By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. Mat. 7:16-17
When you are feeling anxious about life it is always good to ask yourself what spirit has led you to the state of soul you now find yourself in. Is it a spirit of faith or one of fear that is prompting you to think, interpret, act or react as you are? We will have a very different experience of life depending on which spirit we choose to follow. The voice of the shepherd will lead us to a healthy state of soul, whereas the voice of a stranger will usually lead us to a state of spiritual dis-ease.
Jesus gives us a very immediate means of discerning the origin of whichever spirit we are following when He teaches that “you will know a tree by its fruit.” By observing the effect a spirit has on us—whether it produces figs or thistles—we will soon know if it is from God or not. And the more attentive we are to its effects, the more we will be in a position to choose whether to continue following this spirit or to heed Jesus’ teaching that His sheep “will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” (John 10:5-6).
You will know a spirit by its fruit. If you were to write a list of the “symptoms” you experience when you are in a spirit of either faith or fear what would it look like? Here is a quick itemization I made for myself. How would you answer these questions for yourself?
What effect does fear have on you? When I am operating from a motivation based on the spirit of fear I usually feel anxious. I tend to obsess and worry more. I feel alone. I live with more dread of the future. I try to overly control my situation. I tend to experience my life more as a burden or as a problem that needs to be solved. I am less patient with myself and with others. I tend to over-react in my interpretation and responses to life. I am less inclined to trust. I feel more self-protective. I tend to interpret myself and my circumstances more negatively.
What effect does faith have on you? When I am operating from a motivation that is based on the spirit of faith I feel more free. I feel more inclined to risk. I receive life more as a gift than as a problem. I feel more trusting. I am more gentle with myself and with life in general. I feel more at peace regarding things I can’t see or understand. I am more detached and less reactive to my circumstances. I feel a greater sense of abandonment and courage. I am more willing to wait and see how things unfold rather than prematurely respond to my limited sense of what is happening. I am more able to trust God with the outcome of my circumstances. I am more hopeful about the future.
Recognizing, by the effects it has on you, the character of the spirit you have been following will help you to now choose more intelligently whether to continue following this spirit or not. Is it the voice of the shepherd or that of a “stranger” that has led you to the state of soul you find yourself in? My sheep will hear my voice and they will not follow the voice of a stranger We are wise, as the apostle John teaches us, to “test the spirits to see that they are from Christ” (1Jn. 4:1). As we do so, we will be all the more shielded from the anxious effects of the stranger’s voice.
Above all guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.