The Holy Spirit is just as active in people’s lives today as he was two thousand years ago. Still, we can look at our own lives and think: “Nothing that exciting ever happens to me. I don’t see myself being half as effective as all these other people you wrote about.”
Thoughts like these can be quite discouraging—and they are probably not true. To help us gain a better perspective, let’s look at the story of someone who thought the same thing but whose life proved the exact opposite.
Hidden Fruit. As a young Frenchman from a wealthy family, Charles de Foucauld wasted his early years playing the part of a free-spending playboy. But a dramatic conversion experience filled him with so much love for the Lord that he devoted himself to imitating Jesus’ hidden life in Nazareth. After spending a few years in the Holy Land, and after being ordained a priest in 1901, he went to live a solitary life in the Algerian desert. There he spent hours in prayer each day, worked as a manual laborer, and served the impoverished Tuareg people of Tamanrasset.
Charles longed to welcome other men to live with him in community; he even wrote a rule for his anticipated brotherhood. But no one came. As he grew older, he began to mourn his apparently fruitless life. Tragically, he was killed in December 1916 in an anti-French uprising. He had no followers. He brought few, if any, Tuareg people to faith in Christ. And he ended up being murdered by the very people he would love to have cared for. All his energies seemed wasted and his dream unfulfilled.
But then in 1933, God began raising up a group of men and women who had found Charles’ writings and were touched deeply by them. This small gathering called themselves the Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus, and they dedicated themselves to following the way of life that de Foucauld had written about. Today, small bands of Little Brothers and Sisters are spread throughout the world. Their witness to a life of simplicity and hiddenness in imitation of Jesus is touching the hearts of everyone around them. As it turns out, Charles de Foucauld bore so much more fruit than he ever imagined!
The Fruit of a Changed Heart. The mere existence of the Little Brothers and Little Sisters tells us that God often works in hidden, mysterious ways. It also tells us that no attempt to serve and honor him goes unrewarded.
Like Charles de Foucauld, many of us may feel that the fruit we are bearing is meager. But maybe the fruit we are looking for is not the same fruit that the Spirit is producing in our lives right now. Maybe we are measuring spiritual fruit only in external terms, like the numbers of people we have directly converted or the parish work we are doing. In reality, this kind of fruit is secondary to the first and most important fruit the Spirit bears in us: internal fruit that testifies to a changed heart. Here are three ways that you are probably bearing fruit—and you may not even notice it.
A Heart of Peace. One of the most common—and most comforting—fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives is that he gives us a deeper confidence in God’s love. It’s a fruit that comes as we receive the Eucharist and know that we are receiving the very Body of Christ, the Bread of life. This fruit also grows every time we sense God’s presence in our prayer. It grows every time a word from Scripture touches our hearts and shows us God’s wisdom, his mercy, or his direction.
We can tell that this fruit is active in our lives when we find ourselves becoming more peaceful as we go about our days. If you are finding that little setbacks and disappointments aren’t bothering you as much as they did a couple of years ago, you can be sure that the Holy Spirit is working in your life. Think about the story of the man who came home to find his children being rowdy. He was faced with a situation that could have set him off, but the Spirit prompted him to go into his room and pray—and he was able to turn the situation around. Whenever you find yourself acting in a similar way, that’s a sign that the Spirit is working in you, teaching you to bear his fruit!
But it’s not just the small things that the Spirit can help us with. Situations like a terminal illness, a broken relationship, or ongoing financial hardship don’t have to rob us of all our hope or trust in God. Yes, these are more challenging. But nothing is too big for the Holy Spirit! Over time, he can teach us the secret of being content in every situation we face (Philippians 4:12).
A Heart of Repentance and Forgiveness. Another fruit of the Holy Spirit that quietly occurs in our hearts comes as we find ourselves more willing to repent and more willing to forgive.
Repentance almost always carries a negative connotation, but the truth is that it is a magnificent blessing from God. If you have ever felt the need to go to Confession so that you can get freed from guilt, know that it’s the Holy Spirit who put that thought in your mind! It’s also the Spirit who gently moves us to try to resolve divisions in our families or in our friendships. Simple but disarming gestures like saying “I’m sorry” come from the Holy Spirit, who wants to help us live in unity.
The same is true whenever we tell someone: “I forgive you.” These three words have the power to bring almost immediate healing. They can take mountains of guilt and shame off of a person’s heart and replace them with peace and relief. When we are able to forgive someone, we are acting like Jesus. And that is undeniable proof that the Holy Spirit is working in us. Even on those occasions when we can’t yet forgive, the mere fact that we know we should—the mere fact that we want to get to the point of being able to forgive—is a sign that the Spirit is in us, helping us over every hurdle. God rewards every effort to repent and every effort to be his instruments of peace.
A Heart of Compassion. The final fruit we want to look at is the fruit of compassion. Scripture tells us to be slow to judge (Luke 6:37). It tells us to be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). This is the kind of disposition that the Spirit loves to build in our hearts. He loves to teach us to put aside judgmental, condemning thoughts about people we disagree with. He loves to help us walk in another person’s shoes so that we are not so quick to dismiss someone or ignore his or her own perspective and needs.
So if you have found your heart going out to people who are struggling in any way, this is a mark of the Holy Spirit’s work. Perhaps tragic stories in the news that you once skipped over are moving you to pray for an end to violence. Maybe the number of abortions that occur each year in our country is piercing your heart in new ways. Maybe you are finding yourself going out of your way to help a neighbor who is sick or a coworker who is going through a tough time at home. All of these are signs that the Spirit is giving you the heart of Christ—the heart of one who wants to answer the cry of the poor.
God Is with Us. Brothers and sisters, we need to know that we really are bearing fruit for the Lord. Every change in your heart, every new attitude, every act of humility and repentance, is a testimony to the fact that the Holy Spirit is at work, shaping you into the image of Christ!
So don’t allow yourself to believe that God has forgotten about you or that his plans for you are small and insignificant. The Holy Spirit is working just as powerfully today as he did in the time of the apostles. We just need to know where to look—inside our own hearts! God really does love us. He really is with us, asking us to yield ourselves to his Spirit. As we do, he will do astonishing things in us. He will change our dispositions, fill us with his love, and equip us to go into the world as his ambassadors. This is a great privilege, and it’s available to all of us—simply because the Holy Spirit dwells in us!
May God bless you this Easter season, and may the day of Pentecost find all of us watching and waiting, ready to receive whatever gifts the Spirit wants to give us.