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What to do when you are not as fruitful as you hoped?

I love our Youth With A Mission (YWAM) tribe. I love that we are constantly looking for new ways to do new things. We send out waves of young people optimistically looking for our powerful and wonderful God to do powerful and wonderful things. We want to reach the least, the last and the lost. We want to see big things happen, but what do we do when we don’t see immediate results? What do we do when the Lord calls us to something that does not show fruit right away?

I have been here in Bosnia Herzegovina for almost 20 years. In this time, I have seen other YWAM colleagues leave for various reasons. At one stage there were almost 20 of us in three locations and now I am the only one left. I have seen the Evangelical/Protestant church, which used to have an estimated “almost 1000” believers, become an estimated “less than 500” today. This is the opposite of fruitful, even in the eyes of the most optimistic believer. Yet despite this, I still believe that God has good and great things planned for this country and most importantly, He still wants me to be here, and be a part of what He is doing!

So how has the Lord helped me to remain faithful to His calling over all this time? What do I suggest you do when faced with a “lack of fruit” in your ministry? Here are some things that I have done over the years that have helped me remain faithful.

1) Make sure that you are where you are supposed to be, then do not quit.
I follow what our founders, Loren and Darlene Cunningham say is the key to our success as a mission:

  1. Hear the Word of the Lord
  2. Obey it
  3. Do not quit

This is something that we constantly need to make sure we are doing. Did we hear what the Lord told us to do? Yes! Did we obey it? Yes! Is it working out how we thought it would? No! Does that mean we quit? No!

Do not quit when the going gets tough! Joseph was in jail for over 10 years before his word of the Lord came into being. Abraham waited 25 years from the time God promised him an heir until the birth of Isaac. I will not even mention Moses who did not get to enter the promised land, but what about Joshua who did enter and had to wait 40 years to do so?

I know that God called me to come to Bosnia over 20 years ago. I check in with Him regularly to make sure that is still His word for me, and then I obey Him and do not quit.

2) Realise who is responsible for the fruit
We all know the classic story of the parable of the sower but in Mark, there is another parable of the sowing farmer. (Mark 4:26-29):

He [Jesus] also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

The seed sprouts and grows and the farmer doesn’t know how, it really doesn’t depend on him. He sows it, he waters it (if it’s not a place where enough rain falls), and the plant just grows. First the stalk, then the head and then the kernel in the head. Now we know that we can put pesticides to stop the pests getting on it, fertilizer to make it grow better, but in essence, the farmers of today also rely on that little bit of “magic” which God has put in each seed to make it grow into a plant.

We all know the classic verse in John, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) The fruit is not up to us! It is up to us to stay connected to the vine and God will make the seeds that we plant, grow and sprout and become fruit.

3) Make sure you are not the problem

Check your heart. Is there something you have been holding as an offence towards someone else? Is there a secret sin which is holding you back?

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1,2)

We need to throw off everything that hinders us and the sin that entangles us, running the race with perseverance and fixing our eyes on Jesus… We need to make sure we are laying down our rights, just as Jesus did at the cross. Am I ready to trust God with how He chooses to use me?

I was brought up in the Methodist tradition and every year we pray this wonderful covenant prayer:

I love this prayer because it is a complete laying down of our rights, making sure that it is God who is in charge and He can choose to use us as He wills. We need to constantly make sure that we are right with God and others because otherwise, God cannot use us to be fruitful in His Kingdom.

 

Also, do not fall into habits and easy ways of doing things. Keep trying new things in new ways, following the Holy Spirit’s guidance and not always saying “oh we tried that before and it didn’t work”. Just like the disciples caught a huge catch of fish by obeying Jesus, we will do the same when the time is right.

4) Realise there is always opposition to Fruit
Bosnia is an extremely hard place spiritually. It is a place where wars have been fought over religion, and so the default is for people to be very closed to anything that is new. Evangelical/Protestant Christianity is often considered a sect. I am blessed that even if I am the only YWAM worker here, I am part of a church planting team. My pastor, who is a Bosnian Serb (i.e Orthodox), has been told, “how can you as a good Serb, change your religion in peacetime after all that we fought for in the past 500 years?”. So, you can see the opposition to church planting and growing the church are varied and complicated. It is not an easy place to work. It is a place where you will need to till the soil, take out a lot of the weeds and contend for the hearts and minds of the people over a long period of time.

But that is not only true of Bosnia, wherever you may be, there will be opposition. The verses from Hebrews 12 continue to say in verse 3, Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

We need to realise there is always going to be opposition, but instead of looking to it and focusing on it, we should look to Jesus, as that is the only way to not grow weary and lose heart.

Conclusion
As you keep these four things in mind, I hope they will be helpful on your journey to fruitfulness. Here is a final verse that I want to share from John where Jesus is praying to God, “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.” (John 17:4). Even Jesus was bringing glory to God by simply obeying the Father. Every day I pray this prayer, Father, help me bring You glory by finishing the work You gave me to do.

If you keep checking in with the Lord and keep obeying, the fruit will come. You can rely on that! Do not quit just because it’s not coming the way you think it should, but instead, each day seek the Lord and do what He tells you to do, and He will bring the fruit in His time and in His way.

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