Most Christians would say that they want to serve God and “make a difference” for Him. The problem is that few people really know what that means and what it looks like in their life. This little devotional will not answer that complex question, but, perhaps it will expose one fundamental misperception that may be blocking the flow of “difference making” ministry in your life. As goal-oriented, achievement/success-centered Americans, we have a tendency to look at our spiritual lives in terms of productivity and effectiveness. In Jesus’ analogy, He speaks of His disciples as branches that “bear fruit.” The “fruit” in this context is the evidence of the Kingdom of God in the life of the disciple. Here’s where things can tend to get skewed in the modern, mechanistic, product-oriented mentality. We read that passage and say, “See, my job is to produce fruit for Jesus. That means I’m supposed to read my Bible every day, tithe at church, smile at people, give to the poor, and be loving, patient, kind, etc. If I just work really hard and create an “ends policy” that will manage my time effectively, then I will be able to increase my product efficiency and bring more glory to God.” Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it. Of course it does, because we have been programmed to think of everything in these terms. Plan, strategize, give 110%, and work hard, it’s the American way.
It may be the American way, but it is not necessarily the Kingdom way. Read the passage again. Notice that Jesus never commands the disciples to produce fruit. His command is that they remain in Him, as the branch remains in the vine. If you remain, then you will produce fruit. Let’s expand the analogy of the vine, only slightly, and include the role of the Holy Spirit in the process of fruit production. (This is a valid expansion since Jesus goes on to teach extensively on the role of the Holy Spirit within the context of this upper room dialogue He’s having with the disciples). If Jesus is the vine, and the disciples are the branch, then the Holy Spirit is the sap that runs through them both. As the sap runs through and nourishes the vine, it finds open channels of well connected branches through which it can flow and make into fruit bearing extensions of the vine. If the branch is successfully connected to the vine in an open and receiving attitude, then the Spirit is free to produce fruit through that branch. Notice the key to this statement: The SPIRIT produces the fruit. Here is the secret to the Kingdom of Heaven. It is not the fruit of Mike or the fruit of Susie, it is the fruit of the Spirit that grows on the branch. Our job, as disciples of Jesus, is to focus our energy on remaining in an authentic relationship with Jesus. If we do that then the Holy Spirit will flow through us and produce fruit that will be ripe and juicy, fruit that will feed the world and bring glory to the vine, and ultimately to the Father/Gardener that prunes and tends the vine.
If you want to “work hard” on your fruit production, then stop striving to be “productive.” Take time each morning to breathe deeply, to meditate on the words of God revealed to us through the Bible, humble yourself in the presence of the Bible, give up the pride that drives you to “do good” and ask the Holy Spirit to empower you to “be good” in everything that you do. When you realize that you, in your own strength, are incapable of producing anything good for God, then you will be ready to humbly receive the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. If you start your day this way, then you will be in tune to the Spirit when He says, “do this, say that, and help that person.” The secret of the Kingdom is to pray this simple prayer (not verbatim, of course, but in spirit)
Kill my pride and ego so that I will not get in the way of the Kingdom work that the Spirit wants to do through me.
Fill me with the Spirit, which can only come through the authority and power of Jesus Christ, the true vine and only way to the Father.
Spill me; having been filled to the brim with the presence of God, may I overflow into the world around me in fruitful service that is beyond my ability, thus proving the glory and power of God at work in the world.