REFLECTIONS & ENCOURAGEMENTS: understanding and growing through the covid-19 challenge.
Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 59: Pandemical fruits.
The pandemic has reminded us that we are not in control. It has brought many sadnesses, interruptions to our plans, increased anxiety and, unless we take ourselves in hand, irritations, crankiness and worse. I have been increasingly convinced that it is not what happens to me that is important but how I respond to what happens to me, good or bad, that is vital. Vital to my own happiness and that of those around me. The fruits of the Spirit [Galatians 5:22-23] are from one perspective a series of reactions and responses to things that happen to me and my world.
Living by the Spirit rather than by our sinful nature [5:16-18], causes a necessary, indeed welcome, conflict in us. No longer are we free, as God’s sons and daughters to do as we like, nor are we desirous of living in the old sinful ways. Fifteen such ways are listed in 5:19-21. They do not make pretty reading and are well worth getting rid of, since if persisted in, will keep us from God’s kingdom and most surely rob us of our joy, witness and peace.
Enter the pandemic into the equation of living for Christ. Suddenly we are brought to an end of our own resources when our expected plans, hopes and futures are thrown into disarray. What do we do? How do we react? Do we try to sort things out under God [the wise solution] or as God [the missed opportunity for growth]. A contrast between the 15 acts of our sinful nature [5:19-21] and the 9 fruits of the Holy Spirit [5:21-22] help see how wise we are to respond in a Godly, faithful way to pandemic [and other] pressures and disappointments. Will we face the circumstances with peace or with hatred? Will we blame others for the problem or seek God’s help? Shall we be self-controlled in the way we fill in the time or go overboard with self-centred entertainment and diversions?
How good it is to know that God the Holy Spirit lives in each believer: active in us powerfully enlightening, animating, and transforming me along with others. He stirs our sluggishness, sharpens our insight, soothes our guilty consciences, sweetens our tempers, supports us under pressure and strengthens us for righteousness [J I Packer]. The Holy Spirit does not work in a vacuum. He works in us, where we are. J B Phillips puts it like this; every time we say, I believe in the Holy Spirit, we mean that that we believe that there is a living God able and willing to enter human personality and change it. It should not surprise us that pressures caused or magnified by the pandemic are opportunities for us to be transformed into Christlikeness rather than helpless victims of chance.
When Paul lists the fruits of the Holy Spirit he introduces them with the word but indicating the contrast with our sinful ways. Clearly God would want to transform us in ways that grow us to be more like Jesus. The fruits remind us of Jesus. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control [5:22-23]. Whilst it is best for us to be cooperating with the Spirit in developing these characteristics in normal time, the opportunity to seek the Spirit’s help in responding to difficulties increases. Nothing is wasted in God’s providence when we seek God’s strength and wisdom to respond in a godly manner. Fruits are produced as we allow God to grow them in us. It becomes clear, for example, that if God is to grow our patience, He will bring people and circumstances across our path who would cause us to be impatient.
David Watson reminds us that: the aim of being filled with the Holy Spirit was not primarily that we may feel better but that God would make us more useful in His service. During the next 9 weeks [DV] I hope to take each of the fruits [or the 9 different aspects of love, as some commentators suggest] and work through how each can help us grow through the covid-19 challenges. My conviction is that God can be trusted not only to understand and help us [Hebrews 4:14-16; 2 Cor 12:9-10] but to grow and mature us as we run with Him, rather than blame or become sour with Him for allowing us to be in situations that challenge, discourage, stretch and bring pain to us and others.
Peter Brain 19th January, 2021