Snow at Safe Haven Farm in Winter 2012, Haven, KS

Too much of a good thing?

If the Holy Spirit produces fruit in our lives (Galatians 5:22-23), what does a life without the Holy Spirit look like? Is it all right to live a life that is not directed by the Spirit? Well, I guess that depends on how you define “all right.” If you’re not following the Spirit, you’re following yourself. Even if you say you’re following someone else or you’re following the teachings of someone else, it still comes down to the fact that you’re doing what you want to do in spite of the fact that God has instructed you to follow Him.

So what does a life following ourselves look like?

Snow at Safe Haven Farm in Winter 2012, Haven, KS

Snow at Safe Haven Farm in Winter 2012, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Galatians 5:16-26.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.

Throughout the month of May, I’ve been studying the Fruit of the Spirit, and I would like to tell you that I have a fantastic conclusion to this journey. But I don’t. And the last few days of basement floods and storms have sapped most of my strength and focus this morning, which means I’m probably going to need more coffee.

But it comes down to the fact that we all have two options in life, we are either led by the Spirit of God or we aren’t. You can’t have it both ways. And as long as you choose to follow your own path, you are subject to the Law.

No, not the law of the land like paying taxes or speed limits (although you are subject to those too). The Law Paul is talking about here is the Law of Moses. The Law of God. This is the Law that says no one is good enough to get into Heaven. No one is good enough to deserve a relationship with God. If you choose to follow your own way, if you choose to do your own thing, that’s the fact you’re going to have to face when your life is over.

But, if you choose to follow Christ, if you choose to allow the Holy Spirit to rule your life, the Law of Moses has no power over you. Why? Because choosing to follow Christ and be Spirit-led means you are living under grace. It means you’ve chosen to trust that Christ is the payment for your relationship with God, that Christ is the reason why you will get to go to heaven when your time on earth is over.

Throughout this entire study, maybe some of you have noticed the little tag phrase at the end of Galatians 5:23. “There is no law against these things!” The translation I memorized said, “Against such things there is no law” or something like that. I always wondered what that means. Because of course there’s no law against that list of nine virtues. Why would there be a law against those things? So as a child, I always took it as something that didn’t mean anything. But as I’ve gotten older and as I’ve studied the Bible more and more, I’ve learned that God never wastes words.

As a writer myself, I know the importance of clarity when you’re writing. I can’t claim that this blog is necessarily a great example because I write it so early in the morning, but I hope that other examples of my writing are clear. It’s a writer’s greatest challenge to say as much as possible in a few words as they can, using the right words and not just whatever comes off the top of their heads (like this blog always is, lol) and to do that, you can’t waste space on a page. God’s the same way. God is the best writer in history, the most amazing storyteller of all time. He never put anything in the Bible that wasn’t important.

What that little phrase means is simply that the characteristics of a life lived on your own terms are against the law. That list of vices halfway through the passage will characterize the life of someone who lives following their own star, if you will. And any one of those things in your life will make it difficult. Any one of those things, taken to extremes, can destroy you.

But the Fruit of the Spirit is different. You can’t love too much. You can’t have too much joy. You can’t have too much goodness or gentleness or meekness or kindness. None of the Fruit of the Spirit taken to extremes will hurt your life. Choosing to live a life that’s led by the Spirit exempts you from the Law of Moses, but the law of living is still a part of our human existence. And all nine of the Fruit of the Spirit can be taken to extremes in your early life without hurting you.

So make a choice. Either you’re going to live filled with the Holy Spirit or you won’t. Either you’ll let God direct your paths, or you’ll make up your own mind. God is a gentleman, and He never forces Himself on anyone. If you truly want to go your own way, He’ll let you. And, Christian, if you truly don’t want the Spirit in your life, you don’t have to ask Him–although why would you have become a follower of Christ if you didn’t?

It’s my prayer that my life demonstrates the results of Holy Spirit working in me. I want to be Spirit-filled. I want Him to be obvious in my life. I want Him to walk beside me through every moment of every day, and I want His input in my decisions. But to get there, I have to set me aside and trust Him.

Blossoming thistle flower as a major storm approaches Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

True mastery from within

What does it mean to master yourself? I’ve read books on self-help and 12-step programs, and none of them really say anything concrete. Because I have a fascination with Japanese culture, I’ve also read a book called the Code of the Samurai, which is a modern-day translation of the Bushido Shoshinshu, a guidebook per se for samurai to study. And while many religions promote self-mastery, none of them really explain how or why.

Some say meditation is how to achieve it. Others say service to others is how to do achieve it. Some even promote self-mutilation to a point. But if you read the Bible, you’ll discover that true self mastery doesn’t come from something that you do; it comes from the inside.

Blossoming thistle flower as a major storm approaches Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Blossoming thistle flower as a major storm approaches Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses Galatians 5:22-23.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Throughout May, I’ve been studying the Fruit of the Spirit, and today’s focus is on self-control. In other translations, it’s called temperance. To be honest, I always thought this word meant that a sign of the Holy Spirit in your life meant that you didn’t drink alcohol. But that’s not what the word itself (ἐγκράτεια) actually means. In this context, the word means “true mastery from within” and can only be achieved by the Holy Spirit. And that tells me that we can work all we want to establish good habits, and we should. But when it comes down to mastering ourselves, it takes a power stronger than we are to do it.

Have you ever started to do something you know you shouldn’t do and heard that nagging little voice at the back of your head? It’s the voice that tells you to stop what you’re doing because you’ll be sorry. It’s a still, small, quiet thing, and it’s easy to ignore, at least until you do the thing you’re not supposed to do and the consequences catch up to you. Then, you remember the voice. That’s the way it works with me. I don’t remember that I could have said no until I’m past the point of no return.

I think listening to the Holy Spirit takes practice, like building good habits. None of us are born with good habits. Discipline doesn’t just happen overnight. You have to work to achieve it. Painters don’t wake up creating masterpieces. Musicians aren’t born. And writing a novel doesn’t just happen. Just like building a car or losing weight, achieving anything of significance takes design and planning and dedicated effort and focus.

But listening to the Holy Spirit takes something else: Trust.

You have to trust that when He tells you not to do something, it’s for your own good. You have to trust that the things you think will make you happy actually will just make your life complicated. You have to trust Him.

Once you have the Holy Spirit in your life, God begins to change you from the inside out. Suddenly, the things that seemed so important yesterday don’t matter as much today. The pleasures and successes of today don’t seem to be as vital as storing up treasures in heaven. And when you come face to face with temptation, there’s something inside you that gives you the courage and the strength to fight. That’s not an accident. That’s the Holy Spirit. That’s the Fruit of the Spirit showing up in your life as a result of you choosing to accept Christ.

And while it’s a good idea to build healthy habits, sometimes you just have to rely on God to help you through those moments that you’re too weak to handle on your own. You can’t master yourself without God’s help, not truly. True mastery means that every aspect of who you are–every aspect–is under control. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many people who have every aspect of their lives under control.

Health gurus are in great physical shape, but their emotional, mental, or spiritual life is a mess. Spiritual people sometimes aren’t healthy. Yes, I’m generalizing,  but you get my point.

I truly believe that part of Spirit-led self-control is balance. It’s not overly focusing on one area of your life. It’s letting God into all of them. It’s doing what Jesus would do in every situation, not just the ones you want to get His advice on. I’m talking every situation, ranging from “Would Jesus help that little old lady carry her groceries?” to “Would Jesus eat a second bowl of ice cream?” Maybe that’s sacrilegious, but who are we to say that the details of our lives don’t matter to God? It’s often the details that trip me up, so if I want God in any part of my life, it’s in the details.

So if you want to achieve true mastery of yourself, stop reading the 12-step books or following the latest fad diets or whatever your particular issue is. The best way to get control of yourself is to get to know Jesus better. Let Him become your best friend. Study how He lived, pattern your life after His, and have conversations with Him about everything. Maybe you think that sounds funny, but I guarantee you aren’t talking to yourself. If you know HIm, He’s listening. And He always answers. Maybe not in the way you expect, but He never fails.

Dandelions in the yard at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Nobody wants to kill a pansy

I don’t know when, but something happened in our culture that changed our perspective of what a Christian is supposed to act like. People look at the way someone acts and determines from their behavior that “they’re not very Christian” or they’re not a “good” Christian simply by merit of how they behave, when the truth is that being a Christian has less to do with our behavior and more to do with the state of our heart.

That’s not to say that our actions are meaningless. That’s the not the case at all. The distinction should be made that a Christian never loses his or her temper or never gets angry or never demands anything. The distinction comes with why and how. I’ve heard people say that Christians should never be angry. I’ve heard people say that Christians should never get upset. And part of me agrees with that, especially when you consider the reasons why most people get angry or upset.

Most anger in our world comes from petty unimportant things. We lose our tempers over the smallest problems, issues that don’t mean anything. And as Christians, we shouldn’t. But that doesn’t mean we’re not supposed to be angry about things that are worth it.

Dandelions in the yard at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Dandelions in the yard at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Matthew 21:12-13.

Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!”

This passage out of Matthew is one I’ve turned to many times when I feel angry about something, strangely enough. It reminds me that being angry isn’t a sin, especially when that anger is just. But there’s a lot happening in this passage. This marks a time when Christ returned to Jerusalem, and what He found in the Temple was shocking. Culturally, I’m not sure if we can understand what’s going on here without taking a lot of time to do an in-depth study, but basically what’s happening is that the market people inside the Temple who were supposed to be fair when they sold animals for people to sacrifice were cheating people. That’s probably the easiest way to explain it.

And it made Jesus angry. The Temple was supposed to be a sacred place where people came to worship God, and because of greed and selfishness, people had turned into something it was never meant to be. Notice how He handled His anger, though. He didn’t curse. He didn’t lose control. He didn’t direct His anger at one person. He simply righted the problem, and He backed up His actions with Scripture.

Okay. Throughout the month of May, I’ve been studying the Fruit of the Spirit, as recorded in Galatians 5:22-23 (But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control). The Fruit I’m focusing on today is gentleness (πρᾳότης). But what does that have to do with anger?

The version of the Bible that I learned this passage in didn’t use the term gentleness. It used meekness, which honestly isn’t a term you hear in 21st Century America often. A more accurate definition is: “displaying the right blend of force and reserve, strength in gentleness, avoids unnecessary harshness, yet without compromising or being too slow to use necessary force.”

Meekness is quiet strength. It’s inner calm and humility that doesn’t hesitate to bash skulls when it’s needed. And it absolutely doesn’t mean that you take conflict lying down.

Too many times I think Christians get this idea that being gentle, humble, meek means that we don’t get to stand up for what’s right. Too many times I think we embrace this concept that Jesus was this soft-spoken pansy who never challenged anyone. And anyone who believes that hasn’t read the Gospels. Jesus challenged everyone. He challenged everything. He took the preconceived notions of how life was supposed to be and turned them on their heads. He angered the religious leaders to the point where they conspired to put Him to death.

Let’s face it, folks. Nobody wants to kill a pansy. If anything, people like that are ignored, written off, neglected. They’re easy to push to the sidelines. And nobody was able to do that with Christ.

Christ was a blue-collar worker. A carpenter. An average man like anyone else. Isaiah tells that He wasn’t even handsome, unlike the beautiful glowing portraits people have painted over the years. I guarantee He didn’t look like that.

But He wasn’t a zealot either. Christ is the best example of meekness in Scripture. He’s called the Lamb of God, but He’s also called the Lion of Judah. How can one person be both a lion and a lamb? That’s meekness. Maybe it sounds like a paradox, but it’s not. It’s a Fruit of the Spirit. It’s evidence that God is working in your life.

So what does that mean for us today? How do we demonstrate meekness in our lives? What’s worth getting angry about? And how do you show anger without sin? Because anger on its own isn’t sin, but anger can drive us to sin, and we need to deal with it before it gets to that point.

It comes down to Scripture and having a relationship with Christ. It’s okay to be angry when the church doesn’t line up with Scripture. It’s okay to be angry when God is misused in culture. It’s okay to be angry when Jesus is mocked and openly misrepresented, whether by believers or nonbelievers alike. But our response needs to be Scriptural too. Now, I don’t really think any of us can walk into a materialistic church and start kicking people out and turning over tables. I don’t think that’s necessarily a scriptural response, especially in our culture right now.

But there’s nothing wrong with speaking out. There’s nothing wrong with getting to the bottom of why people are doing what they’re doing. Maybe they’re doing these things out of ignorance, and then it becomes our duty to teach them. But however we choose to deal with a situation that makes us angry, we need to remember meekness. It’s that balance between anger and love. It’s the balance between standing up for what’s right and speaking truth in love, and that’s not something we can do on our own. That’s something God has to do through us. That’s something He has to speak through us.

And so when you get angry, first make sure it’s not coming from some unresolved issue in your own heart. And then, when you choose to act, make sure you ask the Holy Spirit to help you. Because while anger is a useful tool, it has done more damage in the church and in lives and in relationships than anything else. When we turn our anger over to God, He’ll take care of it, and when we trust our actions to the Holy Spirit, He’ll help us say what we need to say and do what we need to do.

Door on the school house at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Let God drive

Something happened to me last night that hasn’t happened in a really long time: I got to ride in a car. Usually I drive because I’m a control freak, but last night, en route to Dallas, my brother drove. I also realized that this was the first time I’ve been a passenger in my car. My brother asked me how to adjust the seat, and I couldn’t remember how.

But it made me think of something regarding this month’s study of the Fruit of the Spirit. One of the Fruit of the Spirit (as listed in Galatians 5:22-23) is faith, and yesterday I blogged about what that word actually means. But the same word can also be defined as trusting in God–believing that He knows what He’s doing.

Sort of like turning over responsibility on the road, having faith in God is letting go of the wheel and letting God drive.

Door on the school house at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Door on the school house at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 9:10.

Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, O Lord, do not abandon those who search for you.

As I’ve said before, and in many many blog posts, I’m a control freak. I struggle with letting go of responsibilities, real or perceived. I don’t trust people easily because I don’t believe that anyone else can do as good a job as I can. True or not, that’s how I’m wired.

That comes out in my driving too. I don’t let go of my wheel easily. I don’t turn over control of my car to just anyone. It has to be someone whose driving I trust implicitly, and even then it’s still difficult for me.

My brother, for example, is a great driver. So I don’t have any qualms about giving him my keys and letting him drive my car for hundreds of miles at night in traffic that would rather run over you than use a turn signal.

How many of us are willing to do that with our lives? How much do you trust God? How much faith do you have that God is always going to do the right thing, that He’ll always work things out for our good and His glory, that He’ll never abandon us?

It’s a tall order, control freak or not.

But do you really want to try getting through life on your own strength? Do you really want to try to survive life on your own limited knowledge? Do you really want to try to make it when you don’t know what’s going to happen next?

My brother knew how to get to Dallas. My brother knew how to drive my car. My brother knew the roads, the exits, the area. He knew where not to go. He knew how fast he could go. He knew all the specifics, and he knew them in the dark.

I didn’t know those things. Maybe I could have eventually gotten to the hotel, but it would have taken longer.

How many times are our lives like that? How many times would life be so much easier if we could just trust God with our next step? How much frustration and confusion and agony could we avoid if we just chose to have faith in God rather than in our own abilities or knowledge?

I’m not saying the trip will be easy. On the contrary, if you like to be in control, sitting in the passenger seat and trusting someone else to drive is terrifying. But if you put your trust in someone who knows where they’re going, you’ll be better off. And all you’ll need to do is hold on for the ride.

The chicken coop at Safe Haven Farm after a bad wind storm in November last year, Haven, KS

Are you good enough?

Have you ever heard someone say they’re not good enough to be a Christian? I have. I’ve talked to people who just don’t think it’s possible for them to trust Christ because they aren’t good enough.

But the truth of the matter is that it’s not about being good enough. No one is good enough. No one is good.

Goodness isn’t something that comes from us. We don’t know how to be good. Goodness is something the Holy Spirit produces in our lives when we accept Christ. So many times that goodness people see in a Christian’s life isn’t them at all–it’s evidence of the Holy Spirit in their hearts.

The chicken coop at Safe Haven Farm after a bad wind storm in November last year, Haven, KS

The chicken coop at Safe Haven Farm after a bad wind storm in November last year, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Galatians 5:22-23.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

This month I’m studying the Fruit of the Spirit because I want to be able to identify the qualities in my life that show that the Holy Spirit is working in me. And today we come to goodness.

According to the Amplified Version, the word in the verse actually means benevolence. I think that’s interesting because I would have thought it meant being good–as in being righteous or possessing moral integrity. But goodness has many faces.

Benevolence is a timely thing to be discussing right now, especially with the rash of severe weather that blasted across Kansas last night. Wichita got hit hard, which doesn’t usually happy. Usually the city will just get hail and high winds, and the tornadoes will take a break as soon as they hit the city limits. But there was a tornado at the airport last night. I haven’t heard details, but I know damage was done. And I know a lot of people don’t have power, and even more have significant storm damage.

It’s after storms like this that you see one of the things I love about the Midwest–people helping people without any thought of reward or recompense. They’ll help repair damage. They’ll help clean up yards. They’ll help put back roofs and windows and doors. They’ll be shoulders to cry on and hands to help build up again.

This is life in Kansas.

But it shouldn’t just be in Kansas. And it shouldn’t just be after a storm. This kind of goodness, the heart that yearns to help others even when there’s nothing in it for us, is the kind of goodness that God will produce in our lives if we let Him. We’re not born with the desire to sacrifice. We’re not born with the urge to help other people. We’re not born good.

God knows that. He doesn’t expect us to be good enough. He expects us to look to Him and trust Him, and He will count our faith in Him as being good enough. And the more we look to Him, the more we trust Him, the more we get to know Him, the more goodness will grow in our lives.

Do you find it hard to be good? Do you find it difficult to do good for others? That’s not unusual, necessarily. It just means your human. But the more you get to know God, and the more instep you are with the Holy Spirit, the more goodness you will do, and the less challenging it will be. It’s one of those habits you’ll build. And then one day, someone will tell you they can’t be a Christian because they’re not as good as you are.

And when that happens, don’t be shocked. Don’t be silent either. Make sure you communicate that any goodness in you comes from the Holy Spirit and not yourself. And see what they say to that, because deep down inside, I really believe that every human being wants to be good. They want to be that person who makes a difference to others.

I honestly believe that’s why superhero movies and comics and cartoons are so popular. We all dream of being good enough to be a hero to someone else. But the simple truth is that none of us are good enough on our own, and that’s why we need the Holy Spirit.

So ask Him to help you be good today. Not just good in a moral sense but in a compassionate sense. Ask Him to help you see the people who need help and to give you the strength and the courage to show them benevolence, whether it’s helping them clean up storm damage or just offering a smile on a long workday.

If you follow Christ, if you have the Holy Spirit, it’s not impossible. It’s something He’s promised to do in your life. You just have to let Him work.

Steps of a temple in the Mayan Ruins of Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Being patient with other people

Do you ever just want to haul off and smack someone? I do. Some people get under my skin to the point that I really just want to shake them. I don’t, of course. I usually resort to making faces at them and taking notes about their behavior to feature them as an irritating character in my next novel (you’ve heard it’s not wise to upset a writer, haven’t you?).

But is that the way we’re supposed to be? As followers of Christ, we all have the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We just don’t always choose to use it. According to Galatians 5:22-23, everyone who has the Holy Spirit has the opportunity to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Yesterday I blogged about being patient through circumstances. But what about being patient through relationships?

Steps of a temple in the Mayan Ruins of Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Steps of a temple in the Mayan Ruins of Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Colossians 3:13.

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.

When it comes down to being patient in difficult situations, I can do that. Actually, anymore, the more difficult a situation gets, the better I am at being patient through it. In the last five or six years, I feel like every situation I’ve been in has been difficult, and this year has felt like a constant emotional roller coaster. We’re not even halfway through 2013 and I’m already exhausted. But I’m not impatient.

However, all it takes for me to lose my cool–I mean really lose my cool–is for me to come in contact with a stupid person. If you’ve ever driven in the car with me, you know this is true. I don’t get angry very easily, but when it comes to bad drivers? Wow. Yeah, that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Today’s verse stings because I’m not very good at making allowances for the faults of others. I think it’s my own perfectionism. Deep down inside I hold myself to such high standards that I expect others to perform to a certain level, and if they don’t, I get impatient with them. After all, excellence isn’t that hard to achieve. If I can do it, why can’t they? Right? Any other perfectionists out there hear me?

But the heart of today’s verse is patience and humility. Maybe I’m driven to be perfect, but I guarantee you that I’m not. No one is. And everybody knows that, but there’s a difference between knowing it and living it.

When someone wrongs you, forgive them. Why? Because it won’t be very long before you turn around and wrong someone else, whether you intend to or not. And you appreciate being forgiven, don’t you? You appreciate people being patient with you, don’t you?

Granted, there’s a level of stupidity that you shouldn’t have to deal with. Some people are fools, and f0ols are dangerous to have in your life. Those are the people who keep making the same mistakes over and over again and never learn from them. But even those people don’t deserve cruelty. We should still be patient with them, even when we cut them out of our lives.

God forgave us. And when God forgives, He puts our faults out of His mind. They don’t exist to Him anymore. And that’s how we need to forgive others. When someone offends us or does wrong to us, we need to choose to see them as a human being who isn’t perfect, just like us.

Yes, there may need to be a change in the relationship, but don’t give up on them. Just be patient with them. People are people, and they don’t change until they start listening to God. And that is true for believers and non-believers alike because you can be a follower of Christ and not be listening to the Holy Spirit.

Think of a person in your life who drives you crazy. Identify why that is. I’ve got one in mind right now. Decide that you’re going to be patient with that person today, that you’re going to show them love and forgiveness even if they don’t reciprocate, that you won’t let their actions dictate your responses, that you’ll listen to the Holy Spirit’s whisper above the screaming of your heart.

It will make a huge difference in your day. And it might even make a difference in their heart. You never know how God will use you, but it starts with listening and obeying the Spirit.

Dead sunflower in a snowy field at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Our struggles have a greater purpose

Sometimes I wonder why we have to suffer through difficult situations. I know we grow. I know we get stronger. But when difficult situation after difficult situation keeps rolling at me, I just want to throw up my hands and shout, “Enough already!” I mean, how strong do I need to be anyway?

And then this old insecure voice starts whispering at the back of my mind: What have you done wrong to deserve this? When situations in my life continue to be difficult, I start wondering if I did something to make God angry at me. But most of the time, no matter how I wrack my brain, I can’t think of anything I’ve done that would have made God so mad that He would keep throwing struggle after struggle at me. And thinking like that eventually leads to the belief that God doesn’t care. But if He cares, why do we struggle?

Dead sunflower in a snowy field at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Dead sunflower in a snowy field at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are John 9:1-7.

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.” Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. He told him, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and washed and came back seeing!

Just imagine being this poor blind guy. He was just sitting on the ground, minding his own business, and somebody (the blind man didn’t necessarily know it was Jesus) walks over and spits in the dirt and wipes mud on his face? Seriously? I would have freaked out.

But he didn’t. And he went and did what Jesus told him to do, and he was healed.

This is one of those famous Bible stories that you’ll always hear in Sunday School, and most of the time, the storytellers focus on the fact that Jesus healed the guy. Don’t get me wrong, that’s an important thing to focus on. Jesus healed a lot of people, and it was evidence of who He was (and who He is). But what caught my eye this morning is the fact that the man was born blind not because of something he did or something his parents did; he was born blind so that he could be healed.

That was the entire purpose behind it. There was a reason for this man’s blindness. When he was born, God made him born blind, and that sounds horrible. That sounds cruel and unusual that God would take away his sight as an infant, never even give him the chance to see the world. But God didn’t do it without a reason. He knew that this man would be sitting on this street corner however many years later and that Jesus would heal him.

How many times do we look at the circumstances in our lives as punishment from God? Granted, many times, they might be. I don’t know your life. I don’t know your choices. And if you’ve made choices that are contrary to what God says is right, of course, you’re going to endure consequences. It’s like the natural process of planting and harvesting. You’re going to get the kind of fruit you plant. If you plant bad seeds, you’re going to get a bad crop. That’s not God’s doing; that’s your choices coming back to bite you. So if you’ve made bad choices, don’t get upset with God when your life turns upside-down.

But I know my life. And I know the lives of the people close to me. And I know that none of us have necessarily done anything that merits the struggles we’re facing. And in many instances, the struggles we’re going through are just part of living in a broken world. But in some cases, it really does feel like God has a sledgehammer and is pounding away at us. But that’s a lie. And if we just step back for a moment, maybe we can wrap our heads around a new perspective this morning.

This month I’m studying the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” Among them is patience. And patience is something that we shouldn’t try to get through difficult circumstances without. Why? Because most of the time we don’t understand the greater purpose for our suffering.

There is a purpose. There is a reason. God doesn’t let anything happen to His children for no reason. Maybe we’ll never understand the reason. Maybe we’ll never see the resolution while we’re alive on earth, but it’s our job to be patient in whatever trials and troubles come our way.

Think about the blind man in this story. He was born blind. He didn’t have a choice in the matter. He lived every day of his life knowing that he would never see–until Jesus walked up to him. How many years was that? I don’t know. But what I do know is that his blindness wasn’t a curse; it was an opportunity to be a blessing. I’m sure that man never would have guessed that people would still be talking about him 2,000+ years later and finding encouragement from his story.

I tell you what. If I know that God is working in my situation, that’s reason enough for me to be patient a little while longer. I trust Him that much. He knows what He’s doing, and I would rather have things happen in His time.

So whatever you’re facing today, be patient. You aren’t suffering for no reason, and the challenges you’re enduring present you with an opportunity to display God’s glory for everyone to see. Who knows? Maybe in 2,000 more years, someone will hear about you and find a reason to be patient where they didn’t have one before.