How can I be fruitful? This is an important question. It is a question that we ask ourselves often, but in different ways. We often think in terms of effectiveness, progress and fulfillment, happiness.
Recently, I was struck by Jesus’ advice regarding fruitfulness, found in the Gospel of John:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him (John 12:24-26).
If the question is “How can I be fruitful?” or “How can I multiply my efforts?” Jesus gives a very shocking answer. Well, from one angle this is understandable – yes, grain must be buried in order to bear more grain. But how can the death and burial of a human possibly lead to growth or progress or fruitfulness? How can losing oneself lead to multiplication?
Here is how: In the Gospel of John, when Jesus talks about being glorified, he is actually talking about one of the most dishonorable and shameful things that could have happened to Him – his wrongful conviction, crucifixion, and death. Jesus’ death was the great display of His love for people and it was His victory over the power of sin and death. Jesus’ death brings life – eternal life – to those who believe in Him. His death and service for us was very fruitful.
This advice on how to be fruitful has radical consequences for how followers of Christ are to live. In the very next chapter of John we see Jesus washing His disciples’ feet. He knows He is about to die. He knows He is about to go to the Father. And yet Jesus serves His disciples in this radical way. He loved them till the end.
In this event we see that following Jesus requires death in at least two forms. First, there is a death to the ego. Being a disciple of Jesus means receiving from Christ – in this case they must be washed by Him (John 13:8). So, to be a follower of Jesus means to be dependent on cleansing from Him and salvation from Him. This is a kind of death. It means that we need a doctor. It means that we are not good enough in and of ourselves. It means that we are essentially already spiritually dead if we do not receive what He so graciously and slavishly offers.
This is not a popular view, especially among those of the self-help movement. Jesus does not hold hands with those who teach positive thinking in regard to overcoming our deep spiritual deficit. Instead, Jesus says to all: “You need a doctor; you are on the verge of death.” Or perhaps: “You need a defibrillator; you are dead already.”
Second, disciples of Jesus are called to die to self in another way: they are to follow Jesus’ example and so love and serve one another. This means giving up rights that we cling to and consider others above ourselves in priority. This might even lead to physical death, as it has for many Christians.
You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them (John 13:13-17).
Jesus is saying that our pay grade is not above His. We are not above Him! If our great Lord serves us and loves us, we must do the same for one another. This is not something to think about for a moment and then get going with the rest of our plans for the day. This is a matter of action. Daily action. This is about doing dishes. This is a matter of looking around and seeing what people need and then helping. And in doing so, we will be blessed.
I leave you with a three-part challenge, to do in the next 3 days: First, ask God to forgive you and express your need for Him and love of Him. Second, ask God for faith so strong that it looks past your own needs; a faith that has eyes open to the needs of others in the church and a deep love for them; a faith that is at work where Jesus is at work. Third, enabled by God, serve someone in a meaningful way.
If you want, send me an email of how God led you: firstname.lastname@example.org