The Will To Bear Fruit
THE WILL TO BEAR FRUIT
Often, before I begin preaching, I will give thanks for something that has happened during the past week. But since we are talking about giving thanks today I thought I would begin my sermon with something I am thankful for this week.
This week I am thankful for giving kids high fives. I have not met anyone who doesn’t like a good high five. So let’s take a minute to give each other high fives for getting through our weeks and coming together again on the Lord’s day.
We have a preschool here at the church and I am thankful that it has served generation after generation of families here in Norfolk. It is a monumental task to start something new like a preschool and help it grow and bear fruit, so I am thankful for all of you who many years ago took a step of faith to do what God was calling you to do for our community.
Once a week I get to take part in the fruit of your labors. I get to sit in chapel, and listen to some great teachers, teach our kids about how Jesus’ loves them. Paula, our director of Christian Ministries, was leading chapel this Monday, teaching on the Ten Commandments, and I am thankful for her teaching and service to the church and to the preschool. After chapel I usually go to the entrance of the sanctuary. I get down on one knee and give the kids a high five to encourage them. Because who doesn’t like a high five? I think as adults we are trained to hold back our excitement about high fives. But three year olds don’t really have that problem. They have gotten into the habit of slapping my hand as hard as they possibly can. Perhaps I will bear physical consequences to my hand down the road for enduring so many high fives, but I will still be thankful, because I got to encourage some kids so it will be worth the pain.
One kid in particular got a little too excited on Monday about giving me a high five. As he swung his hand he brought his little jacket along with it. And the zipper of his little jacket swung across my face and struck me in the eye.
“Oww!” I declared in pain and surprise. Indeed, one of the teachers who saw it winced in pain for me. But I high fived that kid and continued on. I was thankful to be there. I wasn’t going to let getting wacked in the eye slow me down. I was there to encourage the kids. So I raised my hand up again to give some more high fives.
But then something I didn’t expect happened. The next three kids, who saw me get accidentally wacked, came up to me and bypassed my outstretched palm, and they gave me a hug. Without me asking for it, without me expecting it, they just spontaneously embraced me because they saw that I was hurting. The tables had turned on me. I became the one who was being encouraged by a bunch of little kids who might still be learning to tie their shoes. Children are not perfect, nor are they always angels. They need to be taught rules like the Ten Commandments, because their impulses need to be structured.
We need rules. We need laws to structure our love. But after we have learned all the rules, after we have read all the books, we still might find ourselves lacking in the simple faith of a child. After all the Bible studies, and ten step plans, we still find that we are missing something. We find that we are not the Christians we feel we should be. We find that Jesus calls us to bear fruit that abides but our fruit is lacking. We struggle with all our might to find the will to bear fruit. But we find our own will power lacking. We live our lives as Christians asking, “what is God’s Will for my life?” We feel like blind Bartimeaus crying out by the side of the road for Jesus to have mercy on us and open our eyes but we don’t know what it sounds like for Him to call us, so we don’t know where to go to get our eyes opened. And we sit by the side of the road begging for scraps when an abundant life in Christ awaits us if we only we knew God’s Will.
But today there is good news.
And the good news is this. Paul tells us today that God’s Will is for us to bear fruit. When we bear fruit we will be filled with the spiritual wisdom and the will of God. This process involves two steps.
Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” At a very basic level we can know God’s general Will for our lives by looking at the scriptures. And the scriptures say that we are to give thanks in all circumstances and we are to pray without ceasing. When we give thanks and pray we shall come to know God better and we will be filled with spiritual wisdom and a knowledge of the particulars of God’s Will for our lives.
On the subject of giving thanks, I think it is important to note that Paul says to give thanks in all circumstances and not for all circumstances. There is real evil in this world. There is real hurt. And part of what God did when he raised His Son Jesus from the dead was to say that a day is coming where he will redeem what is broken. A day is coming where he will reconcile and make right all things. And all ready he is making peace by the blood he shed on the cross ( Colossians 1:20). God cares about justice. God cares about making things right. We should not give up hope. And yet we must find a place of peace and acceptance of where we are now. We do that by giving thanks for the good things we can find in our circumstances.
As we sing every Sunday in the Doxology, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise him all creatures here below, praise him above ye heavenly hosts, praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” Amen. In the Christian Faith we don’t believe in the idea of ownership. We believe in the idea of stewardship. We believe that everything ultimately belongs to God. So all things are to be used for His Glory. As Job said, “The LORD gives and the LORD takes away blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21)
It is hard to say the LORD gives and he takes away with our material possessions, it is far more difficult to say with those we love. For the past several weeks we have been hosting Grief Share, a ministry for those who have lost loved ones and are going through the process of Grief. In one of our most recent sessions we talked about how those we love don’t belong to us. They are really on loan to us from God. They could leave our lives at any time whether we want them to our not. The thread of life that binds us to this mortal coil is far thinner than we would like to admit. Yet, there is resurrection power. Even when Jesus was raised from the dead, his disciples did not recognize him. Because he had changed and been given an incorruptible body. The boundaries between spiritual and physical had passed away for him and he became a new creation.
In the same way in our lives when we endure loss resurrection is possible. Resurrection of hope, resurrection of joy, resurrection of love. The LORD can bring new friends and relationships into our lives. New opportunities. We can have a new life in Christ. But we cannot have the same life. The journey from death to resurrection changes us and things will not be the same. They could be a thousand times better. But they will not be the same. We journey from death to resurrection by finding things to be thankful for. We must let go of the love we can’t keep. When we get wacked in the eye with a zipper we give thanks for the unexpected hugs of a child.
Paul tells us that as Christians we are thankful not just for finding little blessings in our trying circumstances but we are thankful for what Christ has done for us through his death and resurrection. Paul tells us what the Father has done for us in Christ. Hey Prays for the church at Colossae that, “ you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” We are to give thanks that in Christ our spiritual state has objectively changed. We are justified not by what we have done but what Christ did through his death and resurrection for we have been transferred from the Kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of His Son.
Maybe some of you can relate to this language of being transferred from darkness unto light. Maybe some of you would not consider yourselves to have been church people before you came to Calvin. Maybe you have never been to church. Maybe you left the church after your childhood. And maybe you went your own way and tried all the pleasures and joys the world had to offer and found them not only to be wanting but to be toxic.
And somehow, someway, through the strange grace of God, you find yourself here today, and you never thought you would be sitting in the pews of a church. But the love of Christ in the communion of the saints has compelled you. A voice called to you in the night, in the depth of your spirit, and you ended up here. And you didn’t know the darkness you were in till you saw the light. The pleasures of the world tasted good but then you tasted and saw that the LORD was good. And you have been transferred to a different Kingdom with an inheritance.
Next, Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians that we are to pray without ceasing. Jesus tells us in the Gospel People have debated for thousands of years whether prayer actually changes stuff. I believe that prayer does change stuff. I believe God gives us some of His Will to do. Jesus taught us to pray thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. I am a very educated man. But I know there is a difference between knowing about God and knowing God. That is why I lock myself in a prayer closet for several hours a week because I believe if I don’t receive something from the Lord it doesn’t matter what I say. In Jesus says in John if we abide in his love we will bear much fruit and this will result in greater answers to prayer (John 15). It is an issue of spiritual maturity. We must be mature to be able to handle the answers to our prayers. It is like that movie Bruce Almighty. Where a news anchor gets all his prayers answered. And the entire world goes crazy and he goes crazy because he isn’t mature enough to handle the answers to his prayers. But when we bear fruit we are able to handle those answers
Again Jesus compares God to a good father. And you who are parents what gives you more satisfaction, building your child a tree house, or having your child build a tree house with you? That moment when your children take to heart all you have taught them and given to them and pass it on to others, I would imagine that makes all your sacrifice as parents worth it. To learn that skill, to pass it down through the generations, so that they inherit your image their imprint on their lives, isn’t that what you hope your parenting is about. And that is what God’s parenting is about. He wants us to walk in his image. The image of God. And we do that through prayer.
Speaking of thanksgiving here is another analogy. It is sort of like the difference with trusting your kid with a knife to cut the turkey for thanksgiving and trusting your kid with a chainsaw to cut down a tree. And that is the power we have in prayer. When we bear much fruit God gives us a chainsaw to cut down the obstacles in our lives. When he trusts us with it. And isn’t that what the Father did with Jesus. He answered his prayers in amazing ways. But Jesus never used his power for himself. Even when he was hanging on a cross Jesus did not use his power for himself. So maybe we should pray not that the Lord would answers our prayers but that we would be the answer to other people’s prayers. Because that is what Jesus did.
And the world is in desperate need for the church to rise up in thanksgiving and prayer. There is darkness in this world. There is darkness in our lives. Life is hard. Our work is hard. May we be in the private sector, the public sector, working in the home, the military, or the ministry. Family life is hard. And sometimes our families are holding together by a thread. And sometimes all we can do is gather around the fire of the church and hope that the darkness doesn’t encircle us. But Jesus calls us to give thanks and to pray. To push back the darkness. To set torches in the night and say come here for here you will find hope. So let us give thanks not for all circumstances but in all circumstances. And let us pray without ceasing that our Father may come and embrace us like a prodigal son. That we may see the glory of the Lord in the land of the living. And when we see the glory of the Lord in the face of Jesus Christ let us turn to each other, to those who are hurting, and embrace them as only a helpless child can, because children teach us the point of faith. And the Lord will show us, and the Lord will show the world, that we have found God’s Will, His will to be done on Earth, and that is the Will to Bear Fruit.