The humbling nature of the fruit

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

“I honestly believe if we would do more praying and less criticizing we would have a better nation,” Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines said Feb. 14.

Speaking to a group of writers, editors and communicators, Gaines shared how at 60 he can look back now and see he has grown in this area himself.

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten kinder,” he said. “(I want to be) prudent, wise and merciful.

“I used to be a little bit more hard than I am now. … A lot of it is how you see the people you are preaching to. I no longer see them as rebels who need to repent. I see them as people who are hurting and need to be set free.”

Gaines added, “If we are filled with the Spirit, it is the fruit of the Spirit that is going to come out.”

As I listened to Gaines share that day, I recalled how the fruit of the Spirit outlined in Galatians 5:22–23 became a foundational Scripture for me as soon as I chose Jesus fully and completely at 19 years old.

I stray often but the simple, straightforward outline of qualities God desires for our lives to exhibit are always there to keep me grounded and bring me back when I slip — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Essential characteristics

The goal is for all of these characteristics to exist in our hearts.

I’ve heard some note how starting with love allows you to develop each of the traits, one building on the other.

I’ve also heard how they are not individual attributes in and of themselves, that they are all essential characteristics of the fruit and must all be present for there to be fruit.

It’s always humbling to me when I go back to Galatians and recenter on each of the nine and see where some are missing and the ripple effect that caused.

If we were to only consider the first one — love — because it is February, then we might think about the depth of what that means and how we are called to love our enemies as well as our friends.

Real kind of love

Some people are hard to love, it’s true. And even the ones who aren’t hard to love still come with complex natures and baggage that sometimes surface whether intentionally or unintentionally.

No matter the relationship, we aren’t called to a fake, syrupy kind of act but a true, sacrificial, real kind of love.

It’s certainly not possible in our own strength. We must see others through the eyes of Christ.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Review, reboot, recenter

2018

Search the hashtag #resolutionfail and you may break one of your resolutions if it is to spend less time on social media. The never-ending list of entertaining tweets consumed an hour of my — eh hem — research time.

For example, @JustSomeGuy8675 posted on Jan. 1: “My #NewYearsResolutions were to avoid Twitter and to start eating breakfast. Woke up at noon, checked Twitter and had two coffees. Best of luck to the rest of you! #resolutionfail”

On Jan. 3 @tpfeifer posted: “Oh the irony of driving past a gym as cars circle the lot to get a parking spot close to the door. #resolutionfail.”

January a natural time to look back, reprioritize goals

But despite all the jokes made about New Year’s resolutions, January does provide a natural opportunity for evaluation.

At The Alabama Baptist (TAB), we take time in early January to select our best work from the past year for awards competitions.

Without looking back and assessing we might not remember to celebrate when we got it right nor appreciate the moments when we made a difference.

The evaluation time also provides us opportunity to improve our work going forward.

And with each evaluation process I always find an article, column or letter to the editor that reminds me of something important in my spiritual journey, work experience or life in general. It’s never the first time I’m reading that particular nugget of information, but it isn’t in the forefront of my mind until I see it again.

If this is true with issues of TAB, then I have to believe it happens in our Bible reading, job descriptions, wedding vows and those moments when we spill our guts to friends and stay up all night evaluating our lives.

Periodic reviews help with focus, purpose

Are we guilty of reading through these documents — or thinking about all that was shared in a heart-to-heart conversation — only once and determining the content is seared forever in our minds and hearts, never to be overridden or forgotten? Or maybe we only skim the information and feel confident we understand it and will stay true to it.

To remain on the right path with clarity, focus and purpose, periodic review and reflection are necessary.

As I self-evaluate and attempt to recenter each January, I am amazed at the clutter and unproductive habits I’ve allowed in my life over the previous 12 months. I realize the importance of pulling weeds from my life to avoid becoming enslaved to the clutter pressing down on me.

So I commit to reboot and start again — determined not to repeat the negative parts of last year, hopeful to add more positive results in the coming year and grateful for the reminders God scatters along the path.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Seeking a renewed prayerful heart

Prayer

During this past holiday season, my uncle shared a bit about his recent journey through an in-depth study of prayer.

He’s in his 70s and has been a believer for a long time but the experience of the past two years has renewed his joy and restored his heart in a way he said he has never felt.

I couldn’t help but be captivated by the emotion and authentic sense of closeness to our Lord he expressed.

The freshness of the Word as he reads Scripture, the new authors he has discovered and the books on the topic of prayer he has read have all given him a renewed excitement for communicating with God.

Assessing prayer life

As I processed what he shared, I was challenged to evaluate my own prayer life and asked myself questions such as:

•What does prayer look like in my life?

•Do I honestly and sincerely pray for every situation or person in which I say I will pray?

•Am I able to truly put concerns in the Lord’s hands first and then follow how He leads or do I try to help in my own way first and then pray as a last resort?

•Do I slow down to watch how God works in the situations going on around me?

•Am I in tune enough to notice what God is doing and how He uses us if we are available?

•Do I thank Him and praise Him even in the storms?

•What about the concept of praying without ceasing? Is that really possible? What does it look like?

Seriously, have you ever tried to pray without ceasing? It is hard work.

I experimented with the concept one day, praying for every face I saw, every name that popped in my email inbox, every voice I heard on the phone, everyone that came to mind.

And wow was I exhausted at the end of the day.

Granted, I didn’t pray long prayers but even spending the energy to pray for every single person and situation that passes through your day is an interesting exercise.

It definitely keeps you from fretting over unnecessary items, forces you to weed out frivolous thoughts and conversations and makes you aware of the many, many needs around you.

It also made me aware of just how many things I fail to pray for on any given day.

So as I’m making my goals for 2018 and hitting the ground running following the holidays, I’m working to keep focused, sincere prayer among my “must do” items each day — and remembering what Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 3, “only God gives the increase.”

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Peace amid the sparkling lights

DSC_0251May you truly experience peace, hope and love from the One who is Peace, Hope and Love on this Christmas Day and every day … “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16 NKJV).

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Ever feel like you are letting everyone down?

Keeping count of the number of friends and family who feel they are letting everyone around them down can no longer be done with my fingers. I’m not sure what has so many stuck in this season right now but it is a feeling I fight from time to time myself.

I’ve determined it is never quite as extreme as it seems but when the feeling hits, it is hard not to believe it is every bit as bad as it feels.

When I experience the “letting everyone down” moment, I am typically overwhelmed.

Because high expectations and countless requests are part of my everyday life, I count it a success that most days I can bounce between them all — whether successfully or not — with energy and a smile.

But some days are different. What changes when the routine becomes discouraging?

For me, I am more vulnerable and emotional when I’m overly committed, tired, not exercising and spending too little time in God’s Word.

But even then I don’t tend to move into the “letting everyone down” mode until I begin sensing disappointment from those closest to me that I’m not focused on them enough. It might mean I’m not physically present; it might mean I’m not in tune emotionally; it might mean I’m not doing enough to help out.

Can be crippling

I can’t speak for others nor have I done any research to truly understand where they are and what they are facing, but I know how they are feeling and understand the crippling nature of where it leads.

As for my journey, I’ve determined what I’m sensing in those moments is my own guilt and disappointment in myself. I truly want to be present for everyone in my life and I want to be caring and helpful at all points but sometimes there are more needs than I can handle alone.

It is always hard for me to not step up, jump in or assist. It’s equally as hard for me to admit I’m not always the best or right choice to help and, in some cases, that I’m already overcommitted and can’t add another item to the list.

Working through it

But what about the unexpected serious needs that arise, those things we absolutely know need our attention?

Those are the times we do what we have to do and figure it out in the mix of it all. And we continuously work to build margin in our lives so there’s wiggle room in our schedules to handle the unexpected without taking us down in the process.

Remembering to share the load is another good choice to make. It may mean one person gets more credit than another. It may mean some roles are more popular than others. But if we can humble ourselves to do what needs to be done and not worry about who gets to do what or who gets credit, then we can be a powerful force of assistance in taking care of the need at hand.

I expect a lot of myself and others. Others expect a lot of me. I’m thankful for that because I do believe high expectations keep us sharp, growing and doing our best.

Prioritizing expectations

At the same time, I’m still learning how to prioritize the expectations so those who should be receiving the best of me aren’t getting the leftovers.

I’m also working to give a gift to those in my life I sense are overwhelmed by being super selective about what I ask of them. I’ve decided not to be a person who is only focused on clearing my own to-do list each day.

Instead I want to find something I can do every day to make someone else’s load a little bit lighter (preferably something unexpected) while also being realistic with the load I’m choosing to carry. And with helping someone else comes a bonus blessing that chips away at any discouragement that might be looming — for in that moment I’m lifting others up rather than letting them down.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Why justify less than our best?

Sunset Ecclesiastes 9_10 says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”chaser

Justification is an interesting action. Have you ever noticed how much you justify to yourself or others why you did or didn’t do something?

My moments of justification tend to focus on why I failed to follow through with a commitment I made. It might be a commitment to myself to exercise routinely or get more rest. It might be a commitment to someone else that I would take care of a project or task by a certain time frame.

Because I’m extremely skilled at justifying my own actions, I always notice when others are justifying their actions as well.

Recently I heard a friend note that he knew he wasn’t giving a client his best work but because he had agreed to do the work at a reduced price he felt justified in delivering less than his best.

The more I thought about his reasoning, the more it bothered me.

The saying “you get what you pay for” is true in many cases, but I would hope that we as believers would always give our absolute best in all that we do, even when we aren’t getting paid what we think we might be worth.

‘With all your heart’

Scripture is clear about doing our best in all that we do.

Colossians 3:23–24 says, “Whatever you do work at it with all your heart. … It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

First Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

Romans 12:11 says, “Never be lazy in your work but serve the Lord enthusiastically.”

Galatians 6:9 says to never tire of doing good.

Second Timothy 2:15 reminds us to present ourselves to God “as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”

And Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”

Keeping our focus on Christ and seeking to be more like Him would demand a pursuit of excellence on our part, especially excellence of character and how we behave.

Soul searching

Representing Christ as a believer should mean we are aware if our lives are truly mirroring Him or not. We should always work to show grace and love while standing on truth.

If we are not able to give our best to all that we do as we journey through this life representing our Lord and Savior, then we really should do some soul searching and self-evaluation — eh hem, talking to myself here.

Certainly there are seasons and times when we have no choice but to give second best — and even to fail — but those moments should be because of situations out of our control not because we don’t care. And they shouldn’t happen because we are selfishly leaving the work for someone else to do.

We must find ways to reduce the demands on our lives so we can be in top form for those depending on us, and we must help each other in the process.

What does it say about our relationship with Christ and the condition of our heart if we purposefully agree to a job or task knowing we never intend to provide quality results or service? How do we justify such actions?

And how easy will it be to make a similar choice next time once we lower our standards and expectations of ourselves?

How far could we go down this path before we don’t even remember what our best looks like?

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Processing reality of suicide

The details are foggy about that morning but the tragic reality never leaves me. I remember the call, the intense grief and the hours my younger brother, even younger cousin and I spent playing in the car as the adults in our family surrounded my Aunt Sybil and Uncle Jim.

The scene was too much for the three of us kids, so our parents tucked us safely away where they could keep an eye on us but not expose us directly to what was happening inside the house.

My oldest cousin, Steve, had committed suicide a few hours before daylight.

It has been about 35 years since that difficult day but I can still sense the intensity surrounding it all — especially the devastation and heartbreak of my Aunt Sybil, who found him that morning. She never spoke of Steve again in public. There were no photos of him in her house. Everything of his disappeared. I’m sure she had it stored away somewhere safe but it was not to be discussed.

My Aunt Sybil held tightly to her faith and served everyone she could with every ounce of energy she had. She took great care of my Uncle Jim, who suffered from several serious health issues.

She grieved hard when she buried him too, but there was something different about the grief she walked through with her son.

Making sense of it all

I remember spending a lot of time at Aunt Sybil’s house, especially after Steve’s death. She loved to spoil her nephews and nieces, and we loved how she spoiled us.

Every once in a while I would actually be the only one there with her. I don’t remember how or why but I treasured those moments because that’s when she would talk about Steve and her relationship with the Lord and how she was surviving each day on the journey.

Her eyes always welled up with the biggest tears and she could never look directly at me as she talked, but she would share until the pain was too much to bear.

She couldn’t understand why he would take his own life, why he didn’t want to live.

She described the pain as having an entire section of her body ripped away with a gaping wound that remained eternally raw.

I’m not exactly sure how I processed all of that as a preteen and young teenager, but I know I hurt deeply for my aunt and uncle as well as our entire family.

There has been another incident of suicide in my extended family and at least two moments when I was the one on the phone for hours talking someone down from threatening suicide.

Overwhelming emotions

It’s truly an overwhelming experience and I found myself angry at times — angry because the person seemed to be acting so selfish in that moment. How could he or she do this to the rest of us? How could he or she hurt his or her parents like that?

As I’ve researched articles through the years, heard people’s stories, talked to experts and learned more about the tendencies of suicide, I’ve realized that a person at that point truly doesn’t see a way out. There are a number of reasons that lead to the pivotal point, but in all cases the person needs professional assistance.

The Alabama Baptist recently published a package of articles on teen suicide — including a report on the Netflix series that gained so much attention earlier this year. I urge you to check out the information and use it as a resource if/when needed. The articles have challenged me to also stay aware of the moods and needs of those in my life and work to help everyone I know realize they are truly valued, and they are not alone.

—Jennifer Davis Rash