Saturday, 30 November 2013

Fruitful, Not Successful


In our fallen world, it's easy to confuse fruitfulness with successfulness, and thus also with worldly power and wealth. We young preachers are especially vulnerable to this mistake. When we set out to evangelise, we are often impatient to see results. We want to see immediate "Eureka!" moments in people, quick conversions, and ready acceptance of the Lord without hesitation. Perhaps there are even times when we compare the success of our preaching in terms of numbers: more conversions means more success, and more success means better preaching.

You see in the scenario above that the concept of success ends with praise to the doer, to the "I", not to God. But it is not so with fruitfulness. There is a reason why business folks never talk about when their newest branch office will produce "fruits", or how their latest financial deal shall be "fruitful": that is because, to be fruitful, one must die first.

This reality doesn't sound pretty, although it's true. The tree is not the same as the original seed. The tree is not the seed, and the seed is not the tree. In order to become a tree, this seed must undergo radical transformation, and radical transformation is radically painful. (Now you know why commercial business doesn't want to have anything to do with being fruitful.)

First, it starts with extreme humiliation: the seed is to be put so low inside the earth, buried. It is now trampled under the feet of men and beasts. Next, all the physical changes take place. Imagine your skin breaks off, your flesh cracks open and shrinks small in order to let a green projection shoots out of you. Good thing a seed cannot scream, right? All these have to happen. An unwilling seed is a fruitless seed.

Now that is the basic idea. But there are instances when seeds fail to sprout. A soil too dry, a soil too wet, too acidic, too basic, too many birds, too rocky, too thorny, too little sunlight, too hot, too cold. There are too many factors involved, and we cannot control everything. Fruitfulness is not a coldly calculated mechanics where variables are under our control. When planting seeds, we are putting our trust in the unknown, that is, nature, or more correctly, the Creator of nature.

I believe this is the proper outlook that we preachers must adopt. To a certain extent we can control the environment: we study good books, we contemplate seriously, we practise writing, we carefully choose words and gestures and timing. But when we actually sow the seeds, we are putting everything into the hands of God. We cannot know everything; we are dealing with a vineyard too vast and too rich for us alone to manage; thus we are to trust in His great providence. Let ourselves be humbled and die, let the words of our preaching be dispersed by the winds. But He, the Lord over winds and soils, shall see to it that our scattered words be used to work miracles in the hearts and minds of those who hear us, miracles that, however small, will add up to a great force that will bring out fruits and give harvest.

Just be glad that we are even permitted to work in His yard. That joy alone is enough.
There is a great difference between successfulness and fruitfulness. Success comes from strength, control, and respectability. A successful person has the energy to create something, to keep control over its development, and to make it available in large quantities. Success brings many rewards and often fame.

Fruits, however, come from weakness and vulnerability. And fruits are unique. A child is the fruit conceived in vulnerability, community is the fruit born through shared brokenness, and intimacy is the fruit that grows through touching one another’s wounds.

Let’s remind one another that what brings us true joy is not successfulness but fruitfulness.

—Henri Nouwen

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Image: "Time of harvesting (Mowers)", Grigoriy Myasoyedov, 1887

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