I love gardening and one of my favourite things to grow are sweet cherry tomatoes. At times they have been so abundant that I have had to give them away in buckets, however, they need a lot of looking after. The delicate stems need support as they grow through staking and tying. They need daily watering and weekly plant food. The sneaky side shoots need pinching out and any rogue snails and slugs need to be removed and dispatched. And finally, leaves or ripening fruit plagued with mildew or blight need to be carefully removed and discarded. Growing an abundant crop takes quite a bit of effort but it is worth it to pop those delicious red balls of delight into your mouth and feel them burst with sugary sweetness!
Gardening metaphors are used frequently in the Bible. In the parables that Jesus taught, he likened himself to a gardener and us as plants that should bear fruit in our lives. Have you ever wanted to be more loving, joyful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled? Me too. And this is how God wants us to be. Jesus wants us to bear this kind of fruit and it matters so much to God that Jesus used the strongest language possible to get his point across. He even compared a fruitless life to a life that is dead and good only for firewood.
Far from being selfish, bearing fruit in our lives is not for our sake, but for the sake of others. We are called to love one another; share our joy; have patience with others — even when they wind us up; be kind to people — even when that kindness is rejected; be generous expecting nothing in return; be faithful to those who let us down; be always gentle; and be self-controlled — not flying off the handle when things make us cross. That is a pretty high bar and sounds impossible to achieve. The truth is that we cannot be like this on our own and we need God’s help.
Like my tomatoes we need constant tending. Left on their own my tomatoes would not bear much fruit, and at the worst they would wither and die. In the same way we need God to supply us with what we need and that is by allowing the Holy Spirit — the Spirit of Jesus — to live in us and work through us. This act of recognising we need God is called repentance. Repentance literally means to renew one’s mind and change direction. Repentance means to recognise that we need God’s help and to invite the transforming Spirit of God into our hearts to do his work inside us.
Like my abundance of tomatoes, the fruit in our own lives is to be given away to others. It should therefore come as no surprise that the Spirit of God is always outward-looking and always looking to the interest of others. We are never filled with the Holy Spirit for our own sake but for the sake of others, hence, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22) – all things that are given away.
If we try to live in our own strength, if we serve others without drawing on God, and if we give out without being filled, then we eventually burn out, or become resentful and bitter. You do not become a better person by trying harder — by reading your Bible more, praying more, fasting more, or going to church more. Despite those things being good and helpful, the truth is that you become more Christlike by opening yourself up to the life-transforming Spirit of God. It is the Spirit who transforms us from the inside out.
Salvation is a process and it is a process of transformation into the likeness of Christ. When you first turn to Christ you feel the weight of sin being lifted from you, but the journey of faith is an ongoing and life-long process. We are works-in-progress as long as we continue to allow God’s Spirit to work in and through us.
For most Christians, this opening of oneself to God comes through the form of a quiet time — a moment in each day where we perform a simple act of repentance. We submit to God, acknowledge that we cannot do this thing called life in our own strength and ask the Spirit of Jesus to fill us — to change us and transform us such that we become more like Jesus. This quiet time usually includes some Bible reading where we allow God’s Spirit to speak to us through God’s Word, and some prayer where we talk to God and listen.
Us Christians are not perfect. We are nearly all broken in one way or another and we stuff up and mess up on a daily basis. We are literally works-in-progress as we do our best to allow God to transform us from the inside out. Therefore, my prayer today is as much for me as it is for you:
Holy God, I want to be more like Jesus. I want to be more loving, joyful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. I cannot do this on my own and so I open my heart to you. I need your help to transform me from the inside out. Amen.
Pride is putting ourselves, our wants and desires, before God, others, and the environment. Pride literally has an ‘I’ in the middle. When pride takes hold — when the I becomes dominant — we are faced with choices. Me or God. Me or you. Me or the environment and we face these kinds of choices many times every day. For example, choosing to spend time doing what I want instead of taking time to spend with God, or watching what I want on the telly instead of what my sister wants, or buying water in a plastic bottle rather than using a reusable cup. When we put ourselves first, there is never a good outcome for our relationship with God; there is never a good outcome for our relationships with others; and there is never a good outcome for the environment in which we live.
When left unchecked; when pride slides out of control; when it is taken to its ultimate conclusion; the results are devastating. They are horrific. For example, take today’s Bible Reading. It is a story of pride spiralling out of control, and it literally leads to a horror story with murder, gore, and distress. Herod and Herodius put their own needs first, then Herod was proud before his dinner guests. He refused to lose face and back down at Herodius’s daughter’s request.
Think how sick his marriage was that his wife should manipulate him like this. Think how sick she was to use her daughter as part of her diabolical scheme. Think how sick he was to refuse to back down. Therefore, perhaps it is not so far-fetched to describe pride as a sickness? One of my all time favourite songs was by the band Delirious, and it is called Obsession. The lead singer Martin Smith sings the line, “I carry pride like a disease.” We all carry pride like a disease. We all put ourselves first, before God, others, and the world around us.
Out of control pride ultimately breaks relationships and worse, it seeks to destroy and eradicate the other. Pride taken to its conclusion has no place for God. Pride taken to its conclusion means others become subjects or conquests or dogs to be eaten, colleagues to be stepped on, or partners or wives to be sidelined. Pride taken to its conclusion means the world around us can be raped of its resources; trashed, used up, burned, mined, cleared, and trawled.
The opposite of pride and antidote to pride is humility — to humble yourself. A member of a church of which I was once part , used to start every prayer, “All the problems in the world start with me.” I will never forget that. Before I point the finger at anyone else I remember that I am the problem with the world. Why? For I carry pride like a disease.
So where does humility come from? How can we be humble? Well, firstly, it starts with recognising that we carry pride — admitting to ourselves and to God that we have the tendency or the ability to put ourselves first. Then, it is about choices. There is the well known, anonymous quote, that life is a series of choices. Each choice represents a moment of opportunity. We need to be conscious of those choices. I know that many of the many choices I make each day are subconscious an I am not aware that I am making the wrong choice, therefore we need to become conscious. This is what it means to gain a conscience or to be mindful — it is to be aware of the morality of our choice.
Humility is being mindful of our choices — seeing those choices as an opportunity to put God, others, or the environment first — then choosing that option, however, we cannot do it on our own. Thank God his Spirit can live in us and guide us in all truth!
Repentance is admitting and committing. It is admitting we have put ourselves first, and committing to put ourselves last. This is why the confession part of our worship is so important. It is not just about saying sorry and being forgiven. It is making a decision; a commitment to putting God, others, and the environment first.
So, let us get on our knees and say, “I am sorry God for my sin, for putting myself first, for not loving you or my neighbour, and not being a good steward of creation. I am sorry for not worshipping or honouring you. I am sorry for the trail of broken relationships I have left in my wake. I am sorry for trashing your precious creation. Therefore, right now, I resolve to put you first. I commit to being your servant and to putting others first. I set my heart on looking out for your creation. Holy Spirit, cleanse me, make me new, and guide me. Amen.”
I will finish with two quotes. The first is from another favourite Delirious song. Its inspiration is Isaiah 6: Verse 5 when Isaiah sees the Lord. Martin Smith, the composer of the song, wants revival to come — a renewing and restoring of our relationship with God, others, and the world.
Lord send revival, start with me.
For I am one of unclean lips.
For my eyes have seen the king
And your glory I have glimpsed
Send revival, start with me.
The second quote is is from Philippians 2:1-7.
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.