Productivity vs. Fruitfulness

By Alice Fryling

March 2, 2022

Aging Faithfully


Today’s devotion is written by Alice Fryling. It’s the fourth in a series. If you missed my introduction of Alice in last Friday’s devotion, you can read it here. – Mark

Scripture—Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.


When diminishing opportunities, activities, and energy seem to rob us of the productivity of our younger years, God invites us to focus more on the fruits of the Spirit than on our accomplishments.


A deep fear we face as we age is that we will become useless. We fear that we will be “put out to pasture,” with nothing to do but live out our remaining days. The author of Ecclesiastes expresses our despair this way: “What’s there to show for a lifetime of work, a lifetime of working your fingers to the bone? One generation goes its way, the next one arrives, but nothing changes—it’s business as usual. . .” (See Ecclesiastes 1, MSG).

When we feel this kind of sadness, God invites us to change our understanding about what is “useful.” Jesus hinted at this when he told his disciples that they would do “even greater” works than he was doing because he was “going to the Father” (John 14:12). In my younger years I responded to this verse, “Well, Jesus definitely doesn’t know me!” Now I am not so sure.

Paul wrote, “In my flesh, I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24, NRSV). The apostle John said, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (I John 4:12, NIV).

Once again God’s invitation to us as we age sounds almost too good to be true. As we age, and as we do less, we may be more available to complete what Jesus began. God continues the work of divine love through us. We may fear we won’t be as useful, but we do not need to fear that we can no longer love. In this season of life, we are called to love in new ways.

God invites us to change our focus from getting the job done to bearing the fruits of the Spirit in our lives. This does not mean we will no longer be productive. It means that at the end of the day we are less inclined to ask, “What did I get done today?” and more likely to ask, “When today were the fruits of the Holy Spirit manifest in my life?”  After a lifetime of activity and accomplishment, this will be humbling and surprising. Our grandchildren and other young people will love that we sit and listen to them as they figure out how the be responsible in their world. Our neighbors will love our quiet, gentle presence in the backyard. Our adult children will appreciate our noninvasive presence in their lives.

This quieter, less active way of living is reflected in a parable of Jesus.  “God’s kingdom is like seed thrown on a field by a man who then goes to bed and forgets about it. The seed sprouts and grows—he has no idea how it happens. . . .” (Mark 4:26-29 MSG). This is good news for all who struggle with the tension between productivity and fruitfulness, but it especially is good news for those of us who are in a season of life that may include insomnia and forgetfulness!  Throughout our lives, we will be both productive and fruitful, but as we age God invites us to slow down and give time for the fruit to ripen. We may do less, and we may even feel useless, but it is a “uselessness” full of grace, love, and peace.


Which fruits of the Spirit do you see the most in your life? Which fruits do you wish were more evident?

What changes in your perspective about yourself might allow more fruit to blossom?


Consider Jesus’ words to the disciples: “What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving” (Matthew 6:31, MSG). Spend some time musing about the ways you feel more relaxed about the tasks in your life and more aware of God giving the fruits of the Spirit to you for you to give to others.

Think of two or three fruits of the Spirit God might want to give to you today.


Dear God, Thank you that you are the gardener of my soul. Today, and every day as I get older, please ripen the fruits of the Spirit in my life. Thank you for this season when I am free to let go of my tasks and pay more attention to the fruits you want to cultivate within me. I am grateful. Amen.

You can learn more about the De Pree Center’s Third Third Initiative here.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Life in the Spirit (Galatians 5:13–23)

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Alice Fryling

Author & Director

Alice Fryling is a spiritual director and a bestselling author of ten books on relationships and spiritual formation, including her new book Aging Faithfully: The Holy Invitation of Growing Older. Alice received training in Spiritual Direction from the Christos Center in Minneapolis, and trai...

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