Conditions for a fruitful life
The Bible offers us the picture of a vineyard. Throughout the whole Bible the illustration of a vineyard is used to symbolize the people of God, or the Kingdom of God. It is a place of abundance and blessing. And in the coming weeks this picture of the vineyard is going to serve us as a metaphor to discover more about what God is doing or wants to do in and through us.
The bottom line of this message series is: everything that a farmer does in a vineyard, God wants to do in the church and in our lives. This is also the idea behind the name of the Vineyard Movement.
There will be four messages in this series: 1) the conditions for fruitfulness, 2) the growth, 3) the harvest and 4) the joy of wine.
Conditions for fruitfulness
Most of Jesus’ parables have to do with farming. He used the experience of daily life to explain what the Kingdom of God is like. We don’t live this close to the world of agriculture anymore, but I think that looking at the way things grow in nature, this will give us some understanding of how our faith grows as well.
There are four main factors to take into account for planting a vineyard:
Orientation towards the sun
Slope of the hills
No vineyard is alike, because of the factors above. Every bottle of wine is different.
We are going to use these factors as metaphors for our lives and discover how we individually and as a church community can be fruitful.
Orientation to the sun
Grapes need the sun to grow! The best wines come from sunny countries like France, Spain and Italy, California, Argentina, South Africa and Australia. Walking around at Albert Heijn checking the wine bottles and their country of origin, these countries would probably cover 95% of all the bottles you’d find there. The sun factor is a big one for vineyard farmers.
There is a simple way to apply this principle to our life and our church and that is just by replacing the U in sun by the letter O. How is our orientation towards Jesus, the Son of God?
Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
I love that phrase “set your hearts on things above”. It speaks about an eagerness or a hunger, a focus and determination to hear from Jesus and to follow Jesus.
A fruitful life and a fruitful church start with a focus on Jesus. Our hearts need to be set on Him if we want to see any healthy fruit.
Do you know that song I’ve got my mind set on you by George Harrison? It is about a guy that falls in love with a girl and he is determined to win her love for him. “And it’s gonna take money – a whole lot of spending money, and it’s gonna take time – a whole lot of precious time. I know if I put my mind to it. I know that I really can do it”
This is the attitude that we should have in our Christian faith as well!
Knowing Jesus and living for His glory should be the bottom-line of our lives – our strongest desire.
Everything else will flow from that. Faith is not an issue of believing something is true, but a sure determination and expectation to experience it as well.
Essential for a fruitful vineyard – and for any fruitful agricultural endeavour – is fertile soil. The vines need to be planted and need to be able to grow so that the vines can shoot down roots.
Jesus tells a parable about four different types of soil. He speaks of a farmer sowing seed and how some seed falls on the path, some on rocky ground, other seed falls on soil where there are thorns as well and lastly some falls in good soil or fertile soil.
Matthew 13: 19-23 (NIV)
When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.
The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.
The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.
But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
Jesus explains that the soil represents our receptivity of the work and the Word of God in our lives. The seed that is sown is the message of the Kingdom of God. It can only spring up as a healthy plant when the soil is good.
This parable helps us a lot to understand the work of evangelism and discipleship better. It helps us to always be sharing the message of the Gospel even though it doesn’t always have the desired effect.
But today, I want to ask you about the status of your soil, not someone else’s. How receptive are you for the Word of God and the works of God? The thing is; we determine what type of soil we are going to be. And if we want to see an increased work of God in and through our lives, then we first need to check the fertility of our own soil. We need to check if there are some rocks lying around and if there is some weed that we haven’t taken care of yet.
What is polluting your soil?
I want to challenge you this week to consider the status of your soil. Are there some stones and weeds in your life that are in the way of what God wants to do in you?
Are there some patterns of thinking that may pollute your soil – maybe you grew up seeing God as an angry God that was never satisfied?
Are there some areas in your life you haven’t given God access to, and where weed and stones are still choking the beautiful work of the Holy Spirit?
Ask the Holy Spirit this week to show you the status of your soil and what you could do to make it more fertile.
The best wine comes from areas where there is a good amount of sunshine throughout the year, but it is not too hot and where there is a good amount of rain, but not too much. That is also why Dutch wine is not globally known as the best wine in the world, because there is too much rain and too little sunshine.
But where we have a lot of influence on the status of our soil, we have little influence on our climate. We cannot control the things that happen to us, but only how we respond to it. Now, I want to talk about this for a second on a personal level and on a church level.
On a church level
We cannot control the spiritual climate of the country or the city that we live in. We cannot control if or how other people receive the Gospel, or how they view morality. We cannot control if the world tries to dispose of the Christian faith as something irrelevant and outdated.
We can, however control how we respond to it. It seems to me that we have three choices:
Retrieve into our little Christian corner until Jesus comes again, because the world is lost anyway.
Adjust what we believe, so that we can still mingle with the rest of the world, making sure not to be offensive in any way, hoping this will create acceptance for the bit of the message we have left.
Choose to be a people of influence. And I believe that this is what the Kingdom of God is about. We hold on to what we believe in, and through living it out in our daily lives, we connect people to the person of Jesus.
On a personal level.
Things may not go as planned. When you thought the sun would be shining, it rained! Or when you desperately needed some rain, all you got was the scorching sun!
We cannot control what comes to us. But we can control how we respond. Let me encourage you with this.
When Jesus is Lord of your life – He’s got your head, heart and hands.
He’s got your head to protect your thinking, giving you a clarity of mind so that you know how to interpret the situation.
He’s got your heart so that your decisions won’t always be determined by your emotions, but you will receive His peace deep down in your heart.
He’s got your hand. He will guide you in what you do in response to whatever life throws at you.
We cannot control the climate, but we can respond wisely to the weather conditions.
Vineyards grow best on hills. The slope is a word used for the steepness of the hill. There is a benefit to planting a vineyard on a hillside. Why? Because it will catch more sun. If the orientation to the sun is ideal, it will catch the first sun at sunrise and the last bit at sundown.
This is how I believe God also want to use the hills and valleys in our life. We may think that the hilly parts of our lives, the hurdles we have had to overcome, the things we went through, the disappointments and the challenges have prevented us from being fruitful. But great wine doesn’t come from flat vineyards!
There was something in the life of the apostle Paul that bugged him big time. He called it the “thorn in my flesh”. We don’t know what it is exactly, but it sure bothered him! In his second letter to the church in Corinth we read:
Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)
Could it be that God was using those things in your life so that you would be able to catch more sunlight? Could it be that He is using your weakness to show you His greatness? Could it be that He is using your failure to show you that the only way to succeed is by living a life close to Him?
If you want to live a fruitful life, you need to:
Focus on Jesus
Be receptive to the Word and works of God
Know how to respond to changing weather conditions
See the difficult times as a way to catch more of the light of God