The Vulnerable Fruits of the Spirit
The fruits of the Spirit are a popular part of Scripture. Probably because they are sort of like a list of how we are to live out this life of faith. Because of this there have been lots of teachings on them. Lots of Bible studies on them. Yet as simple as this chunk of Scripture sounds, living it out has been frustrating for most people. I think I figured out why—just about two years ago.
But first, here’s that list from Scripture: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23.
What I discovered just about two years ago is that each one of these fruits of the Spirit involves vulnerability. And we don’t like that.
For example, to talk about love there is this oft-quoted and famous quote by C. S. Lewis:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung out and possibly broken.”
Are you getting a glimpse of where this sermon series is going?
Let’s look at joy beginning with this oft-quoted verse from James 1:2-3, Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
Joy in the midst of trials? Joy in the midst of pain?
This is where we get stuck. Joy isn’t supposed to hurt so much.
Joy can feel like a set up, right? We believe that if we really feel this wonderful emotion then something bad is right around the corner. So you would rather dismiss joy or control those joyful feelings. We don’t want to get blindsided by hurt. We want to beat vulnerability to the punch.
One of our boys suffers terribly from this. If he got a good opportunity at work, he would immediately say that this won’t last. If he got a compliment (as he is quite handsome), he would quickly say he’s not wearing his best clothes (like clothes could change his good looks). When the boys were younger we did a lot of mystery trips with them. Took them to places that they never dreamed they would get to go to. So much fun for us! So many memories made. But when we got home, this same son would do something to sabotage his life. Instead of experiencing the joy of the trip, he felt guilty that his birth family didn’t get to feel this joy. He felt guilty that his grab for faith and a better life gave him this opportunity while others were left behind. Like his grab for a better life was disloyal. He felt guilty that he felt joy.
Do you do this too?
When we’re pain avoidant, we’re joy avoidant. And a joyless life is no life at all. I love this Donald Miller quote from my favorite book of his, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story:
"Fear isn't only a guide to keep us safe; it's also a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life."
I was introducing the fruit of the Spirit joy to you and now I’ve wandered into the deep muddy waters of fear. This is because when we feel such moments of joy, these “too good to be true” emotions are really rooted in fear, scarcity, or “I am not enough” thoughts with the deepest root being you believing that you are not worthy of joy. With this “foreboding joy” you are basically saying, “I’m not worthy of having this joy so I must sabotage it before life sabotages me.” My son chose to better his life. He made that move to join our family. He is worthy of every joy his choices has brought him. If he will be brave enough to truly believe this. This is vulnerability.
Do not be afraid to feel the ordinary joys that happen in your life. Also do not be afraid to feel the pain that happens in your life. You get both. We all do. And you will make it through both. Remember that God has hardwired us for pain.
Joy is what we get in our pain like what that James 1:2-3 teaches us. Real true joy. Such as that moment when you laughed so silly over something so silly because real joy leaked out. Maybe some laughing tears too. Or those moments when you are beautifully overwhelmed at something you see in nature. My son just finished spending sometime in “the hole” at his prison. On one of those mornings he observed a full sunrise. It had been a while since he had seen such beauty. He felt that joy. It has softened him in that invulnerable place of prison.
Isn’t it in these times of joy that the most beautiful writing happens or the most touching songs are written? This is because pain and joy are alive together. And fear has no place in this. I love this Max Lucado quote from his book Fearless:
“Oversize and rude, fear is unwilling to share the heart with happiness. Happiness complies and leaves. Do you ever see the two together? Can one be happy and afraid at the same time? Clear thinking and afraid? Confident and afraid? Merciful and afraid? No. Fear is the big bully in the high school hallway: brash, loud, and unproductive. For all the noise fear makes and room it takes, fear does little good.
“Fear never wrote a symphony or poem, negotiated a peace treaty, or cured a disease. Fear never pulled a family out of poverty or a country out of bigotry. Fear never saved a marriage or a business. Courage did that. Faith did that.”
Doesn’t that quote right now inspire you to do something brave and bold? Or at least stand up and do a little dance and punch the air.
The truth is fear does not keep you safe and prevent bad things from happening. Fear does not give you any control over your life. Your bravery comes when you embrace vulnerability.
This is where we are going this month in our series on the vulnerable fruits of the Spirit. Due to pain aversion we want to keep our faith safe and in our control but every one of these fruits of the Spirit leads us to more for our faith. The more that moves you to stand up and do a little dance and punch the air and do something brave.