In John 15:8, Jesus points to “much fruit” as proof that we are His disciples. In that one chapter we find that abiding, asking, and obeying—as well as joy and God’s Word—are all tied to fruitfulness.
For more than three decades I have been active in “mission strategy”—helping less fruitful missionaries learn from and apply what God is blessing elsewhere.
God has seen fit to use mission strategy in significant ways, but I have been gradually understanding that this emphasis on learning from others does have a down side—feeding our inclination toward striving in human effort and wisdom, which can lead to a variety of bad fruit:
- Joyless Workaholism—which undermines our testimony of the abundant life Jesus promises,
- Humanistic Efforts—advocating what can be accomplished if we would all just• “adopt the right disciplines,”
• “work together,” and
• “employ more effective strategies,”
- Self-directed Service—guided by our own best reasoning, and
- Judgmentalism—toward those whose calling may be different from our own.At this juncture, I find several foundations even more important than “mission strategy” for bearing fruit.
A RELATIONSHIP, NOT JUST A TASK
Sometimes we approach world evangelism and the global needs as if Jesus gave us an impossible task and then left us to our own devices. (Such thinking generally produces the bad fruit listed above.)
Jesus calls us primarily to follow Him (Mt 4:19), promising to be with us (Mt 28:20) and to give us a counselor (Jn 14:16) to guide and empower us.
To bear fruit, we must live in the reality that God is glorifying Himself by involving the most unlikely people—us—in the most impossible of missions:
• reconciling the world to Himself (2 Co 5:19) and • destroying the devil’s work (1 Jn 3:8)!
In contrast with popular appeals to respond to the world’s needs, God is not dependent on us to accomplish His purpose, as if He needs our help.
The amazing reality is that God has prepared each of us to complement one another in good works He prepared in advance for us in HisStory.
Why? Because He delights in our growth, and in our fellowship with Him in His purpose!
Only as God is with us can we bear such fruit!
HEARING AND OBEYING
The most important thing you or I (or anyone in the world) can do today, regardless of our circumstances, is to listen to God and obey Him. This realization can turn prayer times from a recitation of our requests into intent listening to accurately understand our King’s assignment for us for today.
Of late I am thus spending the bulk of my prayer time simply waiting on my King’s direction each morning until I sense that He has covered his agenda for me.
Only in obeying God’s voice will we bear fruit!
MEDITATING ON GOD’S WORD
Psalm 1:1–3 carries a spectacular promise (which I memorized and started applying in college): The person who meditates day and night on God’s Word will be prosper in everything he does.
Joshua 1:8 clarifies that meditating on God’s Word empowers obedience, and it is obedience that leads to prospering.
Further exploration into the Hebrew ties this concept of prospering to “pushing through” in the good works God prepared in advance for us to do. So meditating on God’s Word is a powerful foundation for fruit bearing.
Jesus is God’s Word made flesh, so there is a deep connection between our meditating on God’s Word and Jesus being “with” us. As Jesus abides in us through our meditation on God’s Word, He is with us in ways that are truly supernatural.
Only as Jesus’ words abide in us will we bear fruit!
THE REVELATION OF JESUS
The revelation of Jesus as the all-sufficient Lord of HisStory is foundational to relationship, to hearing and obeying, and to meditating.
WORLDVIEW CHANGE ISN’T ENOUGH
Mission strategists talk rightfully of the need for “worldview” change—the replacement of false core beliefs with truth—as the essential basis for transforming both individual lives and whole societies. Such terminology is helpful toward understanding the gospel’s intended impact, but it is often misread in ways that reinforce our Western weakness for measuring maturity by knowledge rather than obedience.
Some have observed that, as a result, we in the West are “educated beyond our obedience.”
OBEDIENCE ISN’T ENOUGH
Inspired by Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages, many have noted that God’s “love language”—the way He prefers to be loved—is obedience (the heart of worship). There is plenty of scriptural evidence that our King delights in loving obedience, and that love for our King can’t help expressing itself in obedience. Yet obedience doesn’t guarantee right motivation.
In Jesus’ day, the masters and self-appointed police of obedience were the scribes and Pharisees. The Hebrew people as a whole would have said, with the elder son in Lk 15:29: “All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.”
Yet as Jesus confronted His people with God’s intent to bless the Gentiles as well as the Jews, Jewish resistance to accepting the “prodigal nations” reflected Israel’s lack of love for God.
SOLITARY REVELATION ISN’T ENOUGH
The Holy Spirit’s revelation of Jesus as Savior leads lost individuals to a changed worldview, and this bears fruit in loving obedience.
However God’s revelation to us is progressive, and the busier we get, the more likely we are to ignore the uncomfortable revelation God wants to give us.
I am far more likely to welcome confirming truth— which affirms my current thinking and behavior—than to embrace correcting truth—which challenges my thinking or behavior. This is one reason “solitary Christianity” is not only unbiblical, but also unfruitful.
Of all the life-changing insights I have received or seen others embrace, one stands out as most elusive and yet most essential for multiplied fruitfulness: The revelation and abiding awareness of Jesus, not just as the Lord of my story, but as the LORD of the Story— of all HIS Story.
Consider three stages a believer may go through in their revelation of Jesus:
STAGE ONE: PERSONAL SAVIOR
The basic gospel revelation comes in understanding that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, [and] that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures”
(1 Co 15:3–4). This revelation leads us to welcome Jesus into our story and expect Him to improve it; which He does.
But without further revelation, this leaves us stuck in a self-absorbed caricature of Christianity.
STAGE TWO: GLOBAL SAVIOR
Many Christians are further transformed by the revelation of God’s intent to engage all of His people to disciple all nations (Mt 28:19) and so bless all earth’s peoples (Gn 12:3).
This revelation can lead to significant service, but without further revelation, the revelation of God’s concern for the world can leave us with a “driven” feeling of responsibility for an overwhelming “task,” resulting in a burdened life of straining to get everyone to do “all we can” toward serving the needs of a broken world.
STAGE THREE: ETERNAL SAVIOR
With the revelation of Jesus as the Lord of HisStory, we can
• let go of needing to have clear long-range plans and direct our own destiny, and
• walk joyfully with Jesus, by faith rather than by sight, together with others, to prosper in the good works He prepared for us in advance (Ep 2:10).