Beauty of being Softer and Sweeter

sweetContinued from here.

In his book, In Season: Embracing the Father’s Process of Fruitfulness, Wayne Jacobsen says that spiritually mature people are “softer and sweeter.” I have been surprised to recognize that I have become “softer and sweeter” and am excited to see what God plans to do with this fruit that has ripened after a long season of perseverance.

Lately, I have noticed that a lot more people are snapping at me. I know it’s not personal – they are in pain and lashing out simply because I am in the vicinity. When this happened in the past, I used to harden my heart to protect it from being hurt by the next outburst. Lately, though, I’ve noticed that I’m no longer tempted to do that. Because my “fruit” has become softer, the explosion of negative energy from the others seems to “bounce” off the soft fruit rather than harming me. It’s like the other person’s explosion of harshness needs more space, and my soft fruit is able to yield that space (humility) and accommodate the blow without my heart being harmed. I’m able to pray for the other person without feeling the need to protect my heart.

And when the other person is harsh, any cuts release the sweetness of the fruit that is ripening for harvest. When people used to lash out at me, my reaction was either to withdraw & protect my heart or to fight back. I now do neither. This maturing fruit has enabled me to react in sweetness, even when the other person is being harsh. This is a new experience for me, and I’m excited to see what God is going to do with this ripe fruit!

Jacobsen pointed out that being softer and sweeter is not the World’s way. The World says we must harden ourselves and stand first. However, I’ve found a beauty and peace in becoming softer – in yielding the space to the other person’s ego and allowing sweetness rather than bitterness to ooze out of me when the fruit is cut. I don’t need to protect myself. I trust that God is in control, and I react in kindness and love—to God’s glory! Only God could have brought about this transformation within me because I am not naturally a soft or sweet person!

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling over the word, “Sweet.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Opportunities to be Softer and Sweeter

sweetestContinued from here.

In his book, In Season: Embracing the Father’s Process of Fruitfulness, Wayne Jacobsen compares a spiritually mature person with grapes that are ready to be harvested. He says that in both cases, you know that the fruit is mature because it is “softer and sweeter.” He says that God “is about finished” with maturing us when “softness and sweetness … floods our demeanor.”

God called me into professional ministry in 2017, and I have learned so much over the past 16 months. One of the biggest lessons I have learned is how to respond gently to those who are not being gentle with me. This comment is not aimed at those I am leading … it’s an issue in every area of my life! I entered into professional ministry naïve – I was unaware that being in professional ministry meant I was putting a bullseye on myself, inviting the enemy to launch wave after wave of spiritual attack. I had lots of experience with spiritual attack at the personal level, so the enemy used a tactic I did not see coming – he launched attacks against the people around me.

Since I have been in professional ministry, I spend a greater portion of my time dealing with people who are in pain … again, this is not a statement about the people I am leading so much as a large percentage of the people I spend my time with, including family, friends, neighbors, church family, as well as those I interact with through my ministry. People who are in pain (myself included!) often lash out at those around them. It’s not intentional – they are reacting to something that is broken and wounded inside of themselves. I used to become extremely ornery whenever I was in physical pain – so much so that my family would avoid me as best they could to protect themselves from my wrath.

The enemy has learned that I’m too stubborn to stop serving God when he wreaks havoc that only affects me, so he seeks to distract me by wreaking havoc in the lives of the people I care about. So, since I have been in professional ministry, I have had lots of opportunities to develop the fruit of self-control as I choose not to react when people lash out at me. It’s only been recently that I have noticed that God has grown me into a “softer and sweeter” person, making it much easier to control myself when those around me take out their frustrations on or around me.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling, surrounded by hearts, and saying, “You’re the sweetest.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Lack of Kindness and Gentleness as Signs of Spiritual Immaturity

babyContinued from here.

In his book, In Season: Embracing the Father’s Process of Fruitfulness, Wayne Jacobsen’s asserted,

There is no more accurate sign of maturity than those who treat others, all others, with kindness and gentleness.”

That standard turns on its ear the measures that we typically use to assess someone’s level of spiritual maturity. By this standard, an illiterate grandmother who was never able to read the Bible for herself, never worked outside the home, and lived a quiet life being kind and good to her family, friends, and neighbors could be deemed spiritually mature while a pastor of 30 years who knows the Bible inside and out and regularly debates atheists is not. How can this be? If you consider that the Fruit of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, then someone who is kind and gentle in her small sphere of influence better meets this description than someone with millions of followers who uses his influence to get them to fight for their religious rights.

Read Jacobsen’s words on this topic from the Softer and Sweeter chapter:

All too often I’ve seen people loaded with knowledge and zeal but still captives of the world’s system. They are harsh and their words are judgmental. In their wake are a lot of offended people—not by the gospel—but by the way they’ve been treated…Those who have lived deeply in Jesus reflect the same humility and gentleness that Jesus did. They no longer advance their own agenda, angry when they don’t get what they think God has for them. They are not pushovers because they will resolutely stand in the truth, and they do so with a grace for others. They don’t threaten to leave and go somewhere else ‘where their gifts will be appreciated.’ They gently express the compassion and care of the Father to those around them. With simple love and concern they are able to help people engage God…If we don’t live in that place, our misplaced passion can easily crush the very people we’re called to touch with his life.”

These are the types of people who drove me away from “organized religion” for over a decade. When my father passed away suddenly when I was 16 years old, I was in a tender place and desperately needed kindness and gentleness from my church family, but that’s not what I received. While what they said was correct, the way they said it was harsh. I didn’t need them to “be right.” I needed to know I was loved.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace dressed like a baby and drinking out of a baby’s bottle. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

What is the Evidence of Spiritual Maturity?

baby2Continued from here.

This week, I am writing about my reaction to the chapter entited Softness and Sweetness in Wayne Jacobsen’s book, In Season: Embracing the Father’s Process of Fruitfulness. In this chapter, he stated,

There is no more accurate sign of maturity than those who treat others, all others, with kindness and gentleness.”

I found this interesting because I have never heard kindness and gentleness identified as the primary sign of spiritual maturity. I used to believe that spiritual maturity came from being very knowledgeable about the Bible. However, I was extremely knowledgeable about the Bible for decades but was nonetheless miserable because I was not doing the things I knew about. Now that I have been actually doing them for close to six years, I have noticed that some of the unhappiest Christians I know are extremely knowledgeable about the Bible. So, I now agree that spiritual maturity cannot be measured by head knowledge about the Bible.

Many people believe that spiritual maturity is present in anyone engaged in ministry (whether professional ministry or as a volunteer), but I have encountered people in ministry who cause more division than those they are leading! Others believe that the evidence of spiritual maturity is having a large number of followers, but I have seen people with large followings who appeared to be leading people in ways that cause conflict while I have seen people who clearly love the LORD wholeheartedly entrusted with a small group of disciples.

Perhaps the purported evidence of spiritual maturity I disagree with the most is the simple passage of time. Some people believe that anyone who grew up in the church and now has gray hair is spiritually mature simply because he or she warmed a pew each week. I’ve met some gray-haired folks who rarely missed a Sunday in their lives whose lives don’t look much different from those in the World around them other than where they spend their time on Sundays.

Jesus said that we know a tree by its fruit, and Paul said that the Fruit of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I have known people who fall under all of the above categories who did not bear those fruits. So, what evidence can we look for to determine whether someone – including ourselves! – is spiritually mature?

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace gentle holding a baby. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Being Softer and Sweeter: Signs of Spiritual Maturity

I have reached the halfway point of Wayne Jacobsen’s excellent book, In Season: Embracing the Father’s Process of Fruitfulness, and I’m learning so much about how God matures us through the use of the metaphor of Jesus being the vine and us being the branches. The first quarter of the book was on the season of Spring, which is when we have a fresh, new experience of God. That’s what I think about as the mountaintop experiences – when following God is so easy because I’m on such a “God high.” Per Jacobsen, summer is the season of maturing, which happens through persisting (enduring) through the elements, which in the Christian walk is our circumstances. Only those who stay connected to the Vine reach the end of summer with fruit to be harvested in the Fall.

Since I read the last chapter about Summer, entitled Softer and Sweeter, I have been meditating on Jacobsen’s definition of a mature Christian. Below are excepts from this chapter. I’ll provide my reaction to his words beginning tomorrow.

By early August the grapes have grown almost to full size. But if you pick one and bite into it then, you’ll be greatly disappointed. The grapes are still hard, and tart enough to pucker your lips…When the grapes turn soft and sweet, the harvest is at hand…Softer and sweeter. The same things that signal the maturity of a grape also signal the maturity of a believer. As God brings his promises to completion in our lives, one of the signs that he is about finished is the softness and sweetness that floods our demeanor… By learning to trust God’s doing more than our own we become softened with humility and gentleness and sweetened with lovingkindness. All of the fruits of the spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—are expressions of a life that has been through the fire and come through with greater trust in the Father’s affection and his work in the world…

Softness is not weakness; in God’s kingdom it is the greatest measure of strength…

The end product of summer, for those who traverse it with perseverance and growing trust, is a gentle and humble spirit. There is no more accurate sign of maturity than those who treat others, all others, with kindness and gentleness.”

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of In Season: Embracing the Father’s Process of Fruitfulness. Courtesy Amazon.]

 

Loving Spiritually Immature Christians

forgive_youContinued from here.

On of the hardest parts of dealing with spiritually immature Christians is continuing to love them while they are behaving badly. When someone is rude to you, it’s natural to want to be rude back, but that’s not how Jesus behaved when he was tortured and killed. Even when we must take action, we should always do it gently and in love, even when we must be firm. I find it helpful to recognize that the behavior is indicative of spiritual immaturity and fueled by pain. When I see the person as a wounded child acting through an adult’s body, it helps me find more compassion, even when the person has wounded me.

I also find it helpful to remember that the kindest action is not necessarily giving the person what he or she wants. It doesn’t help someone to mature by rewarding him or her for poor behavior. Just as giving a toddler his own way to stop his tantrum is a poor long-term solution, allowing a spiritually immature person to get his own way through throwing an adult version of a temper tantrum does not benefit him. Sometimes, the most loving answer is, “No.”

Saying no (setting appropriate boundaries) can be particularly difficult when the spiritually immature person is someone we love who will experience negative consequences if we stand our ground. We must remember that God often allows us to experience the negative consequences of our actions so that we can learn. After all, if God repeatedly rescued us from the consequences of our poor choices, why would we ever change?

As I have matured in my faith, I have grown more gentle in how I interact with others. I’m not claiming never to lose my temper, but those instances have grown farther and farther apart as God has taught me the beauty and value of gentleness. Ultimately, the goal in interacting with spiritually immature Christians is not to change their behavior – it’s to lead them toward changing their hearts, which only God can do. Your “No” can be the wakeup call the person needs to go before the Lord, repent, and grow. In the meantime, cover the person in prayer, always remembering that Jesus died for that person, just as he died for you.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with angels’ wings and a halo saying, “I forgive you.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Dealing with Spiritually Immature Christians

prayer2Continued from here.

What do you do when someone who believes he or she is spiritually immature behaves badly toward you? The first step is always prayer – pray for God’s wisdom and discernment for how best to respond to the person. If possible, I recommend delaying giving a response until you have had the opportunity to go before the Lord in prayer. For example, if a spiritually immature Christian leaves you a rude voice mail or sends you a rude email, do not respond until after you have sought God’s leadership. If it happens face-to-face, try hearing the person out but then tell the person you’d like to go to God in prayer first and then will respond later.

The next step is to look to the Bible for how best to respond. Possible responses run the gamut from ignoring the rudeness to having an uncomfortable conversation in which boundaries are set or enforced. This is why we need to pray for God’s wisdom and discernment to respond appropriately. Remember that however you respond is modeling behavior – whether positive or negative – to someone who is less spiritually mature. Your response should be as gentle as possible while still firm enough to enforce appropriate boundaries.

One factor to consider is how many people stand to be harmed by the spiritually immature behavior. If someone is only being rude to you, an option might be to extend grace by responding to the insult kindly and then praying for the person. This has worked effectively for me, particularly with interpersonal relationships. I have gone to the Father in prayer, asking Him to stand up for me, and He has used my gentle response to nudge the person into conviction and repentance. Sometimes people (particularly family) are looking for an argument. When we refuse to push back, that gives God the space to work on that person’s heart.

However, if someone’s behavior is disruptive enough to hurt others, appropriate boundaries may need to be enforced to prevent that person from leading others in the wrong direction. For example, let’s say someone is gossiping about a situation to try to rally other people to bring about disharmony. That’s a situation that needs to be addressed quickly before disunity happens … but even then, praying to God before acting is critical.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace praying. Courtesy Bitmoji.]