Last week during Lifegroup at church, our leader challenged us with this question: What does it mean to live a fruitful life? This question took me aback. I was literally at a trance, trying to find a good answer and coming up with nothing. I had myself convinced that a ‘fruitful life’ does not mean being rich or popular, or even just being happy. But I couldn’t articulate what it does mean. I just sat there, pondering over what my friends had to say.
Obviously, the title of ‘fruitful life’ guides you in a certain direction. The generic, safe answer is to have the presence of the fruits of the Spirit, and that’s exactly what most people said. It’s also what I first jumped to, but something just didn’t seem right. ‘Fruitful life’ gives you the connotation that it’s asking about and outcome; as in, what kind of fruits can you bear? What tangible achievement can you accomplish that would let you deem your life fruitful? Having the fruits of the Holy Spirit is simply a lifestyle, and not really an ending.
I spent the entire week pondering over this question and praying about it, and God gave me a conclusion that I really want to share with everyone. It starts here: What is the difference between a Christian and a non-believer? I used to have so much trouble explaining this to my friends. The truth is, I had no clear answer. I have my experiences and opinions, but it’s just not possible to describe this in its entirety to someone who didn’t go through the same rough path that you did. On the other hand, my impression is that most people stereotype Christians as ‘goodie two-shoes’ that don’t party, don’t swear, don’t drink… they just live a simple and boring life. Hence, I’ve been given the title a ‘bad Christian’ quite a few times. I don’t agree, but when your definition of Christian is different, it’s hard to argue.
With this topic of a ‘fruitful life’ to help me ponder, I realized that’s exactly the thing that sets Christians aside from other people (and of course, the fact that we believe in Jesus Christ). Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. You might think to yourself, hey, I know lots of non-Christians that have these attributes, but can they really hold on to these gifts no matter what comes their way? What will happen when they meet a challenge? Will they stand strong with all these fruits in their heart, or will they easily waver?
I like to believe that the world is full of love. Like what my favourite movie says: love actually is all around. No, it doesn’t take a Christian to know how to love someone. There are great non-Christian marriages, friendships, brother/sisterhoods… you name it. But can you take it one step further and love more than just your friends? People that have no relation to you whatsoever? Maybe even your enemies? It’s this kind of love that dissolves hate and wrath, and ignites a spark for forgiveness. Now that is definitely not a common quality. There’s people that have love, and then there’s people that have a big heart and love a little more. The ones that are literally infectious with love. That’s when you know it’s God’s love.
Joy is my favourite Spiritual fruit. It’s not the same as happiness – joy comes from much deeper within. It’s the energy that keeps your spirits up no matter what you’re going through. Even when you have a rough time coming your way, you can still make the best out of it. Always looking out for the silver lining. Digging out the bright side in every situation. You can be joyful without being happy, and similarly, you can be happy without being joyful. Furthermore, joy is contagious. I used to tell people my silly analogy of why I like to smile. When dogs wag their tails, you know that they’re happy, and it makes you feel a bit brighter. Well, I don’t have a tail, so the best I can do is make up for it with my smiles. Of course, people would always ask me, why are you so happy?, and I would never know how to answer them, because there is no reason – it’s just the joy that God has put in my heart.
Peace is a beautiful gift. It’s one that you can distinctly feel from the presence of God. While other fruits, such as love and patience, can be easily camouflaged into ‘normal society’, peace is a lot more unique. Life is full of stress, and everyone experiences it, but you can really see the calm in a peaceful heart. The calm that is present not just before the storm, but during the storm as well. With God’s peace, an obstacle simply becomes another adventure – there is no need to accompany it with feelings of fear or uneasiness. For me, who has been hopping around Asia over the past few months and exposed to the unknown everyday, peace is an amazing gift from God.
As an active kid growing up, I did not know how to sit still. I always needed something to do or fiddle with (keep in mind that there were no smartphones back then), so my parents would give me heck about being an impatient child. As a result, my mental image of patience is a person sitting very still and waiting at a doctor’s office without a word of complaint. That’s not too bad of a picture, really. God’s gift of patience is actually the ability to withstand suffering – it’s just that my suffering came in the form of boredom. At some point in your life, you’ll probably be mature enough to get through that long wait at the doctor’s office, but what if the suffering came in a different form? Perhaps you can’t find a job, or you’re seriously sick, or you’re going through a time of grief… can you stay healthy spiritually, or do you fall into depression and break down? No matter what it is, God can turn your story into one of endurance and hope. Even if it’s an unhappy ending, God can still use you to be inspiring.
Kindness is quite similar to love, but while love is more of having a heart for other people, kindness turns that love into an act. ‘Random acts of kindness’ usually refer to small things that strangers do for you – holding the door open, helping you pick something up, guiding you to a destination. Just like how I believe that love is all around, I see kindness the same way as well. The average Canadian wouldn’t mind lending a hand to those in need, especially for such a simple task. But notice my specific emphasis on Canada, as opposed to my current location. Just a few short weeks in this new city, and I’ve come to know that the attribute of kindness is not something to be taken for granted. I still remember a few months ago, when I was doing a personal reflection and telling myself to be a better person, kindness was the first thing on my list to pray about. Let me be someone that is always looking out for the needs of others, and willing to step in to help. Trust me, it’s hard, especially when it comes at a cost of money, time, and inconvenience. That’s also why it’s a special gift from God – He can really change you for the better.
What is a good person to you? I’m sure everyone has a different opinion. Doing what’s right. Being nice and friendly. I don’t know. It’s hard to come up with a universal definition for a word that’s used so loosely. That’s also why this is the hardest fruit to explain. When I think about this word, the same old Sunday school lesson always comes up in my head. I remember our teacher pointed out to us that when God was creating the world, He didn’t say it was ‘amazing’ or ‘wonderful’ or ‘awesome’. He said that it was ‘good’. Many people don’t realize this, but ‘good’ is made by God. Personally, I see it as ‘Christ-alikeness’ – what would Jesus do? And while it may seem that goodness is simply a combination of the other fruits, there’s something more to it. A good person has something like an aurora that captures you. That charm that makes you want to label them as a role model. No matter what you take as your definition of ‘good’, doesn’t it always feel that there is a ‘better’? Instead, take Jesus as your definition, and I can assure you that you’re heading in the right direction.
To be faithful is to be true to something, whether it is a person or a promise. A lot of people don’t realize that faithfulness is just as important as love in any kind of relationship. When I’m angry because of something small and people don’t understand why, it’s usually a matter of faithfulness. Sure, it’s a tiny issue, but what really pushes my nerves is that someone gave me their word and didn’t keep it. Of course, the converse has also happened before my broken promise has hurt those around me. We all know that promises are never easy, and that’s why it’s easy to distinguish the trustworthy and dependable ones from everyone else. But wouldn’t it be nice if we could put down those walls that stop us from trusting others? I pray that God will make me faithful. Let others have a little more faith, and spread a little more love.
Gentleness is that touch of tenderness within a mighty force. A good leader carries out his responsibility by making bold and confident decisions, while a great leader knows how to do this with grace, compassion, and mercy. It’s what makes you see that the power of forgiveness is stronger than the power of revenge. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger”. Love will help you end conflict; gentleness will help you avoid it. I admit, gentleness is definitely one of the hardest virtues for me to adopt. I’m the type of person that would use anger to cover up disappointment and sadness, because I’m scared to show the slightest hint of weakness in me. That’s why gentleness is special. God is telling me that it’s OK to feel weak and exposed; it doesn’t make me any less mighty.
This world is, unfortunately, full of temptation. There are too many things that can set you along the wrong path. Any kind of addiction – alcohol, substances, shopaholicism, or whatever else it may be – it’s all a result of lacking self-control. Maybe you don’t have such substantial issues… but how about smaller things, like managing your temper? I know that’s one thing I was never good at. Besides, self-control is the starting step for you to exercise the other eight fruits. When unexpected events come your way, you need to control your emotions before you can tackle it with love or patience. When you look for this characteristic in other people, it will often go by unnoticed. For someone who quickly escalates into rage, their anger will stand out. If they stay calm and poised, their patience and kindness will be commended. But note that without God’s blessing of self-control, even the nicest people will give way to wrath someday.
Please don’t take this too critically. I am by no means a theologist, and I am definitely not an expert in this area. It’s just that God put this in my heart, and I’m excited that for once, I can explain what it means to me to be a Christian. I want to take this opportunity to challenge each and every one of you to open your eyes and observe. Seek out these characteristics in the people around you. I hope you’ll realize that these fruitful hearts are the ones that inspire and make this world a better place. And therefore, that’s why a fruitful life really is about having the fruits of the Spirit. It’s not immediately obvious, but it’s a lifestyle that makes its mark on a much larger scale.
I like to hashtag my writing with #livetoinspire. How about actually living to inspire?