Do you ever feel that you want to be doing something, anything, different from what you are doing? Do you have that Monday morning feeling every morning? Are you longing to just break free and strike out for some greener grass?
Alternatively, have you ever had anyone tell you that you should be doing something different – and I mean a completely out there, left-field, ‘Well, I didn’t see that one coming” different? Then, have you felt that you’d do anything to make that ‘different’ thing actually come true?
Excuse me if I get a little autobiographical here, but …
Just about every year since I became a Christian, someone has asked me something like, “Do you think that God is calling you to the ministry?” Leaving aside the fact that my interpretation of words like ‘calling’ and ‘ministry’ might not be exactly what everyone else seems to think – there’s a blog or three waiting there – I suppose that these sorts of words have followed me round for the last twenty years.
Consequently, I now often have the feeling that I’m somehow not doing the thing I’m ‘called’ to do – in my defence, I’ve never really worked out what the thing I’m possibly called to do actually is, so maybe the feeling is just one of lingering confusion!
For me, my experience of such things – let’s call them ‘words’ or even ‘prophetic words’ to use some convenient Christian jargon – means that I just get confused and/or anxious about them; I try to make them happen, to make the words mean what I want them to mean, to force an interpretation on to words that are (and remain) open to other viewpoints that may well differ from my agenda.
It is – in essence – just like trying to tie apples to a tree. Rather than letting the real and genuine fruit grow from blossom to fruit at its own, correct, rate – I try to force things to hurry up – and consequently find that I’ve tried to graft the wrong fruit onto the wrong branch and, most often, at the wrong time!
I suppose that anyone who has any kind of church background will know about the ‘fruits of the spirit’ – things like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness and self-control.” (Gal. 5:22); so often, the fruit that I try to grow, or at least seem best suited to growing aren’t those! The thing is, when I try to force things – rather than let them grow in their own time – I don’t get the things I was hoping to create by my own efforts.
The fruit that I create is counterfeit – unreal – unhealthy – inedible – fake. That’s not me being negative, really it isn’t – it happens to be the truth nonetheless. Instead of love, I grow irritability; instead of joy, cynicism; instead of peace, frustration; instead of patience … well you get the drift.
It’s not that I set out to grow those things, honest. Just before the Apostle Paul gives us his list of fruits of the spirit he also provides a list of the things that stem from our baser instincts – things that Eugene Petersen translates as “all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants … small-minded and lopsided pursuits … ugly parodies of communities” (Gal. 5 19-21, MSG), so I guess it’s not just me that’s ever felt/been like that. Maybe, there’s been days you’ve felt the same too …
My wife says that stuff like patience isn’t created unless you start out impatient. Unless you want something so badly that you can almost taste it, that you can practically feel it in your grasp and yet you still have to wait, and wait, and wait, and wait for it to even start to come close … you’ll never understand what it means, and feels like to ‘grow’ the spiritual fruit we call patience. Similarly, self-control isn’t grown in the gentle greenhouses of “It’s not so bad, I can cope with this” – self-control is forged in the white-hot, toxic, acid-rain environment of “ARGGGH!!!! I’M GOING TO EXPLODE IF THIS DOESN’T CHANGE!!!!”
That’s the way it certainly seems to have been for me. Every bit of genuine fruit that I’ve seen in my life – every time that patience has emerged, or that joy has spread like a balm, or peace has indeed passed way beyond understanding or that I’ve seen/felt/shown a real love for someone who just didn’t deserve it (and I include me most often in that category) I’ve realised that all the frustration, feelings of impatience, worry, irritation have been vital in growing that final fruit, and making it something real, genuine … edible even.
And, that’s the way it has to be, I think. We can all spend our time and energies creating our ‘me-flavoured’ apples – but none of them are ever going to be a real apple; a rosy-red (or maybe green), juicy, crisp, refreshing, keeping the doctor at bay apple.
And, whilst I want to encourage you to let that growth process – that painful, irritating, stretching and often strewn with manure growth process – happen, without you spending all your energy trying to convert ‘apples’ into something much less edible I also want to leave you with a question-cum-challenge …
What’s an apple really for? You know what I think? I think it’s mostly there for someone to eat … you can spend all that time growing it but unless someone takes a bite out of it, it’ll eventually rot away … maybe that’s the same for all of our spiritual fruits.
Are we – you and me – ready to let other people take a bite …?