One of my fondest memories of growing up is my fathers garden. It seemed my dad grew everything in his garden. In fact, he always grew enough to feed the entire neighborhood. Whenever people would stop by our home for a visit, theyd usually leave with a sack full of fresh vegetables and luscious fruit.
The kind of fruit my father grew is just one kind of fruit natural fruit. There is also biological fruit, the offspring of animals and the children of people. Then there is spiritual fruit, and thats what God is talking about in Galatians 5:22-23, But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These nine qualities describe the character of a fruitful, productive Christian. The kind of Christian all of us in ministry want to become and help others become in the process.
The question is: How do we get these character qualities? Obviously, God doesnt just zap me one day and all of a sudden these qualities materialize in my life. He uses a process.
Here are two important facts you need to know about developing spiritual fruit:
1. Its a partnership
The Apostle Paul describes the two-part process God uses in Philippians 2:12-13 where he first says, Work out your salvation, and then turns around and says, It is God who works in you. It sounds like a contradiction, doesnt it? But it isnt. Its a paradox. G. K. Chesterton describes a paradox as truth standing on its head to get attention. Paul loves to teach with paradoxes.
The key to understanding this paradox is the little word "out" in verse 12. Notice that Paul doesnt say, Work for your salvation. Thats a big difference. To work for something means to earn it, to deserve it, to merit it. The Bible clearly teaches that salvation is not something we have to work for. It is a free gift of God's grace. Paul says, Work out your salvation. Paul is talking about a spiritual workout.
What do you do in a physical workout? You develop or tone muscles that God has given you. To work out means to cultivate, to make the most of what you have been given. Thats what Paul says here. Cultivate your spiritual life!
God has a part in our spiritual growth and we also have a part. He provides the power, but we must flip the switch. Work out your salvation for it is God who works in you.
2. It takes time
It takes time for fruit to ripen. There is no such thing as instant maturity even for people active in ministry. And there is no such thing as instant spiritual growth. It takes time. When you try to rush fruit, it doesnt taste as good. Have you ever eaten gassed tomatoes? You have if youve purchased them at the grocery store. If farmers picked ripe tomatoes and shipped them, they would get smashed on the way to market, so they pick them green (maybe Im revealing a trade secret here) and spray CO2 gas on them right before they go to market. That gas ripens the green tomato into a red tomato very quickly. Now there is nothing wrong with those tomatoes. But if youve ever eaten a vine-ripened tomato, there is no comparison. It takes time for fruit to ripen. And God is going to need time to ripen the fruit in your life.
You can begin by telling God right now that you want to be a productive, fruitful Christian leader, that you want to cooperate with his plan. Commit yourself to reading, studying, memorizing, and meditation on the Bible. Ask God to use his Word to change the way you think. Invite the Holy Spirit to have free reign in your life. Dont hold anything back. Pray and talk with him about everything. Accept your circumstances as a part of God's plan to change your life. Ask God to help you respond to difficult people and unpleasant situations as Jesus would. God wants to produce the fruit of the Spirit in your life. Will you cooperate with him in this life-changing process?
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for ministers. Copyright 2005 Pastors.com, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved.