Over and over the Bible speaks of bearing fruit. Even Jesus commands us to “bear fruit worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3:8 NRS). Yet I have been pregnant, and I have given birth; I know that it is not an easy task. It involved incredible amounts of energy and devotion. Whether we are bearing fruit or children, bringing forth something new is never easy. As clergy, I am often told that I must bear fruit in my ministry. Sometimes that fruit is readily tangible and can be objectively quantified, i.e. attendance in worship, professions of faith, active small groups, etc. Other times it is more intuitive or hidden from view, and thus remains subjective, i.e. seeds planted, lives touched, grace granted, etc. Both kinds of fruit are important, even vital for Christianity, and both have been a goal for me to strive towards personally and professionally.
There was a time when the Church Universal drifted from each Christian bearing fruit. It focused the burden more squarely on the shoulders of clergy. While we should be an example and set the bar for bearing fruit, we cannot be the only ones to do so. Honestly, some of the most impactful and repeated bearing of fruit is done by lay persons. If every one of us took seriously Christ’s command to bear fruit “thirty, sixty, and hundred fold” (Mark 4:20b), the Kingdom of God would be that much closer, emerge that much more. But it is exhausting. It will drain you, and can even overtake you.
A year ago I was blogging daily, posting ponderings, devotions, and prayers constantly. It was a good thing, and most times a joyful one. It pushed me to attend to my own spirituality, and produce fruit in my Bible reading, prayer, and theological reflection. Then life got even more complicated personally as well as professionally. I was locked in a legal battle born out of a sin that forever fractured my family. I started a new worship service in a style that is rarely seen in United Methodism, and it required more creativity, innovation, and planning than anything I had ever done liturgically before. Slowly I started to skip a day of posting to my blog here and there. Eventually I started taking Saturdays off entirely. Before long a day became a week without bearing fruit. Next thing I knew my blog was suspended. It would lie fallow for almost half a year, as I focused my time and energy on bearing fruit in the Emergent Worship service entrusted into my care and leadership.
Then God started to speak to me through others. Every now and then someone would ask me what happened with my blog. Or they might ask when I would start doing it again. I would say that I needed time to rest and that I felt like I would do it again, I just never said when. More and more I was making the excuse with regularity. Several people told me how much they missed what I had been doing, that it had been part of their daily devotion with God. That is a humbling thing to hear. As clergy I understand that I have a duty to the laity entrusted into my care and the church to which I am appointed, but suddenly I felt this responsibility from God to speak beyond the geographical boundaries of my appointment. Perhaps my blog was also ministry to which I am being called. I heard the testimonies of the fruit it had borne for others. Could I do that again?
The Holy Spirit often speaks most loudly through the vessels we know and love. My parents started telling me I needed to start again. Then my fiance did the same thing. “But it was so exhausting,” I would whine. They did not care. The answer was always the same, even while worded differently: “You are called to this. It matters, because it makes a difference.” Who am I? There are more capable, better qualified, and more faithful disciples than I. Then the voice of God spoke back against my objections: “Your struggles resonate. Your authenticity is your gift. I am your strength.” One of the best things about being pregnant was knowing that it would be over in nine months. I made a lousy pregnant woman. Yet here was God asking me to jump back into a practice that require faithfulness and discipline for much longer than nine months. I am one to constantly argue with God, but I didn’t have much to say back this time. God was right, and those that allowed themselves to be vessels of God’s truth to me were also.
So when you wonder if your encouraging words matter, they do. Not just to me, but to every person. Sometimes you are doing more than offering a compliment. Sometimes you are fertilizing the ground that God desires to bear fruit. Sometimes your support gives courage to those whose heart is weakened with doubt. Sometimes your words are as holy as those within the Bible, calling the wayward disciple back to the path of Christ. We take strength from God first and foremost, but sometimes that strength comes through human vessels, conduits of Christ in our image. Take the time to speak words of comfort and hope. Be intentional about your acts of kindness and mercy. You just might be the means through which fruit comes into this world. You just may be the way in which Christ expands the fruitfulness of a Church that has lain fallow for far too long.