Talk: Rhythms of fruitfulness

How can we live out the pattern of work and then rest built into God's created order?

There is a deep order built into creation by God, a pattern of work and then rest. Sowing, growth, harvest, fallow. This takes places on a daily basis, weekly, each year and even across the seasons of a whole life. You could call it the moral order of fruitfulness: we are designed to work but we are also designed to sabbath.

I gave a talk at the February 2019 Christian Medical Fellowship student conference looking in depth at this idea. You can listen to it below or scroll down to read the handout:


‘You have to indwell the story of the Bible as the true story of the whole world’

Lesslie Newbigin

We are God’s workmanship (poema), created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10

Practising the presence of God, Brother Lawrence

‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and gave you something to drink, when did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and we clothed you?’ ‘And the King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine you did it for me.”’ – Matthew 25:37-40

 ‘We are tending the wounds of Christ…Christ has come to us in a distressing disguise’ Mother Teresa

We are called to see Christ in our patients, and we are called to be Christ to our patients. 

Rhythms of fruitfulness

There is a Work/Sabbath pattern in creation.  It’s part of the deep order God has placed in creation – the moral order of fruitfulness.  Sowing, growth, harvest, fallow On a daily basis

  • A daily rhythm
  • A weekly basis
  • A yearly basis
  • A multi-year basis – the seasons of a whole life

We are designed for work – but we are also designed to rest 

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.  And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creation that he had done. – Genesis 2:2-3

My Presence will go with you and I will give you rest. Exodus 33:14

Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon me and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.  Matthew 11:28-30

“It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.”   C.S. Lewis

Amusement. a-muse = literally ‘stop thinking’

Technology changes the way we see the world. It creates a ‘reality distortion field’.
The work of our hands is deeply affected and contaminated by the Fall.

‘Cursed is the ground because of you. Through painful you will eat of it all the days of your life…by the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken.For dust you are and to dust you will return.’   Genesis 3:17-18

NUS survey 2015

  • 78% of students said they experienced mental health issues in the last year.
  • 33% said they had suicidal thoughts in the last year – 55% in non-heterosexual students                                                            

Perfectionism – a desire and longing for excellence

Healthy perfectionism places value in hard work, highest possible achievement, high standards of behaviour and work, truthfulness, punctuality, cleanliness, tidiness, moral integrity and honest relationships.  It’s part of our God-likeness

Signs of unhealthy perfectionism

Obsessive self-criticism, and a constant sense of failure.

Desperate attempts to try harder to achieve our self-imposed standards.

Procrastination and an inability to work because of fear of failure and rejection.

Criticism and secret contempt of others who don’t meet the required standards.

‘Black and white thinking’ – something is either wonderful, brilliant and excellent or else hopeless, useless, terrible and worthless.  ‘Unless I can be the best at something I refuse to even try’.

Guilt and feelings of failure.

Tendency to worry and obsess about past failures and mistakes.

Shame and anxiety about how I am perceived by others.

Anxieties about whether ‘I am good enough’, and fear of future failures.

Feelings of exhaustion, burnout,

Depression and suicidal thoughts.

Spiritual aspects of unhealthy perfectionism

  1. Secret pride, and a preoccupation with myself
  2. A longing to be in control and fear of being out-of-control or dependent on others.
  3. Listening to the inner whisper of the evil one, who masquerades as the voice of our conscience.

God is very disappointed with you. 

You always fail and let your loving Father down…… 

You’re useless,

You’re never good enough

You need to try harder, 

You need to pray more,

You need to work harder,

You need to read your Bible more…’

Three truths about the evil one from Scripture

He is the father of lies

“When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)

He is the accuser of Christian believers

“For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.” (Revelation 12:10)

 He masquerades as an angel of light “…..Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14)

How to be a recovering perfectionist

1. Recognising unhealthy aspects of my thinking and behaviour.

The hardest phrase for the perfectionist to accept is ‘good enough’, but this acceptance is part of healthy realism.  It is part of the acceptance that we live in a fallen and broken world, and that God in his grace and forgiveness accepts us as we are, not how we would long to be.

2. Learning to recognise the voice of the evil one and refusing to collude and agree with it.  Instead we start a process of learning to focus on the true voice of the Holy Spirit and the truth of our identity in Christ.

‘My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me.  I give them eternal life and they will never perish and no one will snatch them out of my hand’.John 10:27-28

3. Learning the daily discipline of mental hygiene

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think (logizomai) about such things.”  Philippians 4:8

Truth, goodness, beauty

My true identity in Christ

What really matters is what God thinks of me.  I do not define myself.  Instead I am defined as someone who was known and loved before the foundation of the world

I’m someone who was created in God’s image as a unique and wonderful human being.

I’m someone who is worth being sought out by Christ who gave his life for me

I’m someone who has been given the right to be called a son or daughter of the Most High, and as someone whose name is written in the Lamb’s book of life.

I’m someone whom God thinks is worthy of love, as beautiful and to be cherished.

I am worth precisely what God thinks of me.  He accepts me for who I am, in Christ, and for the person I am one day going to become, transformed from one degree of glory to another. 

All I need to do is to say ‘Thank you’ and  ‘Yes I agree.  I give my consent’

‘I am who you say I am…..’

4. Cultivate healthy relationships, which are filled with grace, forgiveness and acceptance.

God’s grace for guilt is forgiveness

God’s grace for shame is acceptance

There’s a close connection between over-working versus getting enough rest and feelings of guilt, fear and shame versus understanding forgiveness and acceptance

We can rest when we know we are forgiven and accepted.  We don’t have to earn it.  

It’s part of the rhythm of fruitfulness


Further reading

Perfecting ourselves to death, Richard Winter, IVP

The Perfectionism Book, Walking the Path to Freedom, Will van der Hart and Rob Waller, IVP

A New Day: Moving on from Hunger, Anxiety, Control, Shame, Anger and Despair, Emma Scrivener, IVP

A New Name, Grace and Healing For Anorexia, Emma Scrivener, IVP

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