Often when we talk about the fruits of the Spirit, we frame the discussion in terms that make it sound as if fruit is an end point we arrive at — after which we simply are grateful for its production. But while spiritual fruit is in fact an outcome of a great many other factors (and not something we ordinarily produce by direct effort) it is by no means an end point. Fruit literally feeds our soul, perhaps even more than the process that leads us to produce fruit in the first place.
Joy is a prime example of this. We do not create joy by direct effort. Contrary to some Christian authors, we cannot simply "choose joy" as if it were some attitude we could adopt by an act of the will. What we can do is be intentional about the many kinds of relational experiences that lead to joy:
- Good that surprises us and others.
- Good that emerges over time through perseverance.
- Good that overcomes evil.
- Life-giving actions, such as soul care and coming alongside one another.
- Love, as extending one's self for the good of another.
Joy is our natural response to Good, Life, and Love. But joy also feeds our soul like nothing else! Joy actually alters the substance and structure of our brain to make us more resilient, more relational, and more giving of ourselves to one another.
When a farmer wants to produce a crop, he plants seeds, cultivates the ground, makes sure it gets enough water, removes weeds and bugs, and so on. In the end, he reaps a harvest. But he does not stop after gathering the fruit of his labor. The harvest provides food and seed for the next season. And the cycle continues. So it is with the fruit of the Spirit.
Joy feeds our soul in ways that produce endurance, life, and goodness, and amplifies the impact of everything else God does in us and for us. So the more we engage in good, life, and love for one another to bring about relational joy, the more joy will feed us and the stronger we will become, so that we can offer even more good, life and love!
What a feast!