In addition to choosing our thoughts and choosing to depend on God’s Spirit, we can also choose how we respond to the circumstances of our lives. Viktor Frankl was one of the Jews sentenced to the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau. He says that while he was in the camp, the guards stripped him of everything. They took his identity. They took his wife. They took his family. They took his clothes. They even took his wedding ring. But there was one thing that no one could take from him. In a classic book he writes, “The last of human freedoms is the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.”1 The guards could not take from Frankl his freedom to choose his attitude.
We cannot control all the circumstances in our lives. We do not know what is going to happen tomorrow, or even today. We cannot control our circumstances, but we can control how we respond to them. We can control whether an experience makes us a bitter person or a better person. What matters in life is not so much what happens to us but what happens in us.
Paul talks about this in Romans 5:3 – 4. He says we can rejoice here and now, even in our trials and troubles, for they will produce perseverance in us and help us develop a mature character. We can rejoice in our problems, not just endure them, because we know that God is using them for our benefit. God even uses the problems we bring on ourselves.
God also uses the situations that others mean for bad in our lives. This is a lesson pictured in the life of Joseph as told in the Old Testament. Joseph was betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery. Years later he said, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good” (Gen. 50:20). This holds true in your life. Maybe there is someone right now who is trying to hurt you. Don’t worry. If you are a believer, if you have put your life in God’s hands, God can use even such a painful situation for good. He will develop within you a mature character. And that is what the fruit of the Spirit is all about. God wants to produce the character of Christ in our lives because he knows that the more we become like him, the more fulfilled we will be.
When God created man, he made him “in his own image” (Gen. 1:27). That was God’s original plan, and it has not changed. He wants to make us like himself — not gods, but godly. He does it by working on our character through his Word, through his Holy Spirit, and through circumstances. The Greek word for “character” in Romans 5:4 means “tested and proven reliable.” It brings to mind the work of a blacksmith, describing something that has gone through the fire, has been beat on and beat up as on an anvil, but has stood the test.
Have you seen the luggage commercial that features a gorilla? A suitcase is shown going out on a conveyor belt at an airport, and instead of being picked up gently by a nice gentleman, it is manhandled by a gorilla. He hurls the luggage around the room, stomps on it, jumps on it, and throws it up in the air. Now, that luggage has character. It is reliable and stands the test. This week you may feel you have been beaten up at work or pushed around at home, but God can use even these kinds of situations for good in your life.
Here is a key truth: God produces the fruit of the Spirit in us by allowing us to encounter situations and people with characteristics that are exactly the opposite of the fruit of the Spirit.
Consider, for example, how God produces love in our lives. Loving lovely people or people just like us is easy. But to teach us real love, God puts some unlovely people around us. We learn real love by loving that cantankerous fellow at work or that pesky neighbor. God teaches us to love by letting us practice on the “unlovely.”
The same is true for peace. Anyone can be at peace in calm situations; that does not take character. God teaches us about peace in the midst of total chaos, when everything is falling apart — the phone rings, the doorbell rings, something is boiling over on the stove, the baby is crying, and the dog bites the cat. That is a situation in which we can truly learn inner peace. God works that way for each fruit he is developing in us.
Rick Warren, God’s Power to Change Your Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008).
We have just released a new Bible study on based on Rick Warren’s book God’s Power to Change Your Life.
These lessons are available on Amazon, as well as a part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.
God’s Power to Change Your Life, Lesson #1
The Power to Change Your Life
God’s Power to Change Your Life, Lesson #2
God’s Part and My Part in Changing Me
God’s Power to Change Your Life, Lesson #3
God’s Power to Make You More Loving
God’s Power to Change Your Life, Lesson #4
God’s Power to Make You More Joyful
God’s Power to Change Your Life, Lesson #5
God’s Power to Give You Peace
God’s Power to Change Your Life, Lesson #6
God’s Power to Develop Your Patience
God’s Power to Change Your Life, Lesson #7
God’s Power to Develop Your Kindness
God’s Power to Change Your Life, Lesson #8
God’s Power to Develop Your Goodness
God’s Power to Change Your Life, Lesson #9
God’s Power to Develop Your Faithfulness
God’s Power to Change Your Life, Lesson #10
God’s Power to Develop Your Gentleness
God’s Power to Change Your Life, Lesson #11
God’s Power to Develop Your Self-control
God’s Power to Change Your Life, Lesson #12
A Productive Life