LONGSUFFERING

“The fruit of the Spirit is … longsuffering”

Galatians 5:22 KJV

Suffering is the great mystery of the Christian faith. Whether we ourselves have to suffer or only witness it in others, it doesn’t seem to make any sense at all if a loving God orders all things in the world. “What is not clear to many who observe Christianity and Christians themselves is what part the suffering plays in the shaping of Spirit-filled people – why God stands a handsbreadth off at times, and seems indifferent to the prolongation of their woe.

But those who endure by the gift of God’s Holy Spirit do not talk like this. Their utter trust in God’s wisdom and love forbids such questionings. Indeed, they are sure that suffering is not a mystery but a revelation, and they can even exult in it. The mystery remains for more mundane minds. Pain is pain. If there is some alchemy of the spirit which really transforms it, it must be very deep. The nature of pain is not altered by a metaphor. If pain refines one soul, it embitters another. It cannot be suffering as suffering which works a blessed work in the soul of the saint. It must be suffering received in the meekness of the Holy Spirit: suffering willingly accepted in the belief that God can do something with it. At least a little of heaven must mingle with these stresses of earth. Only God himself could beget such triumph in the soul of a human being” (W. E. Sangster, The Pure in Heart, p124).

The Holy Spirit does more than make you clap your hands and sing choruses. He enables you to walk with Jesus to the cross.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, undergird me in my bearing of the cross.

LONG-SUFFERING

“The fruit of the Spirit is … long-suffering”

Galatians 5:22 KJV

In a world of suffering it is hardly surprising that there will be some people who manage to cope with it without complaining. They are rare souls indeed. But some have been touched by God and, filled with his Spirit, they endure privations, physical pain and sometimes the cruel treatment that humans mete out to one another. In the city of Alexandria in northern Egypt a Christian, centuries ago, “was being ridiculed, humiliated, insulted, cursed and physically maltreated. One tormentor asked him what miracles his beloved Jesus had performed. ‘He has wrought this miracle, that I am enduring the injuries you heap upon me, without losing my tranquillity of mind, and would be ready to endure even greater injuries for love of him, if you were to proceed to inflict them’” (Soldier’s Armoury, 1981, p70).

The word translated in the King James Version as “longsuffering” can also be rendered “patience, endurance, or courage”. It really means to keep good-tempered under provocation. It denotes someone who does not “let fly”. “It is used to describe God’s attitude to Israel – his awareness of their sin and yet his long patience with his people even in their iniquity… When Paul commends it to his correspondents in all their dealings with their fellows, he does so on the background of God’s forbearance with us” (W. E. Sangster, The Pure in Heart, p125).

Like the other fruit of the Spirit this kind of forbearance is a gift from God. It cannot be whipped up, worked up or pretended. The Spirit alone can bring it by recreating the mind and mentality of Jesus in his followers. Follow where your Lord has led!

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to endure suffering with calmness and dignity.

A SPECIFIC EXAMPLE

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.”

Isaiah 26:3 NIV

People have devised various techniques to acquire peace of mind. Some have involved physical exercise. Others have worked out systems of relaxation and mind control. Discipline is required in all of these. Many people seem to be cool, calm and collected by nature and can appear to be unruffled when things go wrong or when they are under pressure. Such people are often admired by those who tend to panic and go to pieces when problems arise. But the Holy Spirit works at a deeper level altogether. He is, after all, a blessing from God.

The peace enjoyed by the great disciples of Jesus who have been filled with the Holy Spirit is best seen in their lives. One of the greatest was the Indian Christian leader, Sadhu Sundar Singh.

“He was preaching the gospel in a forbidden area. He ‘could not from his praise forbear’. Arrested and convicted, he was condemned to be stripped naked and exposed for a night and a day in the market place, his body being covered with leeches. When the authorities assembled the next morning, they expected dead or crazed in agony.

He was not dead. He was alive and so calm of countenance that they were awestruck and convinced of his possession by some supernatural power. They immediately ordered his release. Though he fell unconscious at the word of dismissal, his unruffled calm was still with him when he came round, and still with him as he slowly crawled away. Speaking of the experience afterwards, he said that ‘all the while he enjoyed an experience of intense inward peace” (W. E. Sangster, The Pure in Heart, p122).

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, make me an example of your peace indwelling a person.

THE FOUNDATION OF FAITH

“They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 6:5 NIV

Those disciples of Jesus who experience the fruit of the Holy Spirit have a deep, strong, faith. They are not shaken or rattled by passing events. They are not disturbed or distressed by problems. They are not filled with fear by fiascos or frustrations. They are not put off by temporary difficulties or misfortunes. They trust God. Utterly. Completely. Always. Unfalteringly and unflinchingly. They are not swayed by doubts or undermined by superficial opinions or wishy-washy ideas. They build on the rock and not on the sand. Their eyes are fixed on Jesus.

That’s the sort of man Stephen was. Strong and immovable. That’s why the opponents of the Christian faith killed him. He died with faith and peace the hallmarks of his life.

The peace these serene disciples know is born of their obedience to Christ. They gladly abandon themselves to his will whatever the outcome might be. Sometimes when unthinkable trouble strikes them or sorrow smashes into them they may hesitate momentarily. Then they say, “That doesn’t matter, God is still on the throne and he will remember his own”. Come what may, God’s will and purpose are supreme. Deep down in their consciousness there are other realities beyond the ups and downs and passing alarms of everyday life. The supreme reality for them is the love of God which created and now holds the universe in place. When they look to the past they thank God for guidance and help. When they look to the future they look in hope. Their hope overflows and infects others. In all circumstances they are the epitome of calmness. Like Stephen they are full of the Holy Spirit. He gives them peace.

Trust God too.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, let me experience deep peace.

NOT BASED ON CIRCUMSTANCES

“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.”

1 Thessalonians 5:23 NIV

The main function of the Holy Spirit is to sanctify you. That means to make you holy, and that means to become like Christ. The peace the Holy Spirit induces cannot be induced by pleasant and favourable circumstances. This peace is a gift from God and therefore is an inner condition in which you are constantly being made anew into the likeness of Jesus.

The model of this peace is Jesus asleep in the stern of the boat on Galilee – whilst the storm raged. There was undisturbed calm in a seething world. “The ugly arms of the cross were stretching out to take the Master when he said, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you’. The peace of God does not require a mould of easy circumstances. Galilee in storm and Calvary in darkness both set it off” (W. E. Sangster, The Pure in Heart”, p119).

No one has spoken more about the peace that passeth all understanding than the apostle Paul. Yet he pursued an arduous life of toil, travel, suffering and persecution. He knew hardship and sacrifice, opposition and enmity, struggle and court trials, imprisonment and danger. Frequently he had to establish peace between quarrelsome groups in various churches.

The Holy Spirit can bring the fruit of peace in the busiest life, in the most hectic schedule, in the most trying circumstances, in the noisiest surroundings, during the most stressful experiences, in the most weakening of illnesses and amidst the most pressing of duties. Don’t look around you for it. Look inside where God works – it is his gift and no one else can grant it.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to be filled with peace when all around is stormy.

BE CAREFUL!

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since, as members of one body you were called to peace”

Colossians 3:15 NIV

In understanding peace to be a component of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, we need to be careful not to confuse it with other things that may, on the surface, seem to be peace.

It is not passivity. Some people go through life carefully avoiding any involvement in anything requiring competence, effort, risk or enterprise. Their life is hallmarked by their passive avoidance of just about everything. They let others shoulder the burden of everything. That is not the sort of peace the Holy Spirit brings.

Neither is withdrawal. Some active minds withdraw from the world. “A certain intellectual aloofness marks the withdrawal – it is the detachment of the sage. Mundane affairs are thought to be coarse and vulgar. By a definite act the thinker becomes a recluse in the world of ideas” (W. E. Sangster, the Pure in Heart, 117). There have been religious withdrawal attitudes as well. Quietism (just being still before God) was one. Pietism was another. It advocates that religion should not become involved in the affairs of the world.

Peace is not escapism. Some people use their faith, and especially worship, as a form of getting away from the pressures and concerns of the world. Emotions are roused, people lose all sense of time and of responsibility, mood music and jolly hearty singing can all be a part of it. The attitude is, “Lord, we are here to get away from pressure and trouble and to have a quiet hour with you”.

True peace enables you to face the world, pressure and controversy. And to draw on God’s resources to do so?

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to be responsible in your world.

PEACE

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…”

Galatians 5:22 NIV

The world craves peace. It wants peace in the sense of the absence of conflict and war. And it yearns for peace in the sense of everything going well, or flourishing. But people long for peace in their own hearts. Many are troubled – they worry about things they lack and the problems that beset their loved ones. And when nations are in turmoil the people in them become anxious and nervous. They start to reflect the national strife in their own strife-riven souls.

Peace is a word strong in its usage in the Hebrew religion. “Shalom” was the everyday greeting one Jew gave to another. It was more than the absence of strife. It conveyed all that makes for a person’s highest good. “Here it means that tranquil serenity of heart which comes of the all-prevading consciousness that our times are in the hands of God” (W. Barclay, The Letters to the Galatians and the Ephesians”, p55). “The central meaning is harmony within a total community … Both in the Old Testament and the New, God is the centre and source of all peace. Peace is a prominent element in most prophetic preaching. War and humiliation are a consequence of disobeying Jehovah. Victory and peace are the fruit of loyalty to him. So peace and righteousness are woven together by the spiritual leaders of Israel, and lasting peace becomes an element of the Messianic hope. In the New Testament the promise is fulfilled in Jesus, yet only the discerning see it as yet. In him is peace. In Jesus all people may be at peace with God, and it is the central secret therefore of eternal life” (W. E. Sangster, The Pure in Heart, p115).

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, let me know your peace in my heart.

JOY THAT ENDURES

“You believe in (Jesus Christ) and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy”

1 Peter 1:8 NIV

Joy is infectious. The Holy Spirit so works his pervasive work in people’s hearts that the joy he creates seeps out in the day-to-day contacts and relationships of life. There is something “effervescent” about the person who knows and rejoices in Jesus. Such people are creative people. They spread a sense of “rightness” wherever they go. People like to be in their presence. They exude a sense of peace – and sometimes fun and laughter too. The early Christians sometimes went to the stake or to the lions singing and rejoicing in Jesus.

The joy they know helps the great Christians in their spiritual walk. “God’s gift of joy is one way in which God secures his saint from the sins which trick the rest of us. His brimming joy leaves the true believer envious of no one. So far from wanting what others have got, his consecrated soul longs to share the treasure he himself has found…

Their joy does not desert the Spirit-filled Christians in their death. Many have died unconscious. With some a deep peace was uppermost. With others, it was transports of joy. When Temple Gairdner was dying, and in great weakness and pain, people who visited him were conscious of an amazing joy. Half in Heaven already, he seemed to linger on earth to show them in what bliss a Christian can die, and when, at last he fell asleep on his wife’s shoulder (never to wake here again) and his boy knew himself to be fatherless, the lad could only say, looking on his father’s face radiant in death: ‘Your joy no man taketh from you’” (W. E. Sang- ster, The Pure in Heart, p115).

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, give me joy that endures.

THE SECRET OF JOY

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”

Romans 15:13 NIV

There has to be some way of understanding how Christian believers can know the joy Jesus gives them in a bitter, selfish, cruel, demanding and unequal world. What is behind this mystery?

The total trust that one who believes in God and experiences the love of Jesus has, means that person does not worry. The Spirit-filled Christian trusts God utterly even when the world is manifesting its ugliness and messiness. When others are filled with fear and despair, the faithful follower of Jesus doesn’t worry. He knows that God is in final control.

The person who lives close to Jesus also does not experience guilt. Not any more, anyway. In one sense the closer you get to Jesus the more aware you become of your own unworthiness. But the true disciple of Jesus walks in the awareness that his or her sins are drowned in the vast ocean of the love of Jesus. They are no more. Such a person can sing, “Gone, gone, gone, gone, yes my sins are gone. In my heart I’m happy and there’s now a song”.

A third reason why the Spirit-filled believer can know joy is that he, or she, knows that God’s cause will prevail. Fear that it will peter out, come unstuck or be overwhelmed by the massiveness of evil does not occur to the one whose heart overflows with hope, as Paul prayed for the Roman Christians. And this amazing joy is imparted by the Holy Spirit.

Rejoice in Jesus, his power, his love and his forgiving grace.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, cause me to overflow with hope and with joy.

JOY AND PLEASURE

“The fruit of the Spirit is … joy”

Galatians 5:22 NIV

People sometimes confuse pleasure with joy. Anyone can have pleasure. People with no knowledge of Jesus Christ or of the Holy Spirit can have harmless, innocent and wholesome pleasures. And no doubt the Creator designed the world so that there would be such enjoyments. Someone said that “All the animals, excepting man, know that the principal business of life is to enjoy it”.

But pleasure depends on circumstances. Christian joy doesn’t. Pleasure needs good health, and usually good weather. Pleasure can be marred by minor irritations – like tooth-ache. Deeply committed Christians, filled with the Holy Spirit, know the joy of Jesus when health, and strength and friends are gone. “Who that heard Father Brown of the Oxford mission to Calcutta talk on hilaritas, and gladness of heart could ever forget it? – or forget either that this man who would arrive with peals of laughter, was hobbling along with a painful and incurable disease. ‘Joy is the sign of spiritual maturity’” (W. E. Sangster, The Pure in Heart, p111).

Pleasures come and go. The joy of God is constant. It doesn’t falter with the passing years. In some it grows and increases with a developing awareness of grace and hope. Pleasure satiates. You can have so much that you ask yourself “What’s this all about?” What tickles you for a while may fade and impress you no more.

Pleasure remains superficial. Joy is deep. “It bubbles from utter contentment. The smile is not only on the lips but in the eyes and in the heart. It may flame into rapture or sink into peace, but it possesses the whole personality. It is true bliss” (W. E. Sangster, The Pure in Heart, p111). Revel in the joy of Jesus!

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to laugh in Christ.