“For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, hope..” Wait, no. Try again. “For the fruit of the Spirit is love, hope, peace…” Nope. Wrong again. Where’s Hope? (She’s in Minnesota, and she’s a great hugger. You should find her.) Why isn’t “hope” a fruit of the Spirit? Doesn’t it seem like it should be? It seems like it should be, but it’s not. And we should all be very thankful that God set this gift aside. Let me explain.
The fruits of the Spirit appropriately bear resemblance to fruit – taking years, at times, to mature, and growing better fruit with deeper roots. You know about praying for patience, right? If not, try it, but not on a Monday. Patience, and gentleness, and peace, are fruits that we start to bear when we grow new blooms, and stretch beyond where we were before. For example: the young lady that I referenced before often called for me when things were not as she’d like. One particular Friday she called when the bad news, which she had known was coming, had become evident to everyone else. News that would impact her freedom, her privileges, and her upcoming court hearing. After staying later on a Friday than I had in a long time, I drove home. On the drive home, I can even tell you where, I prayed, “God, help me to love more deeply.” I can just imagine God, upon hearing that from me, simply responding with, “Okaaaaay…”
About four hours after that short prayer, two different friends informed me that the young lady had run away. Deeper roots. She returned. She ran again. You see, in order to bear the best fruits, we must put our roots down deep. Deep enough to withstand the storms of life and keep standing. That’s good fruit. But that’s not hope.
“Not only so, but we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Romans 5:3-5 This passage puzzled me for a while as I tried to understand why hope does not fit the bill of the fruits of the Spirit. The piece on suffering and character sure sound like what we would attribute to the fruits. Want peace? Go through a storm. Want patience? Teach middle school. Yet there must be something different about hope, and there is. The key is in the last part of that passage.
Hope is a gift. It is what we receive with the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is the gift promised by Jesus in Acts 1, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (verses 4b and 5). When we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, we experience the reality of another truth, one found in Proverbs 18:16, “A gift opens the way for the giver and ushers him into the presence of the great.” You know the words of Proverbs to be true without too much deliberation.
Picture the hard-to-shop-for person on your Christmas list. Now imagine that for months you have studied their needs and considered what would benefit them. With a great deal of excitement you watch them open the gift, and their choice of response will alter the course of your relationship. Choice A: They look at it, look at you, and ask if there is a gift receipt. Your response is to close off a desire to pour into them anymore. (Or, like our loving God, you continue to pursue their hardened heart. Bless you.) Choice B: They look at the gift, look at you, and without a word come over and embrace you, whispering in your ear, “Thank you.” The result? A channel connecting the two of you is permanently etched in your hearts. If we don’t recognize that God gives us hope with the Holy Spirit, we might be like the receiver in “Choice A” above.
We could miss that God freely gives us this gift; He “poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” That’s beautiful! And now, like any good gift receiver, we have to recognize the purpose of the gift. You don’t give someone a diamond necklace so that they can throw it in a drawer. No! You intend it to be an adornment and something that reflects the love of the giver. Aha! Now we’re getting there. If the fruits of the Spirit, like well-rooted trees, are a reflection of the growth we have in God as we drink from His Living Water, our God-reflecting hope is an indicator of the growth of God IN US.
Back to Romans 5. God “poured out his love into our hearts.” Of course He did. Our hearts are at the center of all that we do, and all that we are. So, by the Holy Spirit, God enters our hearts. Why? Umm..because we need it! I know it, you know it, God knew it and wanted to do something about it. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put a new Spirit in you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:26, 27) We had (and have, apart from God’s gift) a heart of stone. But, as Jesus promised in Acts 1, and Paul reminds us in Romans 5, a new spirit is given which leads us to a heart of flesh.
What does that look like? This is where the suffering, perseverance, and character come into play. The good news is that even stone can be broken down. We often think of the verses in Ezekiel as reflecting an immediate transplant. I believe that yes, there is immediate life and a heartbeat that comes with receiving the Spirit. But I also believe (unless I’m the only stubborn one out here), that God continues to work at the large and the small stones in our lives. He is often graciously gentle in the process, but He does have a hammer and He does know how to use it if necessary. So we go through this process sometimes called “sanctification.” If you prefer an easier term, just call it “God at work.” He breaks our large stones into small stones. He breaks our small stones into pebbles, and He breaks our pebbles into sand. And guess what He can do with sand?
Oh boy, this is where it gets exciting! You may know that, when heated to the right temperature for the right length of time, sand can be turned into glass. Glass reflects. So God’s growth IN US results in a reflection of the Glass Maker. That, my sisters and brothers, is hope! That our hearts can reflect God’s love is an incredible testimony to share. When Romans tells us that “hope does not disappoint,” it is because of the outpour of love into our hearts.
While we grow and are outwardly pruned to develop good fruit, God is also at work on the inside! And again, there is a purpose to this work. Glass reflects where it is pointed. If properly directed, as in Romans 5:2b, “And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God,” our lives will point others back to the Glass Maker. We are not meant to bear the weight of hope. If we allow anyone to place their hope in us, they will ultimately be disappointed. Psalm 147:11, “the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” That – God’s unfailing love – can bear the weight of our hope.
Now what does this mean for how we live? One application of it, I believe, is that we share our story and include the words, “But God.” Here’s what I saw. At Young Life camp this summer, we were privileged to hear a speaker do this very, very well. He continuously challenged the leaders to do the same. “If your kids keep you on a pedestal,” he said, “they will never know how to handle their own problems.” I reluctantly tested his theory. I opened up a time of discussion with a brief testimony in my own life, and I said that I believed I should share it because someone there needed to hear it.
When I finished, I called on a young man by simply saying, “You look like you have something to say.” And he sure did! I did not know his story, but he went on to share about losses of close family members and the blame he placed on himself. He had found a safe place to share because He knew what God had done for me. And then a second young man shared words of encouragement to the first! Now allow me to interrupt myself here before I tell of the second young man. I have a small, compact mirror. (YOU try shaving your head without one…actually, it’s not that hard.) It contains glass. But it only reflects if it is open. Too often we would like to keep our glass covered or closed. It seems safer, right? After all, glass is fragile.
That is often me, but I’m learning. That second young man helped and is helping me. We nearly sent him home from camp on the second day based on allegations about his conduct. While looking for evidence of said behavior, God chose to have this conversation with me: “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” (God didn’t yell, I’m just capitalizing to distinguish His voice.) “Looking for evidence to send him home.” “WHAT DO YOU THINK I WANT?” “You probably want him to stay.” “WHY?” “So he can hear the Gospel.” “AND?” “Umm, and for us to be the light in his darkness?”
God helped us get it right, and the young man stayed. And, as I was mentioning above, he wanted to share after my testimony and the testimony of another young man. Honestly, I hesitated when he asked because the night before his only contributions had been to talk about the beautiful girls. But God helped me say “yes,” and he went on to share words of encouragement with the first young man, and he even quoted Ezekiel (he nearly gave me whiplash in that “Who-is-this-kid?” moment). And, as I made mention in another post, he now is the one to tell others to listen at camp so that he can enjoy it.
I was testing a theory. Correction, I had a theory about a truth. The truth is that reflecting the “But God” moments in our lives will always give life to that same possibility in the lives of others. The possibility that God can do it again. God simply gave me a very real experience of that. The picture of the jar is what I very often use during my devotions – a collection of big and little stones, sand and a candle. It reminds me of this “God at work” process. The way that God moves, pouring His love into our hearts, is like the flow of wax within the sand. Sand is in no position to resist. By God’s grace, I will continue in that process, to become a reflection.
So, no, hope is not a fruit. It bears something different – the image of our Maker. Point your heart in His direction; He will not disappoint.
*Did you know that there is a National Bible Bee? It’s a pretty amazing event. It made me think of the question I jotted down a while back: If I had to travel to a place that did not allow the Word of God, how much of the Word would I be able to share (from memory)? Oof, I have some work to do. Check out http://www.biblebee.org if you are interested. There are activities for you to do individually or as a family.