Live by the Spirit …

21 Mar

Years ago, in my better homeschool mom days, the kids and I would do more devotions, Bible lessons and scripture memorization.  Each week we worked on a different bit of scripture to be learned, we would discuss it during our devotion time and we would do activities that would help us understand and learn it.  During this time, I was also regularly doing morning “spiritual walks” where I would listen to my mp3 player loaded with Christian music and as I walked chit-chat with God.  It was during these walks that God typically offered me the verse and the lesson that I was to share with the children.  Most of the time the Bible verses I knew at least roughly, but one time He gave me a bit from the “fruit of the spirit” from Galatians.  This one I wasn’t at all familiar with – not only had I never taken the time to memorize the list of the fruit, but this verse wasn’t even that.  Ironically, the verse I was the least familiar with, is the one I still have burned in my brain and it has a tendency to pop up at the strangest times and seems to apply to all kinds of areas of my life:  “Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Galatians 5:16

Now if I were going to offer this text up to my high school students, I can pretty well assure that at least the youngest portion of  them would be working to squash the giggles rising up as they considered the “desires of the flesh”.  And I am supposing their interpretation would definitely be one of the “desires” the Bible speaks of, but there are so many more.  I woke up Friday morning realizing I had “dropped the ball” in my commitment to read, pray and write during Lent.  It was easy to forgive myself Thursday.  It was a very busy day and I ended up dropping into bed late completely forgetful of my commitment.  I have nothing to offer for Friday through Sunday though.  Each day I told myself that it was important and a commitment I had made to God, but each day my work was given higher priority than my promise to God.  I liked to kid myself and justify things with, “Well God knows this isn’t fun and lord knows this is a sacrifice too … He will understand … and I was at church today …”  (Have you ever rationalized your choices that you already knew were bad?)  The fact is, as miserable and frustrated as I was with the tasks I was doing … as painful and hard as it was for me to work on … I was living “of the world” (Romans 12:2) … I was “gratifying the desires of the flesh.”  I know you saying to yourself, “What kind of sick-o are you that this is what you choose to do when you decide to gratify your flesh?”  Truth is, it is a sneaky sort of gratifying that I think a lot of us do.  It’s easy to see that eating, playing and relaxing are clearly desires of the flesh – they “feel” good.  However, the choices I made are flesh choices too, even though they made me miserable and I think after I explain you may realize that you have been making some un-fun flesh choices too.  When I consider why I made my work my priority … why I sacrificed the time with God (that I actually enjoy) … I would see that I did it so people wouldn’t be disappointed with me, so people would be happy with me, so people would think I was a hard worker, maybe even so people would respect me more and not think badly about me.  You see, I think some days only God sees what I write here, but my work performance is seen and evaluated by lots of people everyday.  I hate criticism and I hate having people think I either can’t or just don’t do a good job.  I chose to protect my flesh (and my feelings) by breaking my promise to God.  The truth of the matter is that this weekend may have been easier if I had elected to keep my promise.  Had I made the commitment to do the devotional time as God had called me, I would have been equipped to handle the “in the world” tasks at hand.  “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”  Ephesians 6:14-17

Looking back it seems to be easier to understand how our friends “the chosen people” in the Old Testament continually got led astray.  We have the benefit of hindsight to evaluate their choices.  We read the stories of the prophets and say, “My goodness, how dense do have to be.” as God sends curse and punishment to them time and time again.  However, I think when we evaluate our lives, we most likely have a lot of “dense” moments and while our “plagues” aren’t of the Biblical variety, perhaps, our lives are often cursed by our poor choices.  We find ourselves way off course and lost in the desert.  Our jobs are empty and fruitless, our finances are a shambles, our relationships are hurtful and our confidence is shattered.  How long will it take us to find our “promised land”?  We are blessed to have our “milk and honey” close at hand.  Most of us have access to the Word of God either through traditional bound Bibles, but today with all of our devices, a plethora of digital versions are available as well.  God has given us the Holy Spirit to be with us always to prompt us and guide us.  We are blessed to be surrounded by evidence of His presence.  It all just comes down to knowing the difference between the “flesh way” and the “Spirit way” … the lesson that my children and I worked on when God gave me this verse nearly 6 years ago.

Fix the time, the length of your meditation, and do not rise from your place until you have finished even at the cost of being crucified.

— Saint Pio of Pietrelcina


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