If you've been in ministry for any length of time, you know that it has its ups and downs. There are glorious heights, and dark, desperate lows...times you feel so close to God that you can almost feel the touch of His hand, and times so solitary that you despair of ever feeling His touch again. Ministry is about work; ministry, in the touching words of my old youth pastor, is "getting off your lazy, apathetic butt and doing something." (If you know Jeff, you've heard him say it.) When you labor for Christ, the expected result is bearing fruit...seeing some results as a return for your effort. Jesus seems to think this whole fruit thing is important.
"...If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit." (John 15:5)
"...By their fruit you will recognize them." (Matthew 7:20)
"...The one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown." (Matthew 13:23)
"If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me." (Philippians 1:22)
These verses leave me wondering...
Who are my oranges??
Where are my apples?
What do you do when you work like a crazy person and you just don't see results?
Can fruit be invisible?
I think so...at least for a time. When Jonathan and I were first married, he had taken a position as youth pastor at a very small church. We started with three protesting youth...none of them were ready to leave the more game-oriented children's program. Eventually, the group grew. When the church began a bus ministry, we experienced huge growth and all the huge problems that come with it! The community that we served was not a country club. As a matter of fact, it was a trailer park. The impoverished community was rather transitory and the area was plagued by drugs and alcoholism and a host of other issues. Our youth, with the exception of a few, were street kids. Most of them had seen things that would make an adult shudder. Some were living a nightmare. In the midst of it all, we tried to hold out hope to these kids, pouring love into them. We couldn't just teach the Bible. Ministry had to be a lot more practical, in some cases, from buying groceries for families to back-to-school shopping sprees.
The results weren't exactly what we expected or prayed for. Eventually, we left that church. The youth and children's ministry basically fell apart after we left and we rarely saw any of them. Out of the more committed group...
Three (or more) have illegitimate children.
Several are drug addicts.
One is living the party life.
One died of a drug overdose.
And one...just one...came back to say thank you.
I got this message on Facebook the other night from a dear girl that we spent many hours praying for back in the day. She had a rough life.
"You were such an important part of my young life and I would love to share with you where my life is heading and how the light you showed when I was young has helped me in the present. Me and my high school sweetheart have just taken over our youth group and we have a group of 50 kids that we are working with. We are talking about getting married and one thing I can say is that your and Jonathan's story has made it easier for the two of us to stay pure till marriage...I just don't know how to thank you for listening and being that light for God...I just pray that we have an impact on these kids like you guys had on us."
That lit my heart right up.
All that time, I thought that our time there had been fruitless. We certainly saw little indication of intense spiritual growth. I guess I forgot that God brings the increase in people's lives.
"I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow." (I Corinthians 3:7-8)
A seed of love and encouragement and prayer planted long ago can spring up into a tree of God's glory. This young woman is just that.
Friends, never be deceived into thinking that what you are doing doesn't matter...because it does. Small or large acts of kindness are all woven together as a part of God's plan.
Where does fruit come from? A tree.
Where does a tree come from? A seed.
Where does a seed come from? Fruit.
Someone planted a seed in our lives that God grew into fruit. Now God is using our fruit as a seed in someone else's life.
I write a lot of letters to my Compassion kids, but in all likelihood, I will never see the results with my own eyes. I'll never know if my words had an impact. I'll never be guaranteed that my $38 a month will deliver my sponsored child from poverty. The same goes for my school students, our single's ministry, and even (to some extent) my own children. I want to know if my being in their lives mattered or if I was just a bump in the road. But ultimately, I can't live for results like this. The best result of doing ministry is pleasing the Lord. Words of affirmation come and go...but the Lord's "Well done!" is followed by "Enter the Kingdom!"
But maybe there is someone today whose heart you can lift with a kind word. Is there someone who has made a difference in your life? All of us are in some way the fruit of another person's labor. Shoot them an email. Write them a card. I know it is unheard of these days, but tell them in person. Encourage them to keep working. Let them know that their work has been fruitful.
Be their orange!
These people planted the seed in my heart!
God gets the glory!