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Abiding, Cultivating, and Fighting in Panda

It was our staff's weekly Friday lunch with da boys. Every Friday at precisely 11:00 AM, Bruce, Brad, Trevor, and I eat lunch at Panda Express. Brad keeps a bag of knives in his truck with him at all times so he can have the proper utensils to cut up his chicken... bless his heart.

On any typical Friday, we order, eat, and leave without any issue. This time, however, Brad almost peed his pants (not unusual on any normal day, but the cause was abnormal this time).

While we were wrapping up our lunch, an aggravated customer was loudly letting the employees know of his frustrations with their service. We weren't quite sure what all the fuss was about, but everyone in the restaurant was uncomfortable. At one point a lady turned to us and said, "If he acts like this in public, I would hate to see how he acts at home."

Abiding & Cultivating

You may be wondering what Panda Express and Brad's bladder control have to do with anything important. I promise that everything will come full circle in a bit, but for now, I want to navigate your attention to two important words: Abiding and Cultivating.

Per Merriam Webster's Dictionary, abiding means continuing for a long time, enduring. Cultivating is preparing for the use of raising crops, fostering growth, or loosening and breaking up the soil. We see the language of these two words used all throughout Scripture.

Abiding: "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing." - John 15:4-5

Cultivating: "He who watches the wind will not sow and he who looks at the clouds will not reap. Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things. Sow your seed in the morning and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether morning or evening sowing will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good." - Ecclesiastes 11:4-6

Abiding: "Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him."- Colossians 2:6

Cultivating: “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water. that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought. and never fails to bear fruit.”- Jeremiah 17:7-8

I wonder what it would look like for us as Christ followers to abide in Christ all the days of our lives? Perhaps the Fruit of the Spirit would be cultivated in us as a result.

What is the Fruit of the Spirit?

When writing to the church in Galatia, Paul shares with us that the Fruit of the Spirit is "love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."- Galatians 5:22-23

All of us—even non-Christians—agree that these attributes are good things. I guess I shouldn't say "all of us," for I'm not convinced that people who enjoy pineapple on pizza have any clue where fruit should be cultivated. But nevertheless, the Fruit of the Spirit is a good thing. It is a good thing to have love, patience, and gentleness flowing out from within us. But how do we cultivate the Fruit of the Spirit? Better yet, WHO cultivates the Fruit of the Spirit? For the temptation is often for us to focus on growing one particular attribute of the Spirit's Fruit... but that temptation leads to idolatry and pride.

The Fruit of the Spirit is not something we can grow in us... it is something that is cultivated in us through abiding in Christ. Jesus says that "no branch can bear fruit unless they abide in Him (see John 15:4)."

If you want to bear much fruit, don't focus on the Fruit, focus on the Vine.

How to Abide in Christ

Learning to abide in Christ is a lifelong process. In fact, titling this section "how to abide in Christ" felt arrogant... for I don't have the perfect formula. I do however have a few suggestions that have helped to cultivate in me the Spirit's Fruit.

1) Spending time in prayer. Prayer is too often the last resort for Christ's followers. But it is—in my opinion—the greatest way for us to abide in Christ. Prayer requires us to surrender our time to the Savior. Prayer produces in us humility and faithfulness which we can't learn from the outside world. Prayer presents us with the opportunity to slow down and listen to the silence of God. St. Faustina says it this way,

"A talkative soul lacks both the essential virtues and intimacy with God. A deeper interior life, one of gentle peace and of that silence where the Lord dwells, is quite out of the question. A soul that has never tasted the sweetness of inner silence is a restless spirit which disturbs the silence of others."

Yes, prayer requests and praises are impactful and important, but there is something special about sitting in silent surrender to our Savior. Perhaps this is why Habbakuk writes, "The Lord is in His holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before Him.”

In order for the Spirit to cultivate His Fruit in us, we must spend intimate time in prayer with Him. Now, you may be thinking, "How do I pray? I suck at praying!" And I would applaud you for your humility in asking the question. It's the same question that Luke recorded the disciples asking Jesus in his Gospel. Jesus then goes on to teach them how to pray by starting out with honoring God, sharing praises, seeking forgiveness, seeking humility, and then a time of requests. Even the best prayer warriors usually end after all of that... but that's where silence comes in. I've heard it once said, "After our souls are emptied from praises and requests, that's when God starts speaking in silence to us."

And here is the truth: WE ALL SUCK AT PRAYING! As a pastor, I am a terrible prayer. I find myself distracted and hurried 99% of the time. This is why I find Pastor Rich Villodas' words encouraging: "1,000 distractions in prayer is 1,000 opportunities to return back to God in surrender." If you are seeking to abide in Christ, start by committing to praying more. Every minute matters and is impactful.

2) Spend time in God's Word. If we seek to grow closer to Who God is, we must spend time learning about Who God is, what God does, and how God loves us. Something I have been doing every morning before I spend time in God's word is praying Psalm 119:18,

"Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law."

I don't want to approach the Text with my pre-conceived notions and sinful nature. My hope is to approach God's Word humbly, ready to learn what He has for me. The more time I focus on spending time with God in His Word, the more I notice the Fruit of the Spirit cultivated in me.

Back To Panda

It's unfair for me to assume whether or not the person causing a scene at Panda Express is abiding in Christ. It's not an assumption I am permitted to make. Perhaps they were having a difficult day and the employees at Panda had to endure the worst of it. I'm not at liberty to be disturbed by the person's actions. Instead, what bothers me the most about the situation is how I responded.

Rather than coming to the aid of either the employee or the customer, I sat there in judgment. I wasn't being kind, nor were my thoughts gentle. And in fact, I have been that type of customer before. Sadly, at a Panda Express as well. What type of Fruit was I bearing while standing to the side in judgment?

I want to close by sharing something my friend and mentor shared with me about abiding and cultivating:

"I think another helpful direction on fruitfulness could be drawing from Matthew 21 / Mark 11 when Jesus curses the fig tree. From further studying, I learned that based on the season described in the story (early spring), the fact that this tree had leaves suggests that it was an early bloomer. The fact that Jesus saw them from a distance suggests it was probably full of leaves, and if that’s the case it should also be a very fruitful tree with early figs because the fig tree grows leaves and blooms and produces figs simultaneously.

So He went to it but realized the leafy tree gave the impression of fruitfulness… but was totally void of it. Of all the fig trees, this was seemingly an early-producing, first-fruit kind of tree… but it merely gave that impression without the fruit. And the picture becomes clear in both contexts that Jesus is in Jerusalem and is about to purge the Temple. These were God’s chosen people, who were to be the nation who would produce His first fruits among all the nations. But they instead grew to give the impression of fruitfulness, adorned with leaves upon leaves… but void of any fruit. The Passover gathering there in Jerusalem, the temple operation and sacrifices, the priests and rabbis, the empty celebration and worship… and what should have been Christ’s triumphant entry and redemption of His people… all just a bunch of external appearance of righteousness and love of God. But rotten at its roots.

I believe it is not coincidental how this relates to Genesis 3. Adam and Eve cover themselves in fig leaves. Thinking that would hide them from God’s judgment. They were previously naked and unashamed and commanded to be fruitful and multiply, instead they end up covering themselves in leaves, in all their sin and shame. It’s like the same story over and over again since the beginning, with God weaving redemption and grace through it all.

So it seems like apart from God, the best we can muster is being covered in leaves."

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