And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23 ESV
Summer is winding down. I know this because I’ve used up the last of the blueberries that we picked this year to make lemon blueberry cake for friends who were coming over for dinner. Like previous summers, I’ve made good use of freshly-picked berries this year. I will miss them (and will have to resort to store-bought berries for a while) but I know they will be here again in abundance next year. That is what I hope for, although I do realize that only God knows how much fruit the next summer will bring.
Productivity is something that we all desire. A farmer doesn’t plant a seed and hopes that nothing grows from it. A fisherman doesn’t go out to sea with the intention of catching nothing. A retailer doesn’t open a store expecting to not sell anything. Using agriculture as a metaphor, God’s design for our lives reveals a paradox wherein death becomes a prerequisite for productivity. Contrary to what today’s motivational TED talks would say, a greater self-realization, or constant self-promotion, or a more strategic self-preservation are not the building blocks for productivity. Not according to God’s word.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24 ESV
If it dies, it bears much fruit. This is radical. It shouldn’t surprise us though. We only have to look at the cross of Christ in order to see how radically different His ways are. As Christians we are quick to pray for much-needed strength, or much-needed healing, much-needed restoration, and much-needed transformation. But it all begins with a much-needed dying. Until I am convinced that I am absolutely nothing and that He is absolutely everything, self-righteousness will always weaken my walk with Him. Until I stop listening to the lie that there is something in me or in my life that is inherently my own and is worth preserving, I will never taste the security and satisfaction of having Christ alone. We need an ongoing daily death to the self-centered ways of the human heart that is prone to wander and worship lesser things. But lest we fall into the pit of legalism (again), to die to self is not an item to write in the believer’s to do list. We can not do it. (Shred that list now!) It was DONE by our Savior.
and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. 2 Cor 5:15
I am almost certain that there are those reading this who would prefer that I stuck with delicious topics such as berries and baking in my blogs. (Or they probably quit reading at paragraph #2). Outside of God’s grace the idea of dying in order to be fruitful is simply absurd. Sadly, even within the church body, many of us prefer to remain in a safe bubble that is moral and wholesome, but leaves no room for self-denial and self-sacrifice. The beauty of Christian community cannot be experienced when we are preoccupied with shielding ourselves from taking risks. When fear is our driving force, our longings are reduced to prayers for health and peace, while our witness remains powerless and our pursuit of holiness becomes nothing but a burden, because the radical love of Christ is not in it.
From a grain of wheat that dies in the ground, to the flour for the batter, to the cake on my plate – even an ordinary task prompts me to marvel at God’s MUCH GREATER idea – that fruitfulness happens only when we die and lose ourselves in Him. Until I see Him face to face, His work in my heart goes on. As John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30 ESV I am not there yet but my hope is in Him who promised that“Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.”John 12:25 NLT
“God Hold us to that which drew us first, when the Cross was the attraction, and we wanted nothing else.”
― Amy Carmichael, God’s Missionary