I’ve been a Christian for many years, but many days it doesn’t feel like it. While I am supposed to be abundantly bearing the fruit of the Spirit, I find I still struggle with the same selfish pride, feel inadequate for the roles God has given me, and fall short of a heart of love and grace towards all people. I truly want transformation and I know that not getting angry in that moment or saying those hurtful words is better for everyone, but time after time the dark depths of my heart are again revealed. It is frustrating to continually fight against the same shortcomings without clear progress then come to realize even my pursuit of love, joy, peace, patience… is rooted in anger, sorrow, anxiety and impatience! This is obviously not the proper approach to fruitfulness.
Luke 8 tells the parable of the soils and of the many seeds scattered in places where they will never bear fruit. Then comes the seeds that land in good soil and these “bear fruit with patience.” In sum, you either hear the Word, ultimately reject it, and bear no fruit; or you believe, hold fast to the Word, and patiently grow and await the time when you will produce the fruit of righteousness. Notice, there is no “extra good” soil that results in instant fruit.
Fruitfulness takes time. Just as the seed sprouts, grows, flowers, then bears fruit; so we must go through a process. Thankfully, Jesus’ righteousness covers us fully from the day we choose to accept it. We don’t have to be a certain level of fruitfulness to be fully accepted by God and welcomed into his Kingdom. Nevertheless his desire for us is not to wilt and die in our sinfulness. He wants to see us grow into beautiful and fruitful “oaks of righteousness” as Isaiah 61:3 says, though time alone doesn’t get us there.
Fruitfulness takes abiding and asking. John 15 reminds us that we will never get anywhere on our own. We must rely on the strength and sustenance of the vine, namely Jesus, to bear any fruit. We also can’t receive if we don’t first ask! Even the Apostles, who were with Jesus wherever he went and relied on his strength to survive, pleaded to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5). God loves to hear from us, even the obvious. Tell him about the fruit that you seek! He will not deny you anything that is good.
Fruitfulness takes knowledge. We can’t expect to be fruitful if we don’t personally know the Spirit of God who is the source of all fruit, or Jesus, who is the perfect example of fruitfulness. The relationships we choose to build and the content we fill our minds with greatly affect our choice to pursue the things of God versus the things of the world.
Fruitfulness takes effort. Look back at the seeds in Luke 8 which bear no fruit. Many of them start to grow, but distractions and trials take place and they give up before any fruit comes. Only those that “hold fast” and persevere come to fruitfulness. This isn’t a passive process. We must intentionally choose to “put off our old self” (Ephesians 4:22) and “go on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1).
Finally, fruitfulness takes practice. We won’t learn to be fruitful living in a bubble. God has chosen to use real life experiences, little and big, to prune us into fruitful beings. Our times of suffering, moments of temptation, and everyday interactions with people and circumstances are all god-given opportunities for maturity as we “have [our] powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14).
Next time anger, or impatience, or bitterness creeps up, don’t think of it as just another moment for failure. Rather ask God to use it as yet another opportunity to prune away the old self, hold fast to the Word, and make room for his abundant fruit to grow! “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth and is patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, because the Lord’s coming is near.” (James 5:7b-8)