Devotionals, Faith, Life, Ministry

Fruit Takes Time

“Ouch!” That was how I discovered I had a pear tree. Well, that’s how I discovered I had a pear tree that had actual pears on it.

When we bought our home, I was delighted to have so many trees on our property. I like trees. Sure, they’re a pain to mow around, but I love them. Our property had several ornamental pear trees, if they produced anything, it was a tiny inedible fruit that was perfect for birds.

This one particular tree in the backyard didn’t even produce these in the 4 previous years we had lived at our home. Then one morning in June I was mowing around this tree and forgot to duck. My head brushed against a branch and I was showered with 3 or 4 baby pears hitting my noggin.

We were delighted to know we had a fruit tree that would actually produce fruit! That summer we got a nice little harvest of pears, so sweet and juicy. We decided then and there to plant some more fruit trees.

But good fruit takes time. You don’t plant an orchard expecting a bumper crop in just a few months. It takes a long time for a tree to produce much, and patience is a must. I doubt the previous owners, who planted this pear tree, ever got to sample its fruit. But we’re thankful they planted a sapling that we can now enjoy the fruit thereof.

Earlier this week, I posted about the choice between fruitfulness and faithfulness. This is a continuation of that thought, if you will.

Jesus used a lot of agricultural parables in his teaching, something most of his audience could relate to. In Luke 13:18-19, He said,

He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?  It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”

Now, if you’ve read the Gospels, you’re familiar with the idea of faith the size of a mustard seed, a tiny seed that produces a large shrub or tree. In this instance, Jesus uses the mustard seed to illustrate the Kingdom of God. A quick study of this passage will lead you to the conclusion that Jesus’s teaching, which seemed insignificant to Jews seeking a political revolution, would lead to a surprisingly large change.

But I don’t know that this is the only application. I think there is some personal application here as well. If we compare this mustard seed the the mustard seed of faith, we see that a little faith can lead to a major impact.

Mustard seeds can be tiny. Imagine trying to plant these suckers. I’d probably lose half of them. But they can develop into quite the plant. Faith is like that. Many times when a person comes to faith in Christ, the change, the difference, may seem tiny, even insignificant.

Sometimes as people of faith, we can get upset, angry even, with a new believer’s seeming lack of fruit. Don’t get me wrong, there should be fruit, just don’t expect a lot of it. Our sanctification and spiritual maturity aren’t instantaneous. In fact, in the parable of the soils in Mark 4, Jesus warns about those who immediately receive the Word with joy and spring up quickly. He says that because they have no root, they wither and die.

You see, when most seeds begin to sprout, they first send roots down into the soil to get nutrients and to find stability. This is what Paul is telling us in Colossians 2:6-7 which says:

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

If a tree or bush as a solid root system, it can grow and weather just about any storm.

Over time, with a solid root system, the mustard plant will grow strong and big. It’s the same with a Christ follower. As we draw strength from God’s Word and have both a vibrant prayer life and walk with the Holy Spirit, we grow. We begin to bear fruit. It may seem little at first, just a bloom here, a bud there. But given time, consistency will lead to a bigger and bigger impact.

Eventually, this plant that was barely producing fruit will be able not only to produce fruit, but able to have a significant impact on the world around it. Nests for birds, a place of rest for the traveler, a whole ecosystem impacted.

As we grow in Christ, we will impact the world around us in ways we never thought possible. But it takes times. Good fruit always takes time to develop. The spiritual fruit of our lives, made possible only by the work of the Holy Spirit in us, will grow exponentially. All coming from a little seed of faith. So don’t be discouraged with the lack of spiritual growth in your life or the lives of others. Pray for a work of the Holy Spirit and for consistency. After all, fruit takes time.

Devotionals, Faith, Life, writings

Faithfulness Or Fruitfulness?

What is more important: being faithful to God, or bearing fruit? Are these options mutually exclusive?

In Luke 13:6-9, Jesus tells the story of a man who had a fig tree in his vineyard because he wanted fruit. That’s the purpose of a fig tree, to bear figs. And after 3 years of no fruit, he was ready to cut the tree down. “Why should it use up the ground?” he asked.

When it comes to people who claim to follow God, there are lots of fig trees with bright, shining leaves. Shimmering in the sun, they look majestic. But when you get a closer look, do you see fruit?

In Matthew 21:18-21, Jesus sees a beautiful fig tree and he is hungry. He went up to the tree and saw no fruit. And he cursed it. The tree withered at once. While perhaps a nice looking tree, it was not accomplishing its purpose. It was a waste of space.

Fig trees are nice to look at, but they are made to grow figs. In the same way, Christians may be nice people, but they are called to produce fruit. We may look nice and have all the outward appearances of following Christ. But upon a closer look, is there any fruit?

When I first became a minister, my first congregation was quite small. We had 17 on my first Sunday. The congregation was in a poor, rural area and these folks had experienced a lot of hurt over the years. So I don’t blame them when they considered it a victory just to keep the doors of that little country church open. After all the heartache they had experienced, survival was a victory.

But one of the tragic consequences of experiencing trauma is to view survival as the ultimate goal. The view of a few became “we’re being faithful because we can pay the bills and have a service on Sunday.” During the COVID-19 Pandemic and related shutdowns, many churches have viewed it as a defeat by not meeting in person. But the purpose of the Church is not to gather on Sundays. It is to reproduce disciples of Jesus Christ.

But the purpose of the Church is not to gather on Sundays. It is to reproduce disciples of Jesus Christ.

Here’s what I am getting at: I fear that many Christians have confused faithfulness to events or certain standards with faithfulness to our Lord Jesus Christ. Being faithful means to be steadfast, consistent, trustworthy.

The fig tree in our parable in Luke 13 was consistent in it’s leafing, in it’s shade. But it was inconsistent when it came to producing a crop. Okay, maybe it was consistent. It was consistently fruitless.

I fear that many Christians have confused faithfulness to events or certain standards with faithfulness to our Lord Jesus Christ.

In John 15, Jesus tells us that if we remain, are consistent (read FAITHFUL) in Him, we will produce much fruit. True faithfulness to Christ will always result in fruitfulness.

True faithfulness to Christ will always result in fruitfulness.

But this leads to a big paradox. The fruit of being in Christ, of being faithful, cannot always be measured. In Galatians, we find the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I can’t take a survey of a congregation to determine how much patience we have. That’s only known by knowing someone. While fruit can be counted in some ways, such as people led to the Lord or discipling relationships, much of it is only seen by taking an up close look, like Christ did with the fig tree.

Last week, I shared about the danger of viewing God As a Means Rather Than the End. And we have must be careful that we don’t focus on simply doing things for God, and miss the importance of being consistent or steadfast in our love and devotion to Him. But the other side of the coin is that if we are faithful, there will be results of His presence in our lives.

So today, don’t settle with simply “being faithful.” Be consistent in a way that leads to fruit in your life. The best way to do that? Spend time with Jesus in prayer and Bible reading, asking the Holy Spirit to convict and encourage you. Remember, He is faithful, and He will produce fruit in your life.

Devotionals, Faith

A Means or An End?

Is God a means or an end?

Is God what I want or is God how I get what I want?

Maybe that question isn’t one that speaks to you. Maybe it’s too deep. Maybe it’s not deep enough.

But it’s one I’m wrestling with right now…

Is God what I want or is God how I get what I want?

Do I want God? Or do I want Him to help me do something? It struck me this morning as I was reading about having an encounter with Christ that affects every part of your life. We often hear that Jesus was the example in this. He would often withdraw to quiet places so he could have an encounter with His Father. Therefore, we are told, we need to have quiet moments with God so that we too can do the works of Christ.

And doesn’t Jesus himself re-enforce this idea of God being the means to an end when he says this in John 15:5If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; for apart from me you can do nothing (emphasis mine). Apart from Christ, I can do nothing. So therefore, I need Christ to accomplish more. I need the power of Christ to build my ministry, to raise my kids, to grow my business, to preach a good sermon, to write a good article, to cook a good meal, to build a great sandcastle.

This is the place I find myself in sometimes. God, I need your help to preach this sermon. God, I love you, help me to give work my best today. I am using God. I am manipulating, or rather, attempting to manipulate God to accommodate me… No, not merely accommodate me, but to satisfy me. I am committing idolatry. Wait, what? I desire God, so I am committing idolatry?

I sure am. What is the first commandment? To have no other gods before The Lord. In the place that I am, I have removed God from the throne. We have switched places from what ought to be. Instead of me being His servant, He is now mine. The relationship is real, but it exists to serve my wants and my needs, however noble they may be.

It is the pinnacle of arrogance. The idea that I know better than God. That my goals and ambitions are superior to His. That my needs are more important than His plan. It stops asking, “What is God’s will for me,” and insists, “God, this IS your will for me.”

God, are you enough for me? Just you. Not your power. Not even your strength… But just you. Will my heart be satisfied with you, the one who has been pursuing me? Or will I continue to delude myself with chasing after something You in Your providence could provide?

God, I need you, because apart from you I can do nothing… Apart from you, I am nothing. Apart from you, there is nothing.

God, I need you, because apart from you I can do nothing… Apart from you, I am nothing. Apart from you, there is nothing.