How a Simple Apple Can Change Your View of Leadership
Understanding what it means to be ‘fruitful’
We’ve been talking about icons in these blogs, how simple objects can connect us to deep Biblical truths. We started with a jar of dirt to remind us that ‘It’s All His!’ We moved on to a paddle, to remind us that He is in control.
This week I want to focus on an apple. The idea of being ‘fruitful’ runs throughout Scripture. But what kind of fruit does God desire? I spent far too much of my professional life believing the lie that God wants fruit producers. My measure of success was how much I could accomplish; meet goals, write books, raise money, execute strategy…these were my metrics. The problem was, they were my metrics. What I was missing was a passionate pursuit of God’s metrics, kingdom metrics and the Spirit’s outcomes.
One day I encountered John 15 and the Spirit revealed to me a new realization that there is a huge difference between producing fruit and bearing fruit. And John 15 is all about bearing fruit. From my book, The Seventh Key, here is an exchange between Barry, the mentor, Jack, the mentee, and Jerry, an orchardist.
Barry reached down and picked up an apple. “Jerry, I was sharing with Jack the importance of knowing the difference between producing fruit and bearing fruit. You see, I think John 15 is all about bearing fruit and not all about producing fruit. Can you help us understand the difference?”
Jerry nodded. He climbed back on his ladder and grabbed one of the largest, sturdiest branches of the apple tree. Beautiful apples hung all along its length.
“Here’s how I see the difference. How much fruit would you say this branch will produce by the time we harvest?”
This had to be a trick question, but the answer seemed so obvious Jack couldn’t resist offering it. “Looks like about one, maybe two full boxes of apples.”
Jerry looked at Barry. “So, Barry, what do you say?”
Barry looked at Jack, a quick grin crossed his lips. “Not one apple.”
Jerry came down off the ladder. “Well, Barry, I think you got it just about right. This branch won’t produce one single apple.”
So was this some kind of game these two played? “Okay, so let me in on the secret. Why won’t this branch produce any apples? I already see twenty to thirty of them hanging from it.”
Jerry picked up an apple that had fallen off a tree. “Okay, thanks for playing along Jack. Here’s the point. Branches don’t produce anything. They don’t have the capability to do anything on their own. Their whole job is to be the place where all of the sap can run up from the trunk through them and produce the fruit. All a branch can do – what it was created to do – is stay fully engrafted into the trunk so that the tree’s fruit can be born on its branches.”
Barry nodded. “So that’s why I said I don’t believe John 15 is about producing fruit. Jesus compares us to branches of a fruit tree. Our work is to stay so engrafted into the trunk that our lives will ultimately bear fruit. But it is always fruit that comes as result of being tied to the trunk. It is never our fruit, our work, our accomplishments. That’s why Jesus says that apart from him, we can do nothing.”
Jerry led them over to a pile of branches that had just recently been cut from some of the apple trees. He picked up one large branch that still had green leaves attached. “Here’s another way of looking at it. If a branch could produce fruit then we would be harvesting from this big pile of branches. But obviously, it can’t. Once it’s cut from the vine, it’s useless. That’s what John 15 says.”
Jack was trying to make sense of it all. “If we’re not called to produce fruit, what does it mean to bear fruit?”
Barry’s eyes lit up. “That’s exactly the question we need to be asking. And I think the answer is in Galatians 5:22-23, where Paul tells us that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Jack, this has been a real source of freedom for me, realizing that what God wants from my life, let’s just say God’s measurement of success for my life, isn’t in what I produce from my hands, but the extent to which I stayed so engrafted into him that the Spirit could live and work through me.”
“So the fruit Jesus talks about in John 15 is–“
“– the fruit of the Spirit.”
There is the choice we face. Do we spend our lives as leaders focusing on producing the fruit of our own hands, or do we stay so connected to the Vine that our lives bear the fruit of the Spirit? Which choice will elicit from Jesus those coveted words, ‘Well done, good and faithful steward”? Remember, ‘goodness’ and ‘faithfulness’ are fruits of the Spirit!
My prayer is that a simple apple can remind us that we are called to be fruit bearers as we stay engrafted into the life-giving Vine from which we receive all we need to live in this world of sin and darkness as kingdom people; people through whom flow love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.