Productivity and fruitfulness are not always the same thing. In fact, one can be incredibly productive without being fruitful in the Biblical sense of the term.
Postured to Produce
The First world is as obsessed with productivity as the Third world, only for immensely different reasons. The Third world’s physical survival often depends on the productivity of land and crops. In the First world, while the most basic human needs are met and often greatly exceeded, identity and emotional worth tend to be tied into productivity.
Upon introducing friends or ourselves at parties or work events, we tend to lead with accolades, accomplishments and other measuring rods of productivity. When asked how we are doing, we likely respond with the word busy, as if our busyness and significance were directly correlated and essentially synonymous. We associate a good day with a productive day.
Often we do not realize how intricately twined our sense of worth and our productivity have become until we are sidelined in our productivity, until the proverbial conveyor belts of our lives come to a screeching halt.
When we are suddenly bed-ridden with sickness or stripped of our job satisfaction whether by unemployment or underemployment, the weight we place on productivity is revealed. In these and other instances of severe mercy, God often gives us the uncomfortable gift of stillness which can lead to soul assessment and realignment with His values.
Henri Nouwen wrote the following thoughts on productivity after having lived in an intentional community of handicapped persons and their caregivers.
“I do not want to suggest that productivity is wrong or needs to be despised. On the contrary , productivity and success can greatly enhance our lives. But when our value as human beings depend on what we make with our hands and minds, we become victims of the fear tactics of our world. When productivity is our main way of overcoming self-doubt, we are extremely vulnerable to rejection and the criticism and prone to inner anxiety and depression. Productivity can never give us the deep sense of belonging we crave.”
Postured to Abide
While the Scriptures most assuredly address living productive lives through proverbs that condemn sloth and parables that teach us to invest our talents, the thrust of Scripture leans toward faithfulness rather than productivity, abiding rather than achieving. In fact, it seems that Biblical fruitfulness flows directly from our faithfulness to abide and rest in the One who wills and works in us (Philippians 4:13).
When I have stilled my heart before the One who stills the physical seas and the rolling emotional ocean within me, I am freed from the frantic need to produce both physically and spiritually. When I have remembered that He is the vine and I am but a branch, I begin to have a better idea of God’s design for the day ahead (John 15: 1-11): obedience and love.
Obedience and love do not always yield a crop of what the world would term productivity. Obedience often looks like not running the extra errand or squeezing in the workout because there is an encouraging note to be written or a brother’s burden to bear. Love often looks more like “wasting” time playing Legos or the umpteenth round of Uno than finishing the to-do list.
Starting with the end in mind helps me. I long for the legacy I leave to be different than a name on an arena or a large bank account. I long for a legacy of Christ-likeness in both the smallest and large, the seen and the unseen.
In a season marked by goal-setting and life-planning (both of which are fine things when they aren’t the first and final things), I find my heart needing to fight to remember that a life of fruitfulness comes from having yielded to the Lord.
As Corrie ten Boom constantly quotes, “My times are in your hands” (Psalm 31:15).