The tests and trials of life will prompt some kind of reaction from us…some kind of response…some kind of behavior. These challenges can be big or small. Long or short. Constant or intermittent.
A medical diagnosis. A financial blow. A spouse drifting away. You get the idea. It’s life. And it plays out like this for all of us every day.
Even with that reality, we need to remember that while the trial may not be what we choose, it certainly can be what God can use. Use in our life to help us grow. Use in the lives of other believers who are watching. Use in the lives of unbelievers who catch a glimpse of God’s awesome power and goodness.
We don’t choose the adversity that comes into our life and we have no choice but to respond in some way. That is an immutable fact. There will be a reaction from us. The only question is what that reaction will be.
A LAMINATED GUIDE
It would be great if God gave us a response guide we could laminate and carry around for direction on how to respond to each possible type of turbulence in life. But it doesn’t work that way.
So how do we know what should come out? That’s an important question, right? Important for us to be sure. But also important to all the people who are watching, along with God who is certainly watching.
Actually the answer to that question is “easy.” We need to be Christ-like. The real question is how to prepare in advance of the trial to pull off a Christ-like response.
There is no better model to follow that the nine fruits of the spirit we find in the book of Galatians.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23
Using this as the foundation keeps me from “searching” for how to respond when tested. I don’t want to be thinking too much about how to respond. After all, if we have to architect all the answers and responses to all of the possible circumstances that might come up…we don’t stand a chance.
My approach is to keep these nine fruits of God’s Spirit on my mind and in my heart at all times so they seep into my DNA and are ready to come out when I am tested: Love; Joy; Peace; Forbearance; Kindness; Goodness; Faithfulness; Gentleness; and Self-Control.
What follows below are the thoughts I use to install and keep them in my DNA.
FRUIT #1: LOVE
Jesus’ entire ministry was characterized by love. The greatest demonstration of that love was the sacrifice he made for all of us on the cross at Calvary.
This kind of love goes well beyond warm feelings. It is an intentional attitude of respect and honor for other people whether they deserve it or not. It is never expecting anything in return.
FRUIT #2: JOY
Jesus was full of joy about his mission and ministry. And always before he suffered himself, he thought of the disciples and his promise to have his joy remain in them for all time (John 15:11).
This kind of joy has nothing to do with things going “good or bad” in our life. It is a joy that comes as a gift from the Holy Spirit that transcends any and all superficial circumstances.
FRUIT #3: PEACE
Jesus knows all about peace because he is the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). He lived it out with each and every breath and through each and every circumstance of his life.
This kind of peace is not dependent on “everything going right.” It is remaining tranquil through the vortex of chaos and being complete in Christ to trust God to control every aspect of our life.
FRUIT #4: FORBEARANCE
Jesus exhibited forbearance throughout his earthly ministry. Even while suffering a painful death by crucifixion, Jesus displayed patient endurance to pray for his tormentors.
Forbearance is demonstrating patience in all things and enduring whatever injustice others may inflict on us without demanding retribution or seeking to “get even.”
FRUIT #5: KINDNESS
Jesus modeled kindness as a character trait to be manifest in his life on earth. Even while suffering a painful death by crucifixion, Jesus reacted with patient endurance by praying for his tormentors.
Kindness like this allows for adjustments to the myriad changes we experience in our life. It is exhibiting a kind heart in everything and to everyone without animus or anger.
FRUIT #6: GOODNESS
The entire ministry and sacrifice of Jesus is the greatest example of God’s goodness toward people. The message that Jesus was goodness is repeated many times in God’s Word as the Gospel…the good news.
Goodness is the other side of the kindness coin. It reflects God’s character and prompts us to look for good in others without blaming them or looking for fault.
FRUIT #7: FAITHFULNESS
Jesus was faithful to God the Father who had handed him such immense responsibility. Even in anguish at the foot of the cross, he remained steadfast to play the redemption role for which he was ordained.
At its core, this fruit is living with integrity that is manifest in our life for others to witness as an example of Christ-likeness. It is a kind of faithfulness that always gives all of the glory to God.
FRUIT #8: GENTLENESS
Jesus declared that he was “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29) and then lived that out in his earthly walk. No part of this fruit was emanating out of weakness because Jesus was far from weak.
This kind of gentleness can be assertive, but it always shows deference to everyone. It bathes every one of our interactions with a forgiving and peaceful nature.
FRUIT #9: SELF-CONTROL
Jesus could have exercised enormous power against his enemies at any time, but he chose instead to have his behavior directed by self-control all the way through his ministry.
We know from Scripture that our earthly desires are perpetually in conflict with the Holy Spirit. Thankfully, God’s fruit of self-control lets our fleshly desires drift away so we can be led by the Spirit.
There you are…nine of the most important words and themes in the Christian lexicon.