But the fruit of the Spirit is . . . joy . . . Galatians 5:22
By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. John 15:8
I’m not an expert gardener—though I did assemble some flowerpots this year that make me think I could, perhaps, one day become one.
I’m no expert, but I’ve learned a bit from dabbling in that world. I’ve learned that if you follow the basic instructions printed on the seed or bulb packaging, you’ll probably get results. (I’d love to say you WILL get results and leave out the word ‘probably’, but I’ve discovered this is not the case. There are other variables I’ve yet to uncover in my foray into gardening.)
While there’s much I don’t know, I’ve discovered that for the most part, when I start right and plant the seed or bulb in the right kind of soil, at the correct depth, and in the appropriate amount of sunlight, after a couple of weeks I can expect to see green shoots break through the dirt. Then, if I continue correctly and clear away weeds and provide food and water, buds will form and eventually flower.
This is what my experience has taught me. But, crazy me, knowing that, I’ve also stood over my large planter and moaned about the lack of pretty flowers. (People, pots are SO, SO much easier to take care of than big planters!!) What’s crazy about my moaning is that I know I slacked off big time throughout the whole process. I chucked bulbs into dirt without checking what depth or exposure they need. I ignored early stages of growth and let weeds grow up alongside the flowers. But still, after doing nothing to help them along the way, when I see my plants struggling to flower, I criticize their lack of result. That is some misguided gardening!
We’ve seen in our passage in Galatians that the natural outworking of starting well, walking in step with the Spirit, and continuing wisely, weeding out the fruit of the flesh, is that fruit will grow. We also see in the passage in John, that God wants our lives to grow fruit and the best way for that to happen is to abide in Him and His Word. (Doesn’t that sound a lot like walking in the Spirit?!) When we do this, the natural outworking is that our lives begin to show fruit. Now, here’s the thing, fruit isn’t what gets us in good with God. Fruit simply shows that we are in Him. That we’re abiding in Him and His Word. That we’re walking in step with the Spirit. That we’re pulling the weeds. Regularly.
If you’re a gardener, you probably read the first couple of paragraphs and thought, ‘really Arlene?! How on earth can you expect flowers to grow when you don’t do what you know you should to make it happen?’ That is a good and valid question! But how many times do we (yes, me too!) moan and complain that we don’t have the fullness of joy Jesus talks about, yet, if we’re honest, we have to admit we’re not doing the things He says will lead to joy? We don’t abide in His love—instead we go looking for love in all the wrong places. We don’t abide in Him or His Word—because there are so many podcasts and series saved up on our playlists. We don’t follow His commands—like, seriously, how old is the Bible?! How can it still be relevant to me today? Surely His commands should change with the times! (Yes, there’s a verse about God never changing but I’d rather think about His love never changing, not His faithfulness to His words.)
We read about Jesus calling us friends, and we think, that’s marvelous, but who wouldn’t want us for friends? We don’t think about the direction of what Jesus says. He calls us to be His friends and that means doing what He asks us to do—not out of duty-bound obligation, but out of deep love which leads to fullness of joy. We want the fruit of joy in our life, but we don’t follow the basic instructions we’re given about how to have joy.
This isn’t a new or recent problem. God confronted His people about it through the prophet Isaiah (you can read all of it in Isaiah 58). They called themselves God’s people and seemed to be eager to know God, but they didn’t do anything about what they learned. Instead they kept doing whatever they wanted; whatever felt good and seemed right. God asked them how they thought that would work! He told them that if they obeyed and lived like He asked them to, out of a sense of delight, they’d find their joy in Him. (Isaiah 58:14)
This is the kind of joy that weathers storms, that has roots deep enough to endure droughts because it’s fed by springs of Living Water. The kind of joy that is filled up by turning towards the Son and soaking up His rays, wanting what He wants and what will glorify Him more than anything else.
We are a desperately misguided people. But we are not a people without hope. None of this fruit-growing can, or will, happen on its own. We’re called to bear fruit by abiding in Jesus. The One who came to show us God; our Creator. The One who started the good work of fruit-bearing in those who abide in Him, and the One who will finish what He started. That is very good news!