I made some huge mistakes in a relationship recently. I completely blew it, I did, blew it so big and so hard that the explosion covered my head and my face in sticky regret. I will be picking it out of my hair for weeks to come.
In the aftermath, I said, “I will try harder to be the woman I should be.”
But that night I tossed and turned until long after midnight, restless with the knowledge that I had been trying—and look where it got me. Oh, maybe I wasn’t trying as hard as I should have been. I had gotten tired and discouraged and careless. I had said and done things I shouldn’t have.
Did this mean I should try harder? Is that the best way to repair the broken parts of me?
I have spent my life trying harder. Trying to have more faith, more trust, more submission. Trying to be more faithful and loving and joyful. Trying to produce more spiritual fruit. Trying harder to please God and serve others.
But I always end up covered in regret. I mess it up over and over.
What is wrong with me?
Why does the fruit of the Spirit so often dangle tantalizingly out of my reach?
I sat with my Bible and my questions for a long time, carried my questions around as I filled the washer and gave a wheezy little man a nebulizer treatment, went back to my Bible again, and after a while, my questions began to turn into answers. None of the answers are new to me; some of the verses are embarrassingly familiar. But God’s Word takes on new meaning for me in the context of a spiritual struggle.
This fruit that I want, the love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance that elude me too often? It’s called the fruit of the Spirit. Not the fruit of Stephanie. It is the fruit produced in the life of the believer by the Spirit of God.
I know this. Why do I try to manufacture the fruit by my own power?
“For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). This verse flies in the face of my frequent declarations: “I will do better.” I cannot do better. “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). When it comes to spiritual self-improvement—well, there is no such thing as spiritual self-improvement. God is the one who makes me holy and acceptable in His sight.
I know this. Why do I try so hard to improve on my own?
But I’ve got to do something. If I can’t make myself good enough, if I cannot produce the love and joy of a Christian on my own, what should I be doing?
Part of me hates the answer, because it’s so…so humbling. It feels far more honorable to climb the tree after the fruit all by myself. I feel more productive climbing the tree—even if I never find any fruit—because I’m working so hard at it.
This is what I must do: I need to yield. Instead of chasing after fruit, I need to run to God and fall at His feet. I need to surrender, give up my need to be in control of the fruit basket. It’s not my job to produce the fruit, but it is my job to serve the One Who will cultivate a more worthy crop in my heart than any efforts of mine could ever rake together.
Romans 6:21 & 22 says it far better I can: “What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants of God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” (emphasis mine—and please don’t skim the verses, because they are more important than anything I’m saying here)
Instead of trying to love, I need to learn to know the God of love more fully—and His love will then bloom in my heart.
Instead of trying to grow more faith, I need to draw closer to my Father—and He will water my faith.
Instead of trying to exert more self-control over my unruly heart, I need to yield everything to Christ—and He will prune and shape my heart.
I’ve been trying to fertilize the garden when I should have been cultivating my relationship with the Gardener.
Don’t take me wrong. There are many things to do in the kingdom of God. I can’t sit around with a dreamy smile, waiting for God to make me more long-suffering. Spiritual fruit is produced as I live my life, and the work God gives me is often that which helps me to be more fruitful.
In John 15:4, Jesus said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.” (emphasis mine)
I need to stop trying so hard to be a woman of God.
I need, instead, to abide in Christ and let His Spirit produce the fruit I long to see.