Walking on Our Own
If you know me, you may have heard my song, Fruit Salad. I wrote it decades ago to help my children memorize the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23. Unfortunately, knowing that we are to live lives characterized by the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – does not make it happen. The apostle Paul gives us two steps to see ourselves transformed in verses 24 and 25 – die to self (someone else can cover that idea) and be in step with the Spirit.
Being in step with God can be understood in many ways. Let us consider a couple of them.
I tend to get ahead of God or to fall way behind him. In my excitement to see great things happen for the kingdom, I jump at opportunities that look good at the moment and then must force them to work. As you can imagine, this ends up being a waste of time and resources and often fails completely. After six years in Guatemala, I became aware that nearly all the songs sung in churches were translations of hymns and worship songs written in the US or elsewhere. Guatemalans are creative and musical; I am a composer, so I thought I would help them write original music for their worship services. During a break from teaching, we headed out to a remote village to help in a popup seminary our organization had organized. I took the opportunity to teach several sessions on writing worship music. You might notice that at no time did I ever ask if this was something God wanted me to do. It was a complete failure. All the songs written during that time, though in their native language, just sounded like all the other songs I write – not like songs they were writing. None of them were used beyond that week. Running ahead of God, even for the kingdom’s benefit, is not being in step with God.
More common for me is hesitating when God says “go.” I am not referring to the times when God’s leading is not clear, but when we fully know what he wants us to do. As we raised money to go overseas, I continued working as an air traffic controller in central Washington State. One night, as I left the tower cab after the facility closed, I heard an arriving passenger telling his wife that he would not be home until the following day. As soon as I understood what was happening, the Holy Spirit spoke directly into my brain. “Take him home with you,” he said. If I doubted what God wanted, his direction was repeated continually, louder each time.
Mentally, I argued vehemently. I do not know this guy. What would he think if I tapped him on the shoulder and told him God wanted him to spend the night at my house? I have a wife and four children. I need to keep them safe. The Spirit was screaming at me as I passed him. I got into my car and headed home, though I don’t know how I was able to concentrate on driving with the din in my head. When the hotel van passed me on its way to pick him up, the Holy Spirit went silent. I cannot accurately explain how I felt at that moment, but I never want to feel that way again. As soon as it was safe, I made a U-turn and headed back to the airport, praying that God would tell him to wait for me. He did not. Whatever God had for me in that meeting was lost. Disobedience can steal God-sized opportunities from you.
Being In Sync
There is another way to understand being “in step” with God, and that is related to being in sync with him. When you and the Holy Spirit move in harmony, miraculous things can happen. Leading musical worship times is a special joy for me, and I believe God has given me a unique ability to do so. My leadership style involves encouraging those on my team to use the gifts God has given them freely but with respect to what is happening in the whole sound. There are moments when all things come together uniquely, and the presence of God is felt like never before. Maybe you have had a moment like that. You want to stop, hold your breath, and just be. I am sure this is how Peter, James, and John felt at the transfiguration – overwhelmed by God’s presence. For a moment, God allowed them to see beyond the divider between the spiritual and the physical. Peter wanted to stay there. We all would. But that is not for now. That is our future! We still have lives of influence to live. The kingdom is not complete. Jesus led the three back down the mountain and back into service. When we can rest in the work of the Spirit in and through our lives, we have the most significant impact.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
Galatians 5:22-25 (NIV)