One of the Bible verses that for some reason I find I keep coming back to with prisoners in Bible study times with them - and if I've blogged about it before I apologise for my rubbishy memory - is Galatians 5:22-23, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." I don't know why I find myself bringing it up so often. But it is such a beautiful list. And it immediately follows such an ugly list: "The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God".
The contrast in the two lists is striking, but I think what's most appealing to me of all about this, and I found myself enthusing about it yet again tonight with two prisoners is that the first list above (the second list in the original context of course) is a list of fruits not a list of commands. It would be a bit overwhelming to be commanded to be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled. But we're not. It's a list of promises. If we hitch our wagon to God's (to mix my metaphors) we're promised that along the way the natural by-products of our walk with Him will be love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. "AGAINST SUCH THINGS THERE IS NO LAW". If, as is the case for many of our guys, you've spent your life looking over your shoulder for the police (or "polis" as we call them in Scotland) how lovely to swap all that for this instead. And it's not OUR effort that achieves this fruit. It's the work of God through the Holy Spirit. Wow! How cool! The love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control also have little to do with our immediate circumstances. We can be full of love, joy, peace etc even in the midst of dark times. As I was explaining tonight in relation to peace in particular, the peace that Jesus gives, the "peace that surpasses all understanding" is a supernatural thing; it's not dependent on what's going on around us or where we are. So the guy who's gutted by his parole "knock-back" can still experience peace, if he puts his trust in God. I believe that for the guys when I'm talking to them. Sometimes, though, I forget to believe it for myself.
Perhaps I'll get a mural painted on the chaplaincy centre ceiling (don't be imagining the Cistine chapel now, think cr*ppy Portacabin) of a vine with nine bunches of grapes from it with these fruits of the Spirit attached. Then I'll be reminded every day of what God's got planned for these guys and me.
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