When you face a season of fruitlessness

One of the beautiful realities of having a relationship with Jesus Christ is how He pursues us to keep our hearts close to His. He’ll even woo us in Walmart. My last shopping trip was a staycation. (That’s what I call grocery shopping without children.) While shopping, I was surprised to see a friend I had not talked to in a long time. With a wide smile she asked how my writing was going.

“Slow,” I answered honestly.

I explained I was discouraged because my blog was not as successful as I had hoped it would be. My discouragement was rooted in pride, and I confessed that to her.

She tilted her head and said, “You know, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately how we are wrong to measure success by numbers. It is our tendency, but it’s inaccurate. It’s better to have one transformed life than dozens of lukewarm Christians.”

Her words struck a chord in my heart. The Holy Spirit was quick to confirm only God knows how He uses our labor for His glory. God does view success differently. In the Kingdom, transformation into the image of Christ is esteemed. It really is about quality, not quantity.

During His earthly ministry, Jesus had many followers, but only 12 were discipled by Him personally.

I gave my friend a hug and continued my shopping with an encouraged and comforted heart. Much later, in the blissful quiet of bedtime, I sat down to journal my earlier experience. One word rose to the surface of my heart: fruitless. I had been feeling fruitless and ineffective as a writer, teacher and discipler. Yet as soon as my heart articulated the word fruitless, I knew why I had been feeling that way. I felt fruitless because I was. I had grown comfortable in my ability as a writer and teacher and had not prayed over my ministry like I should.

It wasn’t ever a conscious thought, but somehow I got to the point where I operated as if I could bear fruit on my own.

I now realize that in my heart, I was only partially abiding in the Vine. I was obedient to God’s call to start writing regularly through a blog, but I was disobedient to not regularly pray over my blog. My feelings of fruitlessness led me to discover “there can be no fructification in the life of the believer without prayer.”

It’s all quite ludicrous actually.

Here I am, author of a blog named “Fructified,” writing with the intent of encouraging the growth of spiritual fruit in the Church. And instead of praying for growth in myself and for God to use me, I relied on myself to bear fruit on my own.

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).

Self-sufficiency is a fast track to fruitlessness.

As followers of Christ, we are set apart by our fruit. We are different from the world because of the character of Christ being planted and grown within us. It is spiritual fruit that makes the world curious because the fruit of the Spirit is much sweeter than rotten fruit of the flesh.

How can we avoid the pitfalls of self-sufficiency?

  • Acknowledge your dependency on Christ often. Jesus said we cannot bear fruit apart from Him. Heed His warning, and be mindful of your inability to serve Jesus on your own.
  • Bathe your ministry in prayer. Don’t be tempted to think “I’ve got this” just because God called you to a specific task. Seek His face diligently, and invite the Holy Spirit to work in and through you.
  • Define success by God’s definition of success—not your own. Don’t focus on numbers, but celebrate the growth of the individuals around you.

We all face seasons of fruitlessness. Sometimes it is because of our sin, and other times it is by the perfect design of our sovereign God. Whether we are truly fruitless or just feel fruitless, we need to allow that fruitlessness to drive us closer to the Vine. Let Him nourish and prune you so you can be a healthy branch.

Last but not least, abide patiently, sweet sister.

Fruit takes time to grow. Seeds remain unseen in the dirt before the green plant pushes through. Even if you do not see evidence of fruit, be encouraged. God sees the hidden seed, and He is causing it to grow.

This blog was originally posted here.

Published September 22, 2017