One summer during college, I read these words with fresh eyes, and they began to turn my world upside down:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower…. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing…. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” (John 15:1-8, NRSV)
I was excited when I was assigned to write on this passage that summer. This, I suspected, was Jesus’ most focused teaching on how to maximize productivity. As an “achievement junkie,” I was eager to unearth Jesus’ greatest secrets for productivity in ministry.
I read through the passage once, twice, and leaned back stunned. Jesus’ words shattered my whole approach to ministry. Work more, harder, faster–I was a whirlwind of activity. But Jesus was saying that productive ministry had nothing to do with trying harder. What blew me away is that in this passage—Jesus’ clearest teaching on fruitful ministry–he never commanded or instructed his disciples to bear fruit. Not once.
Fruit-bearing was not a command; it was a promise, a promise conditioned on obeying a command. The command was not to bear fruit; it was to abide in the vine. “If you take care of abiding,” Jesus was saying, “I will take care of the fruit.”
But what is abiding? I found the answer in the next two verses. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love” (v. 9). Jesus’ words brought to mind the image of a child enfolded in its father’s arms, the picture of perfect trust. Verse 10 says, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” There it was: trust and obey. “Abide” might seem nebulous, but “trust and obey,” that I could sink my teeth into. Listen for God’s guidance, then follow it.
That day, a transformation began. Old habits die hard, but over the next few years the old way of trying to produce fruit through my effort gradually gave way to a new habit, abiding—trusting and obeying (at least most of the time)—and leaving the fruit to God.
- How do you feel about the prospect of being less busy and more fruitful?
- On a scale of 1 to 10, if 1 represents working harder to produce more fruit and 10 represents abiding and trusting God to produce fruit through you, where would you place yourself?
© Eddy Hall 2017