The Most Important Word in Christianity: Part 4, Fruitful Intentionality

What's the biggest problem with Christianity?

In my opinion, it's the lack of attention given to the Fruit of the Spirit.

Let's ask the question again: Why aren't Christians any different from other people? I think the answer is pretty obvious: Christians don't approach the Fruit of the Spirit with any intentionality.

My biggest problem with Christian spiritual formation efforts is the lack of attention given to the Fruit of the Spirit. Somehow, prayer and fasting are supposed to cultivate love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I'm not wholly convinced that's the case, all things being equal.

Here's a crazy idea: I think you cultivate something like patience by being focused and intentional about being patient.

For example, my recent book Stranger God is one big argument that you cultivate kindness by adopting practices that make you more intentional about being kind.

You acquire the Fruit of the Spirit when you become focused and intentional about each particular fruit. In a specific, focused and intentional way you go after gentleness, joy or peace. Because without this specific, intentional focus nothing is going to happen. You'll just drift.

Let me give a concrete example about what I'm talking about.

A year ago in our small group we were contemplating how to spend our time. One suggestion was to make our time a space of sharing and prayer. We'd come together and go around the group sharing how our week had been--the consolations and desolations--and then we'd conclude by praying for each other.

I think this is a very common approach to Christian community and spiritual formation in churches. Get people in small groups to have them "share life" and pray for each other.

This approach to spiritual formation is wonderful for reducing loneliness, helping people feel known and connected, but I don't know if it helps form Christ-like character traits. "Sharing life" tends toward the therapeutic rather than toward virtue. "Sharing life" mostly involves me sharing how shitty my week has been at work, or how worried I am about my kid, so I can get some encouragement, advice and support. All wonderful and vital things, especially if you've had a shitty week at work. But "rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep" isn't spiritual formation or transformation.

So when my small group was having this discussion I suggested the following: "What if, when we come together to share, we filtered our week through a fruit of the Spirit? We share consolations and desolations about, say, patience or kindness. We'd still be sharing about our week, but we'd also be keeping a focus on how we're imitating (or not imitating) Jesus."

My suggestion was all about focus and intentionality. If you aren't intentionally focused on, say, patience, you'll never become more patient. This seems obvious, but few Christians approach spiritual formation this way. We spend enormous amounts of time "sharing life" or learning about spiritual techniques (like prayer), and almost zero time being intentional about cultivating a specific Fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

We fail to focus on the Fruit of the Spirit in any intentional way and, thus, fail to become fruitful.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply