Bearing fruit in difficult seasons
A while ago, I saw an old friend, someone I mostly keep in touch with via social media. We briefly rattled off life updates and hers was a doozy; the only thing I could think to say was, “It’s just a season.”
She smiled and agreed, but I felt so stupid after saying it. What kind of help is that? We usually hear “it’s a season” about hard times, the implied exhortation being to grin and bear it. Just endure a little while longer and surely it’ll be sunny soon! But as I thought about it later, I wished I had said, “This is a short season. So don’t waste it! Plant yourself by the living water of Jesus and pray to bear the fruit of the Spirit – look for the ways that you can uniquely bear fruit in this season and pray for growth, even in a wintry time.”
What are the kinds of fruit that you can bear in this particular season of your life? First, the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5. In one sense, it’s silly to separate them — can a Christian really increase in patience and not in self-control? In joy but not in kindness? And yet it’s helpful to look at these individually and apply them, to get out of theory and into practice, off the page and into the season God has us.
Are you loving the difficult people in this season? They might be your toddlers, your husband, your parents or in-laws, your students, your coworkers, or your boss, but they are each your neighbor whom you are to love as yourself.
Do you have joy in this situation? One beautiful example of this is found in 2 Corinthians 8: “Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality.” Can your joy in a hard season be so abundant that it overflows in generosity? Yes, by the grace of God!
Is your heart at peace? Are you anxious about the future or the past or the present? The best antidote to that is hiding in Philippians 4: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Fight your anxious thoughts with thanksgiving, even in this difficult season. Couple your requests with gratitude as you bring them to the Lord.
Are you being patient? In Luke 8, Jesus describes the seed that falls on good soil as “those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” Don’t be like the seed in the third soil, choked out by the thorns and cares of this life. Instead, hold steadfast to the word, be honest and good, and the fruit of that will be patience.
Is your mouth filled with kindness toward those around you and are your actions full of goodness? Be careful not to hunker down into your trials, becoming self-focused. Who is around you that you could speak a kind word to? Or that you could do something good for? Fruit doesn’t need to be big — watermelons and blueberries are both fruit — and a word of encouragement is still fruit you can bear no matter your season.
Are you being faithful? Faithful to your vows, to your employment contract, to the promises you’ve made to friends? God is always faithful (which is why we can rejoice in him and be at peace!), so reflect his image.
Is your attitude one of gentleness? Perhaps, like I often do, you’ve used your difficulties as excuses for a short temper. Even in our hard seasons, the Lord is near, so let your gentle spirit be known to all (see Philippians 4:5). And when you are not gentle, cultivate a soft heart by being quick to repent to those you have wronged and to God.
Are you exercising self-control? The areas we need this are innumerable! But I’m sure we can each pick a few to grow in: controlling our tongues, our appetites, or our thoughts; choosing Bible reading over our newsfeed; or being diligent to confess sin. Our motives for self-discipline can often be worldly, but when we seek the glory of God and desire to honor him in how we live, then we will bear fruit by the Spirit.
If those ideas aren’t enough to keep you busy (ha!), here are some more ways to grow even, or especially, in a wintry season:
Prayer: If you are up often in the night, use that time to pray for other awake people: friends with insomnia, husbands/dads working the night shift, new moms, and those who are grieving and unable to sleep. Actively combat anxious, bitter, or angry thoughts by bringing your requests and others’ before the throne of God.
Reading the Bible: In a difficult time, it’s easy to assume you have no time or mental space to read the Bible. But I dare you to check your phone usage and see how much time you spent reading other things, listening to podcasts, or generally distracting yourself. If you spent a quarter of that time reading God’s Word, what fruit could be borne in you?
Scripture memory: If you think reading your Bible is too hard right now, memorizing is totally out of the picture, right? Maybe not! Try playing an audio version of the same chapter or short book of the Bible every day while you do dishes. Work with your kids to memorize a few verses on kindness, patience, or self-control. You might be surprised what you can memorize if you dedicate just a little time to it.
One temptation of a difficult season is to wish for it to be over, to hurry up so we can get to a season of abundance. But if we stop and praise God in the winters (or desert summers!) of life, I know that we’ll be joyfully surprised by the work the Spirit can do in our willing hearts.