Three years ago, I had a big, gnawing concern about my spiritual life.
I realized my life wasn’t really bearing any fruit.
We’re supposed to do that, right? As Christians. In John 15:16, Jesus says,“I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” Back then, I was working downtown at a web startup. Writing about celebrities.
No of my co-workers were Christians. And while they knew I was, I kept quiet about it in casual conversation. I was afraid they would judge me. I wanted them to like me, and if I was open about my faith and beliefs, I didn’t think they would. So in the interest of self-preservation, I rarely ever mentioned my Christian faith.
But, I thought, maybe they can see my faith in me; by the choices I make; the way I live my life. I mean, I was a really nice person. And pretty much always happy. I treated everyone kindly and fairly. But plenty of people can do that. If I’m quietly acting like a Christian, does that count as bearing fruit? It felt like a cop out. But I didn’t know else what to do. I didn’t want to spend a year as a Bible study leader or youth group volunteer. I was working 50-60 hours a week. I didn’t have time to serve in my church in a large capacity.
I wanted to bear fruit, but I didn’t have that much free time. My job was demanding. My life was busy. And I wasn’t like I worked for a nonprofit or anything. I didn’t really have many opportunities to bear fruit. So I shrugged my shoulders, prayed for clarity, kept being nice to people, and called it good.
Well, for another year or so. Eventually I quit my job and started working at a local Christian nonprofit. Awesome, right? Problem solved! Suddenly, I had real sense of pride in the work I was doing. Every day–eight(-plus) hours a day, forty(-plus) hours a week–I was working to help be the hands and feet of Jesus to people in need. I had to be bearing fruit now.
The thing is, that also felt like a cop out. Yes, I was thrilled to be a Christian organization. But I didn’t FEEL like a different person from when I was writing about Kim Kardashian’s baby bump at the celebrity website. Why was I now suddenly producing fruit, just because my circumstances changed?
I’m not convinced our environments have a huge impact on the amount of fruit we bear. Sure, some environments make it easier than others. But at the end of the day, it’s about us, the state of our hearts, and the ways we are living out Christ’s heart of love.
So are you bearing fruit? How do you know? Right now, I have 18 months at a Christian nonprofit under my belt, and also year as a weekly small group leader for an intensive Bible study. (Not enough time to consider myself an expert by any means, but enough to have picked up on a thing or two.) See, in that time, I’ve observed a lot of Christians–in a variety of different environments–who are bearing fruit in their lives. And I’ve been working to make it a real priority for my life, too.
And do you know what I’ve learned? Bearing fruit is a lot less complicated than I started out thinking it was.
Recently, in a moment of angst (of wanting to follow God’s will, but not being sure what it was; of worrying about my lack of knowledge and understanding and if there would be consequences) I saw something new in a familiar passage:
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”
I’ve heard plenty of sermons preached on the meaning of the word “love” used here. Jesus asks if Peter loves him unconditionally. Peter responds by confirming his brotherly (not unconditional) love. I’ve always seen it as a passage about our level of commitment to Jesus.
But this time, my eyes lingered on the commands Jesus gave. Feed my lambs. Take care of my sheep. Feed my sheep.
What does it look like for me to feed one of Jesus’ sheep? I began making it a goal to find a sheep to feed every day. What this means can vary wildly. It’s not something I see as a prescription or formula for a life of faith. It’s not like feeding sheep = bearing fruit.
But it’s a mindset. Whoever I’m interacting with, whatever I’m doing, wherever I’m going — is there an opportunity there to feed one of Jesus’ lambs?
- Can I encourage someone who is having a terrible day?
- Can I take a couple minutes to pray with a friend in Bible study over something she’s hurting over?
- Can I give a small gift or note of encouragement to a friend or roommate?
- To get more specific, if someone I know is coming down with a cold, what if I picked them up some Emergen-C?
- Can I offer a sandwich to a homeless person I see on the street, and stop to have a conversation with them?
- Is there a spiritual gift I’ve noticed in a friend that I can point out to them, a strength or talent I’ve noticed that I can encourage them about?
Acts of service to others aren’t part of any kind of cosmic brownie point system. If I miss a day, Jesus won’t be angry with me. If I serve seven people one day, I don’t win a merit badge.
But having worked in Christian and non-Christian environments, I’m both surprised and relieved to learn that bearing fruit isn’t really connected to my environment. And it’s a lot easier than I’d initially thought.
Galatians 5:22-23 says the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. How can I make a small effort to practically work towards those in my daily life?
When our hearts and minds are focused on God, he will reveal his will to us. In his timing, not ours. It’s okay that we don’t know and understand everything. We’re showing up, and our minds and hearts are open to learn.
Once I’ve started making an effort in small ways, opportunities to live like Jesus become easier and easier to see. And suddenly, I’m noticing bigger and more noticeable ways to serve. You start small, and God has a way of putting bigger things in your path.
I wish I could go back and tell myself that. To stop worrying about if I was bearing enough fruit. To stop feeling bad that I wasn’t some super-Christian. Because worrying about whether or not we’re being good enough isn’t the point.
It’s not some complicated thing. We just have to be willing to show up. Look at how Jesus lived, and try to find practical ways to act like he did in our everyday lives. We can start small, that is completely fine. If we make an effort to show up, God is perfectly capable of handing us big opportunities when he wants to.
Our job is to show up. And not be afraid to take action.