Fruitful: 1a: yielding or producing fruit b: conducive to an abundant yield 2:abundantly productive, e.g. a fruitful discussion
The goal of ministry – musical or otherwise – is to be fruitful. To create something new and to feed something that will grow. Culturally, however, we’re given many more reasons to crave success over fruitfulness, and a multitude of ways to measure that success. Money and all that it can buy. Power and all that it can influence. Perfection and all the envy it can inspire in others.
Fruitfulness, as noted above, is lasting and produces more fruit. It requires a cooperative effort because something or someone else has to be changed by those fruitful efforts. It is surprising. Success, on the other hand is competitive, requiring clear goals with clear results. There is less room for surprise, except perhaps the unpleasant ones when goals aren’t met. One’s quest for success can change things, but when does a single-minded goal of being successful ever actually help anyone else? When the results of our ministry or vocation touch others deeply and allow the unexpected to happen, that is fruitfulness.
You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you…to bear much fruit.
I am currently re-reading Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire. It is one of the most fascinating, mind-bending books I have ever encountered. In it he studies four different plant forms – the apple, the tulip, marijuana and the potato – and looks at their evolution from the plant’s point of view. He makes the case that plants, in the choices that evolution has given them to feed needs and desires, have chosen to both succeed and be fruitful.
Plants, as far as we know, don’t make conscious decisions about helping or hurting other parts of their environment. They simply want to live. Is that enough for you – to simply live at any cost to your environment? Goats just want to live, but they’ve destroyed the once verdant Greek countryside. Salmonella just wants to live, sometimes at human expense. Do your daily choices help others to flourish – like the apple and potato? Or does your success sometimes hurt others – as with marijuana and salmonella. Perhaps your efforts simply create a beauty that is ultimately healing – such as the tulip, or music.
I don’t ever pretend to know what God actually wants, but I’m pretty sure that when our lives help others to flourish, then God is well served. And I do believe that choosing fruitfulness is a welcome idea in a world that could benefit from some new ways of measuring success.
My thoughts today connect with Earth Day, celebrated on April 22…as if the earth should be celebrated only one day a year? And they form a framework for my four months of sabbatical, which begins on Earth Day. I will be roaming parts of the earth I haven’t yet been to, and revisiting many places where I have been before. All with the hope of discovering new ways to be fruitful and of finding success in immeasurable ways made possible by new experiences and simply being away. I hope it will be a time of change and of surprise. A fruitful time.