Editor's note:

“That’s why I am here.” One of the delightful volunteers in our ministry for disabled adults used that phrase when I commended her for the work she was doing at a weeklong camp. In offering herself to the campers, she had discovered new energy for the demands of each day and renewed purpose for her life. In my terms, she had discovered the creative energy of fruitful work.

Fruitful work can be paid or unpaid but in either case, the qualitative and quantitative experience is one of joy and love. Joy is experienced. Love is expressed. Jesus gives voice to it in his words in John 15. When we live in to his call to fruitful work in the world, the kingdom is advanced and, I can’t help but think, God smiles.

—Kai Nilsen
Writer, Lutheran pastor, and Renovaré Ministry Team member

Excerpt from Renew Your Life

One of the life-giving ministries in the congregation I serve is our ministry to disabled adults. We host twenty to thirty guests from area group homes one night a week for Bible study and singing, one Saturday a month as a day of respite for their caregivers, and one week a year for an onsite camping expe­rience. As you can imagine, not everyone feels equipped for this ministry, but for those who open their hearts and make the in­vestment of time and energy, there are few experiences of com­parable delight and joy.

As I was watching the campers arrive for this year’s camp, I was struck by one of our volunteers—the joy on her face, the love she extended. As her camp companion arrived, she placed her hands gently on either side of the camper’s face and said, “I am so glad to see you again this year. You look beautiful.” The joy was palpable. The sheer delight of the moment overwhelmed me.

After everyone had gathered, I pulled this volunteer aside and told her how extraordinary her response was to her camper. Her words struck me. “I was so frightened to go to the nightly Bible study a few years ago. I didn’t know if I had what it takes to serve in this ministry. But now I’ve found what I’m here for!”

As I walked down the hallway, I imagined what it would have been like for the campers and this volunteer if she had let fear overtake her and cause her to hide her talent. The joy would never have been experienced. The love would never have been expressed. “I’ve found what I’m here for.” That is the renewable energy of fruitful work.

When Jesus speaks about bearing fruit, he connects it with both the outward manifestation of love and the inner experience of joy: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy maybe complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:11-12). Fruitful work in the workplace, neighborhood, community and at home always leans outward in love. In this case, love is not just sentiment or good feelings; love manifests itself in very concrete ways. Society needs honest people of good integrity in politics leading nations, in homes nurturing children, in communities organizing acts of justice, in schools inspiring students.

Fruitful work manifests itself in specific acts of love wherever we find ourselves. The energy of fruitful work also gives us an inner motivation that spurs us on, even in challenging times. Over the years, I have been struck by the number of thought leaders across many disciplines who have variously described this inward drive. One of my favorite thinkers, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, writes about the concept of flow. He describes flow as “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

Even without using the language of faith, Csikszentmihalyi taps into the deep wisdom of God embedded in the story of creation. When we engage in fruitful work, we discover the wellspring of God’s energy flowing through us, increasing both our capacity for the task at hand and our resilience in the face of obstacles. That is why we are here.

Jesus speaks about this inner experience, this inner motivation, as joy: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (Jn 15:11). For Jesus, joy is not the superficial happiness that so many in our culture seek—happiness almost completely de­pendent on external circumstances. It is the abiding satisfaction of knowing that we are God’s people no matter what, created to extend the fruits of God’s love in the world.

Excerpt taken from Renew Your Life: Discovering the Wellspring of God’s Energy (Formatio, 2015); used with the author’s permission.

Originally published September 2015.