One of the helpful antidotes to success culture in the church is the wise old adage – ‘you’re called to be faithful – God takes care of the fruit’. It flies a little bit in the face of Jesus’ own saying ‘I have appointed you to bear fruit, fruit that will last’, but the ‘fruit’ there can always be rationalised to mean ‘fruit of the Spirit’ i.e. inner transformations in the believer that sometimes seem to emerge most in ‘fruitless situations’ such as perseverance, self-control and even peace. So, the wise counsel is don’t count success the way others do, be faithful in your preaching, witnessing and leading and leave the rest to God. We can plough the spiritual seeds and scatter the good seed on the ground, but they are only fed and watered by God’s Almighty hand.
But there is something missing here. It’s the thing Jesus commends strangers for time after time. It the thing he berates his closest friends for lacking time after time. It’s what he calls ‘believing in me’, or ‘having faith’.
We’re asked by Jesus to be more than ‘faithful’ – at least more than faithful if we’ve taken the ‘faith’ bit out of that word and been left just ‘full’ of hard slog work apparently done in his name.
Disciples who have just seen Jesus heal a lame man, feed 5000 men and walk on water ask, ‘what must we do to do the works of God’? and Jesus replies ‘believe in the one [God] has sent’. It’s not hard to guess what works of God the star struck disciples were thinking of. For Jesus the root of all these faithful works was believing.
Then when Jesus is in his final week in ministry he says that these works (signs/miracles) are evidence to help you believe in God and his Son Jesus if you can’t just get your head around it from his character. Jesus then promises that whoever believes in him will do the works he has been doing and even greater things because of where he is going. We can ask anything in his name etc etc
This is of course a phrase that provokes pastoral and preaching gymnastics of the most dramatic variety. Our ‘faith-less’ instinct is to try and find a way out of that particular equation. “Jesus said we would do greater things, but what he really meant was ____ “[fill in the gaps!] He said we could “ask anything in my name”, but the ‘my name’ bit is a massive caveat so there’s not much point asking really, just keep plodding on being ‘faithful’.
So although the wise counsel is the wise counsel is don’t count success the way others do, be faithful in your preaching, witnessing and leading and leave the rest to God, the missing link is faith. There’s little point preaching, witnessing and leading if you’re not doing it with faith! It is not faithful if it is not faith – full. Faith is the elusive quality in a stranger or disciple that Jesus was always trying to call out. Faith is what we start with in the Christian life (justified by faith) and how we are supposed to grow and mature and minister as well (sanctified by faith / ministering by faith).
Yesterday Revd Chris Fox, from St Paul’s Ealing, came to talk to our local New Wine group. He has a story of being a young Christian going home to his mum who was suffering with back pain and finding himself offering to pray for her. He crossed the room. Put a hand on her shoulder. Said a very short prayer and watched her get well right away. From this he learned that faith is not just being expectant that God can do something, it is also crossing the room and acting.
Chris’s story is all the more powerful because he framed the talk a) around the life and work of Jesus, and b) through some of the painful and heartbreaking experiences he has and is going through. But in the midst of his own horrific year he says he’s never felt closer to God or believed in his power more. Faith is crossing the room and having a go.
“Without Faith It Is Impossible To Please God”
My resolution: to step out in faith, be both faith-full and faithful and then leave the fruitfulness to Him.