I realized something earlier this week. Something that has been bugging me for a while and I haven't been able to put a finger on it.
If we have a handle on peace, joy, love and patience and all the other fruits of the Spirit given to us by our faith in Jesus Christ, why do we have so many Christian "self-help" books?
Now, don't get me wrong, I have read and enjoyed and gleaned useful information from several of them. Some of them have helped me to figure out something I was stuck on, or was just plain wondering about. I have even kept some of them for my shelves because I found them so useful that I want to be able to reference them later.
I just find it really odd that we as a community, who are supposed to have all these things that the worldly world doesn't have, would need books other than the Bible to tell us what we can do to get those things.
I think the reason is this:
We are taught that we need to be patient.
We are taught that we need to be loving.
We are taught that we need to be humble.
That we need to have initiative...and faith...and joy...and peace...and kindness...and gentleness...and forgiveness...
and the list goes on and on and on....
There are even lists of these 'Christian virtues' for every letter of the alphabet (26) or week of the year (52) or month (12) or whatever other memory aid or organizational tool you'd like to pick.
Did you notice something about that list I just wrote above?
We are taught that we....
We. Not God. We.
That means we are missing the most vital point:
These things are fruits of the Spirit. Not the fruits of human beings.
When we rely on our own strength and things like "willpower" to get us these things, we are going to fail. Why? Because we are humans, and therefore sinful.
God is perfect. We aren't.
These perfect things come from Him, not from us.
We need to let His peace, His love, His joy, His patience, His kindness, His initiative and His whatever else it is that we need flow through us.
I think that we get so stuck in what we can't do, that we forget that we aren't the ones who do it in the first place.
We get so stuck on how we've messed up, what we haven't done, comparing our insides with someone else's outsides, and feeling guilty that we can't forgive ourselves for our mistakes that we forget about grace and forgiveness. Then we turn to talk show hosts, our neighbors, counselors, and self-help books to show us what to do to fix ourselves.
While we would never tell a person dying from cancer that if they just had enough faith they would be healed, we tell ourselves that if we had enough faith we'd be infinitely and perfectly patient or joyful or whatever. That's inconsistent theology. We can have all the faith in the world, we are still human and we will never be perfect.
When we let go of our own strength and thought processes and willpower and the like and let God's grace and love flow in, that's when the miracles happen.
That's when God changes our perspective to one of joy.
That's when God gives us the extra patience we need.
That's when God gives us the initiative to start something.
That's when God gives us the endurance to run that race (whatever that race is).
That's when God strengthens and grows our faith.
That's when God removes our sin and allows us to show some of His perfection through our words, thoughts and actions.
And I am so very relieved that is is He that does all of this, because I know for sure that I can't.
Soli Deo Gloria.