But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.Galatians 5:22-23
This week’s topic for our Fruit of the Spirit series is gentleness. “Gentle parenting” is a hot topic right now – but have you ever thought about who the originator of gentleness is? God is the ultimate parent and the founder of true gentleness. Today we’re going to look at an incredible story about how God parents the prophet Elijah with love and compassion during a difficult time in his life.
I have the hardest time being gentle when things don’t go the way I want them to. I mean, when everything’s going my way, I’m the nicest, humblest, gentlest person EVER! Ha…
But when people let me down, when they’re overly dramatic or annoying, it’s hard to be gentle. When I’m annoyed or frustrated, I’m dismissive, ignore people and am downright rude. Especially to my husband, and even to my children.
The word “gentleness” in the fruit of the Spirit passage is the Greek word prautes. Prautes is defined as meekness, humility. Sometimes it’s translated as “humility” (as is the case in Titus 3:2, James 1:21 and James 3:13 in some versions).
When I was planning for and praying about this devotional, I was reminded of the story of Elijah, and how God came to him in a gentle whisper. Here’s the backdrop of this story: Elijah is a prophet to the nation of Israel during the reign of King Ahab, who was wicked. Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, HATED Elijah and wanted to kill him. Right before our story picks up, Elijah came out of hiding and challenged the opposing prophets of the false god Baal to a dance-off.
He challenged them to a sacrifice competition. As in: “You guys put a bull on your god’s altar and I’ll put a bull on my God’s altar and let’s see who answers by fire.” For some reason the prophets of Baal thought this was a good idea, so they did it. They tried to get Baal to eat up their sacrifice by fire, but – spoiler alert – he didn’t.
Then it was Elijah’s turn. He was so confident in God that he had the people drench God’s altar and sacrifice in tons of water. And what did God do? He answered in true Godly fashion.
At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!”1 Kings 18:36-39
How amazing is that?!
Now, fast forward to 1 Kings 19. You’d think after this everything would be peachy, right? Wrong. After his God wins the day, Elijah shows up in the capital, expecting for the nation to have returned to the One True God, but instead finds out that Queen Jezebel is trying to kill him. So, what does he do? He runs for his life.
Elijah runs VERY far away from Ahab and Jezebel and the rest of Israel. He fires his assistant, goes off into the wilderness and prays to die.
God’s response to Elijah is shocking and beautiful.
First, God sends an angel – not to give Elijah a lecture or pep talk – to feed him. That’s right, the angel of the Lord makes Elijah a meal and lets him sleep. Then, Elijah goes out to Mount Sinai to meet God. Our key passage of scripture picks up as Elijah is going out to meet God:
The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”1 Kings 19:11-13
Why did God appear to Elijah as a gentle whisper? Prior to this, God had appeared to Moses (on the same mountain, by the way!) as fire, and later descended to Moses “in the cloud.” So God isn’t always a gentle whisper, and it seems that He can take any form He wants, but here He decided to come as a gentle whisper. A small, still voice.
Maybe because God knew that’s what Elijah needed most. He didn’t need the God of Fire or the God of Hurricanes and Earthquakes. He needed the quiet, still God in a gentle breeze.
What does this tell us about God? To me, this shows me that God is more multifaceted than I could ever imagine. He is nuanced and truly WHOLE. He can be exactly what we need, exactly when we need it.
If only we could be this way. If only we could be exactly what our spouse needs right when they need it. Or our children.
The good news, mamas, is that if we have the Spirit of God living inside of us, we CAN be this. No, we won’t be perfect. Yes, we will mess up A LOT. But there will be days when – because of God’s supernatural workings – we will get it right. We will be gentle when our family needs us to be. We will be firm and steadfast when they need us to be. We will have the right words to say and the ability to comfort, encourage and discipline.
All because of God, and His wonderful Spirit that is alive within us.
The Gentleness of Jesus
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”Matthew 11:29
Jesus isn’t the type of person that others would feel “on edge” with – like he’d jump down your throat the moment you kind-of, sort-of messed up. People felt at ease around him. The sheer fact that parents brought their children to Him convinces me of His gentleness. I’m not going to voluntarily put my child into the arms of a man who is harsh, volatile and combative.
Jesus says that He is humble. Humility is a modest or low view of one’s importance.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but think of yourself with sober judgment.Romans 12:3
When we have an accurate view of ourselves, we are more prone to be gentle. If we are aware of our own personal deficits – and the degree to which God went to rescue us from them – we can’t help but be gentle with others when they fail us.
The Gospel message at its core is that we are more sinful than we ever believed and that we are more loved than we ever dared to hope. If we are convinced of these two facts, we will inevitably live our lives with more gentleness.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.Colossians 3:12-14
Mamas, this week let’s continually meditate on the depths of Christ’s love for us so that we can live in a way that reflects and honors His sacrifice!
Here are some practical ways to show your child true gentleness:
- Speak softly and kindly. Of course there are times to be firm and commanding with your kids – but I don’t think that should be the primary tone of voice they hear. If the moment-by-moment interactions are filled with kindness, gentleness and humility, when it does come time to be firm and to discipline them, it will actually be more effective.
- Look them in the eye. Bend or kneel to get on their eye level when talking with them. This makes a world of difference to them.
- Touch them. Put a hand on their shoulder or hold their hand to let them know that you care about them and are listening to them.
- Empathize with them. If they’re asking for something that you can’t or won’t give them, don’t just dismiss their desire. If you validate them – even if you can’t grant their request – this shows that you care. Saying things like, “I understand that you want to keep playing and that it makes you sad that you have to stop” or “It’s frustrating when you’re trying something new and it doesn’t go the way you want it to. That happens to mama, too.”
- Offer them explanations. Have you ever been to another country where you don’t speak the language, or been in a group of people who don’t speak your language, and you have no idea what’s going on? If someone stops and explains to you what’s happening or what the group is discussing, this means the world to you. It’s the same thing with our children. I don’t believe we “owe” our children an explanation for everything – that would probably overwhelm them and wouldn’t be appropriate – but if you notice that your child is particularly agitated about something, why not take a moment to give them a better explanation about what’s happening? It could put them at ease and help them feel more secure.
- Treat them the way you want to be treated. This is the “Golden Rule” for a reason. Ultimately, true gentleness is posturing ourselves in a way where we are considering others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). These principles can help guide us when we want to be gentle with our children but don’t know how.
Today I’m thankful that God is so incredibly gentle with us – that He is patient and doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve (Psalm 103:10). My prayer is that we can turn around and display that same gentleness to our spouse, our children, and to others around us.