When faithfulness meets discouragement

faithfulness_std_t_nvOne of the ways that Jesus avoided potential discouragement amidst difficult circumstances was to focus on God’s will.

The ultimate test of submission to his Father’s will takes place in the Garden of Gethsemane, where his suffering spirit cries out, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).

But how did Jesus get to this ultimate point of surrender? What steps did he take? And how can we follow?

One of the practical ways that Jesus did this was to give his undivided attention to the roles to which his Father had called him. For instance, he was appointed to be a prophet (Luke 4:43, Mark 6:4), priest (Heb. 4:14), and king (Matt. 2:2; 27:11).  As his teaching ministry matures, Jesus communicates his growing understanding of these roles and his desire to faithfully fulfill them. The fact that these roles are increasingly prominent in his thinking is evident even in his choice to return to the danger zone of Jerusalem for, in his words, a prophet must die there (Luke 13:33).

At one juncture in his teaching, he makes three “something greater than” statements confirming his understanding of these roles (Matt. 12:6, 41, 42). The ESV Study Bible explains:

Jesus claims that he is greater than the temple (Matt. 12:6), the prophet Jonah (v. 41), and the wise king Solomon. He thus elevates himself and his message of the kingdom to be greater than, and the fulfillment of, the three greatest institutions in Israel—priest, prophet, and king.

One of the practical implications of Jesus’ pattern is that you and I can live through our discouraging circumstances by giving our undivided attention to the roles God has called us to.

For instance, God has given me certain roles to fulfill:

  • I am Christian
  • I am a husband
  • I am a father
  • I am a pastor/teacher
  • I am neighbor/friend

I have discovered that when my focus is on being faithful in these roles, I give less consideration to my circumstances–no matter how difficult– and how they make me feel.

So what roles has God called you to fulfill today? Is your focus on being faithful or on the difficulties that surround you?

Perhaps this is one of the secrets that Jesus discovered that gave him the grace to live through imperfect times and still become the perfect prophet, priest, and king.

Learning to apply the work of the Spirit

One of the most helpful analogies I ever heard regarding the fruit of the Spirit was to think of the fruit of the Spirit as toolbox. Inside were tools for every situation. You wouldn’t send a hammer to do the job of screwdriver, nor would you attempt to saw a board with a wrench. Likewise, when you enter into challenging relationships you should choose the part of the fruit that is most effective for that difficulty. To do so you will need to learn the fruit, and practice it. Only then will you become proficient in its application. I have included my working definitions of each part of the fruit of the Spirit. You can use these or develop your own through reflection and Bible study.

The point is this: until you know them, you will not be able to apply them. Certainly we can depend upon the Holy Spirit to do his part. How are we applying the work he has done on our behalf?

  • Love is a sacrificial choice (1 Jn. 3:16), of words accompanied by actions (1 Jn. 3:18), regardless of attraction or response (Rom. 5:8), generated by God not by oneself (Jn. 21:15-18)
  • Joy is a pre-determined attitude (Phil. 4:4), of praise for God’s goodness (Psa. 5:11), by maintaining an eternal focus (Psa. 16:11), in the midst of difficulty (Heb. 12:2). 
  • Peace is a settled confidence of mind (Phil. 4:7), from a right relationship with God (Phil. 4:9), unaffected by circumstantial change (4:11). 
  • Patience is a learned attitude (Col. 1:11), revealed through a joyful willingness (Jam. 1:2), to remain under difficulty (Jam. 1:3-4), in order to learn God’s lessons (Jam. 5:11).
  • Kindness is a tender spirit purposefully expressed (Rom 2:4), sacrificially given (Eph 2:7), especially to the undeserving (Titus 3:4). 
  • Goodness is focused resolve (2 Thes. 1:11), that drives us to become actively involved, in the life of another (2 Chron. 24:16), consistently expressed through generosity (Neh. 9:25).
  • Faithfulness is a promise (Rom. 3:3; Lam. 3:23), to keep one’s word, and do one’s best (1 Th. 1:3), with a servant–attitude focused on the Master’s approval (Matt 25:21).  
  • Gentleness is an attitude of humility (Jam. 1:21), stirred by grateful spirit (Num. 12:3; Ps. 90:15), revealed in a tenderness to others (Eph. 4:2), sustained by a growing trust in God (Matt. 5:5). 
  • Self-control is the growing realization that one’s desire to please self was crucified with Christ, and replaced with a desire to glorify God (Gal. 2:20).

Working with the given definitions, make a list of the various relationships you encounter and prayerfully consider which tool best suits the challenge in that relationship. For example, perhaps you need patience with your kids, mercy with your spouse, and love with your fellow employee. Keep those ideas in the forefront of your mind as you engage in that particular relational challenge. If your children are disrespectful, ask yourself, “How can I best demonstrate patience in this context?” Now depend upon the Holy Spirit’s leading to enable you to do so.