The Meaning Of Productivity

"Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." 1 Corinthians 15:58

Productivity is a priority in my day. It's one of those things I assumed was a fruit of the Spirit because it is so important to me, except for the fact it's not. Many times, I associate productivity with fruitfulness, or at least accomplishment, but I recently read an article from John Piper that made me stop and think about what Biblical productivity really is. The article is called Physical Exercise: What I Do And Why (Part 2):

Today, my main motive for exercise is purity and productivity. By purity I mean being a more loving person (as Jesus said, “love your neighbor,” Matthew 22:39). By productivity I mean getting a lot done (as Paul said, “abounding in the work of the Lord,” 1 Corinthians 15:58). 
Underneath most of my besetting sins is despondency. I am less prone to such melancholy when I hammer my body three times a week. The reason could be endorphins. Could be ego. Whichever, it’s cheaper than Prozac or psychotherapy. I’m simply happier. And I sleep better. I have more energy.
Most of that energy goes into the Bible and preaching and people. And the fruit from that is, I hope, edification. Which means I exercise to be a more loving person and a better pastor.

When he mentions that he exercises for the purpose of productivity, he refers to the 1 Corinthians 15:58 verse about abounding in the work of the Lord. As a stay at home mom, it’s hard to feel like I’m being productive when I can’t even finish simple tasks like emptying the dishwasher without a little person climbing in it and throwing dishes on the floor. Instead of getting angry about “not getting anything done,” and “not being productive,” I feel like I need an attitude change, and a new perspective on productivity.

Since the phrase, “abounding in the work of the Lord” has been on my mind, I wanted to explore the context a bit more and so I can better understand what it means to be productive. Productivity in my world means “running around like a chicken with my head cut off to get everything on my to-do list done even if it means barking orders at the people I love.” Paul’s definition turns down the notch on crazy and calmly encourages the fellow believers to be “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” 

If we want to be productive, two good questions we can ask ourselves are:

  1. Are we building on a lasting foundation?
  2. Are are meeting the needs of others?

How To Abound In Productivity

"Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." 1 Corinthians 15:58

Being productive in the Lord means building on a lasting foundation. 1 Corinthians 15:58 above details how to be abound in productivity on the solid foundation of Christ: 

Be steadfast: Keep your eyes on the prize, which is Jesus, (Hebrews 12:1-2) and don’t let yourself be distracted (I’m looking at you, iPhone notifications). This is the opposite of keeping my eyes on my to-do list and constantly checking my phone or email. Being steadfast means looking ahead and hopefully moving ahead, no matter how slow that pace may be. 

Be immovable: See my earlier post on how to be immovable in a changing world. I feel like my world is constantly changing with a rapidly growing toddler, and it can be hard to keep up, let alone stand up on my own two feet sometimes. However, being immovable means to stand firm on the rock and foundation of Christ with a strong core of faith. Being immovable doesn’t mean standing still, it means not being shaken by the things of this world that try to throw us off the path of our steadfast walk with the Lord.

Always abounding: I always say that you should never use absolutes. But the Bible uses them all the time! That’s because God can actually keep his promises, so it is only through his power that I can do the same. It’s only in Christ that I can “always abound,” because if abounding means doing more than enough, that means it is more than what I am capable of doing. That requires leaning on someone more capable than me (Ephesians 3:20). It means my cup overflows, that he gives me the ability not only to care for myself but to have extra nice words and love for others. 

In the work of the Lord: Always abound in the work of the Lord. So that means volunteering at a food bank once a week, visiting the disabled, and converting people to Christ, right? Yes and no. What is the work of the Lord? The crowds who followed Jesus around looking for more miracles and more bread asked the same question. "Jesus answered them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent'"(John 6:29). The work of the Lord is to believe, and out of that faith comes good works like serving at a food bank and such. But for me in this season, the work of the Lord means to depend on him when I want to blow up in a tirade against my family who keep messing up the house that I try and keep clean. It means finding joy in raising a human being, being thankful that I have food in the fridge to cook, and being content with our space and pace of life. The Lord gives each of us an assignment (1 Corinthians 3:5), and my assignment in this season of life is to focus on the Lord so I can love my family, neighbors, and friends well.  

Knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. My husband and I used to spend our college Spring Breaks building Young Life camps in the Dominican Republic. One of my assignments during that time was to build a rock wall. When our team was done, the manager came over and told us the wall was in the wrong place and we had to break it down and start over (major face palm). It felt like our labor was in useless and totally in vain.

Laboring for the Lord is never in vain (insert hands in the air emoji). When we are building the walls of the house in the right place and on the right foundation, we are being productive. We are not just paying rent, but we are investing in the future, in our eternal homes. And with the Lord, we are not only investing in a heavenly home with many rooms (John 14:2), but we are investing in a relationship with him, because he is the true payment for our productivity.

Since my job right now is a mom, the way I can be productive is teaching my little girl how to be productive in the Lord. When little Johnny knocks down her nine blocks high tower and ruins her work, I can remind her to be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. And she will take a deep breath, say a prayer, and give little Johnny a hug. Or to be more realistic, she might stomp and throw a fit the first few times like I do on the inside when she throws clean dishes on the floor. We will work on this Biblical productivity thing together. 

Productivity Always Produces Results

Productivity is a good thing when we are doing the work of the Lord, because it always produces results. When we believe in Jesus, belief not only results from faith but produces faith. This kind of productivity not only benefits us, but we are productive in the Lord when we meet the needs of others as well: "Our people must learn to do good by meeting the urgent needs of others; then they will not be unproductive" (Titus 3:14, New Living Translation). 

The results we look for in the world like paychecks promotions might not be the results we see from being productive in the Lord. These results sometimes aren't apparent, but they are lasting. But like the parable of the laborers in the vineyard from Matthew 20:1-16, we need to simply be grateful for the opportunity to work for the Lord at all. We need to shift our focus from personal productivity points to thankfulness for the privilege that the Lord calls us to work with him: Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Luke 17:9-10). In the end, we are grateful servants, happy to spend a day in the court of the Lord than a thousand elsewhere (Psalm 84:10) because he is where we find our joy.

No work we can do can ever achieve what Jesus has already done for us on the cross, and no payment or praise can be as great as the salvation Jesus has given us and the presence of the Holy Spirit. When we are relying on ourselves to accomplish our own agenda, we can’t be productive in a lasting way. It’s only when we let the Lord work in us that we can be productive, abounding in the work of the Lord. It's only when we are building on the right foundation that we can produce lasting results for ourselves and for others. 


What does productivity look like to you? 

How is the Lord working in your life? Do you think He is being productive?