Recently I ran into a friend while grocery shopping. That short encounter is still impacting me weeks later.
My friend asked how things were going with my blog, and I explained I was discouraged because Fructified has had a smaller audience than I had hoped for. My discouragement was rooted in pride, and I confessed that to her.
She tilted her head to the side and gently said, “You know, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately that we are wrong to measure success by numbers. That is our tendency, but it’s inaccurate. It’s better to have one transformed life than dozens of lukewarm Christians.”
Her wise words struck a chord in my heart. The Holy Spirit was quick to confirm in me that only God can know how He uses our labor for Him. God does view success differently than we do. During His earthly ministry, Jesus had many “followers,” but there were only twelve men who were radically changed by His teaching.
In the Kingdom, transformation into the image of Christ is esteemed. It really is about quality and not quantity.
I gave my friend a grateful hug and continued my shopping with an encouraged and comforted heart. Much later I sat down to journal my experience that day. In the quiet of the moment one word rose to the surface of my heart: fruitless. Lately I have been feeling fruitless and ineffective as a writer, teacher, and discipler. As soon as my heart articulated the word fruitless, I knew why I had been feeling that way. I felt fruitless because I was. I had grown comfortable in my ability as a writer and teacher and had not prayed over my ministry as I should. I don’t think it was ever a conscious thought, but somehow I got to the point where I operated as though I could bear fruit on my own.
I now realize that in my heart, I was only partially abiding in the Vine. I was obedient to God’s call to start writing regularly through a blog, but I was disobedient to not regularly pray over my blog.
My feelings of fruitlessness led me to this discovery: there can be no fructification in the life of the believer without prayer.
It’s all quite ludicrous, actually. Here I am, author of a blog named “Fructified,” writing with the intent of encouraging the growth of spiritual fruit in the Church. But instead of praying for growth in myself and for God to use my writing for His glory, I relied on myself as if I could bear fruit on my own.
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).
Self-sufficiency is a fast track to fruitlessness.
Fruitlessness has tragic consequences. As followers of Christ, we are set apart by our fruit. We are different from the world because of the character of Christ being planted and grown within us. It is spiritual fruit that makes the world curious because the fruit of the Spirit is so much sweeter than the rotten fruit of the flesh.
So if fruit-bearing is imperative to our mission as ministers of the gospel, how can we avoid the pitfalls of self-sufficiency?
- Acknowledge your dependency on Christ often. Jesus Himself warned us that we cannot bear fruit apart from Him. Heed His warning, and be mindful of your inability to serve Jesus on your own.
- Bathe your ministry in prayer. Don’t be tempted to think “I’ve got this” just because God called you to a specific task. Seek His face diligently, and invite the Holy Spirit to work in you and through you.
- Define success by God’s definition of success, not your own. Don’t focus on numbers, but celebrate the growth of the individuals around you.
We all face seasons of fruitlessness. Sometimes it is because of our sin, and other times it is by the perfect design of our sovereign God. Whether we are truly fruitless or just feel fruitless, we need to allow that fruitlessness to draw us closer to the Vine. Let Him nourish you, even prune you, so you can be the healthiest branch you can be.
Abide patiently, friends. Fruit takes time to grow. Seeds remain unseen in the dirt before the green plant pushes through. Even if you do not see evidence of fruit, be encouraged. God sees that hidden seed and He is causing it to grow.
The best is yet to come,
Photo courtesy of Liza Jane Photography