I am in a weekly study with English-speaking women studying The Life You’ve Always Wanted and a weekly study of it in Spanish with one of my dear Peruvian sisters. This book, by John Ortberg, was one of those reads that I can pinpoint in my spiritual journey. I read it my sophomore year of college, and it came as a really good book at a really good time. It is a study of the spiritual disciplines.
Something that I want to remember here, and something that I want to disciple other Christians in as I study God’s will for our lives is how I answer, “Megan, how is your spiritual life?”
Disciplines are good: prayer, service, celebration, study, etc. But I have a terrible tendency to place a check box beside them and base my answer to the question above with a positive (because I have a lot of checked boxes) or a negative (because I didn’t check many boxes). When I don’t have those checked boxes, I am burdened with guilt. So the obvious answer to the question when viewed in this way is, “Well, not so good.” Because in reality, the majority of the time I have a lot of unchecked boxes.
What sets a Christian apart is the mark of the Holy Spirit. And we read in the NT that the HS produces fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. These are the things that should naturally flow out of a Christ-follower. For a Christian, “spiritual life” is not one aspect of life. It is life. Our walk, our journey, our friendships, our enemies, our work, our pleasure, etc. Because the Spirit is in all things. We live and walk by the Spirit as Christians.
I don’t know why, but this question has hit me so differently in this past year. The spiritual disciplines are good, but my life should not be defined by them. And maybe it is because I am in relationships with Peruvians here that have no baggage of a church culture that teaches them to feel guilty for not checking the right boxes. I have an opportunity to teach a new Christian to see Christ and his example to us as all they need. Can it really be as simple as remembering the word “fruit?”
So when someone asks me, “Megan, how is your spiritual life?” I want to think about this…
Is the Spirit flowing freely, or am I quenching the Spirit? Am I producing the fruit of the Spirit in my life? When people interact with me in work, conversations, observing my attitude, fun events, celebrations, disappointments, family time, etc., am I displaying love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control? If those things do not flow freely from within me, then no, my spiritual life is not good.
I go through seasons where I write in my prayer journal every evening, when I spend quiet time with God, when I have a lot of time to put into studying the word of God. But as a momma of three that works a part-time job in a culture that just sometimes wears me out… I have seasons where sleep is my most important spiritual discipline. Because without it, I will not allow the fruit of the Spirit to flow freely out of me. I work with young Christians in the church here that work from sunrise to sundown. When they get home, they expend the rest of their energy on providing food for their families and making sure their children are ready for another school day. What do I teach them about using a barometer for their spiritual lives?
Should they be burdened when they haven’t had the time or chance to practice the disciplines? In a sense, I think we should feel burdened to practice discipline. It is the only way to train for a race. And life is certainly a race (1 Timothy 6:12). But what do I want them to think when I ask them how they are doing spiritually?
Are they treating their coworkers with kindness? Do their neighbors see them as peacemakers? Are they able to give thanks in all circumstances, and live with a joy that can only be explained through Christ in moments of hardship and disappointment because of the hope they have? Are they patient and gentle with their children? Are they faithful to their spouse and loved ones? Do they maintain an awareness of self-control in arguments or situations that are unjust? Are they displaying the fruit of the Spirit? Because this is how we know we are showing and being the love of Christ to those around us. This is how we are light in a dark world.
Life by the Spirit (Galatians 5:13-26)
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[c] you want.18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
So… maybe the question is better framed for me as, “Megan, are you keeping in step with the Spirit?” It is late. I think I will get some sleep now.