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. 

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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