Growth in the Spirit -- Fruitful by Michael Nichols

If you've got something good going on, you'll want to make more of it, right? Look at the very screen on which these words are "printed," and you will see a prime example of something good: technology. Digital, mechanical, whatever -- technology is one of the greatest things we have. It makes life simpler, faster, more efficient. We spend less time in the means and more time in the end -- well, I suppose this wouldn't be true for facebook junkies like myself... ANYWAYS.

The point is just that technology has been something that has grown since day one. We've always looked for an easier, more efficient way of doing things, and that's okay. In fact, it's great. Instead of setting aside weeks to travel on foot, the world can be cross in a day. Awesome? I think so. Less wasted time doing the intermediate stuff? Fantastic! Taking airplanes, cars, and bicycles to your destination has caught on with such force. Rarely in our corner of the world do you see horse and buggy travelling interstate distances. Why? Because it made sense to use new technology instead, so they rolled with it. They made more, the demand went up, and both the supply and demand have fed each other ever since.

So when you start growing in your life, what happens? Well, you see the benefit. A new way of life, some kind of change, may give you a new perspective, a different level of appreciation for what you have and what you don't, and whom. No longer are you a dormant seed, but you've sprouted into something different, bigger, changing, branching out, integrating into the world around you, and even shaping it. You provide shade from the sun, security for the ground, and food for wildlife... and you bear fruit.

What is fruit? It's seeds buried in nutrients. Think of an apple. It's meat and core right? And when the seeds finally hit the ground and become buried, once they've received warmth and nourishment, BAM! -- up springs new life where once there was none. Is it not a miracle?

The Bible has numerous passages about the "fruit of the Spirit," list off different things that indicate genuine spiritual growth. "Love, joy, peace, patience," are among these. One of the passages (Galatians 5) also lists "works of the flesh." Why? Because when we're trying to grow spiritually, we are also at war with the impulses of our flesh. One part of us only is sensitive to what we crave, and that's what we call the flesh. When we begin thinking spiritually, though, things start to change. You start to see what come from you rather than only what you want to consume. And why is this so? Because God doesn't want us to hurt ourselves, nor each other. He gave us life, and it wasn't meant to end.

We were made good, and we were commanded to be fruitful and multiply, and I have a feeling that purpose may have been in a spiritual sense, even though His immediate command was more literal. The Scriptures say that God "withholds no good thing from us," so He's not going to hold us back if we're trying to grow. He will be that "river of water" that David talks about in Psalm 1, that feeds us and makes us grow. Sure, along the way, weeds might grow up around us, we might run into rocks, and birds might circle to try to eat us up, all of which happens to ensure that we don't grow.

A lot of times, our growth is hindered. It can be by the environment around us, or the sin nature within us. Regardless of which is true, if stagnancy is propagating, don't be afraid to check your source. See where your water is coming from. Is it clean water, or is it polluted? In today's society, people tend to act as though social, psychological, and behavioral pollution does not exist, but they are just as dangerous and real as polluted water, and we're all victims of it. The question is: when we see it, how can we not do something about it, let alone deny the reality of it?

The great thing is that a lack of growth, nor a difficult circumstance, isn't powerful enough to altogether stop growth from happening, and it definitely cannot stop God from giving you strength to grow more! Remember the parable of the sower? I mentioned it in PROLOGUE. I've been wondering if it ties into another parable, about the wheat and the weeds (see Matthew 13.) In fact, these two parables are in the exact same passage. In short, weeds begin infesting a crop of wheat, and the harvesters want to uproot the weeds so that they don't hinder the growth of the weeds, but the master (hint, hint, Jesus) says not to uproot them so that the wheat is not uprooted with the weeds. The heart of this parable is: He's watching over you.

He's got a plan, and He's not going to let weeds win out over what He's sown in the end. They won't stop your growth, and they won't get in the way of the end result. They may wrap around you, and they may crowd you, and they may even sap strength from the soil that surrounds you, but they cannot stop you because the sower is watching over you, and He is faithful.

Approval by Michael Nichols

I'm no Josh Groban. Most of my life, I would never have dreamt of singing, playing music, or really doing anything with the liberal arts at all. I hated it. I hated all of it. I was always awkward. Sometimes I speak with a stutter, forget what I'm saying, forget what I'm thinking, forget what I'm doing. My mind can be a very foggy place sometimes. What isn't foggy to me? Formulas. Charts. Numbers. Stats. Scripts. Codes. Systems. I get that. I understand that. I can remember that. I can do that. I can express that. I've always struggled, though, to express me. I never understood why this has been the case, but it has been. When I was younger, it wasn't so much, but fewer things were fighting me at the time. When I entered elementary school, I was bullied. I can't say I haven't seen worse, but it happened nonetheless, and no degree of bullying is okay for anyone to experience. Then bad things started happening at home. I think it was an odd cocktail of the two, combined with my moderately soft-spoken by nature, that laid the foundation for a fortress I built to hide myself for fear of punishment which I didn't then understand I didn't fully deserve, though no one is really good in the end, but loved by a good God. Over time, I built numerous walls facing numerous battlefronts. By the time I reached high school, I had built the perfect defense for my heart (which I didn't understand was really a prison).

Then came my vocal coach. I have been quiet for most of my life, and I still am sometimes, but not all the time anymore, largely due to her. I've had teachers at school try to coerce me into singing solos and doing such things, but it never took until she came. In my tenth grade of high school -- that was 2006-2007 for me -- I was put on a list to audition for one of two male vocal soloist spots in the state competition that was hosted by the association of schools that mine happened to belong. I tried to fight it. I didn't want to do it. I was so freaking scared of getting up in front of people and screwing it all up. I tried to get out of it, but she, who was only the pianist to me at the time but now is my vocal coach and somewhat of a mentor, wouldn't have it. If I remember it right, she had more faith in me than I did, and said at least that it'd be over quickly. Little did I know that despite my quaking voice and choice of the over-sung song "Amazing Grace" by John Newton, I would get the spot. I didn't win at the competition, but that's not the point. The point is that it changed my life. No formula could have helped me to predict these events, nor the change to come.

I was so blindsided by the prospect of public performance that I didn't know what to do with myself. Sure, I'd dabbled with poetry and maybe a little composition, and I could fumble on keys, but to sing in front of an audience who had eyes, ears, and brains and opinions -- well, I felt like I was a hypocrite by donning the stage, picking up a microphone, and screaming my lungs out. I was the quietest soul you'd ever met at that point in my life, but putting myself in that uncomfortable, vulnerable position made me realize something: I LOVE THIS. :) It was a sweet release from all the pain I'd held inside. It had been brewing for fifteen years like a bitter tea, and I wasn't about to continue drinking it, so I gave myself over to music. I was called to it by a force within it, which I believe was the still, small voice of Jesus Christ. In coming to grip with that reality, I realized something -- I wasn't a hypocrite for donning the stage: I was a heretic, a heretic to my despair, ready to spread the heresy of hope.

From then and onward, I was a different person. I had been uprooted from where I was sewn: thorny, rocky soil, where crows came to feast, and planted in good earth by a river (see the parable of the sower; also see Psalm 1). I'm still growing though. I still struggle with sin like even the apostles did, but that's not really what I'm getting at. I changed -- a lot. I didn't know how, but I'm starting to see what's really happening. I let what other people think, what other people do, what other people say, have too much of an influence upon what I think, do, and say. I shouldn't do that. Why should I do that? What benefit is that to me or anyone else? Sure, I could appease the masses, keep quiet, and do nothing, but I have good things to offer. Good has been done to me, and good things have been given to me, which is the only means by which I have to do good to others, for others, and to give good things to them. Sure, I want other people to have as accurate perception of me as possible, but if they don't, and if I can't convince them after doing all I can, why should I let it change me and how I behave? Why should I live any differently toward myself, my Lord, or to them? Why should my level of love fluctuate to any degree? Why should I give up things that give me life and fire to satisfy the itching ears of the masses?

I'm no Josh Groban. I could list people who I know beyond the shadow of a doubt believe I shouldn't be involved in music. I also know a lot of people who support me in my pursuit of music. I'm thankful for both crowds for having opinions, and thankful that I know to which to listen, thankful that I know which one has the power to stop me (neither), and thankful that my acceptance has nothing to do with either of them, but this is not the point. My approval in all things comes through grace from the Son of God. May nothing else in my heart prosper.

I'm wasting an entire post to say this one thing in summation: not one single person in the whole of reality should be given the authority to stop the purest, truest love of another, and no person should be convinced to love himself so little (or so much) as to give that authority to anyone but the Lord Jesus Christ, because if all the history and prophecy about Him is true (the eternal origin, the miraculous birth, the loving life, the sacrificial death, the inevitable resurrection, the given forgiveness, the impending return, and the eternal peace), then He is the one person in the whole of reality that we can trust with that authority because He is the only one who will never abuse that authority, and the only one who truly will ever accept us, and if He asks for us to step out of our comfort zone, step out on a limb, walk on water, let me inform you: He will not let you drown.