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.
When I think of fruit I naturally picture a tree – which reminds me of Psalm 1, which begins: Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers. The blessed person is one who takes deep nourishment from the word of God, which informs all he is and does. That person TRUSTS that God’s word truly represents God’s character and is life-giving. Jesus himself was referred to as the Word in the Gospel of John: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14.
Thinking about patience, I realized that TRUST is absolutely necessary if the green fruit is ever to become ripe enough to harvest - trust that God’s Word speaks true in every situation.
Once there was a couple that lived in a garden full of fruit-bearing trees. Every tree was at their disposal to harvest and enjoy. EVERY tree but one: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God planted the garden they lived in and walked with them there daily – and God warned them that, if they did eat the fruit of that tree, they would die. God’s word. True in every situation.
When I was a child our yard had a few apple trees growing in it. One spring day I discovered a perfectly whole robin’s egg at the base of one of those trees. To me, robins' eggs were tiny blue miracles, like magic boxes containing living creatures - baby robins. Here was a perfect magical specimen right at my feet – here was my opportunity to have my very own pet robin! As I picked it up and looked more closely, I found a hairline fracture in the shell… No problem. Actually, I could help myself have a pet baby robin more quickly if I helped him with hatching. If I could get my fingernail into that little crack in the shell I could carefully remove the shell and set my new pet free. Yet… my inner voice was saying quite clearly, “leave it where you found it. Only a mother robin can hatch this egg. If you peel it you might kill it!” Robins, robins everywhere… But only one I wanted.
The couple in that garden didn’t need any inner voice to give direction. They had God in PERSON to guide them in everything they did. God was there to give his word about what was right and what was wrong… And everything was right! There was only ONE “no” for them – everything else was YES! The “no” concerned one fruit out of multitudes – that from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Why would they need the knowledge of what was right and what was wrong when God walked with them daily? When everything that was, was proclaimed by God’s word to be “good” and they themselves were proclaimed “very good!”
I looked again at my magical blue egg and I made my decision. I was having a pet robin NOW. I would free it VERY carefully. Surely it wouldn’t die?
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘you must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:1-5.
Very, very slowly and painstakingly I pried the shell off my new pet robin. I was trembling with excitement - and with fear that I might hurt him (because of my inner voice). But as the space grew in the midst of the blue, what I beheld was not a new bird, but a veined and bloody beating heart. I was horrified. I quickly put down the egg and ran away in tears. Obviously what I had done haunts me to this day!
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” Genesis 3:8-10.
It seems to me that, whenever I have done wrong, it has been because I haven’t trusted God’s word (or even my own conscience – before I knew God). I didn’t have the patience to wait for what I wanted so I took things into my own hands. I took control. For patience to grow in us, we need to trust that what we want is worth the wait or the effort we must invest in order to achieve it. If what we want is for God to be honored in and through us and to walk with God through life and beyond death, we have to trust that God is in control.
Control has not been any less an issue for me since becoming a Christian. Two years ago – a more recent springtime – another baby bird suffered at my well-meaning hands. A baby Blue Jay had fallen from its nest near the edge of an in-ground swimming pool enclosed by a tall fence. The pool had been covered, but the melting snow and rain had half-filled the cover with cold, brackish water that was quite deep. Mother Blue Jay was calling her baby away from danger, but I thought I could do the job more efficiently. I took control because I wanted an IMMEDIATE happy ending. I entered the enclosure and began to herd the baby bird toward the open gate. It took quite awhile, but eventually I got the little guy to hop out the gate. Phew! But suddenly – for no apparent reason – my prodigy tried his wings and flew straight back – INTO THE POOL! I frantically tried to reach him with my hand, then a broom, then – when he started to sink – I even jumped in that pool and slid down the cover into the cold, slimy water! I pulled the bird from the water, but couldn’t get myself out of the pool! Fortunately my husband was within shouting range (his counsel had been to leave the Blue Jays alone) and came to my rescue. But it was too late for the little Blue Jay.
I grow impatient with people. Many years ago, at the dinner table with my own family, I was complaining about the behavior of a co-worker that was really negatively affecting my job and my well-being at work. This was one of those “mean people” about whom they have written a bumper sticker. You meet them everywhere – even at church. But after my rant, my four-year-old Alyssa asked me, “Mommy, does that mean Jesus doesn’t love them anymore?”
Paul wrote: You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? Romans 2:1-4.
Think about the blue jay – about the unhatched robin… those are just fragments of examples of what happens globally daily! Haven’t we all wrestled with the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Have you never felt frustrated and impatient with politicians or oil spills or the health-care system or drug trafficking or terrorism or racism, etc…? Who is in control?
One day I was reading an account of the Japanese invasion of Nanking (Nanjing) during WWII. There was a black and white photo of a baby screaming in the rubble of what had been the city where he lived. He was alone. For me he was an icon of that question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” I was FURIOUS! I began to yell at God – truly yell, and cry tears of pure rage. I threw a tantrum in the privacy of my living room – but God was there. When I paused for breath I suddenly had an image in my mind of God’s hand poised to strike the army that bombed that city and left that child an orphan… But the hand was shaking. It was shaking with IMMENSE SELF-CONTROL! And I heard the words in my mind, “If I were to start (repaying evil with immediate justice), where would I stop? You certainly would not be here.”
Peter wrote: Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 2 Peter 3:15. God is patient. Being patient does not mean acquiescing to evil, nor am I suggesting that. God is patient and God is just. We are to take a stand – but … ”our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12.
Human impatience is usually about not seeing happen what we know instinctively SHOULD happen, so we try to take control. Take the fruit, save the bird, condemn the person. This is where we grasp hold of the law on the stone tablet – and crush each other with it. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 1 Timothy 1:15-16. Let the One who wrote that Law be the one who enforces it.
I had a very close relationship with my dad. After becoming a Christian my junior year of high school it became imperative that my dad do so as well. For various reasons I reasoned that my mom and sister would follow suit. But he was the tough one because he had so many strong and intelligent reasons for not believing the Word of God. No matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t convince him! As years went by I tried introducing him to people by whom I knew he would be impressed (intellectuals). I reasoned that, if he only could hear what THEY had to say, he would believe. At Urbana ’87 I even stood in line to speak with Billy Graham – to ask him to write a little note to dad (who respected him very much) on the back of my nametag. If dad heard from Billy Graham, there was no WAY he would be able to refute God’s Word any more! Billy Graham graciously scribbled something short and illegible on the back of my nametag. I was crushed. No convincing argument or plea, just a Scripture reference (which I couldn’t really make out) and his signature. Still – I brought it home and gave it to dad as a souvenir. Over the years since dad and I continued to have heated debates about religion. Once he took me aside and grabbed my shoulders and said, “I DO believe Jesus is my Lord and Savior – I’m just making sure YOU know what YOU believe!” But later he would repeat another one of his arguments supporting the anti-intellectualism of Christians in general and why the Bible wasn’t right about certain things. I never gave up on dad – I kept picking at his shell year after year…
On September 23, 2009 dad had a massive heart attack and died in the ER before I could get there and say good–bye. I didn’t get to pray with him. I didn’t get to pray for him. But dad did ask for me – and he asked for my Pastor… Which means that he WANTED someone there to pray with him. And he told my mom (who was with him and had been for 51 years) to “tell the kids I have made my peace with the world and with God.”
After his memorial service, mom found my Urbana ’87 nametag in one of dad’s dresser drawers - he had saved it. She gave it to me. I was able to make out the Scripture reference Billy Graham had written on the back. It was Philippians 1:6 … “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Patience. It means being confident that God knows what he is doing… and he is doing it in every situation, every circumstance and every person you will ever encounter. God is patient with you, too. Who are we to be impatient with the work of God? At the beginning of time there was a tree whose fruit tested our patience and our trust and we failed the test. At the end of that age there was the cross, a tree that bore the fruit of God, Jesus Christ. Can we wait patiently for God to work in all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28) until the end of THIS age? Jesus said: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:29-31. God’s Word. Do you believe Him?