It was an interesting conversation to say the least. Sitting in my pastor’s office with three of my favorite theologians, the conversation wandered. Each of us with a different type of ministry, sharing our experiences with God. Rather, more specifically, our experiences with the Holy Spirit. With respect borne out of adversity, hilarity, and grinding through ministry in the same community, it was a “safe space” to toss the hard questions in the middle of the room, dissect them, share our often differing perspectives on how scripture addressed the thing, and share our often differing experiences with the thing.
Then the question was posed–only in this space would such a question be uttered out loud. For asking this question in a general congregation would blow up a church, throwing a community into turmoil. We knew our audience in that office was safe–we all just wanted to understand. The dangerous questions didn’t reveal a lack of belief as would be assumed in a large setting. Instead, the dangerous questions revealed a deep belief and the desire to understand our faith more soundly.
The question was this: Does God still speak in words?
Now, before you go off your own deep end, sit with the question a bit. This came from a minister of the faith who believed God was active, could see God’s hand moving, and never questioned if God cared. But this minister of God didn’t think God still spoke–because he hadn’t experienced it, and it’s not something the church community as a whole talks about. Think about it: when was the last time someone said that God spoke in actual words to them. And how many seconds passed between that admittance and your thinking they were potentially bonkers? the church doesn’t talk about this–and this minister of God, having never experienced it himself and having never heard others speak of it, asked a genuine question.
And just like the bonkers-fearing people in the last paragraph, I remained silent for the first bit. I wanted to hear the others’ perspectives. And though they hadn’t experienced it themselves, they didn’t want to limit God to only having spoken with words to just those eras depicted in the Bible. Then it was my turn. And I shared my story of when the Spirit manifest a directive to me through specific words.
“Don’t touch the box.” I had gone on a retreat, a silent retreat. The intention of the retreat group was to get away from noise to study scripture uninterrupted by even the other retreat members. I had a Bible study to write so this was a two-birds-with-one-stone thing for me. I packed all my study resources, including my Bible, pens, and notebooks into one box. And in the opening session before we were dismissed to our silence, we sought the Lord in prayer, asking for His guidance for the weekend. “Don’t touch the box.” Wait, what? There was only one box with me. Surely I had mis-heard. “Don’t touch the box” again. Wait, no, you don’t understand. I have an 5-week Bible study to finish by Monday, I need the box. “Don’t touch the box.” Um, God, yeah, so my Bible is in there. You really want me on retreat without the Bible? “Don’t touch the box.”
My fellow minister asked if maybe it was my interpretation manifesting as the words I really wanted to hear. I explain in vehement tones of how that was the LAST thing I wanted to hear. I was freaked about studying enough to write the Bible study–after all, as the only single woman in my small group writing a study telling women how to be Biblical wives was not to be done lightly. And every resources at my disposal was in that box. There was no way my consciousness came up with that directive on it’s own.
This minister: he’s read my studies, he’s used them with his own congregation, and he trusted that my straight-laced, more conservative than him, often skeptical consideration of unprovable stories would find it hard to believe such an experience, much less make it up as my own. He risked asking the question. And he found an answer from quite literally the least likely source in the room.
The group talked further about how God “speaks” to each person. I shared another friend, who has never felt an urging to do something by the Spirit and doesn’t understand what Christians mean when they describe it. But she still believes. We talked about how the Spirit “speaks” in the ways that will work. In the situation I shared, short of the box independently combusting, only a clear, worded direction would have kept me out of it. In other situations, only the slightest inkling of a thought would get the desired result.
So what does this have to do with our study of the fruit of the Spirit? Everything. The Spirit does not move in identical ways across the people of God. The Spirit does not move in identical ways within one person of God. How a faithful fruit of gentleness manifests in one believer is different than in another. That same minister who asked the question before shared in a sermon that we cannot know another’s struggle. He shared the example that a large, burly man softly petting a kitten’s head could be the greatest act of love. For we cannot know if that man struggles with violent rage, or homicidal tendencies. For him to control such tendencies enough to function is one thing–for him to take the step to pet a kitten. Even if it only happened one time in his whole life and the rest office life was spent in gruff snippets of interaction with others, this could be the greatest expression of the fruit of love that we might see.
And that’s what can be uncomfortable. How the fruit of kindness manifests its growth in one life may be minuscule to how it manifests in another. So release your preconceived notions of what fruit looks like when it grows. Set free your expectation of the one fruit you really want to see grow in your life. Because the other reality is this: you may have just enough patience. To have any more might skew the passionate pushing you need to get some other, greater service to God completed. It may very well be that you don’t need more self-control when it comes to the brownies on the counter–maybe what you really need is more kindness to yourself and having more self-control would relieve you of the reliance on God for kindness. Because maybe your daughter, niece, female neighbor needs to see you being kind to whatever body you’ve been given. Maybe this is greater than you realize.
So as we dive into each of the fruit, humbly seek God for the favor of knowing where to dig deep and where to release. He’s waiting to blow your mind.