We strive.  We struggle.  We make a mess.  We fall down time and time again.  The burden to be better is heavy.

We live vastly different than the command to “be holy.”  Deep down, we intuitively know there is more to this life.  Even followers of the religion of self have a sense of needing to make an impact, giving to less fortunate, and that they should be better than they are.

The difficult cycle can be more than overwhelming—it can be downright depressing.  Stress-induced illnesses are on the rise—as is debt as we try to live bigger and bigger lives.  Our kids are involved in so many activities that “quality time” happens in the van on the way to that thing you really wish they weren’t involved in anyway.  And technology not only has us tied to email and work seven days a week, we now voluntarily carry it in our pockets wherever we go.

Rest is non-existent.  And peace went the way of your belief in Santa Claus.  Meditation happens in the gym, though it is meditation on to-do lists and the pressures of life.  Even in ministry, we get so bogged down in doing that we forget to even listen to find out if we were even called to that ministry in the first place.

Our lives are out of whack.  And our souls are ill-at ease.  In striving for everthing, we lose it all.

Thank God for Christ.

When the internal battles overflow into the home, Jesus is there.  When the stress manifests itself physically, Jesus is there.  And He has answers.  Maybe not the answers of which stocks you should invest in, but the answers to sooth our very souls.  In the garden of Gethsemane, He modeled for us how we should respond to stress in our lives—on our knees, beseeching God.

Jesus has provided a way out of the muck and out from under our self-imposed burden.  After all, at the very core, our self-imposed burden truly is sin.

“But it’s really not that big of a deal,” you rationalize.  “I can handle it, I just need to be more organized.”  Or “I would hate to bother Him over something so minor.”

Jesus provides a way out of the weight of our sin-based burdens.  But so often, we forget what constitutes sin.  We have the “big ones” that we struggle with, that we are aware of—yet we forget how insidious sin can be, wearing away the very foundation of our soul.

A way…out of the works of the flesh

Read Galatians 5:19-21.  In the left column of the following table, list out the works of the flesh (the examples will come later):

Works of the Flesh Examples

Quite the list, isn’t it?  We look at some of them and think “that is so not me.”  Maybe sorcery is not something you have ever had issues with—yet, have you ever read a horoscope or fortune cookie and then given it even a speck of credence in your life?  Reliance on any spirit other than the Spirit of God can be sorcery.  Maybe drunkenness has not been an issue for you—yet, do you over-indulge in things other than alcohol in a way that alters your ability to think clearly?  Maybe it is sugar, or an activity like computer games that gets your mind thinking in different ways.  So many people who have played Tetris walk away seeing things in patterns and building blocks, trying to fit them together.  This is a stretch, yes.  But, it is something that, when over-indulged, actually changes the way you see the world.

Those are two of the more unusual examples.  The concerns I see more commonly overlooked in the modern church are contentions, dissension, jealousies and envy.  How many walls are built between believers in the church?  How many grudges are held?  How many gossip circles—both of men and women—are laden with “concern” or “prayer request”, but end in a “tsk, tsk, tsk” and a wagging finger.  Churches can be ugly places when it comes to our human capacity to draw lines in the sand.

Taking a hard look at your own life—not anybody else’s life—go through the list of the works of the flesh.  In the table on the previous page, write out examples of each sin in your own life that need eradicating.  Prayerfully go through each one and ask God for help.

What is God speaking to you right now?

 

Before getting too down on yourself, the great news is that Jesus provides a way out.  Read Ephesians 5:8-14.  What stands out to you?
End your time meditating on Psalm 19:12-13.

 

A way…toward the Lord

As you begin this section, review the previous section briefly—do this review in the context of knowing absolutely that God provided a way for you to be delivered from every single one of those things.

Read 1 Corinthians 1:26-31.  What stands out to you?

We learned in the previous week about the glory of the Lord.  Standing in His presence, there is no glory to be had through a life lived according to the fleshly lusts.  To glory in His presence, we have to understand our need for deliverance from ways that are displeasing to Him.

It is not enough to be delivered from the works of the flesh—though this is a mighty thing.  Deliverance from one thing indicates movement toward something else.

Read Galatians 5:16-18.  What stands out to you?

The ways of the flesh and the ways of the Spirit contradict each other.  If you are feeling strain in your life, it may be this internal spiritual war happening for your very soul.  Even if you are already sealed as a follower of Christ, the ways of the flesh try to make our lives more difficult.  The enemy seeks to make the way of the Spirit so hard that we opt instead to give up the fight.  And that is where God’s provision of Christ is so miraculous.  Given the Holy Spirit as our comforter and teacher, we can choose the ways of God—and every time we do, the appeal to choose the ways of the flesh weakens.

Read Galatians 5:22-25.  Using the left column in the table below, write out the result of following the Spirit:

Fruit of the Spirit Successes Weaknesses

 

It is human nature to draw lines of success and failure.  We like to make judgements that are clear, direct.  But the fruits of the Spirit are different—it is a growing process.  The more we choose the ways of the Spirit, the more successes we will experience.  It may be that you still see yourself as struggling with patience, yet, you may also see a stark differance between where you were a year ago and where you are now when it comes to patience.

Prayerfully fill out the “Successes” and “Weaknesses” columns on the previous page for each individual fruit of the Spirit.  Each fruit is an area for growth—you may have more growth in some areas than others.  Do this exercise prayerfully—it is to help you build in a positive direction; it not to be used to beat yourself up for areas where additional growth may be needed.

In the table below, copy the fruit of the Spirit in the left column and the weakness in the middle column.  Then, prayerfully consider a strategy for each weakness to help in your growth.  You may find scriptures for each to help you remember your commitment to your strategy.  Again, this is about reasonable growth—make your goals a stretch without being too far to actually reach.

Fruit of the Spirit Weaknesses Strategies for Growth

 

God has provided a way through Jesus to drawer closer to Him–and in drawing closer to Him, you will draw closer to the peace your soul desires.  Commit to the ways of God and the fruit of your life will be more than your human mind can imagine.

A way…out of bondage

The life promised through Jesus is more than just an improved outlook or character.  It is more than trying harder to be better.  What Jesus promises is far more fundamental.

Read Galatians 5:1.  What stands out to you?

A life in the Spirit is more than better character.  A life lived in Jesus is a life that is released from bondage.  Bondage to our self-imposed burdens.  Bondage to the expectations of others.  Bondage to the deadly desires of the flesh.  Choosing to live by the Spirit means choosing freedom—choosing to break away from the entanglements, the shackles, and the burden of darkness in your very soul.

Read Galatians 4:8-9.  What stands out to you?

As you go through your day, what are the things that draw you away from a life in the Spirit?

Some of those things may seem too big for you to battle.  Maybe the draw is too strong or the power of the temptation is more than you can handle—but there is hope.

Read Romans 8:12-17.  What stands out to you?

“For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear…”  Repeat that as many times as you need to until the fear and temptation shrink back to their appropriate size—that is, a size smaller than the Spirit.

Read Ephesians 6:12-13.  What does the reality of this passage mean to you in your fight against the desires of the flesh?

Read Hebrews 2:10-18.  What stands out to you?

It is not bad that we struggle.  According to the passage above, Jesus struggled too—He just never gave in to the temptation.  He lived by the Spirit, and therefore, His life was purely the fruit of the Spirit.  His submission to the Lord, His desire to live according to God’s ways—and His perfect success in doing so—made it possible for Him to be the sacrifice that releases us from bondage.

Review the Hebrews passage again.  List all the things Christ released us from.

According to this same passage, list all the things Christ has done or has promised to do.

Reflect on these things.  What is God saying to you right now?

The salvation of Christ is a powerful thing.  It goes beyond releasing us from bondage in our day to day life—it releases our very soul from the bondage of the enemy, from the bondage of fear and death.  We will study more about salvation in the next section.  For now, meditate on the goodness of God to provide a way for us out of the trap that desires to hold us each captive.

A way…to salvation

When we think of the Christian life, we often start with the to-do lists, the shortcomings, and our meager successes.  When we desire for our successes to outweigh our weaknesses, we turn to the Spirit for help.  Essentially, we start with ourselves, and then we turn to the Spirit to pull us out of the mire and frustration of our attempts.  Though these quests are noble, and they mark a good portion of our Christian lives, we often forget to reflect on the basis from which they all stem: the joy of our salvation.

Read Exodus 14:13-14.  What stands out to you?

In Moses’ proclamation, Who is the one doing the work?

And who is the one doing the waiting?

What is the result of the waiting?

 

Now read all of Exodus, chapter 14.  The Israelites have left Egypt, but are being pursued by the Egyptians.

Reviewing the account of the deliverance of Israel, what comparisons can you draw between their deliverance and Jesus’ work of salvation in your own life?

The faithful God in this Exodus account is the same faithful God in your life today.  He is the same.  His love for His people is the same.  The major difference for us is that Jesus has come, lived an exemplary life, and bridged the unholy gap between our feeble, sinful selves and the complete and utter holiness of God.

Reflect on all He has done.  What is He speaking to you right now?

Read Psalm 3:1-8.  What stands out to you?

List the works of the Lord, according to this passage.

Read Luke 1:67-79.  List the actions of the Lord described in Zacharias’ prophecy.

How can this knowledge take root in your heart and change your life today?

The salvation of God is meant to change your life.  The ways of Jesus are meant to encourage you that a life lived in the Spirit is possible.  The Christian life is not meant to be a burden.

What burdens are you carrying about the Christian life?

Prayerfully lay these burdens down before the Lord.  Share with Him your struggle, as was described in Psalm 3.  He is aware of your struggle and will hear your prayer.

What is the Lord saying to you right now?

Meditate on the salvation of God and what it means to your daily life.

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