From the Desk of the Associate: The Thriving Tree

When I was just a poor college student, I worked my summer and off hours for a lawncare company. We did the typical mowing and weed control for commercial and residential properties. There is something so satisfying about mowing a lush green lawn and looking back at your very precise cross-stripped mowing pattern and just think “wow! what beauty.” Now with some lawns it was impossible to get to this perfectly lush and green standard. Many of our customers were working under a certain budget that did not include room for the type of measures that such a lawn requires. There were some customers who wanted that luscious lawn but who did not invest in the fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and watering that were required. I remember thinking one day of a customer who had commented that her property was looking as sharp as some others but then she refused my boss’s offer to apply fertilizer and pesticides. I remember thinking that this customer was like many of us. We want lush and green spiritual lives but we refuse to invest the time and energy into making this happen. It’s not that it isn’t possible, we just don’t do the things that we know we should.

Over and over in Scripture, God uses tree metaphors for the Christian life. Just think of Jesus’ statement in John 15, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit…. Abide in me, and I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” Jesus is clearly stating here that if we want to have a fruitful life we must abide in him. Consider also, Galatians 5. Paul states that we will either bear fruits of the flesh or we will bear fruits of the Spirit. Many of us learn the verses about the fruit of the Spirit, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” But though many of us learn what the fruits of the Spirit are, we take them to be imperatives and not indicatives. In other words, Paul is simply describing what someone who is led by the Spirit looks like, he is not commanding us here to be loving, joyful, peaceful, etc. but he is saying that someone who is led by the Spirit exhibits these things. Does that mean this is just something that passively happens to us? Or to go back to John 15, do we just passively abide in Jesus the vine?

Jesus and Paul are very helpful because they don’t leave us guessing. Jesus goes on to state in verse 7 of John 15, that “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” Jesus will go on to say in this same dialogue, that He would be sending the Holy Spirit who we know enables the follower of Jesus to bear fruit. Back to Paul in Galatians 6, he says that in order for us to bear certain fruit we must plant certain fruit. Galatians 6:7-10 “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. The interesting thing about Galatians 6 is that it is all in the context of living our Christian life in community of other Christians. In other words, we sow to the Spirit by abiding with other Christians.

It’s not just the New Testament that uses trees and fruit metaphors for the godly person. Look at Psalm 1. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” David is describing what it takes to be a fruitful person. It seems that the distinguishing feature of a thriving person is their delight in God’s Word. Can’t you hear the echo in Jesus’ words when he said “if my words abide in you”? We will bear fruit if we delight in God’s Word frequently. But there is another more subtle aspect about Psalm 1 that we should not miss. David contrasts the thriving person with the wicked person as someone who surrounds himself by the wicked, sinful, and scoffers. What’s the application here? Well it’s the same as Paul’s application in Galatians 6. We are to surround ourselves with others who are seeking to be fruit bearing Christians, we also call this the Church.

So to boil it all down, what does it take to be a Spiritual fruit bearing person? We must abide in Jesus by delighting in his Word, and we must plant to the Spirit by living in community with those who are also abiding in Christ. I am probably not giving you some groundbreaking revelation, but many of us are like the customer that I described at the beginning. We want a lush and green life and we know what it will take to get that but we just don’t want to invest our time and energy in God’s Word and God’s people. I hope that will not describe me in the coming year and it is my prayer that it won’t describe you either.

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