For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Pet. 1:5-8)
It's the phrase in the last verse that caught my attention: "they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful." My natural tendancy is to think of what I do in my ministry as the only "fruit" that I produce. So when I'm teaching and writing, I feel like I'm being productive for the Lord ... and when I can't do those things, I feel like life is getting in the way of me being productive. But this passage tells me that I'm thinking about this all wrong.
There is definitely a place for using your spiritual gifts. It is a necessary part of a healthy spiritual life. Paul encourages us to use our gifts for the good of the church (1 Cor. 12), and in the parable of the talents, Jesus Himself warns that severe punishment awaits those whose do not use the gifts that God entrusts to them (Matt. 25:14-30).
However, even when "life gets in the way" of us using our spiritual gifts, that does not automatically mean that we are being unfruitful. Accoring to this passage in 2 Peter, you can produce spiritual fruit in any circumstance as long as you are adding to your faith the qualities of moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. These are qualities that can be exercised in any situation you find yourself in.
So if you are like me and you are going through a period where you would like to use your spiritual gifts more often or in greater ways, take heart. I currently spend over 40 hours a week doing something that is completely unrelated to the seminary degrees I struggled to earn over the course of 12 years. I would love to spend those 40 hours investing in a Christian school or some other ministry where I can teach and write, but that's not where God has me during this season. Other people face health problems or family challenges or financial hardships that make it difficult or impossible for them to use their spiritual gifts as much as they would like. If you find yourself in that situation, don't give in to the temptation of thinking that your spiritual life is based on performance. Your faithfulness to God is not dependant on what you do for him ... it is dependant on who you are, how you act, and how much you love the people around you. If you are loving God with all your heart and loving your neighbor as yourself, then you are producing spiritual fruit that is pleasing to God.
An older Christian told me something awhile back that was not exactly encouraging (because it wasn't what I wanted to hear), but definitely had the ring of truth:
God is more intersted in developing my character than in all the things I can do for him.What he was saying was that God's highest priority for me is not to get me as quickly as possible to a position where I can do more and more things for him. Instead, His highest priority is to mold my character into what it should be ... to make me more like Christ so that I can complete the work He has prepared for me in the right way at the right time.
So I wait ... and I take heart in the fact that I can produce fruit for Him wherever I am and in whatever I'm doing.