But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:1-5)
We can become so busy trying to change the world for Christ that we have no time for Christ to change us.
A number of years ago God confronted me with a significant fallacy that I had been living with for most of my adult life. It had to do with John 15. I had always considered this text to be a charge to be producers of fruit as followers of Jesus. To me this meant setting and achieving goals, seeing tangible results for our work and making an impact on the kingdom of God. It threw me into a lifestyle of incessant busyness, all for Jesus, of course.
Then one day he laid on my heart the realization that John 15 may not be about producing fruit at all. Again and again Jesus uses the term “bearing”, and there is a significant difference between producing and bearing fruit. The former focuses on my work for God, the latter on God’s work through me. John 15 is less a call to action that an invitation to intimacy. Eleven times Jesus uses the term “remain.” There is an undeniable linkage between our remaining in an intimate relationship with God, and the extent to which our lives will bear the kind of fruit to which John 15 is calling us.
There is one more piece to this puzzle. It is in how we define “fruit.” If the fruit in our life is always defined as the product of our labor, the work of our hands, the outcome of our own efforts, then we will completely miss the message of John 15. Consider instead that what Jesus is talking about as fruit, the apostle Paul later defined for us as the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Or me, this shift in definition was one of the most shocking discoveries of my Christian life. Instead of demanding of me the driven life of trying to do good things for God, Jesus is inviting me into relationship with him that is so deep, so intimate that my life will be filled with the Holy Spirit. As that Spirit works in and through me, my life will bear love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.
The impact of this fruit on everyone we meet will result from what God is doing in us and through us and not just from what we are doing for him. In fact, our driven-ness for doing may be the single greatest obstacle to the Spirit’s work in us. We can become so busy working for God that we lose the depth of relationship with him that is required for him to work in us. When our work becomes our fruit, it carries no power to change or transform.
What kind of fruit is being produced in your life? Are you so busy trying to do what God wants you to do that you have lost the depth of relationship with him that will allow him to live in and through you? To what extent is the fruit of the Spirit being poured out through you into the lives of the people around you?
Send an e-mail to three people who know you well. List in your e-mail the fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5 and ask them to what extent they see this fruit being borne out in your life. Be open to their response to let it guide you in seeking deeper intimacy with God from which this fruit will flow.
Gracious Lord, I confess to you that I can too easily focus on the work I am doing for you at the expense of letting you work in me and through me. You know Lord that I want to be fruitful for the kingdom. Forgive me if I have misunderstood what that means. I look at my life and wonder to what extent the fruit of the Spirit is being experienced by people whose lives I touch each day. Sometimes I see that in my drive to produce fruit for you, I have actually taken on attitudes and actions that are in complete contradiction to this fruit. Please forgive me. I deeply desire a more intimate relationship with you that you can change my heart and attitudes and help me become a fruit bearer for the kingdom of God. I want the Holy Spirits to flow through me but I’m not sure how to get there. So come Holy Spirit, overwhelm my spirit and create in me a fresh and clean heart. I yield myself back to you for this purpose. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
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