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    A Critical Reaction

    Tough words hurt. So my friend—an award-winning author—struggled with how to respond to the criticism. His new book had earned 5-star reviews plus a major award. Then a respected magazine reviewer gave him a backhanded compliment, describing his book as well-written yet still criticizing it harshly. Turning to friends, he asked, “How should I reply?”

    One friend advised, “Let it go.” I shared advice from writing magazines, including tips to ignore such criticism, or learn from it even while continuing to work and write.

    Finally, however, I decided to seek the best advice of all. What does Scripture say about how to…

    How to Reflect Christ

    Thérèse of Lisieux was a joyful and carefree child—until her mother died when she was just four years old. She became timid and easily agitated. But many years later on Christmas Eve, all of that changed. After celebrating the birth of Jesus with her church community, she experienced God releasing her from her fear and giving her joy. She attributed the change to the power of God leaving heaven and becoming a man, Jesus, and through His dwelling in her.

    What does it mean for Christ to dwell within us? It’s a mystery, said Paul to the Colossian church. It’s one…

    How to Wait

    Frustrated and disappointed with church, seventeen-year-old Trevor began a years-long quest for answers. But nothing he explored seemed to satisfy his longings or answer his questions.

    His journey did draw him closer to his parents. Still, he had problems with Christianity. During one discussion, he exclaimed bitterly, “The Bible is full of empty promises.”

    Another man faced disappointment and hardship that fueled his doubts. But as David fled from enemies who sought to kill him, his response was not to run from God but to praise Him. “Though war break out against me, even then I will be confident,” he…

    Playing the Fool

    My most humiliating experience ever was the day I addressed the faculty, students, and friends of a seminary on its fifty-year anniversary. I approached the lectern with my manuscript in hand and looked out on a vast crowd, but my eye fell on the distinguished professors seated in the front row, garbed in academic gowns and looking very serious. I immediately took leave of my senses. My mouth dried up and detached itself from my brain. I fumbled the first few sentences and then for some reason, I began to improvise. Then, since, I had no idea where I was…

    Prayer Eggs

    Just outside my kitchen window, a robin built her nest under the eaves of our patio roof. I loved watching her tuck grasses into a safe spot and then hunker down to incubate the eggs. Each morning I checked her progress but each morning, there was nothing. Robin eggs take two weeks to hatch.

    Such impatience isn’t new for me. I’ve always strained against the work of waiting, especially in prayer. My husband and I waited nearly five years to adopt our first child. Decades ago, author Catherine Marshall wrote, “Prayers, like eggs, don’t hatch as soon as we lay them.”

    The…

    Truly Humble, Truly Great

    As the American Revolution concluded with England’s improbable surrender, many politicians and military leaders maneuvered to make General George Washington a new monarch. The world watched, wondering if Washington would stick to his ideals of freedom and liberty when absolute power was within his grasp. England’s King George III saw another reality, however. He was convinced that if Washington resisted the power pull and returned to his Virginia farm, he would be “the greatest man in the world.” The king knew that the greatness evidenced in resisting the allure to power is a sign of true nobility and significance. 

    Paul knew…

    Useful Temptation

    Fifteenth-century monk Thomas à Kempis, in the beloved classic The Imitation of Christ, offers a perspective on temptation that might be a bit surprising. Instead of focusing on the pain and difficulties temptation can lead to, he writes, “[temptations] are useful because they can make us humble, they can cleanse us, and they can teach us.” Kempis explains, “The key to victory is true humility and patience; in them we overcome the enemy.”

    Humility and patience. How different my walk with Christ would be if that were how I naturally responded to temptation! More often, I react with shame, frustration, and impatient…

    Photobombing Jesus

    When my pastor asked our class a difficult question about the life of Jesus, my hand shot up. I had just read the story, so I knew this one. And I wanted the others in the room to know that I knew it too. After all, I’m a Bible teacher. How embarrassing it would be to be stumped in front of them! Now I was embarrassed by my fear of embarrassment. So I lowered my hand. Am I this insecure?

    John the Baptist shows a better way. When his disciples complained that people were beginning to leave him and follow Jesus,…

    Fruit Juice

    A thrift-store bargain, the lamp seemed perfect for my home office—the right color, size, and price. Back at home, however, when I plugged in the cord, nothing happened. No light. No power. No juice.

    No problem, my husband assured me. “I can fix that. Easy.” As he took the lamp apart, he saw the trouble immediately. The plug wasn’t connected to anything. Without wiring to a source of power, the “perfect” pretty lamp was useless.

    The same is true for us. Jesus told His disciples. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you,…

    Waiting with the Turtle

    Every fall, when the painted turtle senses winter coming, she dives to the bottom of her pond, burying herself in the muck and mud. She pulls into her shell and goes still: her heart rate slows, almost stopping. Her body temperature drops, staying just above freezing. She stops breathing, and she waits. For six months, she stays buried, and her body releases calcium from her bones into her bloodstream, so that she slowly begins even to lose her shape.

    But when the pond thaws, she will float up, and breathe again. Her bones will reform, and she will feel the warmth…

    The Main Actor

    I once heard about a student taking a class in preaching at a prominent seminary. The student, a young man who was a bit full of himself, delivered his sermon with eloquence and evident passion. He sat down self-satisfied, and the professor paused a moment before responding. “That was a powerful sermon,” he said. “It was well-organized and moving. The only problem is that God was not the subject of a single one of your sentences.”

    The professor highlighted a problem all of us struggle with at times: We can talk as if we’re the primary actor (emphasizing what we do,…

    Walking Backward

    I stumbled upon footage from a British newsreel crew who filmed six-year-old Flannery O’Connor on her family farm in 1932. Flannery, who would go on to become an acclaimed US writer, caught the crew’s curiosity because she’d taught a chicken to walk backwards. Apart from the novelty of the feat, I thought this glimpse of history was a perfect metaphor. Flannery, due to both her literary sensibilities and her spiritual convictions, spent her thirty-nine years definitely walking backwards—thinking and writing in a counter-cultural way. Publishers and readers were entirely baffled by how her biblical themes ran counter to the religious…

    Something to Brag About

    What does it mean to be real? That’s the very big question answered in the small children’s book—The Velveteen Rabbit. It is the story of toys in a nursery, and the journey of a velveteen rabbit to becoming real by allowing himself to be loved by a child. One of the other toys is the old and wise Skin Horse. He “had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by and by break . . . and pass away.” They looked and sounded impressive, but their boasting eventually amounted to nothing when it came…

    Playing with Joy

    One of our sons, Brian, is a high school basketball coach. One year, as his team was threading its way through the Washington State Basketball Tournament, well-meaning folks around town asked, “Are you going to win it all this year?” Both players and coaches felt the pressure, so Brian adopted a mantra: “Play with joy!”

    I thought of the apostle Paul’s last words to the elders of Ephesus: “That I may finish my race with joy” (Acts 20:24 nkjv). His aim was to complete the tasks Jesus had given him. I have made these words my mantra and my prayer: “May…

    Unexpected Winners

    Perhaps the most preposterous, spellbinding moment in the 2018 Winter Olympics was when the Czech Republic’s world champion snowboarder Ester Ledecka won an event in a completely different sport: skiing! And she took the first-place gold medal even though she had the unenviable position of skiing 26th—a feat believed to be basically impossible.

    Amazingly, Ledecka qualified to race the women’s super-G—an event that combines downhill skiing with a slalom course. After she won by .01 of a second on borrowed skis, the cameras showed she was just as shocked as the media and other contestants who had assumed the winner would be…