Every morning, before we start our individual prayer times, my wife Val and I listen to a selection from the book of Psalms, starting with Psalm 1. A friend of mine wrote a whole book on Psalm 1 last year and I have come to see why. It is so rich! It forms a powerful introduction to the whole book, and, in fact, Spurgeon called it the “Gateway Psalm.”
But here’s the thing: in its quiet understated way, it claims that the whole difference between good and evil can be measured in terms of fruitfulness. Fruitfulness derives from being God-connected and longevity derives from being God-rooted.
Well, that’s what I want for my life, for my family, and for my church. To be connected, long-lasting, to flourish… to produce something worthwhile… to be fruitful. As Wesley put it: “Lord, let me not live to be useless.”
Psalm 1 begins, “Oh, the joys of those… They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither and they prosper in all they do.”
The verses remind me of Bill Johnson’s description of intimacy with God as his ”life-source” and “source of strength.“ How do I develop that fruit-producing intimacy?
The parallel passage in John 15 suggests the first step: God “cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful…”
My Bible carries the footnote that “pruned” is the same word as “cleaned.” If you are a tree, then anything dead or diseased or damaged has to go. It means eliminating the unnecessary.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Nothing.
But the opposite to that withering separation from Jesus is, “Everything”. “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples…. I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.”
I picked up a book on youth ministry by Tim Hawkins because of the title: Fruit that Will Last. According to Tim, the “point” of fruit is its seedbearing capacity. The goal of an apple is not for me to eat it but for it to produce more apple trees.
So the primary goal of youth ministry (or, for our purposes, ALL ministry) is discipleship. There are many cheap substitutes for real fruit-bearing. But what impacted me was the first thought: thinking about numbers or thinking about disciples.
Are we building attenders or disciples? Tim’s youth ministry team reviewed what they were doing. 80% of their effort was put into getting kids to come along and be entertained, so they made a dramatic change, “…we were going to put 80% of our effort into growing genuine disciple of Christ, and only a small amount of effort into making our group attractive in other ways.”
I’d like to really ponder that in terms of our church communities. It’s important to make the vital distinction between bearing fruit and achieving success. There’s something quiet and natural about fruitbearing. Success, by comparison may be strident and forced.
Here’s how Henri Nouwen put it: “There is a great difference between successfulness and fruitfulness. Success comes from strength, control and respectability. A successful person has the energy to create something, to keep control over its development, and to make it available in large quantities. Success brings many rewards and often fame.
“Fruits, however, come from weakness and vulnerability. And fruits are unique. A child is the fruit conceived in vulnerability, community is the fruit born through shared brokenness, and intimacy is the fruit that grows through touching one another’s wounds. Let’s remind one another that what brings us true joy is not successfulness but fruitfulness.”
Ken Baker is a writer and pastor living in Bandon, County Cork.