Fruit of Faithfulness

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Romans 5:3-4

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

Both James and Paul experienced the same process in the Christian life–they saw the same pattern emerge–and then wrote about it. Life brings us trials and suffering. If we let them, they produce in us a kind of perseverance, a relentlessness, an endurance. And, over time, this establishes maturity in our character. Those who are mature in their character never seem to run out of hope.

What is happening when we have been long-suffering in our faithfulness and still aren’t seeing fruit from it?

When ongoing faithfulness doesn’t produce outward fruit, it is producing inner formation

If you aren’t seeing the fruit of your faithfulness outwardly, it might be because it is growing on the inside. Babies develop on the inside first before they are introduced to the world. Maybe what God is birthing in you has to start on the inside first.

Explosive Power

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms…

Ephesians 1:18-20

If you’ve been watching SpaceX launch their experimental rockets, you’ve seen a mixture of success and failure. And the failures are spectacular explosions. Thankfully, no one is on the rockets when they explode. But they are good reminders as to the power and danger of rockets that launch us to the moon and to Mars.

Rockets that can send us into outer space are basically bombs. The only difference is that the explosion is funneled in one direction allowing it to press pass the force of gravity and into space. The goal is to control the explosion throughout the flight. Yet, we’ve seen SpaceX rockets explode on the launch pad, in mid-flight, and even just after landing.

As I watch these trial flights to space, I am reminded that the Holy Spirit has that kind of explosive power. And that power dwells within us. The power that raised Jesus from the dead is contained inside of us (Romans 8:11). You can see how that could be used for incredible good. It could also be used for incredible harm. Likewise, it can cause an implosion of someone’s life if the structure of their character is not sound. A rocket with insufficient structural integrity is a bomb waiting to happen.

The same is true for us. God has to be able to trust our integrity, the structural soundness of our character, before releasing too much power through us. All of the power is there, residing in the Holy Spirit who is in us. But all that power can’t be released all at once without creating damage. God must strengthen our character to be able to handle the release of power. When the structural integrity of our character is sound, all of that power can move in one direction allowing us to be a rocket launching to new heights.

If you want to operate in more power, it might not be that you need more power. It might be that you have plenty of power inside of you waiting to happen. But in order for God to release it without destroying you in the process, He may need your character to strengthen. And this happens primarily by full surrender of our life and quick obedience to His direction.

Voluntary & Involuntary Suffering

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings…

Philippians 3:10

If we want to know the power of the resurrection of Christ then we must chose to participate in His sufferings. This means that to the extent that we are willing to voluntarily suffer, is the extent to which we’ll operate in power and authority in that area of our life. This is a Kingdom principle.

When we empathize with and serve people, we will often find ourselves suffering with them in different ways. This is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we fast and contend in prayer for a breakthrough, this is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we sacrifice for others, this is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we stand for truth in the face of people mocking and slandering us, this is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we participate in the sufferings of Christ in this way, we will find that our ministry and our prayers will carry more resurrection power with them.

It’s not that we are “paying the price” for greater power. It’s that Jesus already paid the price on the cross so that sons and daughters of the Kingdom would be able to operate in greater resurrection power. Romans 8:11 says, “…the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you…” Jesus already paid the price, so our job is to identify with Him in His sufferings. The result is resurrection power.

Voluntary suffering is different than involuntary suffering. In this world full of sin and brokenness, we will automatically face involuntary suffering (accidents, illnesses, financial issues, relational issues, hardship, etc). Involuntary suffering is useful too but just in a different way. While voluntary suffering produces power, involuntary suffering produces perseverance, character, and hope. Romans 5:3-4 says, “…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

James put the same idea this way:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 

James 1:2-4

So one way to look at it is that while voluntary suffering empowers the gifts of the Spirit, involuntary suffering (handled well) empowers the fruit of the Spirit. Voluntary suffering God uses to make us more effective. Involuntary suffering God uses to make us more solid.

Pastors

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

1 Peter 5:1-4

Peter describes the kind of pastor every church should be looking for. Pastors, and all leaders in the church, should be willing to shepherd those under their care. They should do it willingly and not begrudgingly. They should seek to serve and not to be served. They should seek to be examples in their own lives of what it looks like to follow Jesus and not controlling or dominating leaders.

The key here is character and intimacy with Jesus. Obedience flows out of intimacy. Character flows out of consistent obedience. This is what pastoral search committees should be looking for. Unfortunately, too many churches get too easily impressed with education and giftedness. And while both of these are necessary and important, they pale in comparison to the importance of character and intimacy with Jesus.

In interviews, it should not be assumed that the person spends time with the Lord and has no hidden sin. Questions should be asked that involve the revealing of a person’s character. Questions should be asked that involve the revealing of a person’s intimacy with the Lord. This is the foundation of all ministry.

And while scandals of marital infidelity, sexual abuse, and financial embezzelment always take up most of the headlines, most of the pastors that I know are amazingly dedicated servants of the Lord. They have fully surrendered their lives to Jesus and are standing with their church people through the muck of life. They are faithfully serving the Lord and His Body in the most humble and self-sacrificing ways without a lot of recognition. These men and women are hidden heroes of the Kingdom whom the Chief Shepherd will reward greatly on the day He appears.