the people she loves. Annie runs out.
Please, oh please, tell me that I'm not the only one! I can go a few days without the Vine. Like a car whose gas tank is on E, I can coast on fumes for a while. But it all goes down the drain at some point when I am relying on myself to produce gentleness, kindness, joy, and self-control. Unfortunately, when I, the branch, don't rely upon Jesus, the Vine, my life reads more like this other list Paul included in his letter to the Galatians. Before he shares with them what it looks like to bear fruits of the Spirit, he lists the ugly characteristics of a life fueled primarily by the flesh:
"Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." (Galatians 5:19-21)
Obviously, not all those characteristics describe my life, but they could. Seriously. If it wasn't for Christ in me, if instead of saving me He had given me over to the desires of my sinful flesh, any of those things could be true of me. I hate to tell you many of them have been true in the past and many of them are true now.
Over the past week or so I have spent a great deal of time meditating on and praying over these passages in Corinthians and Galatians. I made a list of the flesh characteristics that I know I need to be rid of and a list of the characteristics of Love (or the fruits of the Spirit) that I knew I was lacking in. This is what I came up with:
Flesh: Idolatry-Jealousy-Fits of Anger-Divisions-Envy
Spirit: Joy-Peace-Patience-Gentleness-Self Control
It was a hard few days for me as I realized that I claim Christ, yet my flesh has still been ruling over me in so many areas! I don't want that! I want to be a woman of God, a branch firmly attached to the Vine, a disciple whose life is marked by the fruit I bear, so that my time on earth may bring glory to Christ. 1 John 4:8 tells us that, "God is love". So really, in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul is describing God. This almost lets us off the hook. Obviously, we are not, nor will we ever be God, but, as Christians, the Holy Spirit does live inside us, providing us with the same power that Jesus has. So, while we will never perfectly live out the characteristics of Love, we have been given the power to live in the Spirit instead of the flesh. It is, however, a constant battle to kill the flesh that bears rotten fruit. As Jesus said in John 15, God has had to do some pruning, because the fruit I've been bearing has been rotten.
How do I know I'm rotten? I say things to my husband that would be shameful to repeat. I begin to resent people that I truly love, because I envy what they have. I have little patience for anyone I come in contact with, friend or stranger, and I have ZERO patience with God, so I try to control as much of my life as I can. These are all concrete signs of a life based in the flesh.
Whenever someone compliments me on a good characteristic that I have, I am quick to give them this reply: If there is anything, anything at all, that you like about me, that's Jesus in me. Without Him, you wouldn't really like me at all. I wholeheartedly believe that. I know the me I turn into when I am not finding life in the Vine. I know the me that no one else knows and I know how rotten all my fruit in this life would be without Christ.
He prunes me so that I may go on to bear good fruit. Sure, that means having some really low down, hope to forget, ashamed to have lived them days, but if that's what it takes to get my attention, bring on the pruning!
I'll let Paul close us since he wrote the perfect summary in Ephesians 4:
My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to Him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything--and I do mean everything--connected with that old way of life has to go. It's rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life--a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.
(v.20-24, The Message)
I made y'all a little something extra in case you too want to keep the verses from 1 Corinthians 13 and Galatians 5 near to your heart. Print these out, laminate them, stick them on your mirror, fridge, or somewhere safe in your car where the truth and life in these words cannot escape you.