Darkness. Brokenness. Evil.
I’m not going to recount the news cycles of the last few weeks, but if you’ve scrolled the headlines, you’ve seen enough to make your heart break or anger spark, more so if events hit close to home.
Or maybe you’re becoming numb to tales of violence, bigotry, and hatred, and that scares you because you’re one of those who truly cares about others. Now, you wonder, What do I do? How do I even pray in a world that seems bent on destruction?
I’m right there with you, fighting the urge to despair. Where is goodness in such a world? Frankly, finding that spiritual fruit seems like looking for blackberries but coming up with brambles.
Don’t give up, though. Not for one single moment. If we have the Holy Spirit gardening within our souls, the goodness you and I are searching for in the world is sprouting inside of us, and it’s waiting to break through with one simple prayer.
“Lord, what good do you want me to do today?”
Sisters and brothers, it is in our DNA to bring good into this world. Look at the creation account in Genesis. After each day God reviewed His work and declared that it was good. But when He created humans, His image bearers, He declared that work to be very good. Our existence was good in the beginning, and as image bearers, we were made to bring more good into the world just like our Father. Yes, humanity became twisted and corrupted by sin so that rather than bringing good into the world we worked evil, but Christ made a way to return us to our true nature and our true purpose. Through his redeeming work at the the cross and his transforming Spirit within us, we can declare this truth about ourselves from Ephesians 2:10:
I am God’s workmanship, his handiwork, his very good masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus to do good works that he prepared in advance for me to do.
The spiritual fruit of goodness, this week’s focus from our Galatians 5 passage, is not simply about intrinsic value, like an inspector’s stamp on a bushel of apples, nor is it just about upstanding behavior, like a gold star from teacher to student. Agathosune, the Greek word Paul uses, means active good that benefits other people. Those who have received new life from God are already declared righteous in Christ—we don’t have to re-earn that kind of “good” stamp anymore. Instead, the Holy Spirit is calling us to serve up goodness to other people.
We were not meant to sit on the sidelines.
We were not meant to look at this troubled world and retreat.
We were meant to move forward, “keeping in step with the spirit” (Gal 5:25), to do good works that benefit others and bring God glory.
How we do good will look different for each of us because as his workmanship, we are designed in specific ways to carry out his plans. That’s why asking him to reveal those plans and then listening for direction as we study his word, pray, and participate in godly community is so important. But it’s not as though God has been vague about what goodness looks like.
We don’t need to twiddle our thumbs and wonder when a personalized “Good Works Action Plan” might show up in the mailbox. We can start with the opportunities at hand.
Just about every letter that Paul writes to the churches includes a list of closing instructions that communicates, “Here are the things you can do right now to increase peace and bring good into the world!” In Romans 12, for example, Paul lists things like being devoted to one another, honoring one another above ourselves, sharing with God’s people who are in need, practicing hospitality. We can begin there, asking God for chances to cultivate goodness in whatever community we’re in.
And here’s a secret: as we awaken to the needs near us, we will find God calling us to expand our community in new ways. That’s what happened to me a few years ago as I began to realize how little time I spent with people who didn’t look, vote, parent, work, or worship just like me. God began to nudge me that one very good work I needed to do was to listen and learn from Christ-followers who have different perspectives than me. I took a close look at my friends, reading lists, social media feeds, podcasts, and news channels, and I began to diversify. It’s a strategy that takes time and shut-up-and-listen humility, but the result? Fewer false assumptions, deeper empathy, and more opportunities to spread goodness to and alongside others in ways that actually matter to them.
I am convinced that if, as Romans 12:21 says, we are to resist being “overcome by evil but instead overcome evil with good,” we need to link arms with all our fellow-image-bearers in God’s big, beautiful, multi-faceted church around the world. Then, when we ask him how to show goodness, we are much more aware of how he rolls out his plan through all his people and that we are not alone in our efforts. I think that’s what Paul was getting at just a few verses after our fruit of the spirit passage. In yet one more of his famous lists of final instructions, he encourages us like this:
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. Galatians 6:9-10.
Don’t throw in the towel. Yes, things look bleak some days, but you have a family of believers who need your brand of goodness joining with theirs. Take a deep breath, remember who loves you and revives you with his own Spirit when you’re weary, and then simply ask, “Lord, what good do you want me to do today?”