How God Loves Us: Jessica Thompson
What if the fruit of the Spirit is how God loves us? On FamilyLife Today, Dave and Ann Wilson host author Jessica Thompson, who pulls you toward a picture of God to help you remember your first love.
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What if the fruit of the Spirit is how God loves us? Author Jessica Thompson pulls you toward a picture of God to help you remember your first love.
How God Loves Us: Jessica Thompson
Dave: I know you: you’re so—
Dave: —smart, and you're such a woman of Scripture; you'll know this. List the fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22—Paul says, when we're in Christ, we have—not fruits—fruit, and there's how many?
Ann: Do I get a reward? Do I get a reward if I answer them right?
Dave: There’s nine; let’s see.
Dave: Are you looking at something?
Dave: You’re looking at your Bible.
Ann: No, I’m not! I'm not looking at anything.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Jessica: That's impressive.
Dave: That is really impressive.
Ann: Thank you; thank you. Why are you asking?
Dave: Well, I mean, you just heard—Jessica Thompson's over there—[Laughter]—she's/she just gave you a high-five, because she wrote a book on the fruit of the Spirit. Jessica, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Jessica: I am so happy to be with you guys; it is like coming home.
Ann: We love having you.
Dave: —coming home?
Jessica: Well, yes; I was here, one of you guys’ first week of taking over the hosting of this show.
Dave: It was a memorable week.
Ann: We've had your mom, Elyse Fitzpatrick, on before; so whenever we can have any of you on, we love being with you. You guys have a family podcast.
Jessica: We do, which we all say: “We don't recommend”; right? [Laughter] Every single one of us will say: “We don't recommend; but if you someday need to—like laugh and think—'Oh, Christians can be real people, and silly, and ridiculous.’”
Dave: Is it just you guys talking? What is it?
Jessica: Yes, pretty much. [Laughter]
Jessica: It's me, and my dad, and my mom, and my younger brother. We try to talk about what's going on in our lives and in the world; and then, we recommend some things. At the very end of the podcast, we end with a good word/with a short devotional so that everybody remembers that we're Christians; because during the podcast, you might forget. [Laughter] At the very end, we give a short word and leave people with some hope. It is/really, the idea is that you're sitting with our family on a front porch.
Dave: It's called the Front Porch—
Jessica: —Front Porch with the Fitzes, where you're sitting with us. What we've heard from so many people is like: “Oh, it's so cool to see families interact in a healthy fun.” Sometimes, we get mad at each other; we resolve it on the podcast—sometimes, we don't resolve it on the podcast—[Laughter]—but to see families interact in a real way.
Ann: You are also on the Art of Parenting®, which you're kind of a favorite for everyone; because they've seen you, and they may even recognize your voice on the Art of Parenting.
Today—you've written—we're going to talk about your book, How God Loves Us; and the subtitle is 40 Days to Discovering His Character in the Fruit of the Spirit.
Ann: So that's where the fruit of the Spirit comes in.
Dave: Yes; and so one of the reasons I asked Ann if she knew the fruit is you left one out!
Jessica: I did.
Dave: And we have to ask you,—
Ann: We are all wondering.
Dave: —like, “What happened to the last one, self-control?”
Jessica: Yes; self-control. Here's the question: “Does God have to display self-control?” When I think of self-control, it's like having to restrain some wrong desire that I have.
Jessica: But does God have any desires that need to be controlled?—that's the question; and I'm not smart enough to answer it, so I just left it out! [Laughter]
The more I've talked to people, the more interesting it is, like hearing: “Oh, well, does God actually use self-control when He doesn't just destroy the earth today because of the sin and etcetera? Is that a way of using self-control?” His desire is holy, so He's not using self-control in the way that we use self-control, which is to restrain an ungodly desire. All of His desires are godly, obviously, by definition; so that's why I didn't write on self-control. What do you guys think?
Dave: Well, that was a question, you know; and it came up. You just highlighted something that you say, early in the book, which is: “These fruit”—and I/and it's obvious, but I've never thought the way you said it—“These fruit are what we can experience in the fruit of the Spirit, but they are the fruit of God; He has all these fruit.” So that's why you're saying self-control is one that seems like He doesn't need to exercise.
Jessica: Isn't that interesting? I don't know the answer, and there are people much smarter than I that would have an opinion on this. But I got to the end of thinking about it, and was like, “I don't know if I really have an opinion,” so then I didn't write about it.
Ann: But why this topic, Jessica? What brought this out?
Jessica: I was talking to my friend at the publishing house, who asked me to write. I write about this—I'm very honest about this in the book—this book comes out of a very difficult part of my life, probably the most difficult years of my life that I've ever experienced. And so—and not just COVID, which everybody experienced, and was difficult for everybody—but add on there a few other circumstances that were so difficult.
My friend was talking to me about writing a book, and I was like, “I have nothing to say; I am completely at the end of myself.”
Ann: Did you feel depleted?
Jessica: Oh, I felt sad; I felt hopeless: all of the opposite of the fruit of the Spirit was where I was living. She was like, “Just write a devotional/write about what your heart's about. If you could tell everybody one thing, what would it be?”
I just said, “I mean, my heart is always to tell everybody that they're loved; because of what Christ has done. You're eternally loved.” And so she said, “Okay, let's write on that.” And by “Let's,” she meant me [Laughter]—“Let's write on that,”—and I said, “Okay; I think I'm going to try and do this.”
Now, as far as the fruit of the Spirit idea came up—I was talking to her when the book came out, and I said to her—“Hey, how did we come up with writing on the fruit of the Spirit? Was that your idea or was that mine?” She said “No, I didn't come up with it, you did.” I have no idea where it came from; I think the Holy Spirit dropped this in my mind. I don't remember having the idea—I don't remember how it came about—I don't remember any of that.
Ann: Feels a little miraculous to me.
Dave: Well, I mean, I feel like the older I get, the less I remember.
Dave: It sounds like that—I don't remember half the things—why whatever happened.
I do love how you started the book; I think you called it: “Whose Fruit Is It Anyway?”
Ann: Me, too; yes.
Dave: And I feel like, in 30 years of pastoral ministry, a lot of people, who would even come to Christ at our church—and we would baptize and celebrate this incredible moment—six months, eighteen months, two years later—they've left the faith.
Ann: They're discouraged.
Dave: They've not only left our church; they've just given up.
Dave: I think they tried really hard—for six months, or eight months, or nine months—like, “I'm going to do this Christian-life thing,” and they gave up; because it didn't work.
You start, at the beginning, talking about the fruit of the Spirit is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, not our fruit. Let's talk about that a little bit, because I'm like/I think that's a pretty common experience for most Christ-followers.
Ann: —especially for us, who are doers.
Ann: Like I'm thinking, “I'm going to display love and joy:. I'm going to be joyful; you watch!”; [Laughter] you know? So I'm going to kind of grunt it out; and you're saying, “No.”
Jessica: Right; this is the problem, from the beginning of time—that we want to prove ourselves—that we want to find a way, outside of God, to make ourselves look righteous/to make ourselves look like we're okay. When I use that word, “righteousness,”—like our okay-ness with God—even when we look at ourselves—we think, “Oh, I'm a pretty good person.” This is from the beginning of time: we want to find a way to be like God without actually submitting to God and to His work in our lives.
And so, with the fruit of the Spirit, this is just another one of these things that we've taken, as the church, and we've completely left out that whole part about it being the fruit of the Spirit. We have made it into a checklist of fruit to see if you're really a Christian: “So are you displaying love?” “Are you patient?” “Are you kind?” “Do you have self-control?—all of these things. We've taken the joy out of any of these things, and we've made it into this drudgery of a checklist.
And quite honestly—when I go down the fruit of the Spirit, and ask myself, which one of those I'm displaying—it is going to lead me to one of a couple places. I'm either going to look at a couple of them—or you know, if I can say I'm doing okay at the majority of them—I'm going to be like [singing] “I'm an amazing person. [Laughter] Look at how wonderful I am.” Do you guys like my singing?
Dave: That’s pretty good.
Jessica: I’m thinking about going into a recording/being a recording artist.
Dave: I’ve got a guitar here. You want to lay something down? [Laughter]
Jessica: Let's jam. No! [Laughter]
So we go there; right? “I'm an amazing person. Look at how joyful I was today,” or “…loving. I didn't yell at the person at the four-way stop, who didn't go when it was their turn,” or “…who went out of turn; I displayed patience.”
We go there; or we swing to this other side, and say, “I will never be these things. I am not kind.”
Ann: Or have you ever had your kids say this? “Mom, why are you so nice to strangers?”
Ann: “Why aren't you as nice to us as you are to strangers?”
Jessica: So like you're screaming at your kid—your phone rings—you pick it up; you’re like [kind voice] “Hello.” You know, after you've just been like [screaming]: “What are you doing?!”
I will either swing to being proud and thinking I’m amazing, or I’ll swing over to being depressed and thinking that I am just trash of a human being. When I take the fruit of the Spirit and make it into a checklist, I will swing to one of those two things.
And either one of those things is having my eyes on myself and my performance—instead of looking at the beauty of this—which is: “God has loved us and displayed the fruit of the Spirit towards us in His kindness, in His love, in the way He rejoices over us.” The more I think about Him, the more my eyes are off of myself, and I think about Him—the more my heart is drawn to being patient, and to being kind, and to being loving—because of what He's done to me and for me.
We've taken this beautiful list, and we've turned it into a drudgery of a checklist: other things that we need to do in order to make ourselves—the fruit of trying harder—right? Instead of the fruit of the Spirit, we've changed it into the fruit of trying harder. We change it into this list of things that I need to do in order to become okay with God.
And the beautiful news is: “I'm already okay with God, because of the work of Jesus Christ.”
Ann: Jessica, take me back to—as you started writing this, you're not even sure, like, “How did I do this again?”—so you start studying; you start writing. What was going on in your mind? Was it different from anything you had done before as you've read this Scripture?
Jessica: Well, yes; because honestly, what a beautiful kindness it was of God to give me this to write during this time of my life—like I said, things were really difficult—because in a way, it forced me to look at all of the beauty that's being displayed/all of the love that I am receiving, instead of looking at everything else.
Ann: —which is so interesting; because you could have gone and looked at this checklist, and been in this pit anyway; but instead, you looked at—
Dave: —like under the pile.
Jessica: Yes; yes.
Ann: Yes—you're looking at the face of God and seeing how He displayed this over you.
Jessica: Yes, it's been beautiful. I mean, I don't know how to tell you how healing and revolutionary it was for me to look at Him, and think through each of these things, and to think: “How has God loved me?” “How has He been patient with me?” And not in a self-condemning way—right?—like, “How could He love me?”—which sometimes I do think that. [Laughter]
But at the same time, think, “This is just His character. This is just who He is at His very core: He is a kind God; He is a loving God; He is a patient God.” And to think that this is who He is—this is His makeup/His genetic makeup, in essence; right?—this is the makeup of who our God is.
It has been one of the most beautiful writing experiences. It felt easy because it was just so—like it wrote itself for me in a sense—because of how beautiful it was the way that I was able to see His great love for me.
Ann: Has it been healing?
Jessica: Oh, so healing. That's really what I've been hearing from people, as they read this. I have heard from people, who have not been going to church for a long time due to COVID; or during COVID, were just like, “I maybe don't even need church anymore,” people who've been hurt by the church. I've heard from so many people, who've read this, that are in that situation, who have said to me, “This book was tender enough for me when my heart has been broken,”—you know, by the church/by circumstances, whatever.
That was my hope, really, when I wrote it: that it would be a tender, delightful book to read. I think a lot of Christian books are necessary, but—
Dave: —not always tender.
Jessica: —not always tender. [Laughter]
Dave: Yes, I thought the same thing when I read it; it was very shepherding. I don't know what you were feeling as you wrote it, but it feels like—and it's interesting to hear that you were in a really hard time—but it feels very loving and tender.
Here's my question, and you’ve already sort of addressed it: “But if I'm a person, who hears the fruit of Spirit, and I feel like I can't live it;—
Ann: “I'm not living it.”
Dave: —“I’ve tried. I'm a husband,” “…I'm a mom,” “…I'm a wife. I'm just like, ‘My home doesn't feel like that because of me.’” What do you say to them to help them get out of that pit?
Jessica: That right where you are—in your anger, in your impatience, in your lack of self-control—right where you are, you are eternally loved. That even in this, God is rejoicing over you with singing. That even in the dark pit that you're in, He's continuing to display patience towards you.
I don't think that the motivation to change—it doesn't last when it comes from: “I'm going to improve myself,”—because we either fail; or we, you know, think we succeed, and as soon as we think we succeed/as soon as I think I'm becoming a more joyful person, then I'm prideful and look down on everybody else, who can't be as joyful as I am: “Look at how happy I am; why can't you be like me?” and then we're done; okay?
I would encourage that person, who is thinking: “My house…” “My life…” “My relationships don't look like the fruit of the Spirit,” I would say: “Take some time to think about how God has displayed the fruit of the Spirit towards you. Take some time to just sit in His great love for you.” And He knows you; right? Like you're not fooling Him when you can act joyful for ten days—He knows what's at the very core of your heart—so to sit in and to reflect upon/just take space to remember how loved you are. I don't think we do that enough as Christians.
Ann: I don't either.
I'm just thinking how this feels radically different to me because, generally, if I read a book, I'm thinking: “Oh, I'm failing at that,” “Oh, I should do this…” “Oh, I'd better get this done.” This one—
Dave: I’ll remind you of all those things too. [Laughter]
Jessica: I believe that about you. [Laughter]
Ann: And I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that—like we need encouragement; we need teaching—I'm not saying that's bad. But what this does is it takes your eyes off of yourself, and it puts them on the King of kings. It reminds us—it's taking a breath—like: “Oh, this is who He is,” and “He delights in me.”
Dave: I would also add this, though—because when you answered that way: “Look at how you are loved,”—which is so good and so true; I thought, “Oh, that's interesting—you're looking at yourself—but you're looking at yourself in a different way.”
Dave: Because you're saying you're looking at—you're going vertical, but you're also going horizontal—say, “The reason I'm looking at myself—not in a ‘I need to improve myself way’ but ‘I am loved way’—is a different way to look at yourself. It's identity; and you're saying, “Start there.” That's not what most people would say.
Jessica: “We love because we were first loved [1 John 4:19].” His love is the genesis/it's the beginning of love in our hearts. So the more we look at the way that He has loved—the more we look at the way He's been patient—that whole thought that: “As we behold, we become.” That whole thought is what I'm trying to get at here.
Are the fruit of the Spirit important to display in your life?—yes; like we don't want a bunch of sad, angry, Christians running around.
Dave: Oh, we don't have those; do we?—none of those. [Laughter]
Jessica: [Singing] “There's so much I want to say, but I’m not going to say it,”—we don't want that. [Laughter] We want to be people, who look like whom we love.
You know how it is like—when you're married or when you are best friends with someone—the more you're around them, the more you dress like them and talk like them; you have the same mannerisms. So the thought is/the hope is—and what I believe this book does—is: “The more you look at Him, the more you begin to walk like Him and talk like Him—the more you look at—‘How can I display patience the way that it has been displayed towards me?’”
It's not just—“Oh, this: ‘I'm loved, and so that makes everything okay,’”—it's like: “I'm loved, but that's because of His character. That's because of who He is, not because of who I am.” There's so much freedom in that, you guys. Because if I think that I have to earn God's love, I'm going to be an angry, depressed Christian; or I'm going to be the opposite: I'm going to be a prideful, angry Christian. But if I can sit in how He's already loved me, because of who He is—and I'm free from trying to prove myself to Him—oh, there's so much beauty, and rest, and freedom there.
Dave: How has that impacted you in the last couple of years? You mentioned it's been hard; and yet, you're spending time writing a 40-day devotional; and it's about looking at the face of Jesus. Have you felt loved?
Jessica: Yes! Well, I think part of what's been so hard is the last few years I've had to give up the things that I found my righteousness in—the things that I thought: “I’m pulling this off,” “I'm doing pretty good,”—I've had to give those things up. And when you give those things up, and you say, “Really, all I have is Christ; all I have is His love for me,”—and you feel that in a deep, deep soul-crushing, and wrenching, and beautifying way—when it really is all you have, you come to know how truly loved you really are. It has been the only thing that has sustained me.
Dave: I know, one of our sons said, “Jesus is enough. But if Jesus is enough, I don't think I know Him well enough.”
Jessica: That’s good.
Dave: Because it's like, often, it doesn't feel like He is; but it's truly because He is. We just/I think he was right; it was like/I felt like, “Well, I don't know if I do.” When you really, like you just said, when you really get a glimpse of the love of God through Christ, He is enough. But we just, often, don't ever—
Ann: We think we need to add to it.
Ann: I love that quote—you just said it—“As we behold the beauty of the Lord, we will be changed.” And these things are good—like going to church, being in a Bible study, having a small group—like all those things are good, but the thing you're saying that really changes us is beholding the face of God.
Jessica: Yes, and the work of the Holy Spirit to come and tell us—in a sense, whisper to us over and over again—“This isn't too good to be true; this is real.” The Holy Spirit is Jesus’ PR agent in a sense; right?—like: “God is this good!”—like He comes and He tells us this over and over again: “God is this good,” “Jesus is that loving,” “You are forgiven.” As that infiltrates more and more of our lives, we turn into more of what He desires for us to walk in wholeness.
But then, the really good news is, you guys—even on the days that I am impatient and the days that I don't care how patient God's been to me—and there are those days/on the days that I don't care if God loves me—even on those days, His love continues to pursue me. His kindness and His goodness pursue me all the days of my life.
Ann: Yes, what you're saying goes along with 1 John 3:2, which says, “We know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as he is”; and it's exactly what you're saying.
Shelby: You're listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Jessica Thompson on FamilyLife Today. We'll hear some practical ways you can apply what we've heard today in just a minute.
But first, here in the studio, we are moved every day by stories from our listeners/people who are touched by our guests. None of that would be possible without our generous partners. Would you consider partnering with us in our mission to pursue the relationships that matter most? When you do, we'd love to send you a copy of Jessica Thompson's book; it's called How God Loves Us: 40 Days to Discovering His Character in the Fruit of the Spirit. It's our “Thank you,” to you when you partner with us, financially, today. You can give, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com or by giving us a call at 800-358-6329; that's 800-“F,” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Okay, back to Dave and Ann with Jessica Thompson and some practical ways we can apply what we heard today about the love of God.
Ann: So Jessica, as we close, give us an application.
Dave: I got one.
Dave: “What if you could take 40 days and look into the face of God?” [Laughter]
Jessica: I think that’s a great application.
Ann: That’s a good one.
Dave: Well, we’ve got a tool for you: How God Loves Us. But no—when you were saying that—I thought, “It takes a month-plus.” You need to be diligent, to say, “I'm going to, every day for the next 40 days, I'm going to really look at the face of God and, hopefully, experience that.” That's one application; I gave you your answer.
Jessica: Yes; but even if you don't buy the book, every time you think: “Oh, I should be a more patient person,” or “I should be a more loving person,”—and those things might very well be true—but every time you go to that thought, instead of staying there—try to think of a way that God's been patient towards you, or loving towards you, or showing His goodness and kindness towards you.
So that you're not stuck in this sort of spiral of: “Man, I need to do better,” “Why don't I do better?—I'm a mess,” “Why doesn't everybody else do better? They should do better too. If I was surrounded by kind people, I would be a kind person; I'm sure of it”; right? It never ends with this self; sort of like then, you start condemning everybody else, too; you know?
I would say, every time you're/you go to that thought, take a minute and thank God for His kindness and His love towards you.
Shelby: Do you ever find yourself feeling frustrated or impatient? Well, don't yell at the driver in front of you yet; because tomorrow, on FamilyLife Today, Dave and Ann are going to be talking, again, with Jessica Thompson about handling your weaknesses with the power of the fruit of the Spirit. That's coming up tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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