Galatians 5:22-23 ‘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.'
Are there times when you feel you are fighting a losing battle? You fall flat on your face and determine that will not happen again - but it does! You find yourself in a situation, feelings rise, you say and do things that you regret, you feel bad, and then you have to pick yourself up again - till the next time.
Maybe your battle is when you think you have dealt with something that has caused you great anxiety or guilt in the past, and it comes back again, and you find yourself stuck in a black hole that you thought you had left behind.
Whatever your experience, are there recurring patterns that trouble you and that you long to be free from? Can that kind of in-depth change really happen? We clearly need some outside help. We have failed to break patterns in own strength. Our verse gives us an important clue. As Christians, we have God’s Spirit living within and a fruit of the Spirit is self-control. Self-control is the exact opposite of those times when we experience such a surge of emotion that we become overwhelmed and lose control. Self-control enables us to be in that right place with God when our hearts feel far away. But how do we engage and allow God’s Spirit to connect to the depths of our hearts when our emotions feel so strong that they sweep us along?
The first requirement is humility. Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul” (Matthew 11:29). Jesus invites us to be yoked with him, to be in step with him, to be sensitive to the slightest movement to the right or left, when to hold back and when to move forward. When we determine that Jesus is our Master and we are the apprentice, we become open to his Spirit.
The second requirement is objectivity. We can learn to observe ourselves. The more we understand why we react negatively, the more likely we are to pause and ask ourselves vital questions. Am I reacting because I feel guilty because of what I am being told? Has that situation that has gone so wrong tapped into my negative self-image and is therefore getting blown up out of all proportion? Do I know myself well enough to know that I am expressing a particular weakness that will only lead to trouble if I pursue that line? If we can slow ourselves down sufficiently to ask, ‘What is really going on here?’ then a headlong plunge into disaster can be prevented.
In that moment of pressure when we are beset by false guilt or anxiety, we need to find our third requirement – connection. Humility will give us an open attitude; objectivity gives us a chance to slow down and understand what is going on - but we need to choose to move from the realm of the troubled emotions to that of the Spirit. Staying in negative emotions produces negative thoughts, actions, and attitudes. Choosing to connect with God’s Spirit produces self-control – along with the rest of the fruit of the Spirit.
The apostle Peter walked on water in response to Jesus’ invitation to come to him. He walked in faith upheld by the Spirit – until he got scared and took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink. If you find yourself being overcome by waves of powerful emotions, do what Peter did. He cried out, ‘Lord save me,’ and Jesus stretched out a hand and lifted him up. He will do the same for us.