If my memory is correct, I believe it was Tim Keller who pointed out that the fruit of the Spirit are a good gauge of spiritual growth. St. Paul provides us with a well-known list in Galatians 5:22-23:
Keller’s idea is simple. None of us are equally proficient in every virtue in this list, and our brokenness means we have probably developed elaborate, unconscious patterns of behavior to shield ourselves from having to face our deficiency. So, we should identify the ones that are a particular challenge, the ones we don’t naturally demonstrate when the need suddenly arises. We should pray regularly that we will grow so that these fruits increasingly become habits of the heart. And, since our hearts are twisted, we will need to bring trusted friends into the process both to help identify our deficiencies and to mark our growth. Two things that are certain is that this is a work of grace, and that it is an ongoing process.
If you are like me, it’ll also help if my group of trusted friends also work through Paul’s list carefully, defining and discussing each of the fruit. Like so many things that are repeated endlessly, the fruit of the Spirit have been reduced to a jingle. They’re so well known we don’t think of them much, and when we do, we don’t often think deeply about them. But closer consideration reveals that St. Paul’s seemingly simple list is uncompromising, revolutionary, impossible. We sense this is what humanity is meant to be—that this is how we are meant to be—and that life will always be less than fulfilling as we fall short.
This isn’t a complicated idea, but it’s a very difficult task. I don’t like seeing my failure, and I prefer quickly learning a new idea rather than having to enter a more than likely long period of obedience for my heart to be transformed.
So please pray for me. And I’ll pray for each one who reads this little post.