Disciplines of the Steward Leader #3 – From Producing to Bearing
Two years ago I was confronted with the realization that I had been reading John 15 from a fundamentally flawed perspective. Take a moment and read the first nine verses, and count the number of times the words ‘abide/remain’ and ‘fruit’ are used. In most versions each are mentioned at least seven times in these nine short verses. Clearly they are the focus of this text.
From my perspective there was an inherent contradiction in these verses. To ‘abide’ or ‘remain’ is a passive activity. It means to be quiet, be present, be open and be still before God. ‘Abiding’ requires time, focus and priority with the sole purpose of, well, just being with God.
That is all fine and important, but I always questioned how this ‘remaining’ results in producing more fruit for the kingdom? To get things done for God, to be successful and ‘fruitful’ requires work, lots of it! The downside is that Christian leaders are burning out and stressing out everyday frantically trying to produce more fruit. But isn’t that the core message of John 15? And if so, if John 15 is so focused on how we can be more fruitful, where does all of this ‘abiding’ come in to play? Is John really saying, ‘to get more done, do less.’ ‘To produce more fruit, sit around quietly in God’s presence.’ ‘To meet your increased annual goals for work, increase your time away from work and spend more time in the presence of God.’
These sound pious and spiritual, but in reality they are woefully impractical. So what’s the real story here?
It was in the face of this paradox that I was helped to realize that I had been reading my own production-oriented, doing-driven, success-focused perspective into this text. When that was stripped away, I saw for the first time that John is not calling us to ‘produce’ fruit from the work of our hands, but to ‘bear’ fruit as God works in us and through us. And that only happens in a heart that abides in the presence of God.
That was a seismic shift in my understanding of my calling as a child of God. The obvious question was, ‘what is this fruit we are suppose to bear?’ Immediately Galatians 5:22 came rushing to mind, ¨But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
Is John calling us to be so engrafted as branches to the True Vine that the Spirit of God will flow through us, and the world will see in us the fruit of the Spirit? Could this be our first and highest calling? Does this root out our drive to ‘produce for God’ and replace it with a passion simply and humbly to ‘abide in the vine’ as our life’s primary and truest vocation? How radical is that?
As you sit here reading these words, ask yourself honestly, is your life dominated by producing the fruit of your hands or bearing the fruit of the Spirit? Look at your calendar, your to-do lists, your goals. Examine your stressors and the sources of your fears and anxieties. What do they say about what is driving you today?
Steward leaders seek first and foremost to abide in the Vine; seeing it as their highest priority, believing the promise that bearing the fruit of the Spirit is to the Father’s glory and joy, and living confidently in the knowledge that he will do all we ask in his name if our hearts are intent on remaining in Him.