Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-Control

None of us want chaotic, confused, and futureless relationships. We want relationships that are filled with vitality, but we have a power problem. Our toxic emotions seem to have great strength, and we can feel powerless against them. Yet, God has given us the power we need in the Holy Spirit. God has given us His powerful presence to give us victorious strength, but we must conform our walk to the way of the Spirit.

“And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:24-26, NKJV)

As followers of Jesus who have killed the power of the old life through faith in Jesus, we live in the Spirit. To “walk in the Spirit” means that we conform to the ways of the Spirit. We submit our life, including our emotions, to the Spirit’s design of new life in us. God is working His power in us right now by His Spirit for His good pleasure.

As we allow the Spirit to transform our emotions, His fruit produces specific fruit that bring health and clarity in our relationships. He produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and generosity. The final three pieces of the Spirit’s fruit show the blessings that the Spirit’s power works in our relationships as He transforms our emotions.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23, NKJV)

1. Faithfulness

When the Spirit transforms our emotions, faithfulness characterizes our relationships. “Faithfulness” (pistis) is being dependable. Springing from the love we experience from God, we yearn to be faithful to God in every aspect of our life, including relationships. Because God is faithful to us, we are trustworthy and dependable in our relationship with Him and others.

2. Gentleness

When the Spirit transforms our emotions, gentleness characterizes our relationships. “Gentleness” (prautēs) is the obedient submission to God’s will and the tender acts of love and grace when considering the feelings of others. Because of God’s love poured in our hearts by the Spirit, we demonstrate tenderness toward others.

3. Self-Control

When the Spirit transforms our emotions, self-control characterizes our relationships. “Self-Control” (engkrateia) is the discipline to refrain from a path that is purely self-serving. For the sake of demonstrating the character of Christ, we seek what is beneficial to others, not merely ourselves.

Stop. Take a breath. And pray:

“God, as I submit to Your Spirit, will You transform my emotions so that they produce the fruit of the Spirit in my relationships.”

 

Patience, Kindness, Generosity

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23, NKJV)

When we first meet Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, he is an impatient, resentful, and miserly man. The fruit of his emotions built a wall around his heart so that he had no healthy, satisfying relationships. But then he was visited by visions of the past, present, and future which transformed his way of feeling and living. His new emotions set him on a trajectory toward life-giving relationships.

More than mythic tales of transformation, God is at work in the hearts of followers of Jesus to transform our emotions. This transformation becomes real-life experiences as we surrender to the Holy Spirit and His fruit fills our hearts with heavenly emotions. If you have a hard time believing it, just remember what God is doing in you right now by the power of the Spirit.

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13, NKJV)

The Spirit gives us strength as we experience hope. The more we submit to the Spirit, the more we trust Him. The more we trust God, the more we experience the confident expectation that He will lead us to the best. The more we hope in Him, the more we experience love, joy, and peace. The more we feel love, joy, and peace, the more our other emotions reflect a life satisfied in Jesus.

1. Patience.

The term, makrothumia, is patience, steadfastness, and endurance. It is a state of emotional strength and calm in the face of misfortune. When the Spirit’s fruit infects our emotions, we will have patience, enduring personal grief and pain for the sake of a better relationship.

2. Kindness.

The Spirit ignites kindness (chrēstotēs) in the soul of His people. Kindness is an emotional response of love to the needs of another. God displayed His kindness, His loyal love, toward us through His patience with us in our sin and kindness in sending Jesus to die for sinners that we might have life through faith in Him. When we stay close to the heart of God through a constant yielding to the Spirit, His kindness saturates our emotions so that we feel kindness toward others.

3. Generosity.

The Spirit leads us to acts of goodness (agathōsynē) toward others. This is a feeling of generosity toward another. We know that it is easy to become infected with feelings of resentment, but God has given us His Spirit who gives us a new heart.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27, NKJV)

As we surrender ourselves to the Spirit, the emotions of resentment are transformed to generosity. No longer do we have to be infected with the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge. Through this exquisite submission, the Spirit fills our heart with heavenly emotional responses. He transforms impatience to patience, complaint to kindness, and resentment to generosity.

So, today, do the hard work of submitting to the Spirit so that your emotions are transformed from toxic to healthy.

Stop. Take a breath. And pray:

“God, as I submit to Your Spirit, will You transform my emotions so that they produce the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity) in my relationships.”

 

Love, Joy, Peace

Emotions bear fruit in our relationships. If our emotions are toxic, then we will grow toxic fruit with others. But if our emotions are healthy, then we will grow healthy fruit.

But how do we minimize the toxic and maximize the healthy emotions that we need? There are fantastic Christian counselors who provide wonderful insight and give us powerful tools to understand more fully the “how” and “why” of our emotions. I encourage everyone to spend some time talking to these Christian professionals so that we get a handle on our emotions (Call First Norfolk for recommendations).

We also have a constant Counselor with us who guides us through our emotional journey: the Holy Spirit. When followers of Jesus allow the Spirit to set the trajectory of their lives, their emotions will flow toward health.

“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16, NKJV)

The most powerful way to have victorious, satisfied relationships is to submit continuously to the Spirit. He leads and we follow. “Walk in the Spirit” is a continuous action by which we constantly, moment by moment, live intimately in-tune with God through the Spirit. We stop, take a breath, and pray. The Spirit listens, gives leadership, and loves us so that our emotions bear the fruit of the Spirit in our relationships.

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…” (Galatians 5:22, NKJV)

1. Love.

The fruit of the Spirit is love (agape). The source from which all the other ingredients of the fruit flow is the love of God poured into our hearts and expressed in our relationships with others by the Spirit who dwells within us. This love is the love of God unveiled in the giving of Jesus for sinners (1 John 4:9). As we persistently yield to the Spirit, the Spirit ignites God’s love in our heart. He warms our soul with a love that satisfies us completely so that we can.

2. Joy.

Joy (chara) flows from the love of God poured in our heart, and through this love we become ambassadors of this joy with others. This joy is not a mood, like being happy or “not sad.” It is the state of the soul satisfied in fellowship with God regardless the circumstances. Therefore, as we relate to others, we are ambassadors of joy because we are ambassadors of Christ, satisfied in fellowship with God by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

3. Peace.

Peace (eirēnē) in Scripture is the fullness of life. It is the knowledge that our future rests in the hands of a loving Father who loves us perfectly. It is the comfort that our troubles do not have the final say, but the Lord of Love is working today on our behalf. Peace is not a seasonal remedy for a perennial malady. This peace is forever through the gracious love of God to humanity through Jesus Christ the King!

When the Spirit transforms our emotions, the love of God warms our heart, produces joy that time and circumstances can’t touch, and gives us a satisfaction and fullness in our soul. Our emotions flourish in the soil of the Spirit’s presence and grow the fruit of love, joy, and peace. Because we know that we are loved, we can love others more fully. Because we have joy, we can lead others to joy. Because we have peace, we aren’t trying to control others in a selfish way.

So, today, do the hard work of submitting to the Spirit so that your emotions are transformed from toxic to healthy.

Stop. Take a breath. And pray:

“God, as I submit to Your Spirit, will You transform my emotions so that they produces the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace) in my relationships.”

 

Dismantling Fear

While walking down a mountain trail, I heard the sound that was out of tune with the birds singing and the leaves rustling in the breeze. It was a sound that brought fear to my heart and to my hiking buddies. It was a rattle snake, and it was mad. The tune of this snake’s rattler warned of the danger that its venom could create. Immediately, we wanted to distance ourselves from its dangerous song of fear.

Chaotic chords bring fear to rest in our heart, like the rattle of a venomous snake. Perhaps you are hearing the anxious tune of circumstances out of your control. Maybe you find yourself in the grip of fearful situations for which you have no answer. The chorus of chaos rings loudly in your heart, and it creates chaos in your relationships as well.

That’s what fear does to us and to our relationships. Because we live in a real world with real-life drama, the soul-shaking “what ifs” are natural. To experience fear is one thing. To be controlled by fear is quite another. Controlling fear can sweep us up into crazy behavior that invites a lack of health in our life and relationships. Fear can create chaos in our soul that can lead us to create chaos with others. But it doesn’t always have to be this way.

“You will not fear the terror of the night, the arrow that flies by day, the plague that stalks in darkness, or the pestilence that ravages at noon.” (Psalm 91:5–6, HCSB)

How do we get to the place where fear doesn’t control us? How do we move beyond the “what ifs” that haunt us? What does God use to dismantle the fear that brings chaos to our soul and carnage in our relationships?

1. Stay close to Jesus.

Fear that controls us can make us say and do crazy things that derail healthy relationships. To dismantle the chaos of fear in our hearts, we need to settle securely in the grip of God.

“The one who lives under the protection of the Most High dwells in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” (Psalm 91:1–2, HCSB)

The point that the psalmist is making is simple. When we walk intimately with Jesus, in the secret place of fellowship with Him, we make our home under the protective shade of His power and love. The idea of refuge is one of a secure, protective area which God guarantees as a safe place because He is there.[i] The idea of a fortress is the picture of an eagle’s nest, built in the heights so that no enemy can assault it.[ii] When we trust God and commit our way to Him and dwell in the hiding place of His love, we will find security in a world filled with uncertainty.

2. Rest in God’s rescue.

God will deliver His people! This is His promise to followers of Jesus. And we need to hear the beautiful sound of that promise drown out chaotic chords of our fear. Whether it’s the fear of a hunter’s snare or punishing pestilence, we can rest in God’s faithful love to rescue us.

“He Himself will deliver you from the hunter’s net, from the destructive plague.” (Psalm 91:3, HCSB)

When we rest in God’s rescue, our fears are muted. When our fears are muted, our relationships are strengthened.

3. Hide behind the Father’s protection.

“He will cover you with His feathers; you will take refuge under His wings. His faithfulness will be a protective shield.” (Psalm 91:4, HCSB)

God will protect us in the shadow of His grace. The Father’s wing hovers over us to guard us. The wing of the Lord is His truth, with which He surrounds and encircles His people in protection. The shield of God’s truth is the revelation found in His Word. The Father’s promises show us the path toward peace and protection in the safe harbor of His tender care.

The chaotic chords of fear run their icy fingers down the spine of our soul, freezing our courage and shrinking our hope. If this ferocious song of fear becomes the melody of our soul, then we will experience out-of-tune relationships. Yet, we can dismantle fear when we sing the song of faith in Jesus. So, let’s start singing!

 

Out of Sync

When a car’s wheels are not aligned, then the car will move forward but the going will be slower, use more energy, be more uncomfortable, and can damage other things on the car. In the same way, when our emotions are out of sync, then our relationships suffer.

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” (Ephesians 4:31, ESV)

Paul helps us understand the way out of sync emotions work in our relationships. When we have “bitterness, wrath, and anger,” the progression of those emotions leads to shouting, slander, and malice. It’s like the wheels on our car. If they’re not aligned and we don’t correct the problem, then the whole car will be affected. If our emotions aren’t aligned to the Holy Spirit’s control, then all of our relationships will be affected.

1. Identify emotions out of sync.

“Bitterness” (pikria) is an emotion of resentment. It’s not a passive feeling but an active and aggressive emotion that searches for reasons to resent others. Rather than reconciliation, “bitterness” demands that one nurse the wrongs and wounds received from others.

“Wrath” (thumos) is a boiling heart toward another. This is the picture of a pot of water that has just come to the point of boiling. It bubbles and pops. The energy in that pot is easily seen. That’s what the term Paul uses here means. It is a passionate expression of negative emotion due to feelings of resentment.

“Anger” (orgē) is personal animosity toward another. It springs us into negative actions. To yield to anger is to give room for the devil to create sin-saturated carnage in our relationships.

“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” (Ephesians 4:26–27, ESV)

When the waves of emotions build up in our heart, don’t just run with those feelings. Stop, take a breath, and pray: “God, are the emotions I’m feeling in line with the Holy Spirit?”

2. Understand where out of sync emotions lead us.

When we don’t deal with bitterness, wrath, and anger, then our relationships will have to endure more soul-shattering struggles.

“Clamor” (kraugē) is the barrage of shouting erupting from emotions out of sync with the Spirit. When we are filled with anger, we clang and bang our emotions, attempting to shout down any opposition to our self-focused desires.

“Slander” (blasphēmia) is abusive speech. This is when we talk bad about another person with a desire to cast them in an untruthful and harmful light. It can begin with vitriolic whispers which build into a crescendo of hissing hate for another.

“Malice” (kakia) is the picture of bad intentions. Simply put, we just want to hurt the other person when our emotions are out of sync with the Holy Spirit.

The key for us when dealing with negative emotions is to look to the Holy Spirit to align our emotions to His Word. This isn’t easy. But it is what God wants to do in us to build healthy relationships. He is working in us to transform us, including our emotions, to be more like Jesus.

“Be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:23–24, ESV)

As we spend time with Jesus through the work of the Spirit in our lives, the Spirit will begin to align our emotions to Jesus.

So, today, let’s stop, take a breath, and pray:

“God, is the emotion I’m feeling a reflection of Your heart?”

If not, then ask the Holy Spirit to help transform your emotions so that they are in sync with the character of Jesus.

Heavenly Words

In 1986, two ships collided in the Black Sea, hurling hundreds of people into its icy waters. Each captain of the ships could’ve taken evasive action, but they refused to yield to the other ship. Their inflated view of their own agenda created a swirling vortex of suffering and death for the people on both ships.

“The authorities said 398 people, all Soviet citizens, appeared to have drowned; 116 bodies were recovered, and 282 passengers were listed as missing. The authorities also said that both vessels’ captains knew for 45 minutes that they were on a collision course but ignored warnings, and that the captain of the Admiral Nakhimov abandoned his bridge minutes before the crash.” [New York Times]

So often our relationships become captured in the vortex of suffering because we get stuck in the muck of pride. Our words become captured in the net of desires that feed our ego but damage the ones we love. We all experience it, but we can’t excuse it or ignore it. We need to change course.

God uses our words to build healthy relationships. Remember what the writer of Proverbs wrote:

“A wholesome tongue is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 15:4 NKJV)

James helps us understand more about the nature of a “wholesome tongue.” Through the pen of James, God shows us the heavenly words that He uses to build satisfying, strong relationships.

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:17, ESV)

Followers of Jesus have been filled by the Spirit so that we can experience supernatural conversations inspired by heaven. But first, James talks about conversations that are not heavenly.

1. Words that are snared by the Net of Ego.

James teaches us that our drive for personal glory does not produce words that are wise. When we have a ferocious desire to set our opinion above all others, then we will use words that lack the blessing of God’s wisdom.  That’s what “bitter envy” is all about.  When we try to exalt ourselves above another, then we will use words that lack God’s blessing.  That’s what “selfish ambition” is all about.  We’re trying to get something for ourselves and for our own glory.

Words are not wise when tooled for personal glory. In fact, James cautions us in verse 15.  When arrogance and ambition infect our speech, we use words inspired by the devil himself.  The more we use the words snared by the net of our ego, the further we push ourselves away from God’s wisdom and healthy relationships.

2. Words that are sparked by Heaven.

In verse 17, James now shows us what heavenly communication looks like. When our words are sparked by heaven, then they are pure — without sin or evil intent. They are peaceable — seeking the best in life for others. They are gentle — not seeking to break the soul of someone and willing to bend to the needs of another. They are full of steadfast love and produce great things in a person’s life. They are truly a tree of life for those around us.

We want to please our King Jesus with our words. Heavenly words promote the righteousness and peace of God in our relationships. It doesn’t mean that what we say is always easy to hear, but it means that we are seeking God’s glory and agenda in our relationships and showing it with our words. When our words reflect the heart of Jesus like that, then we will set a course for our relationships to be wrapped in heavenly joy and contentment.

Before we use our words today, stop, take a breath, and pray:

“Lord, are my words sparked by heaven or captured in the net of my ego?”