Tonight I'll sit down with a glass of red wine from Europe and when I do, I'll think of an experience I had this past December in Bavaria. I had an afternoon off from teaching and so made my way to a glorious castle (the oldest in Germany), the route taking me through some wonderful vineyards. It wasn't harvest time, but clearly there was work to be done, as a man was walking through the rows examining and clipping the vines. Elsewhere on my trip, I'd visit friends who raise cows for milk. Their barn, frankly, has an aroma to it, sometimes overpowering because life is happening there. The mom of the family is up before the sun, milking cows in the subfreezing Alpine mornings, all winter long. Let's not forget about birthing calves, shearing sheep, and of course clean the urine and feces that inevitably accumulate wherever life happens.
It's that "life happens" phrase that is worth considering. Jesus said that if we make ourselves at home with His life, enjoying the fellowship and reality of His indwelling within us, the result of that will be fruit, both in and through us, because life begats life, and that's just the way it is - almost all the time. We don't know the 'when' of divine life being birthed through or among us; we don't know the particulars of what that will look like. But we do know this: where there is life, the crib isn't clean.
Don't think too narrowly here, about biological life, though that's certainly in play. This text, though, is speaking of supernatural life, spiritual life. The Greek word for this is ZOE and it's the word Jesus used when He said that He came in order that we might have LIFE!! He came that we might, by the very presence of Christ in us, pour life and blessing into the world. That means relationships, hospitality, travel, service, crossing social and economic boundaries, confronting, celebrating, forgiving and confessing, celebrating. That means, also, that if the soul of our hearts is fortunate enough to used by God as a means of influencing, blessing others, our lives might actually grow in complexity as a result of God's blessing and calling.
As one whose ambitions often aspire no higher than spending time in the mountains with a few friends, or a few books, or a writing project, or a backpack, the notion that the manger of my heart might actually get messier BECAUSE OF God's calling and blessing is counter intuitive. I like to think that God's blessing will result in a cleaner desk, a clearer schedule, more 'me' time, and the luxury of abundant replenishing solitude.
Oops. Our new church building means 42% more people this year than last call Bethany home each Sunday. That means more staff, more ministries, longer meetings, and the need to now invest time praying and considering lots of 'what next' questions regarding our little vineyard. You might have similar issues, with growing job responsibilities, or a growing family, or you've taken on a commitment to use your spiritual gifts, and it's eating into an evening each week. Maybe (wouldn't this be nice?) your business is thriving, and you're working longer hours.
Wouldn't it be easier to just keep things simple? Of course it would be easier, just like it would be easier for my Austrian friends to sleep in each morning because they let the cows wander away to die. Ah, finally, a clean barn! Such simplicity is unsustainable, because it is the simplicity of barrenness.
I'll get back to my responsibilities now, but after pondering the realities of fruitfulness, I'll get back to them viewing them differently, with a sense of gratitude for the privilege of what I've been given.
Thank you God, for the blessing of visible fruit. Forgive me for resentment when it arises in my heart, a bitter weed in your vineyard. Teach us gratitude, and grant us wisdom, so that the complexity that comes from fruitfulness won't discourage or overwhelm us. Instead, may we use the seasons of complexity to lean into you, drawing up the resources of your life for wisdom and strength.