In my high school years, I had many experiences of terror – asking girls to banquets, trying out for varsity sports, taking the ACT exam, and many other such lovely rights-of-passage. I also had the pleasure of competing with my class in an annual football bowl game. The Freshman boys would play the Sophomore boys in one bowl game, while the Juniors would take on the Seniors in another. It was about class spirit. It was a time to bond with one another and cheer each other on. However, during my Freshman year, my fellow classmates and I were not highly trained athletes (or even finished with puberty). Because of this simple fact, the task of defeating, or even being competitive against the Sophomores (who were much more mature and had a full year of high school sports experience), became much more daunting.
I remember our high school coach giving us a pep talk before the game. Essentially, he tried to get us to think positively, try our hardest, and not worry about the score. It was good advice; except it fell on deaf ears. “We’re gonna get killed,” I remember muttering out loud. “You can’t think like that, Chad!” my coach responded. “You’ve got to play like you’re going to win!” Again, it didn’t make a dent in our perception of how things were about to unfold. Collectively, we knew we were going to get stomped.
What did make a dent in our collective egos, however, was the final score. We lost 56 to zero. We never even crossed the 50 yard line. Three snaps (hikes) and a punt was a regular occurrence for us – as was a porous defense that didn’t have a clue how to cover a core of fleet-footed receivers. It was a royal thumping, and it all began before the opening kickoff.
We knew we were going to get creamed, so we played like it. We were disjointed. We had no game plan. We were constantly bickering with each other and pointing the finger of blame at others. We yelled at each other when a mistake was made, and at the referees when a call went against us. We argued about who would play quarterback, receiver, halfback, and any other position we thought was the most important. We disagreed with each other in the huddle so often we rarely had a play ready when it came time to hike the football. We all did our own thing, and we rarely completed a pass. From start to finish, it was a completely negative experience.
We’ve all heard the age-old question, “Are you a glass half-full or glass half-empty type of person?” It’s a loaded question. Essentially, it’s asking whether or not you view things through a lens of negativity or a lens of positiveness. In our bowl game, we definitely believed that the glass was half-empty.
In our Christian lives, we also see things through one lens or another – either negative or positive. Yes, I understand that there may not be absolutes when it comes to this. I am talking about the majority of the time.
Do we view our church, our pastors, our fellow church members, and other people in a negative light or a positive one? Is our normal perception to look for things we don’t like or don’t agree with? Do we listen to sermons in an attempt to find something we don’t like? Do we regularly judge how well a program is run, and how we could do it so much better? Do we look at others and judge them because they sin differently than we do? In other words, are we always looking for something to complain about and find fault in? This is the lens of negativity. The glass half-empty.
On the flip side is the glass half-full version of Christian life. Through this perception, we look for the good things that we can take away from the sermon. We try to find ways to help support the leaders in their work as they lead programs (most of which are volunteers). We don’t look on others with disdain when we don’t agree with their lifestyle choices, but instead look to help mentor them in a kind and loving way; developing a new friendship in the process. In other words, we try to see the positive.
I would argue that I much prefer the latter. It is a mark of our Christian walk, and our acceptance of Christ’s leading in our lives. I believe the apostle Paul would agree, as he states in Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT):
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
As followers of Christ we have received His Spirit – the Holy Spirit. He is our guide, mentor, leader, life, God. He is everything to us. In view of this, we see that the Spirit does not produce negativity. Instead, the Spirit produces a positive view (AKA the “fruits of the Spirit”). There is no room for pride, ego, selfish-ambition, or judgment in the life of someone consumed by the Spirit of God.
In contrast, when we live our Christian lives apart from the Spirit’s leading, we rely on our own decision-making abilities and wisdom. The problem is, our wisdom and desires are flawed because we are imperfect beings; we have a sinful nature. Paul addresses this in Galatians 5:19-21 (NLT) when he writes very sternly:
When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
We we decide that our way is the best, we fall away from God’s point-of-view and substitute our own, imperfect one. The results are disastrous, as we can see above. Though we may not fall into all of the ills described here, we can certainly see how easy it is to be consumed by many of them. In all truth, none of us are immune from making this mistake. I know I certainly do from time-to-time. The disciple Peter also fell into this trap. While listening to one of Jesus’s sermons, he took issue with what Jesus was saying, pulled him aside, and began to chastise Him. Jesus’s response is very telling. Here’s the story in Mark 8:31-33 (NLT):
31 Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead. 32 As he talked about this openly with his disciples, Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things.
33 Jesus turned around and looked at his disciples, then reprimanded Peter. “Get away from me, Satan!” he said. “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”
As Christians, we have the great benefit of having the Holy Spirit intertwined with our lives. It is a Spirit that produces a positive outlook on life. A glass half-full Spirit.
When we condemn, despise, choose sides, debate, judge, and cause division, we are not listening to the Spirit that God has given us. Rather than the fruits of the Spirit being on full display, our own selfish desires and ambitions take center stage.
Please pray with me that God will continue to show us how to live life by viewing it through His lens – that of the Holy Spirit. Please pray for our leaders, pastors, teachers, mentors, and our church; that we will follow the Spirit in all things. Please pray with me that we will come to a place where understanding, joy, peace, and love become commonplace among us as followers of Jesus Christ.