Introductory 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 into his call to fruitful work in the world, the kingdom is advanced and, I can’t help but think, God smiles.

Kai Nilsen
Writer, 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.

Pho­to by Mar­cel Ardi­van on Unsplash

Text First Published September 2015 · Last Featured on May 2022

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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