The self-help industry is estimated to be worth around $11 billion in the United States today. Since the first book was introduced in 1859 called Self-Help, the concept that one could will themselves into being the best they can be on their own has survived and thrived through depressions and recessions in history. There are currently 18,000 registered life coaches in the US, and that’s just people who give advice professionally; how much unsolicited advice do people get from family, co-workers, even strangers selling off their “secrets”? Without a doubt, mankind has seen their shortcomings, and with self-help books promoting material substance over spiritual substance, people will do anything short of reaching out to Jesus to improve their lives, bolster their confidence, and change their fates.
“Coming up short” can be depressing and damaging. If you’ve ever felt the disappointment of losing your temper when you know you shouldn’t have, the drain of a sustained enmity with your coworker, or simply felt like you wish you could just be “a better person”, you know what I’m talking about. We wish that the beautiful gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control would occur for us naturally, and would just manifest themselves when we needed them then and there. But the truth is we’re far more likely to produce fruits of the flesh, fruits like anger, fits of rage, jealousy, rivalries, the list goes on. Try as we might to bring these qualities to fruition, we can often barely muster them for the situation at hand, and when people aren’t watching, they often fade as if they never were. Our true natures eventually take over and we’re left with our angry, selfish, greedy selves. So, we go back to our self-help books, our seminars, our 5-steps-to-a-new-me programs. We promise our friends and relatives that we’ll never do x or y again, and we tighten our behavioral belts in hopes that this time, maybe this time, we’ll finally be different. And we’re met with defeat after defeat after humbling defeat.
It’s true, we’ve been born into sin, and the fallen state of man is evident; no need to reinvent the wheel on that topic. But the beautiful thing about Jesus’ dwelling inside us through Holy Spirit is that we don’t have to try to produce those fruits in ourselves because Holy Spirit is already doing that work in us as we speak! For those of us who garden (I don’t, but my mom does, so I’m an expert by proxy), you can only do so much for a plant to grow. You can find the plot of soil, fertilize, plant your seeds at proper depth, water, and really just hope for the best. As the plant grows, we try to assist as much as we can; tie it to a stick, prune the plant, etc. But the reality is, the true growth is out of our control. So how can we bear these beautiful, spiritual fruits? I’m glad you asked.
In order for us to bear fruit, we must be properly rooted. Think back to our gardening analogy; you want to grow the best plants, you start with the best soil. Consider the parable of the sower, found in Mark 4:3-20. Jesus explains that the seed that fell on good soil, the seed that would grow and “bring forth fruit” was when the gospel was given to those who would “hear the word and receive it”. This means first hearing, and then taking the word in, meditating on it, and acting upon it. We root ourselves in the spirit through prayer with meditation, fasting, and obedience of God’s word. We meet each other in fellowship, encourage and strengthen one another.
Once we begin the process of growth, it’s important to begin the task of pruning ourselves and joining with others to sustain our growth. Sometimes, the pruning part can be a little more painful than we’d like it to be. When you prune a plant, you begin to shave off the dead and dying parts of the plant, the falling branches, in hopes that the rest of the plant will grow healthily. This means something different for everyone, and it really requires us to be in touch with Holy Spirit, and to be spiritually honest with ourselves. Are there people in our lives that are holding us back from a greater experience with Jesus? Are there outside influences that are causing you to stumble? Are there things that we do each and every day that we don’t even realize are holding us back from optimal spiritual growth? I can’t identify that for you, but Jesus can. The pruning process involves being honest with yourself and asking Holy Spirit to help point out the relationships and practices that need to go. But it doesn’t have to be all painful! We also ask Holy Spirit to point out relationships and practices we can adopt, new ministries we can move into that will cause us to stretch and grow and people we can come alongside that will strengthen us along the way. When we begin to simultaneously prune ourselves of what is not of God, and replace those things with what is, our prayers begin to align with the will of God, and we begin to enter a season of harvest, as prayer after prayer is heard and answered.
Praise be to God that we don’t have to do it on our own, and that Jesus left us with a helper through Holy Spirit to make us who God wants us to be. As we enter this next season of REVEAL ministry, let’s take some time to think about where we are on this journey to producing fruit, being honest with ourselves and Christ. Let’s pray that we would be obedient of God’s call to our lives and pray that God would remove anything from us that is not of Him. Be blessed.