One of our final instalments of Jesus’ big message, The Sermon, was the ultimate test of discerning a teller of truth: fruitfulness.
We talked about good trees and bad trees, good fruit and bad fruit, good root systems and bad root systems. And we talked about soil quality.
The final thought of our time studying Matthew 7: 15-20 together was a natural consequence of Jesus’ words: fruitfulness and busyness are not the same things.
Our default, in the era we live in, is to frame things on a scale of busyness.
Somewhere along the way, busyness became a badge of honour.
Our conversations revolve around our busyness. It’s often our first question.
“I’m so busy I haven’t slept in 4 days, spoken to my wife in a week or seen my kids in a fortnight” someone might say in an extreme version of the art and, somehow, that’s meant to be good and to be celebrated.
I spent a week trying to stay away from comments about busyness as a standard conversational response. It was hard (though, I have to admit, it got easier!). We are orientated towards outward expressions of our inner busyness. We frame our lives on a scale of busyness. Perhaps it gives us a sense of self-importance or perhaps it masks our deep loneliness and is a band-aid for truth.
The truth is that you are probably busier than you were ten years ago. Most are busier than your parents would have been. Empirically, we are a busier generation than the 1950s.
But we’re not as busy as they were in the 1850s. They worked far longer hours. Curiously, though, they didn’t call it busyness, they used words like burdensome and laborious. It wasn’t a badge of honour; it was a sentence to hard labour. No one revelled in it, they railed against it, triggering the union movement in the process.
Perhaps what makes us feel overwhelmingly busy is the ambiguity of our busyness. You are as likely to be checking an email at 10 pm as you are to be watching a YouTube clip of some kid singing in Britain’s got Talent at 10 am in the morning and you would consider both of them some form of work.
What we have are crowded heads. Busy heads.
There are a huge number of possibilities for what you could or should be doing and it sometimes feels as though, whatever you choose, it’s the wrong choice.
Jesus gives us the key to fruitfulness. It’s abiding in Him.
He says: If you abide in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit for apart from me, you can do nothing. (John 15:7)
If fruit comes from abiding in Christ, how do we become more abundant? Is it through working harder, trying harder, or getting busier? Perhaps through scheduling more meetings or cramming more things into your day?
No. Jesus says we become more fruitful by sinking ourselves into Him. That’s where life is and it’s the life-giving soil that produces fruit.
I’m comforted that the verse isn’t suggesting that to abide in Christ is to assume the foetal position and rock slowly back and forth as we pray (though sometimes that might be exactly what we need to do!)
No, Jesus says that it’s in Him we live and move and have our being.He says: ‘walk with me, work with me, and watch how I do it’.
We will all face Jesus one day and we will be asked how we stewarded His gospel and our gifts and, by His righteousness, he will invite those who have received the gospel into His Kingdom. He will make a declaration about our stewarding of the good things he’s put in and around us and, I pray, will declare “Well done, my good and faithful servant”. He will not say “Well done, my good and busy servant” or “Well done, my good and successful servant” regardless of how much we’ve lived as though that was the question we would be answering.
There is good reason for Jesus’ declaration.
To be faithful is to be authentic to your intentions and your foundations in Christ. And everything else as well as it turns out.
Faithfulness and fruitfulness are inextricably linked because they are the product of abiding in the author and perfecter of our faith and in the Holy Spirit, who grows the fruit of obedience and righteousness in us.
If you are a victim of busyness and have become intoxicated by the volume of different things that make you feel overwhelmed and self-important, it’s good to be reminded that no matter how hard we try, the identity we find in these things will be hollow and lightweight. They won’t sustain us nor were they designed to. More than this, they do not add worth to you and may not necessarily be adding value to those around you either.
That’s sounds harsh. But if you’re going to stake your heart and soul into something, you want to make sure that your investment can be sustained. That it’s worthwhile. That it’s not mere busy work, but something that can yield much fruit.
Jesus wants us to bear fruit, no doubt. More than that, though, he wants us to abide in Him. Fruit is the product of faithfulness. Busyness will just leave you tired and longing for a lie-down!
Later on in the same week, our Dining Table caught up to talk about fruit and fruitfulness once again. We challenged each other to change the conversation – among ourselves at least.
We wondered what it would look and sound like to make fruitfulness, not busyness, the first port of call in our conversations. We agreed two things: it would feel clunky, and it would be good.
To have conversations that reflect Jesus’ heart for us rather than being sucked into what our culture screams could only be a good thing. Clunky, no doubt, but good and faithful as well.