Cooperating with the Cultivator

Published in Refresh Bible Study Magazine’s Fruits of the Spirit edition, August 2016. Click here to find the full edition and subscribe for free.

faiththoughtsIn my home state of Virginia, many apple orchards are tucked into the countryside. The trees tower on the rolling hills, opening their leafy branches wide, as if wanting to embrace. In the springtime, baby apples sprout from the ends of the branches. When ripe, the red and green creations hang heavy, asking to be picked.

Apple trees don’t produce fruit alone, though. The rains keep the leaves lush and trickle down to the apple, infusing it with juice. Sunshine strengthens saplings into trees and keeps the leaves alive and green. The soil keeps the tree anchored to the ground over its lifespan. Without these means of support, seedlings would wither away, never to thrive and grow.

Christians are called to bear “fruit” in our souls. This fruit is the result or the effect that is produced as the Holy Spirit cultivates, crafts, and refines our character. Galatians 5:22-23 names several of these fruits: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control” (HCSB*).

That’s a long list, and sometimes it overwhelms me. If you fail to produce one of these fruits, you may face self-doubt, like I do. Maybe you aren’t at peace when your chores pile up. Or you have trouble loving those who have wronged you. When a driver is rude in traffic, it’s difficult to be gentle.

Knowing we would need help, Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit. The Spirit works within us so that we bear fruit far sweeter than the world’s orchards. He is an arborist of our heart, cutting off rotten branches and promoting the best fruit from the branches that remain. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).

Fortunately, we can taste the results of the Spirit’s hard work. Although difficulties will come, living for Christ and cooperating with the Spirit produce a great harvest, a life of abundance (John 10:10). If we use self-control, our lives will be more stable and secure. Gentleness and love will heal our relationships. Joy and peace will give us the energy to continue improving, even if we stumble.

Bearing the fruit of the Spirit also guards us from producing rotten fruit, “the works of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19). Scripture has a long list of this bad fruit, which includes: sexual immorality, idolatry, hatred, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, envy, drunkenness, and carousing (Galatians 5:19-21). How miserable. Such a life would surely be filled with heartache, emptiness, and loneliness.

Take an honest look at how you’re faring with each fruit of the Spirit. Then make a list of 1-3 concrete steps that you can take this week to cooperate with the Spirit as He cultivates your soul. Here’s what my list looks like:

  1. To be more gentle, I’ll pause before I speak so I don’t react in anger.
  2. I’ll use better self-control in spending money.
  3. To show more love, I will share in others’ grief and rejoice in their blessings.

We have another awesome Resource in our struggle to bear the fruit of the Spirit—Jesus Himself. Because Jesus came to earth and walked among us, He understands our struggles. On the mountaintop, He was tempted by the enemy. At the hands of the people, He was ridiculed, betrayed, and suffered an excruciating death—but He never struck back.  Hebrews 4:15-16 encourages us: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time.”

Just like trees that take months to produce fruit, spiritual fruit comes slowly, step by step. But the surpassing quality of this fruit makes it well worth the wait. Join me in this prayer:

Father, help me to walk in the Spirit so that I do not fulfill the lust of the flesh.

Give me the courage to address the areas where I fall short,

and help me to grow in the fruits of the Spirit.

Thank you for tending to my heart and my character.

In Jesus name, Amen.

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