The branch of the vine does not worry, and toil, and rush here to seek for sunshine, and there to find rain. No; it rests in union and communion with the vine; and at the right time, and in the right way, is the right fruit found on it. Let us so abide in the Lord Jesus. –Hudson Taylor, missionary
God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:28 (NASB)
Our heavenly Father often leads us into territories “beyond civilization” that He might produce true civilization within us. How many men and women of God through the ages have found themselves wandering through desolate territory, all the while wondering how long their season of isolation would last? In part, the question reveals the answer: longer than a person would expect.
But how long should such a season last? A wilderness season serves as a time of preparation to enable the fulfillment of a promise; the end-goal is a supernatural measure of spiritual fruitfulness. The experience will last as long as it takes for the seed of God’s word to fully germinate and produce a fruitful harvest in our hearts.
Success through God’s Eyes
Through more than thirty years of seeking God, studying the Bible, and watching people, I have concluded that fruitfulness is God’s definition of success. Sadly, we often ignore any meaningful quest for fruitfulness as we run the all-consuming race for humanly-defined success. We think that if only we can get x number of people to attend our meetings, achieve such and such a status, and have a certain amount of money to accomplish our mission, then God will be pleased. No, this is humankind’s definition of success—something vastly different from what God values.
The concept of spiritual fruitfulness is not new to God’s grand design for humanity, but it is new to many of us. Part of the confusion lies in the fact that we tend to limit Genesis 1:26-28 to physical fruitfulness—meaning having lots of kids. But there is a spiritual element to this passage as well.
The people of Israel multiplied rapidly in the days of the patriarchs. Even so, severe judgment came upon them because they failed to bear spiritual fruit that honored God (see Isaiah 5:1-7). Let’s not deceive ourselves! Fruitfulness always has been, and always will be, integral to God’s plan for each and every one of our lives. No exclusions. No exceptions.
Heavenly Success Is Relational
Biblical fruitfulness involves abiding in a grace-filled relationship with God so that we are formed to the image of Jesus Christ. As we abide in Christ—the vine—the nine attributes (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) cannot help but grow in our hearts. In due season, this fruit matures and begins to reproduce itself in the lives of others.
We teach what we know. We reproduce who we are. Fruitfulness, at its core, is about reproducing who we have become.
Those who resist being formed into the image of Christ will only multiply the bad fruit in their lives. When gift-oriented success is achieved without genuine fruitfulness, some type of catastrophic collapse will occur—and many lives will be sadly damaged. I could provide you with examples but that would be unnecessary—they’ve been pasted across the headlines for many years now. Let’s not kid ourselves! The fruit of the Holy Spirit explodes into its full measure of multiplication only after the wilderness process has been allowed to accomplish its internal purposes.
We Play a Role!
One of the most effective things we can do during a wilderness season is pray for the Holy Spirit to illuminate our hearts, enabling us to understand how God desires to use our current season to produce eternal fruit. If we understand what God seeks to accomplish, we can choose to abide in His life-giving grace. This course of action is so much more desirable than sinking into worry, complaining, and hard-heartedness—all expressions of unbelief.
A wilderness season will extend until it has fulfilled the mission for which it was ordained by God. Still, we can limit its duration by fully aligning ourselves with His good plans and purposes; many a wilderness season has been unnecessarily extended due to ignorance of God’s expectations and desires.
God always has a plan, but in many ways the timing of that plan is dependent upon the seeds that are sprouting beneath the surface of our hearts.
This post is drawn from Chapter Eight of Bob’s devotional: Champions in the Wilderness—Fifty-Two Devotions to Guide and Strengthen Emerging Overcomers.