I was recently in a fellowship meeting with a bunch of guys (all younger than me) from our "community group" (small group) at church. We were discussing what we'd like to accomplish in 2019, and the word that came to my mind was "fruitfulness."
So I shared that I wanted to be more "fruitful"—a sincere but comfortably vague and safe response, as us guys are so apt to do in such situations.
Fortunately, nobody asked what exactly I meant by that – I'm not sure I would have had a good answer if they had. Maybe they all had a general idea of what I intended and just went with it since they were too busy thinking about what they were going to say after me.
Then I started to think more about this – what exactly did I mean by "fruitfulness"?
Fruitfulness is a powerful biblical concept. It shows up in lots of places in the Bible in different ways: reproductive fruitfulness, evangelistic fruitfulness, discipling and mentoring fruitfulness, teaching and preaching fruitfulness, and the fruits of the spirit (sanctification).
I suppose it could be said that we Christians should be "fruity," but hopefully not "fruitcakes," if you know what I mean.
There is a foundational principle taught in the Bible that directly relates to fruitfulness, which is "sowing and reaping."
Sowing and reaping fruitfulness
In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus tells us about four seeds that have all been planted in different types of soil. The first three seeds die, but the fourth takes root and grows.
This parable of sowing and reaping is a metaphor for the principle of fruitfulness and unfruitfulness.
Fruitfulness is the result of sowing into good ground, whereas unfruitfulness is the result of sowing "among thorns" (Mark 4:18).
Unfruitfulness in our lives can be caused by the "thorns" of this life, which are "the cares of this world, the deceitfulness, and the desires for other things," which "choke the word [in our lives in such a way that] it becomes unfruitful" (Mark 4:19).
Jesus is saying that there is a connection between the stewardship of our lives—our time, talents, and treasure—and our fruitfulness. And further, that when the things of this world, especially money and possessions, become idolatrous pre-occupations, the Word of God begins to lose its effectiveness in bringing forth the kind of fruit it is intended to produce in our lives.
In an article titled, Aging Brings Life-Shaping Decisions, Tim Challies sums it up this way:
We are all aging. We are passing through time until we reach the end of our time. We find that greater age brings greater sorrow, but that it also brings greater joy, especially to those who are in Christ. God tells us that greater age brings greater responsibility and that at every age we will need to flee the temptation of worldliness, choosing instead to do what honors and glorifies him. We learn that to age gracefully we need to age in Christ and for Christ.
Everyone is at risk of succumbing to the temptation of worldliness, but I this is particularly true of older Christians like myself. It can be easy to put too much focus on comfort, safety, and security while lacking the fruitfulness that God intends for us. The Parable of the Sower provides a possible explanation for the waning love, passion, sacrifice, engagement, and service that many older Christians exhibit.
But how can we avoid this insidious drift toward unfruitfulness?
Fruitfulness and sappiness
Psalm 92:14 says of the older believer, "They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green." – ESV
There is some fascinating imagery here: it is of an older tree, that has seen a few droughts and storms, and its fair share of woodpeckers pecking away at it. It may be a little bent with some weak limbs here and there and may be missing some leaves and branches in places.
Yet, rather than slowly wasting away, succumbing to the natural forces that are at work, it is experiencing the abundant grace of God in such a way that it continues to grow and bear fruit.
This picture of an older and somewhat weakened but yet healthy, green tree that is "full of sap" is another biblical metaphor for a person who is abounding in grace, fruitful in doing good works and in spirit, and who continues to find nourishment from the river of life –Jesus Christ (John 7:37-39).
This is the life of the believer who, like a tree planted by a river, grows healthy and strong. Even as it ages, it continues to draw strength from the ground and the water it is planted in. Its leaves will continue to grow because their sap will enable them to be fruitful.
Moses was 120 years old when he died (Deut. 34:7-9), yet he was still strong. None of us will are likely to live that long (I'm not sure I'd like to) – Moses was given supernatural strength and stamina later in life.
The point is that our natural strength, stamina, energy, and health are essential, and to some degree will dictate what we can and can't do as we age. We have to adjust our "fruit-bearing" activities to put them in alignment with our age, energy, and health.
Wanting to be fruitful
Since recently "retiring," I have entered into a somewhat less demanding stage of life, at least in the sense that I no longer have a full-time position in a large corporation. I am still pretty healthy, but I know that could change at any time, and it certainly will eventually.
Therefore, I think it's important to make good use of my gifts and time while I have them (Eph. 5:15-16). To that end, I want to do things that I hope will be "fruitful" regarding serving others and bringing honor to God. And I also plan to do more of the "fun" things I enjoy as well.
Here is a short list of things that I am endeavoring to do (but not always doing well) that are loosely based on some of the categories that Tim listed. I hope these will help me to remain fruitful and may help you to do the same as you consider them in your own life situation and context.
1. Serving others by sharing the time, talents, and treasure I have been given.
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. – 1 Peter 4:10-11 (ESV)
I enjoy writing and have long had an interest in Christian stewardship, and that led me to start up this blog in 2015. I have written on it regularly ever since, and I have recently been working on a book about having a biblical view of retirement and planning for it accordingly.
I have tried to be generous with my time by volunteering for various serving opportunities, mainly in the context of my local church, where I serve as a deacon. This includes things like special event planning (my wife and I have administered lots of events and have coordinated over 30 weddings), teaching classes, participating in community outreach activities, etc.
And even though I am now living off Social Security and our savings, I want to continue to be generous with my money. I didn't want to stop giving just because I am no longer employed in a full-time, paid position.
2. Living as a Godly example, modeling what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus and member of his church, a good husband, father, grandparent, and friend.
But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. – Titus 2:1,2 (ESV)
This is one of the harder things to do well because it has to do with my life as a disciple and my sanctification (character). But just because it is hard, and even though I so often fall short, it is nonetheless a vital area to pursue and grow in.
Fruitfulness in this area comes by continuing to read, listening to the preaching and teaching of, and applying God's Word. I try to do this through regular devotions, attending Sunday meetings, books studies, special classes, and reading good books.
It also means humbly receiving observations and input from others – something else I don't always excel at. God brings people into our lives to help us grow; our spouses are often a good source of honest and loving input.
Being a good father, grandparent, and friend means making others a priority in my life. Because I can tend to be self-focused, this is also an area to grow in.
3. Discipling, mentoring, teaching, sharing biblical knowledge and Godly wisdom acquired through life experience.
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. – Phil. 3:17 (ESV)
This is one of the areas where older Christians can be very fruitful in, especially in the context of their local church. I pursue this by forming friendships with younger men, and by participating with them in many of the activities I have already alluded to.
Nonetheless, this is yet another area I would like to grow in, and I also want to help and encourage other older men to do the same. On the one hand, we have to model contentment, faithfulness, and other virtues and godly traits, but we must also be intentional and proactive in our concern for and involvement with younger men who we want to strengthen and encourage.
In other words, not to sit back and wait for them to come and "sit at our feet," but to pursue them as friends and open our hearts and lives to them.
Older women have the same opportunities with younger women.
My wife and I are privileged to be a part of a "community group" in our church that has singles and couples in it ranging in age from the 20s to late 60s. This provides a wonderful opportunity to practice and grow in the area of discipling, mentoring, and sharing.
There is much fruit to be borne by being an excellent example of faithfulness, loyalty, honesty, integrity, prayerfulness, and other aspects of a godly character. Even if in your later years you don't hold some "official" role in your church, you can have a profound impact on others by the honorable example you set for them. Believe me, young people are looking for such role models.
4. Enjoying life and the many blessings and joys that come from recreational activities, fun, etc.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. – James 1:17 (ESV)
For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. 1 Tim. 4:4-5 (ESV)
You may think this to be an odd one to have on the list, but I think it is actually pretty significant. God gives us life and many useful gifts for the sake of serving others and for this glory, but also four our enjoyment.
The biblical principle is that we receive gifts from God, use our gifts to serve others, and enjoy our gifts. Of course, the greatest gift of all is the one we can't live without – Jesus. Through him, we have been given another great gift: eternal life in heaven.
But God has also given us much to enjoy. Like many of you, I have things that I possess that provide me with enjoyment, and there are things that I do that do as well. I think one of God's greatest gifts to us is his creation and we can enjoy it in many different ways. I particularly like taking long walks, hiking, and fishing. And just the other night, I had a blast setting up my telescope and watching the lunar eclipse with my 12-year-old granddaughter—we were both freezing, but it was still fun.
If God has given you the ability to travel, or to go to school, or to eat out and go to a movie or a music concert once in a while, enjoy those things with a clear conscience and give him thanks for them. Yes, he has given us more than we need, but that's just a reminder of the God who loves us, saved us, and who freely offers gifts to us according to his sovereign grace.
10 opportunities for fruitfulness
There are lots of ways we can sow the seeds of the gifts we have been given to produce good fruit. Not all of them will be possible in your situation, but here is a short list of suggestions:
- You may strengthen and encourage the next generation – discipling, mentoring, teaching, etc.
- You might do volunteer work, such as hospital, jail or nursing home visitation, ministry to the poor, pro-life ministry, local school, or international missions. The options are almost endless.
- Perhaps you have a gift of compassion and mercy and might make yourself available to others needing a word of encouragement.
- You could volunteer for some church administrative role, perhaps in bookkeeping or other clerical work, in grounds maintenance or building cleanup, and the like.
- Maybe you have always wanted to write. You may have a story to tell or a subject that you are interested in, that may help and encourage others. Consider starting up a blog (it's pretty easy), or contributing to existing ones. You may even want to think about a book.
- Do you like to teach? Perhaps there is a Sunday school or children's ministry class to teach that would fit you well.
- Your church may need people to volunteer to lead small groups or Bible studies. If you are good at that, consider making yourself available.
- If you have specific skills, such as electrical, plumbing, or carpentry, or are good technically with computers, you may be of great assistance to those in your church or community who need help with these things.
- If you are an experienced business person, consider helping others, through career and financial coaching and counseling.
- Perhaps because of physical limitations or health issues, the main thing you can do is pray and intercede for others. There is no greater privilege or gift than to be able to pray for others. It may bring forth fruit that you won't know of until heaven, but what a joy that will be!
The opportunities are almost endless—just find something that fits the desires, time, availability, gifting, and abilities that you have. Then trust God to help you to "…walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God" (Col. 1:10 – ESV).