On Tuesday I got to have dinner with a dear friend. We always love any time we can get together; this time felt extra special as she prepares to move to another city soon. As we cooked together, ate our meal, and then grabbed some blankets and headed toward the living room, life poured out of both of us. We shared updates on what’s going on in our worlds but also processed some things out loud for the first time, discovering more about ourselves along the way.
As the evening came to a close we decided to spend some time in prayer with each other. One of the things this friend prayed for me has lingered with me since. She asked God to open my eyes to a new way of looking at productivity… that when He is calling me to do good work while at my job or home, I would be productive in that, but that sitting on the couch and doing nothing while my body heals might also feel like productivity. She prayed that when He calls me to the traditional concepts we think of with productivity that He would provide the energy, but then kept coming back to examples we would normally label “unproductive”.
The awesome part is that even as she prayed, God began redefining this word and concept for me. It struck me in that moment that the word “productive” has as its root the word “produce”. Even with this in mind, I might default to asking “Jesus what do you want me to do, or ‘produce’, in this day that can bring you glory?”
However, on that night, Jesus flipped the question. My prayer suddenly became, “Jesus what do You want to produce in me?”
Productivity isn’t bad, but I’m learning that God cares more about the fruit He’s producing in my life than the efforts of my labor. And our Master Gardner can bring fruit out of any situation. Perhaps productivity, in this season of rest and healing, looks less like getting things checked off the to-do list and more like producing peace in my heart. Maybe He’s less concerned about the fruit of my ministry and longs to produce more patience and dependence on Him.
A while back I shared a passage from Jeremiah as a defining scripture for this current season of life. As my friend prayed the other night it came suddenly to mind again:
“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8 (emphasis added)
Trees don’t have to “work hard” to produce fruit. The fruit comes because that’s what they were created to do.
An apple tree doesn’t stress and toil over how to make the apples come. No, if it’s rooted in the soil, receiving the nutrients it needs, protected from elements or creatures that may try to ruin it, it just produces fruit. Related, an apple tree will never succeed at producing oranges; it’s just not designed for that.
Productivity does not come from the work I put in. Instead, it comes from where I’m rooted.
I know that my life as a human is not meant to be literally as passive as that of a tree. All the way back in Genesis, before sin entered the world, we were designed for work. However, I must keep in mind that whenever the work feels forced or pressured, it might not be the kind of productivity God desires. It won’t always be easy (and often it will be hard), but if it’s not coming from my identity in Christ and and purpose God has on my life, it’s likely that I’m trying to produce oranges as an apple tree. (And that just leaves everyone with unmet expectations and a bunch of wasted effort.)
Also, this verse doesn’t say that there won’t be things threatening that production. The heat and drought come. However, rooted near the river of living water, trusting, and letting my roots draw nourishment from this never-ending stream means that whether I’m “at the top of my game” or “laying on the couch” (as my friend prayed), production never stops. The fruit keeps coming because it was never up to me in the first place. Jesus said it this way:
“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. … Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. … When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father. I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love.” John 15:1-9
Jesus, produce Your fruit deep in my soul. Keep me rooted near the river. Amen.