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111: How God loves us with the fruit of the Spirit with Jessica Thompson

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Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control.

Of course, you know this list—the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22-23.

Much has been written about this list and how we can better find and embrace these traits in our lives, as evidence of being a Jesus follower. The marks of our godly character.

But author Jessica Thompson asks: Has it ever occurred to you that the fruit of the Spirit are also the characteristics of God? Can it be that God loves us with the fruit of the Spirit? And only when we are secure in that love can we display it to others?

Jessica’s new book, “How God Loves Us: 40 Days to Discovering his Character in the Fruit of the Spirit,” is 40 readings designed to take you deeper into the love God has for you.

She’s the author of several books, a frequent speaker, part of the podcast Front Porch with the Fitzes and is the director of church life at RISEN Church in San Diego, California.

And Jessica is on the show today to share more about her book and the love God has for you.

Show highlights include:

  • The highlights of Jessica’s story.
  • More about her new book on discovering God in the fruit of the Spirit and what makes it different from other books on the topic.
  • What the fruit of the Spirit are.
  • A common misconception about the fruit of the Spirit.
  • A verse that stuck out to Jessica in studying this passage of Scripture.
  • How we can go about finding more fruit of the Spirit in our lives.
  • More about her line: “As we behold the beauty of the Lord we will be changed.”
  • More on love and what we should know about God’s love.
  • What Jessica hopes readers get out of this book.

Listen and subscribe to the Do Gooders Podcast now. Below is a transcript of the episode, edited for readability. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post.

* * *

Christin Thieme: Jessica, welcome to the Do Gooders Podcast today.

Jessica Thompson: Thank you. I am so excited to be on with you.

Christin Thieme: Same, yes. As we start out here, can you share a little bit about who you are, maybe a little of your story, some highlights of what led you to today?

Jessica Thompson: Yeah. I was born in a Christian home and actually really learned early on, like everybody was Christians. Actually I was trying to remember this for sure but I’m pretty sure my grandmother used to play piano at Salvation Army services.

Christin Thieme: Oh wow.

Jessica Thompson: Back in the day, forever ago. She would go and play piano for different services and I could honestly be making that up but I don’t think I am.

Christin Thieme: No, I like it.

Jessica Thompson: I love that.

Christin Thieme: We’ll go with it.

Jessica Thompson: Okay, let’s go with it. I’m about 95% sure that is something that happened that she would sing and play piano. I grew up in that type of home, in that type of environment, everybody was saved, everybody was a Christian, everybody was doing all the things for God and so I learned really early on that the best way to make everybody happy with me would be to act like I was also in love with Jesus and a Christian. I was doing all the right things but my heart was actually very far from God. I went on missions trips as a high schooler. I was always at church. I went so far as to, as soon as I got out of high school, I went to Bible college to get a bachelors in Theology. I didn’t love Jesus. I didn’t know God. I was, yeah, just trying to get everybody to tell me how amazing I was. Then also keeping everybody out of my life.

But while I was in Bible college we had to go to a prayer service before we even started our classes and typically during that time I would daydream, nap, whatever—and they didn’t have smartphones back then. Let’s just put it that way. I couldn’t distract myself that way so I had to use my own imagination. I remember very clearly that during one of those times of prayer, I’m going to say, God spoke to me. It wasn’t an audible voice but I felt a stirring in my spirit. I heard in a sense that all of my goodness wasn’t good enough. Like I needed the goodness of Jesus Christ placed over my life and so I got saved in Bible college and was already at that time in leadership at the church and everything and had to tell everybody, hey, look, I think I just got saved, which was a weird conversation for everyone but it was fine. We made do. Yeah. Since then I just did the things, finished my degree and I have three adult children now and I live in Southern California and have been writing. This is actually my eighth book.

Christin Thieme: Oh my goodness.

Jessica Thompson: Yeah. Have been writing for a while now. My hope is that in all of my writing what comes across is that to whoever’s reading it that God loves us not based on our performance but based on the performance of Christ for us and in our place. He lived the life that we needed to live and he died the death that we deserve because we couldn’t be good enough and now we’re accepted, loved and forgiven as we are.

Christin Thieme: So you bring up an interesting point that I think a lot of people can probably relate to, of knowing who God is but not really knowing him. So for you personally, how do you put that into words? How do you describe that now to somebody who maybe is facing the same thing? What is the real difference there?

Jessica Thompson: Yeah. I think we can know a concept of God. I think we can think… Surely there’s probably a Creator. There’s probably some or maybe not. Maybe they don’t even think of God as a Creator. Maybe you don’t even think of God as a Creator but just some other being out there. I think what I’ve come to learn is that not only is there a Creator, not only is there a provider but there’s not just some being out there that’s not really concerned with my daily life or only steps in the really important parts but there’s a God out there who loves me intimately, knows everything about me.

And in while knowing everything about me still does love me and cares for me and is concerned down to every detail of my life, including the hairs on my head are numbered. I think that, that is the difference between knowing that there is a God or thinking that maybe there is a God and knowing that God that you think maybe is just out there floating around is actually very concerned about your very life and loves each of us intimately. Knows us, cares about us and wants to take care of us.

Christin Thieme: So you’ve written a book on this exact topic. It’s called “How God Loves Us: 40 Days to Discovering his Character in the Fruit of the Spirit.” Can you tell us a little bit more about it?

Jessica Thompson: Yeah. This book typically and for those of you don’t know, the fruit of the Spirit is, there’s a couple verses in the Bible that talk about what the fruit of the Spirit are. What are the things… And typically what that is looked at is what are the things that as Christians we display because the Holy Spirit is working in us. And yes, I agree with that, but I tried to take a little bit of a different take on those verses and instead of talking about how we can do those things, be loving and good and kind and patient and gentle and have self-control. What I did was I looked at those verses and said, how does God love us? How is God all of these things towards us? And so the shift is a little bit different. It’s not so much about how we need to get our act together because I think a lot of us think about that a lot.

We’re constantly thinking, how can I do better? Or what can I do to be a better person? Or what can I do to help others or any…We think about that a lot but what I wanted to do was instead of just having the motivation to be, I’m going to be a better person so I’m going to act differently, the motivation being instead, oh, God loves me so much. Here’s the way he loves me. Now I’m going to take that and love others. Now I’m going to take that and help others. So instead of the focus just being primarily on myself, I took the focus and put it on God. And then how does that love change us? As the Bible talks about how we love because he first loved us and so the love that we have in our hearts is actually created by him. His love created our love and so I thought if I looked more deeply into that, then maybe the more deeply we look into his love, then more loving we will act in return.

Christin Thieme: Yeah and I love the approach that you took, because like you said, we hear these so often talked about as our own character and are we displaying the fruits of the Spirit but you’re right. These are the traits that make up this God who loves us so much. What do you think is the most common misconception around the fruit of the Spirit? It’s such a well known verse within the Church. What do we get wrong about it?

Jessica Thompson: Yeah. I think we think it’s the fruit of trying harder. I think that we think that if I just know the things I’m supposed to do, I’ll be able to do them. The truth of the matter is we do know the things that we were supposed to do and we can’t do them. See if we could just know and then do, Jesus Christ wouldn’t have had to come and live the life that he’d been asked to live. If all we needed was someone to tell us what to do Jesus could have just been a life coach or he wouldn’t have had to come at all but instead he had to come and be our representative. He had to come and die in our place, live our lives in our place. We needed a savior. We didn’t need a list of here’s some great things that you should try and be like.

I think that often when we look at the fruit of the Spirit, what we look at is, okay, a checklist, I’m going to do these things today. I’m going to be more loving. I’m going to be good, I’m going to be kind, I’m going to be gentle. Instead of, like I said a little bit ago, thinking about how God has displayed those things. See the problem is when we focus on am I doing this checklist or am I not we end up in one of two places. We end up prideful, which is, look at me, I’m so gentle and kind. I actually let that person go at the four way stop instead of demanding my way. I didn’t yell at the Starbucks barista when they made my coffee without the special syrup I asked for or whatever. We focus in on who we are and then we get prideful when we’re doing well. Okay.

Then we look down on everybody else who’s not pulling it off the way we think we are. So look at me, I’m so generous and why can’t you be like me? Okay. That’s not the point of the fruit of the Spirit at all. So we end up there, we end up prideful or we end up despairing and sad and condemning ourselves, which is, I could never do these things. I screamed at that person; it was my turn at the four way stop and they decided to go. I yelled at the barista. I was unkind to my family. On and on our list goes of all the ways we failed. So we’re either looking at our successes or our failures and neither one of those is looking at Jesus Christ. Neither one of those is looking at who God is and what he’s done for us.

When we look at ourselves, when we make ourselves the primary focus, we either end up sad or we end up proud and a lot of times angry at everybody else. But when we look at who Christ is, when we look at the ways that God has loved us, this is what moves us towards acting out these fruit of the Spirit in a deep heart way, not just in a I have to act this way but our heart is really genuinely more kind. Our heart is really genuinely more loving because our focus is on who God is and what he’s done instead of how we have to get our act together. I think, typically, the Church looks at it as like a to-do list when really it’s a done list. These are all the things that God has done for us, through us and to us and so we can rejoice, celebrate and then our reaction to that, our response to that is one of also displaying the fruit of the Spirit.

Christin Thieme: You write in the introduction that most self-aware people know that they need more love, more joy, more patience and so on in their lives. I love this line you write, “As we behold the beauty of the Lord we will be changed.” Can you talk a little bit about practically speaking what does that mean? How do we behold the beauty of the Lord?

Jessica Thompson: Yeah. You buy my book. No, I’m kidding.

Christin Thieme: Step one.

Jessica Thompson: You don’t need to buy my book to do this. As you read your Bible and you see who he is, you see his character, you behold who he is, you go out in creation and you see the specific details on the plants and the birds. You could just look at creation. The Bible even says this. You can just look at creation and think, wow, there’s a God that loves us because why would he make things so beautiful? Why would the bird sound so amazing? So even just that. Going out, taking a walk in creation, looking at the Bible says for as high as the heavens are above the earth so much is his love for you and as far as the east is from the west so far has he removed your transgressions from you, your sense from you.

So you’ve go outside and you look around, that’s a great way to behold who God is. You find that in community, you find that in loving and serving others, you find that when you look in the face of another human being and think this is an image bearer of God. God’s beauty is everywhere but it really is displayed in the way that he sent his son to die for us. He sent his son, God, himself came as a man and every other religion, you have to work your way up to God but in Christianity, God comes down to you and he provides a way to be in community with him. He’s the one that does the work and we’re the recipients. So you look at the gospel, you look at the goodness of God and as you behold that goodness, as you behold that beauty you’re more and more aware of who he is.

As you behold him, you become more like him and we see this in practical ways. Like when you are around someone that you really love all the time, you take on the same funny phrases or you end up dressing the same, you show up to a place and you’re, oh my gosh, we’re wearing the exact same thing or similar. So the more you’re around someone you love, the more you become like them. Same thing with God. The more you look at who he is, follow in love with who he is, the more you will naturally just become like him.

Christin Thieme: This year The Salvation Army issued a call to Love Beyond which is based on the verse in first Peter that says, Above all, love. The first fruit of the Spirit is love. Can you share a little bit more from this section of your book and what we should all know about God’s love?

Jessica Thompson: Yeah. I would love to. Jeremiah 31:3 says this, I have loved you with an everlasting love therefore I have continued to extend faithful love to you. This is who God is. I think a lot of times we think God has to be kind to me or has to save me because he’s nice or it’s just he’s God so he has to do it. There’s no emotion attached to it but in actuality, God says he’s loved each of us from eternity past into eternity future. We will spend our forever learning about the depths of his love for us and his love for us is not again, based on our performance or based on how well we even understand his love. His love is based on his character. See, God is love. That’s who he is. He can’t be anything but loving towards us.

As we remember that, rejoice in that, it’ll change our hearts. He’s loved us before we were even alive. I’ve loved you from eternity past. I will love you into eternity future and his love for us is faithful. Okay. It’s not up one day and down the next depending on our performance. It’s not that his love is hot or cold. His love for us is faithful. It’s steady, it’s steadfast. It’s always pursuing us and so when we think about God and when we had a bad day and by bad day I mean you’ve just displayed the anti fruit of the Spirit all day. When you’ve had that kind of a day and you get to the end of your day, you can remember that you are loved. That is what changes us, that I’m loved, that you’re loved, that we’re loved because this is who God is for us and towards us.

The Bible, the gospel is summed up in the words Christ for you. So, you’re loved not just in a passive way but in a very active way. He pursues us. He goes after us. He takes care of us. He forgives us. He welcomes us into his home. I mean, even in the story of the prodigal son, the father, when the son comes home, the father gives him a hug before he ever cleans him up and so the hug comes before the bath and so on those days where we feel like we’re dirty and wrong and bad and we’ve done everything wrong, remember that you have a father that’s running towards you, hugging you before you do anything to clean up because that’s who he is. His heart is full of a love for us.

Christin Thieme: I love—you write this in the book that “God’s love is not static, God’s love is not impotent, God’s love moves him to give, God’s love moves him toward us. God does not look at us with cool defection. God loves us and is moved into action. His love moved him to give.” And you go on to share that it’s not something about what we do. There’s nothing that we can do to lose it or to earn it.

Jessica Thompson: Right.

Christin Thieme: That he loves us just because he does.

Jessica Thompson: Yeah and what’s so cool about that then is we have everything we need so we can be radically generous. As we think about how much he’s given to us and how much he loves us, we don’t have to be stingy with our love, with our time, with our resources. We can give it all away because he’s given everything for us and so as we think about how God’s love is moved toward others, then hopefully that will make our heart move towards others as well. Then, you know what though, on the days that it doesn’t and on the days we’re still angry and selfish and et cetera, we’re still forgiven and we’re still loved. So the hope is the more we remember that, the more it’ll move our hearts in a generous response to the love of God. It’ll move our hearts towards others because of what he’s done.

Christin Thieme: Yeah. Definitely. As someone who knew this passage well going into this process, I imagine you studied it quite a bit in writing this book. Is there anything about it that surprised you or maybe came to you in a new way while you were going about the process of writing this book?

Jessica Thompson: Yeah, listen, if you have to write a book about anything, let it be a book where you have to just sit and think about how much God loves you.

Christin Thieme: Yeah. That was a good plan.

Jessica Thompson: It has been such a beautiful process for me and as I’ve been going through each of these things and I think probably one of the fruit of Spirits that really stuck out to me was joy. How God is a joyful God. He’s not, I just think we have a really wrong perspective on who he is. He’s not miserly or angry or sitting up there just waiting for us to do something wrong so we can slap our hand. But instead the Bible talks about how he rejoices over us with singing. The Bible talks about how, when a bride sees a bride groom, that’s how your God rejoices over you.

I think that as I was going through this, that the chapter on joy was, or the section on joy was the one that probably spoke to my heart the most, just thinking about how God is a joyful God. That’s not something I’ve thought about a ton before but to think about how it’s not just that he’s joyful generally, but that, and he is, but that he is all also joyful specifically and that joy comes from what he thinks about you and about me and so I think that in and of itself was something really beautiful for me to see. Quite surprisingly, I’m kidding. It wasn’t a surprise but it created joy in my heart.

When I think about how joyful he is, the Bible talks about that for the joy set before him Christ endured the cross and that joy that was set before him was redeeming us, redeeming me and you and those that are listening, bringing them into his family. So to think about that is, has been a real also source of joy in my own life. I think for those of you who are listening to think about how God is joyful when he thinks about you and he knows everything about you and yet there’s still joy in his heart when he thinks about you being his, belonging to his family, that’s a cause for celebration in my opinion and it’s sure to put a smile on your face.

Christin Thieme: Yeah and about you specifically and about me specifically; it’s really cool to think about.

Jessica Thompson: Yeah.

Christin Thieme: What do you ultimately hope that a reader would get out of this book?

Jessica Thompson: Yeah. So the last few years have been real hard. I don’t know how much joy a lot of us have experienced. There’s uncertainty, there’s unrest, there’s danger, really everywhere we look. My hope in writing this book and my hope for the reader would be that this would be a space of rest, that this would be a space where people can breathe, to take a deep breath in of the love of God for you and for me. I really wanted this book to be tender.

I don’t know. That seems like a strange way to describe a book but I know a lot of people have walked away from their faith during the past few years. I have friends that have decided that Christianity is not for them and my hope was that they could pick this book up and read it and feel God’s love even for them. That they would feel this tenderness of God. That this book would be gentle with people and that we would find a place of rest, a place to take a breath, a place where we felt the warmth of God’s love for us. That was my hope. That is my hope for everyone who reads this book.

Christin Thieme: I love it. Well, make sure you find this book wherever you buy your books: “How God Loves Us: 40 Days of Discovering his Character in the Fruit of the Spirit.” Jessica, where can we find and connect with you online?

Jessica Thompson: I am on Instagram or Twitter and my handle, my profile name is a little funny, but it just was because Jessica Thompson is one of the most common names that’s ever been out there. So my handle is @thejesslou. Louise is my middle name, so @thejesslou.

And then my website is jessicathompson.co. I don’t get an m, there’s no .com because Jessica Thompson was obviously already taken. So jessicathompson.co or @thejesslou.

Christin Thieme: Excellent. We will find you with those then.

Jessica Thompson: Great.

Christin Thieme: Well, Jessica, thank you so much for sharing today. Thank you for giving us this, just encouragement.

Jessica Thompson: Yeah. Thank you for allowing me to do it. I would love to spend the rest of my life just reminding people that they’re loved and known and welcomed by the father.

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