Years ago, when the number of attendees at Living Proof Live events started swelling—and, consequently, scaring me half to death—I decided that God would be most honored (and I’d be most reliant on him) if I fasted from the time each conference began until after it ended. If effectiveness increased in response to a combination of fasting and praying, as Scripture indicated it did, why wouldn’t the same formula work for fasting and speaking?

It made perfect sense to me, so I kept this up for years—not one bite on an event weekend, from Friday after lunch until Saturday afternoon. Twenty-four hours or so was plenty doable. I desperately needed God to show up. The way I saw it, if I fasted at these events, God would be more likely to demonstrate favor.

Never mind that favor can’t be earned. Never mind that there’s no formula on earth for guaranteeing the outpouring of God’s Spirit. Sometimes we’re wheeling and dealing and calling it holy. The longer I live, the less I find God to be a hand shaker. Hand holder? Yes. Hand shaker? No.

God was faithful. He carried me through each of those events, especially in the last few hours when I felt shaky, and afterward, too, when the meet-and-greet would go on until I was nearly in tears. I’d already given everything I had.

Then I started seeing stars. Sometimes during the last session of an event, I’d have to steady myself at the podium for a moment until the lightheadedness passed. I was so depleted at the end that the aftereffects weren’t just physical. I’d immediately face spiritual attack, as if a hoard of demonic spider monkeys were jumping on my back.

Wait a minute, I thought. Isn’t fasting supposed to make us more effective at warfare? Isn’t that what Jesus was implying when his disciples couldn’t deliver the demon-possessed kid and Jesus told them, “This kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting” (Matt. 17:21, NKJV)?

I was in it to win it, so I decided I just needed to pray more. I’d made a commitment, and I wouldn’t break it. What if God withdrew his Spirit? If this sounds like madness to you, welcome to the life of someone so far out on a limb that she felt like she had only the space of a twig to mess up. I was going to keep it up if it killed me.

Then at one event, right in the energetic throes of the final session, I thought it was indeed going to. The whole place went dark. By God’s grace, my vision blacked out only for a second and wasn’t noticed by the audience, but I can tell you this: I started eating. I’ve done so ever since, and as far as I can tell, God is still coming to the events. He hadn’t told me to fast. I’d volunteered to do it out of devotion. In the end, it was a godly idea that didn’t produce good fruit.

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This turned out to be one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned. Only one thing is worse than producing no fruit: producing bad fruit. Let there be no mistaking that people of God, the chosen branches of the perfect Vine, can bear unripe, sour, bitter, rotten, and foul-smelling fruit. I’ve done it. I’ve also seen it, smelled it, and eaten it. We can be moral and religiously upright and still produce rotten fruit.

Since the Father calls Jesus-followers to live immensely fruitful lives, it stands to reason that no question is more relevant than this: What kind of fruit are we producing? We can’t see fruit the way God can, but with his help, we are fully capable of distinguishing between good fruit and bad fruit.

Over the years, I’ve been increasingly analyzing the quality of some of the fruit coming from my own life and leadership. I have to ask myself (again and again): What kind of good fruit have I produced in my marriage and my family? My local church? My community? What kind of bad fruit have I produced in my marriage and my family? My local church? My community? What bad fruit have I produced through my job or calling? What good fruit have I produced? What fruit—good and bad—have I produced through my leisure time activities or hobbies? Has my social life borne good fruit or bad fruit?

As I’ve pondered these thoughts from the perspective of a teacher, one question comes straight from Jeremiah: “‘Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat?’ declares the Lord” (Jer. 23:28, ESV).

I frequently ask myself (sometimes ruthlessly) if I’ve served mostly straw or wheat—in other words, if my teaching has real substance or if it’s stuffed with filler that won’t stand the test of time. To keep the question on my radar, I’ve written the phrase “straw or wheat?” randomly throughout the blank pages of my journal.

The good news is that it doesn’t take years on end to do the math of our fruit-bearing equation. And it shouldn’t, lest it prove too late in any given field to produce a different crop. All it takes is time enough.

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By way of example, a parent who drove a child too hard sees evidence of marred fruit long before the son or daughter launches. There’s time to own the problem, address it humbly and openly with the child, and then develop a different dynamic, even if this sometimes requires outside help. If the child is grown, it’s not too late to go back and say, “I was too hard on you, and I am deeply sorry.”

Of course our spiritual eyesight, even in hindsight, will never be twenty-twenty on this side of the sky, for “now we see in a mirror dimly” (1 Cor. 13:12). But in that dim light, if we’re willing to let go of our willful blindness, God will cause us to see things a bit more clearly, like a morning fog dispelling over a hillside vineyard.

The beautiful part about the fog clearing on rows of rotten grapes is that we can see with our own eyes that something’s gone wrong. That’s what it takes. As long as we’re in the fog, we won’t change. We can’t depend on our sense of smell. It’s possible to inhale a certain stench for so long that our sense of smell adapts. We have no idea how bad something stinks. But when the fog lifts and we see the bitter, mangled fruit, our eyes grow wide, and all of a sudden, our nasal airways awaken and sting.

Woe are we! What are we to do?

Sing, that’s what we do. Join in the song of lament. Give way to the regret. Open your mouth, and make the Beloved’s inquiry your own. Why did the field yield wild grapes? Why, Lord? Why did this turn out the way it did? He knows. He tells those who listen.

To our great relief, even rotten fruit finds a place in the vineyard. In the efficient economy of cultivation, nothing is wasted. The vinedresser does a curious thing with the rotten fruit. He turns it back into the soil and there, underground, by some spectacular organic miracle of nature, it fertilizes a future harvest.

Adapted from Chasing Vines by Beth Moore. Copyright © 2020. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

Chasing Vines: Finding Your Way to an Immensely Fruitful Life
Chasing Vines: Finding Your Way to an Immensely Fruitful Life
Tyndale Momentum
304 pp., 15.17
Buy Chasing Vines: Finding Your Way to an Immensely Fruitful Life from Amazon