A Productive Spiritual Life
A Productive Spiritual Life
The Bible makes it clear that God expects His servants to be productive in serving Him and to continue growing spiritually. The word "deacon" in the original Greek means literally "servant." God expects deacons to be productive spiritually. Yet they can't be without spiritual depth.
The Psalmist likened God's servant to “a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season.” (1:3) In another Psalm, God's servants are described as those who “will still bear fruit in old age.” (92:14) By fruit he means spiritual influence.
Jesus used a parable to warn us that God’s servants are expected to be productive, or face the prospect of being removed from their place of service. In 13:7 we read, “So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’”
Two things about the unproductive fig tree angered its owner. First, it bore no fruit. If a fruit tree doesn't bear its fruit, what good is it? And second, the unproductive fruit tree was using up the nutrients in the soil, giving nothing in return.
It’s painful to admit that lots of Christians are like that. As Earl Stallings put it, “Use it or lose it is a biblical concept.”
Spiritual development that leads to greater service to Christ is a must, not an option. Just like a fruit tree's reason for being is to bear fruit, so the reason for our being servants of God is to bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Our walk is to reveal Jesus’ presence, our talk is to reveal Jesus’ truth, and together they reveal that we’re servants of God.
Second Peter 1:5-8 states this in a beautiful way. Peter exhorts us to
“. . .make every effort to add to your faith, goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.” Then he adds, “For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.”
Let's take a few minutes and look at these Christian ideals of service and spiritual growth from three angles.
AN UNPRODUCTIVE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS A TRAGEDY. A tree that doesn't produce fruit doesn't fulfill its reason for being, and is therefore worthless to God and man.
So how does this relate to how we live our lives as Christians?
What about Christians who wants the church to teach their children, minister to their family in adversity, but who also never serve God?
When I served on the staff of one particular church, I went with the pastor of that church to visit a family whose father had died. After entering the home, the family bar was readily visible. After visiting for a while, and making some plans for the funeral, we left.
The pastor said to me, “That family hasn't darkened the door of the church in years. The father had a drinking problem. And nothing I could ever say or do could change their lifestyle. But now that he's dead, they want the church to support them. It’s tragic that they took from God but never gave.”
Jesus implied that God isn't the least pleased with us when we constantly take from Him but never produce anything good or valuable in return. Christians like these rob the kingdom of God.
How do we rob the kingdom? One way is that we rob others of our heart. It’s in the give and take of Christian fellowship and service that God reveals His presence in us. Serving God together reveals the greatness of His grace as He enables us to love the unlovable, to forgive the seemingly unforgivable, to accomplish the unbelievable, and to be Christ to someone else.
In light of this, for a Christian to become useless to God and others invites spiritual disaster. The implication of Jesus' parable is unmistakable. God will not continue to bless us spiritually when we refuse to bear the fruit He expects.
That's the tragedy of the unproductive spiritual life. It invites God’s judgment.
Yet, the Christian who's growing spiritually and being spiritually productive through serving God from the heart experiences the triumph of bearing lots of spiritual fruit for the kingdom of God.
A PRODUCTIVE SPIRITUAL LIFE IS A TRIUMPH. The first test of a fruit tree is the quality of its fruit. The Bible tells us that God is concerned not only that we bear fruit, but that the fruit we bear is the quality of fruit He desires. So in Galatians 5 we read, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self- | |
control....” These are the fruits God expects to find growing out of us. And when He finds them, He’s very pleased.
The Bible has a specific term for this growth process of bearing spiritual fruit. It calls this process “sanctification.” I want to suggest five areas in which the Christian servant must grow in sanctification.
First, God's servant must grow in gratitude. Gratitude is the natural, spontaneous, and inevitable response we make God's marvelous grace in Christ. That was the apostle Peter’s point when he said that the Christian who refuses to grow spiritually has forgotten that he’s been forgiven of past sins.
A salesman's car broke down on a country road. He walked to this farmer's house to call for a tow, His car was towed to the nearest town, but the farmer courteously invited the salesman to stay.
That evening, as the family and this salesman sat down to eat, they bowed their heads for the blessing. After the prayer the salesman said, “I believe praying is a waste of good energy. I believe we get only what we work for.”
The farmer said, “Is that so? Well, it's interesting that we've got some tenants living on our farm that feel just like you do. It doesn't do any good to try to change their minds, either. They only think about what they want.”
The salesman replied, “Why those are my kind of people. Mature, progressive, hardworking.”
“No,” said the farmer , “they're my hogs.”
God's servant is always thankful.
Second, God's servant must grow in understanding. Nothing is more unbecoming to a Christian than a closed mind. Little good will come from it. But there's always hope for the uninformed mind; that is, as long as it’s open. As G. Earl Gwin has said, “Understanding assumes teachableness. Only the teachable can be disciples, for disciples are learners.”
Third, God's servant must grow in moral excellence. Open minded Christians must also be moral and ethical. One of the greatest paradoxes about our us as humans is that we can be extremely intelligent and degradingly immoral at the same time. But when openmindedness and moral purity combine in a life dedicated to God, then you've got a life that's going to wield power and influence in the world.
Abraham Lincoln was such a person. I came across this bit of self-evaluation done by Lincoln. He said,
“I do the very best I know how- the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so to the end. If the end brings me out all right, what is said against me won't amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, then angels swearing it was right would make no difference."
Actions do speak infinitely louder than words.
Fourth, God's servant must grow in love. To grow in love, I must be open to people, situations, and events.
H. Scott Peck, in his book The Road Less Traveled, observes that a person can’t love without disciplining herself to open her life to others, even to people and situations which may prove very painful.
He refers to the aspect of discipline that relates to growing in love as “bracketing.” He means by this, when I balance my need to assert myself with the new knowledge and greater understanding that can only come when I put myself aside. When I achieve this balance, I not only grow myself, but I also grow in how I’m able to relate to others, and love them.
Fifth, God's servant must grow in concern. One of the worst spiritual blights on our society today is the spirit of apathy. There's a lot of that around, but we must not allow it to be in us.
A few years ago I came up behind a pickup truck at the local Bojangles restaurant in the city where we lived. There on the bumper was a bumper sticker that proclaimed, “I don't know. And even if I did know, I don't care. And if I cared, it doesn't make any difference anyway.”
If we ever cease to care, we’ve lost our reason for being God’s people. We must never stop growing in concern.
If we’re to grow spiritually in life, it will be because we never stopped growing in gratitude, understanding, moral excellence, love, and concern.
What difference will it really make to our lives if we become productive, spiritual servants of Christ? The difference will be that our lives will reflect a glory that they can’t reflect any other way.
A PRODUCTIVE SPIRITUAL LIFE IS GLORIOUS. God’s awesome creation best illustrates the glory that comes from being productive.
Perhaps a grain of corn is the best example. One grain of corn planted in the ground can produce a yield than can boggle the mind. One grain of corn can create numerous ears of corn, each with hundreds of grains of corn on them, which themselves possess the potential to produce myriads of other grains of corn.
When do we as disciples come into the glory of spiritual productivity? It has to be when our lives bear fruit in the spiritual birth of another Christian. When Jesus drove the demons out of the Gadarene demoniac, he said to the man, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” The ultimate fruit of a growing, spiritually productive Christian life is a new Christian.
Our minds should be open, our lives should be clean, our hearts should be pure, our ideals should he high, and our attitudes should be gracious.
Ezra Kimball didn’t realize that when he invited the young shoe clerk, Dwight L. Moody to Sunday School that particular day that he was sowing the seeds that would result in one of the greatest evangelists of modern times. Dwight L. Moody was led to Christ by the witness and influence of a simple shoe salesman who taught a men's Sunday School class, who was a great servant of Christ.
Ezra Kimball was productive and reproductive for Christ.
None of us can be spiritually productive without spiritual depth. And we can't grow spiritually without giving our lives over to Christ and others daily.
Every servant of Christ must take stock regularly of his or her spiritual life. Give your will over to Christ and let him lead you to triumph in the Christian life. And then rejoice that God is enabling you to share in a glory that this world knows nothing of.