Category Archives: Fruitful insights

God’s Crazy Maths (Fruitful Insights #3)

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I’ve written a post about fruitfulness and productivity which is a kind of introduction to these posts. This is the third post about specific insights about fruitfulness. The first is here and the second is here.

So the third insight related to this theme that I want to share with you came to me when I was working at the Warehouse NGO/charity full time for a week to help coordinate volunteers who had come in to sort and pack donations for those affected by a bad fire in Langa township. If you want to read more about that there’s a few stories here and here.

As we were praying one morning, in that busy but fullfilling week, the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 popped into my mind. That same story kept seeming to come up, before and after that day, in sermons, bible readings and conversations. I was starting to get the impression that God wanted to bring it to my attention.

What occurred to me was that the disciples were overwhelmed and freaked out because they thought Jesus was asking them to meet this huge need of the massive crowd’s hunger with their own resources. They were wondering if Jesus really meant them to go and spend the equivalent of a few years wages on just one lunch. Surely not?! They were worried that their own resources weren’t enough… and they were right.

But Jesus wasn’t overwhelmed or panicked. He wasn’t for one moment expecting to meet the need from purely human resources. He knew that God would be meeting the need, supernaturally. He calmly used a small, seemingly inconsequential amount of resources, a seed of the provision (a few little loaves and fishes) from the very community that had the huge need. He thanked God for the seed, not waiting for the full provision to be thankful. And then the miraculous provision came and he invited his followers to be part of distributing the provision from God to the people.

I reflected that I often get overwhelmed by the needs I see around me. But I’ve realised that’s often because in some way I erroneously believe that I’m supposed to be meeting the need with my own resources, my own physical resources or from my own wisdom or in my own strength. But that’s never what God’s asking of me. I don’t need to be overwhelmed because I can stand with the community or person with the need, and help them to identity the seed of resources they themselves can offer, however seemingly small – whether that’s physical resources, initiative, vision, energy or skills. We can together present that to God with thankfulness and allow him to be the one who provides. Then, wonderfully, I can be part of the distribution of that provision, being a channel of it rather than a source of it.

The other thing about the feeding of the 5,000 story is that, although often our efforts, our ‘maths’ may come to ‘nought’, Gods maths is crazy multiplication. 3+5=5000. Abundant, crazy maths.

Obviously how that looks in specific situations can be tricky to work out and I know it’s not always as simple a that, but it’s been a huge mental shift for me. I now recognise when I feel overwhelmed by need and remind myself that I need to adjust how I’m thinking about it; that it’s not down to me to fix it with my own strength and resources but to be part of God meeting that need, using the initiative of the person/community as the starting point or seed and presenting that to God with thankfulness and anticipation. And in that way, the results are God’s crazy multiplication outcomes that I couldn’t make happen myself.

All poems and original writing on this blog are Copyright © Hilary Murdoch 2013

Fishing in the right spot (Fruitful Insights #2)

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I’ve written a post about fruitfulness and productivity which is a kind of introduction to these posts. This is the second post about specific insights about fruitfulness. The first is here.

Recently, since coming back to South Africa this year, I feel God’s been sharing insights with me on a similar theme through incidents in the gospels.

When Peter was called to be a follower of Jesus, he’d spent all night working hard fishing with nothing to show for it. Striving to be productive.

Then Jesus audaciously tells him to throw his nets out on the other side of the boat. Peter must have been ready to explode: sleep deprived after a long and frustrating night, this could have been the last straw. Why would the other side make any difference? It’s the very same water he’s been fishing all night entirely unsuccessfully. Any fisherman with any sense at all would know you fish at night, not during the day. It doesn’t make any sense. But amazingly he did what the stranger said. He didn’t know much of Jesus but he knew enough to know it was worth listening to him.

And his obedience was fruitful, mind-blowingly, abundantly fruitful. In just one drop of his nets he caught more fish than he could pull in and had to ask for help, both boats were bursting with jumping fish! So much so that they started to sink under the weight of fruitfulness. In the midst of the chaos of bringing in the miraculous catch Peter must have been utterly baffled and shocked, who on earth is this man?! He is left in no doubt and is so convinced that he leaves everything to follow him. Jesus promises him that the sign of fruitfulness in fish will be replicated in fruitfulness in people’s lives.

That story really spoke to me about how often we slog away, working long and hard on what we think will be productive, even what we think will be fruitful. But if we listen to what God’s trying to tell us, and go where he’s prompting us and opening doors, even if it doesn’t seem sensible, then it can be hugely abundantly fruitful, often with less effort exerted. It’s not lazy, just efficient! Maybe it doesn’t always require the long hard slog we think it should in our work=value ethic. If we focus on the places/ relationships/activities that we believe God’s guiding us to, then the fruit can be disproportionate to our effort. He likes it that way because then we know it’s from him not us.

I’ve experienced that recently, the less I try to force and orchestrate stuff to happen that I think will be productive, and the more I try to listen to God and be flexible to go with the flow of where I believe he’s guiding me, the more I get into unexpected and hugely fruitful conversations, opportunities and encounters that would never have happened if I’d been fixing it all up. I’m definitely still learning but I’m feeling so excited and grateful for this insight and how I see it working out in my life.

Photo credit: Flickr ezioman

The Vine – ‘less is more’ (Fruitful Insights #1)

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I’ve written a post about fruitfulness and productivity which is a kind of introduction to these ‘fruitful insights’ posts.

When I first visited South Africa in 2007/2008, I spent my first ever summer Christmas with my close friends, the Koch family. They lived in a house surrounded by vineyards, which belonged to his father before him. They grew the grapes to sell to the Franschhoek cooperative. I was there in January, on the eagerly awaited and carefully timed first day of harvest and I went out with the others to pick grapes.

Enthusiastically, I approached a healthy looking vine with lots of green growth, expecting to find juicy grapes. But lifting the plentiful foliage I found, to my genuine surprise and disappointment, tiny little bunches of scrawny half formed grapes. Definitely not worth picking.

I tried that a few times and found the same. Later I went to a sparse looking vine with hardly any green growth. I didn’t think it looked very good and wasn’t expecting much but as I looked below the low branches I gasped at the humungous bulging juicy bunches underneath. That seriously taught me to judge the fruit by the amount of activity/visible green branches!

I think God knew that I needed to see this visually for the truth to really sink in.  I had been reflecting on Chapter 15 in the book of John in the Bible which talks about God being the vine and us being the branches; about how we need to remain in him to have life to the full and it also talks about how pruning is needed for fruitfulness. I had also been reading a little book called ‘Secrets of the Vine’ by Bruce Wilkinson. One of the themes in the book  was that ‘less is more’ – that often, as excessive activity is pruned back, our fruitfulness can increase.

This hugely challenged me at the time, having just left a very busy, ‘productive’ season of my life, living and working in London, doing business consultancy for 6 years and heading into a period of 6 months when I wasn’t ‘working’, almost for the first time since I went to school. I was tired and I didn’t feel my life was very fruitful. That first 6 months in South Africa didn’t feel very ‘productive’ and yet looking back on it I could recognise that it was probably one of the most fruitful seasons of my whole life: both in what God was doing in me and also what God did in others through me.

That insight from the vine was extremely well timed for me.

Sometimes we are so ‘busy’ with productive activity and rushing around that we may not see the opportunities for fruitfulness under our noses. Or we may not have the space or time for others, for ourselves, for God; the space that is often needed for deep fruitfulness to happen. Sometimes we need to be intentional about creating that space, and even saying no to some things in order to do that.

Fruitfulness vs Productivity

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How much of our day or week is truly fruitful? When I say fruitful, I don’t mean productive. I believe there’s a significant difference but I understand it can be deceptive.

What do you think the difference is?

“We’re living in a culture that measures the value of the human person by degrees of success and productivity….Do we dare to look at weakness as an opportunity to become fruitful? Fruitfulness in the spiritual life is about love and this fruitfulness is very different from success or productivity.” —Henri Nouwen

In my mind fruitful is relational, productive is task orientated. Fruitful is difficult to quantify or box but productive has concrete measurable outcomes. With fruitfulness the impact is deeper, more long-term, bringing something good to a person or situation, positive growth in yourself or others. Fruitfulness often comes from a place of vulnerability and apparent weakness, productivity comes from a place of apparent strength.

Having lived in a London city culture I am used to a society that is productivity obsessed and sometimes blind to fruitfulness. It’s been a real journey for me in recent years, learning to prioritise fruitfulness over productivity. Not that productivity is wrong but it’s only dangerous when it rules us and squashes the fruitfulness out to the edges.

How often do we sacrifice the fruitful for the sake of the productive? Wanting to feel significant by having concrete outputs to show for our investment of time. How often do we allow the urgent to displace the important? Often in my case but I’m learning.

I wonder whether choosing the fruitful and important requires a level of peace with yourself, security, knowing you have nothing to prove.

If we always let busyness, deadlines and projects take priority over people and deep relationships we may look back on life and have some regrets. It’s worth reflecting on what you’d like your life to look like when you look back on it towards its end. (Top regrets of the dying include working too hard. Interesting article on that here)

If we have a choice between putting the extra hours in to get a project or presentation that 5% more perfect and spending time with family, or taking the time to listen to and encourage a colleague who’s struggling… What’s our auto-pilot reaction? What do we want it to be? Which is going to be remembered by others in years to come? Which is going to have the deeper and more lasting impact? Which is more fruitful?

I’ve been so challenged by this recently. I’ve caught myself sometimes rushing to fill my days with stuff that I think will make others think that me being here in Cape Town is ‘worthwhile’; trying to have ‘outputs’ I can talk to people about, that I think will validate me and my presence here. But I know that’s not the point and that’s not how fruitfulness works. I’m learning that my life is more fruitful when I’m not thinking that way and I am feeling increasingly free from those concerns.

I feel that God’s been teaching me that ‘less is more’. Less frantic activity, more fruit. Less in my own strength or wisdom and more in His. Letting go of my own need for validation in other people’s eyes through ‘successful outcomes’ and following the gentle prompting to see what God is up to in people’s lives and in situations and joining in with that Prioritising the relational, deep, long-term stuff that’s where the real fruit is found, even if that doesn’t feel very ‘productive’ or if the fruit is hidden. I’ve been amazed by the privilege of the doors and opportunities God’s opened up for me, and by how fruitful I feel my life is as I step into what he opens up, not what I feel I should do.

A few years ago I went on a retreat and one of the reflections was to draw a tree that represented your life. Afterwards he asked whether there was fruit on the tree. I was distressed to see I’d drawn no fruit on mine and didn’t feel my life was very fruitful. I’ve done the exercise again more recently and could honestly draw fruit on my tree – I really feel something has shifted for me… which really excites me.

I want to share with you a few specific insights I believe God’s been sharing with me on this subject over the past few years… The first is about the picture of a vine, the other two are from stories in the gospels.

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“There is a great difference between successfulness and fruitfulness. Success comes from strength, control, and respectability. A successful person has the energy to create something, to keep control over its development, and to make it available in large quantities. Success brings many rewards and often fame. Fruits, however, come from weakness and vulnerability. And fruits are unique. A child is the fruit conceived in vulnerability, community is the fruit born through shared brokenness, and intimacy is the fruit that grows through touching one another’s wounds. Let’s remind one another that what brings us true joy is not successfulness but fruitfulness.” – Henri Nouwen

 “Do not depend on the hope of results.  You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect.  As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.  You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people.  In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.” – Thomas Merton