We all have a life on the frontline in the world that’s significant to God. It’s one on which we need to produce and model the fruit of the Spirit, but it doesn’t mean going to fight ISIS armed only with a bunch of grapes and some satsumas.
Having written about Producing the Fruit of the Kingdom I began thinking about how we model the godly characteristics the fruit describes.
As I thought about modelling the godly characteristics I thought practically, in part because my daughter’s birthday was near and I had cake to make. My daughter was less than impressed though when I suggested rather than make her the fairy toadstool birthday cake she had requested I made Moses leading the Exodus out of fondant icing.
There is something in the modelling of people and places which animators and sculptors do that has a parallel with what God does in us, and in how we go about modelling godly character.
Whatever you have watched at the cinema or on television you will have seen scenery, costumes and characters that artists have created. I’m sure you will have watched some stop-frame animation like Wallace and Grommit, The Miracle Maker or Ray Harryhausen’s skeletons fighting Jason and the Argonauts but I’m sure that you won’t have noticed every little detail that the artists carefully and consciously sculpted.
A member of the church I attend creates models for films and museums and was once asked to make a small riveted plate of a ship for the film ‘Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists’. Within the film this little plate is part of a larger model and is only on screen for a second or two. And even then it is mostly out of shot and hidden by other things.
Similarly there were things created in minute detail for the latest Star Wars movie that you will never see, and elaborate costumes designed for the Lord of the Rings films which even if you paused them to view a single frame in high definition you wouldn’t be enable you to see the full detail of the artists work.
If you were to question these artists why they spend so much effort in modelling objects or designing the dresses in such fine detail, detail which doesn’t help the story being told, you will probably hear the artists say that modelling this carefully and consciously helps form the characters they are seeking to portray. Each little detail forms the character, each character forms the scene, each scene forms the act, each act forms the story.
Each one of us has a part to play in God’s great story and plan.
God doesn’t limit his artistry to costumes and set design. He works in far greater detail than any artist here on Earth. He knows that His plan will be best achieved by crafting every contributing part to a level of detail that we struggle to imagine. And that includes our character.
But we are not actors and actresses simply resisting lines from a script. There is no script for our future, it remains unwritten. Similarly, although we are influenced by our past and our present we are not defined by them. We have a choice which characteristics we model and can change direction if we realise we are modelling unhelpful ones.
In the Book of Galatians Paul spoke the fruit of the Spirit, the godly characteristics we are called to manifest in our lives.
“the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
If we are honest with ourselves we struggle with one to two of these godly characteristics, maybe even more. But modelling them? It is hard enough to put them into practice, let alone to model them to an extent that others would look at us and want to follow the God we do.
Modelling godly character means being obedient to God, it means being faithful in the tasks we face, good and bad. And it is those bad times that need our greatest attention: it is much easier to be joyful and to show kindness when everything is going right, it is another thing entirely to do the same when you are tired and wary with things seemingly going wrong again and again.
We can’t limit modelling the Fruit of the Spirit to the occasions when we are especially on show or being observed. Like the artists, animators and, of course, our God who work at the most minute detail imaginable, we need to mode these characteristics in every occasion, big and small. They are characteristics for everyday lives, characteristics that we are called to show throughout each day: whether we are at the kitchen sink or the driving wheel, whether we are at work or home. In other words they are not only have when people are watching.
But we shouldn’t be daunted buy the prospect because it isn’t quite as difficult as it may seem.
We don’t have to be singing and dancing to exhibit joy, nor do we necessarily fail to exhibit it when we are sad. The joyfulness that Paul speaks of, like with many of the fruits, is to be found in being obedient to what God would have us do and in knowing that in doing it we are contributing towards achieving His plan of reconciling others with Him, of bring His Kingdom here on Earth.
We sometimes feel that when we are struggling God isn’t working through us, but that is far from the case. It is often through our struggles that He does His most transformative work in and through us. It is also a time when modelling His characteristics produces the greatest fruit.
Anyone can be nice, peaceful, patient and kind when everything is going their way, it is much harder when things are not. So it is more noticeable when we do model these characteristics through the tough times, when we can smile through adversity and can retain self-control when tested to our limits.
If we are honest with ourselves there are areas in which we know that we struggle. There may be days, people or situations with which we find it hard to retain self-control for example, times that we wish we had dealt a bit better with, times when we knew we should have called on God’s help. Acknowledging these may be a realisation of the areas in our character that God wants to deal with, and a step towards a fruitful transformation in ourselves and in others.
We can be honest with others too. It is not about pretending everything is fine when they are not. It is about how we deal with them and where we look, to ourselves or to God. Trying to model godly character through our own energy or will power produces short-lived and inconsistent results. God offers a different way through the vine into which Jesus has Jesus has grafted us (John 5:1-17).
The fuel which feeds a plant, which produces the fruit, is the sap that runs through its veins. The Holy Spirit is that sap, that fuel, which feeds us and produces the fruit in and through us. When we tap into the sap and draw upon God’s strength to behave as Paul suggests, people see not just tremendous reserves they see God.
Jesus demonstrated it in the way He found it in Himself to be able to forgive whilst suffering on the Cross. Paul demonstrated it when he befriended his prison guards and kept going through his travels, shipwreck and all. And Justin Welby demonstrated it when he responded with grace, humility and love to a Daily Telegraph investigation that revealed his biological father was not who he had thought it was. Godly character was modelled when Justin Welby stated that he found his identify in Christ.
These are headline grabbing examples but people notice it in our day to day lives, when such characteristics are not put into action consciously but have seeped into our very being and manifest themselves without our even knowing about it.
If we recognise that even the small things we do can be a serving act of worship we will find it easier to model these characteristics. When we rise each day, when we start a task, we need to think first of God, talking to Him, thanking and praising Him, even crying out to Him if that’s where we find ourselves. And when we are rejected or turned away we need to remember Jesus and pass it over to God – He’s been there, done that.
If we can stay close to God in the bad times as well as the good we won’t just find it easier to model these characteristics, we will model them without knowing it. It will cease to be a conscious decision to act in one way or another, instead by soaking ourselves in the sap of the Holy Spirit we will produce the fruit of the Spirit naturally.
How fruitful are you? Do you act in a godly manner? You might be surprised how much you are already doing that and how much God has been doing through you.
The problem is that we are the worst people to be able to tell if we are actually modelling godly character. We are simply too close to the subject because we are the subject. We can spot it in others though, and therein lies a responsibility to tell and encourage them. This week make it a priority to tell others when they are modelling godly character and how God is working through them, hopefully they will notice and tell how God is working through you
But what about this front line we supposed to model godly character on? Does hearing that you are on a front-line make you recoil in fear?
To many of us the front-line creates pictures of war zones and vulnerability. But God is not calling us to go to war, or even on some grandiose mission to foreign or difficult fields, though He sometimes does. No, God is calling us to a front-line much closer to home and you’re already on it.
Our front-line is wherever we go, wherever we see people or people see us. It is every place and time where we represent and reflect God. It is the pavements of Islington just as much as it is the pavements of Islamabad.
We shouldn’t limit our thinking and practice of modelling Godly character to the big occasions or when we think people are watching. That leads to conscious, forced and artificial behaviours. It leads to us thinking about how we’re acting rather than acting in the way God would like. It leads to regret when we realise we haven’t. It leads to us pushing God away rather than keeping Him close.
Instead, we should strive to model godly character all the time: the way we make a cup of tea for our friends and tidy up after ourselves without being asked; the way we let someone out of a junction or go ahead of us in a queue; even the words we choose to use and the way in which we are nice even to people we don’t like.
But that shouldn’t stop us from remembering we’re human, because God doesn’t. We might like to be perfect like Jesus but we can’t, we are a work in progress and God is a kind and lenient teacher. So don’t beat yourself up if you realise you have fallen short, turn to God instead and let Him work on it with you. The more we connect with God the more we will model godly character without noticing it. It’s so much easier than trying to do it ourselves.