Monday

In the Gardener’s Care

In Luke 13, Jesus tells a parable of a fig tree. The parable is a warning that we need to be fruitful, and I’ve written about it before. I need to revisit the topic.

It strikes me that Jesus uses the parable to evaluate a single detail: are we bearing fruit? There are probably several ways to measure fruitfulness, but the issues is that either we are fruitful or we are not. (Some people measure fruit in souls saved, baptized or discipled, and others measure fruit in terms of character – the Fruit of the Spirit. I’m not picky: either one is good; the lack of either one is the problem we’re addressing here.)

Let’s think about our fruitfulness. If we aren’t fruitful, Jesus is promising help:

Luke 13:8 Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.

I see three options here:

1) no fruit with fertilizer,

2) no fruit and cut down, and

3) fruitfulness.

Let’s look at each.

Option 1: The Stink of Fertilizer

If we aren’t producing fruit, we can expect a bunch of fertilizer dug in around us for an extended season. I have a vegetable garden, and my wife has several flower gardens. We fertilize those gardens fairly regularly. I don’t know of a single fertilizer that doesn’t smell bad, and some of them are really awful.

Let’s think about first century fertilizer for a minute. They don’t have Lilly Miller or DuPont to make chemical fertilizers. Fertilizer comes from the cows, the camels, and the donkeys. When Jesus digs into your life to plant fertilizer, He’s inserting a bunch of crap into your life. He’s bringing people and circumstances that stink into your life. So the next time you’re thinking “I don’t have to take this sh*t!”: well, yes you do, if you want to be fruitful.

Think about the fruit of the Spirit.

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Where do these grow best? Where, for example, does the fruit of the Spirit of longsuffering come from? Doesn’t it grow in places where we have to suffer long? Doesn’t peace grow in places where it’s real hard not to worry? That’s the same for all of the fruit of the Spirit: they grow in circumstances where Jesus has dug into our lives and shoveled in a bunch of crap. Let’s be thankful for the crap in our lives, and for the fruit that it produces.

Because if we don’t develop fruitfulness during the season of crap, our fig tree is cut down and thrown away:

Option 2: Complete Destruction

If we continue not bearing fruit when we’ve had our season of fertilizer, then we get cut down.

I’ve learned something interesting about fig trees: cutting down a fig tree does not kill it. If you need to kill of a fig tree, and you take a chainsaw to it and burn if for firewood,, then next spring, you’ll have sprouts coming up. In fact, the experts say that the stump – even if you cut it down to ground level – will “sucker profusely,” and any one of those suckers can, if pruned carefully, grow into a new fig tree. Any of those suckers can be grown into a new tree, or they can be cut off and transplanted (carefully) to produce several more trees. The process is sometimes called “Rejuvenation pruning.” (“Rejuvenation” means “to be restored to a former state; made fresh or new again.”) This kind of “prune it to ground level” is very drastic, but sometimes the new growth is more fruitful than the old tree was.

If you really want to kill a fig tree, you have to do more than just cut it down. So when the Lord is threatening to cut down the fig tree that is me, He is not talking about killing me, or writing me off, or anything that smells like He’s giving up on me. (This is the guy that said, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” remember?) When Jesus cuts our tree down, he’s allowing complete destruction to come to our life, in order that we ourselves may be saved. This is not a foreign thought to Him: He’s willing to sacrifice anything in order to rescue us.

If I resist bearing fruit, even when Jesus digs into my life to bring the manure of circumstances and relationships that bring fruit, then He allows complete destruction to come to my life, as a last resort, so that I can start over again, and this time, maybe I can be fruitful.

Option 3: Pruning the fruitful branches

As I read this parable, I thought to myself, “Well, I’d better be fruitful if I want to avoid all that nasty stuff.”

John 15:1,2: "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

Sorry. Not gonna happen. If I am fruitful, then I will be pruned. If the tree – or in other parables, the branch – that is me is bearing fruit, then Jesus promises to prune me. Technically, the term is “Pick Pruning”, where each branch of my life is evaluated: should this one be cut or not?

The goal of pruning a fruit-bearing tree is twofold: The first is to produce more fruit, and the second is to improve the quality of the fruit produced.

I live in Washington, famous for growing apples: lots of them, and really good ones. When orchardists prune an apple tree, the goal is to remove the branches that aren’t bearing fruit so that the fruit-bearing branches can produce more apples. The tree consumes resources (water, nutrients, sunlight) to produce more apple tree. Those resources are consumed – in some measure – by every branch on the tree, fruit-bearing and non-fruit-bearing alike. If the tree that is me is spending a portion of those limited resources on non-fruit-bearing activities, then the removal of those less valuable activities leaves me with more time and energy to produce fruit.

Fruit happens in seasons, in our lives, just like in the apple orchards or the fig tree in the garden. There are seasons where the only thing going on is deep inside, like fruit trees in winter. And there are seasons where it’s reasonable to expect fruit. The goal is not to be producing fruit every day, but as we make our way through the seasons of life, we have regular seasons where we’re producing fruit.

Choices, Choices

We could look at it this way: if I’m fruitless, I get His spade, digging His fertilizer (which I call “crap”) into my life. If I continue in fruitlessness, I get a chainsaw. And if I choose to be fruitful, I get Heaven’s pruning knife.

So make your choice: do you want a sharp knife working in your life, or a spade full of manure, or a chainsaw?

Personally, I’m beginning a season of fruitfulness right now. I like it; it’s certainly more fun than the dead of winter. But because I’m making fruit, I can look forward to a season of pruning, and I’m really looking forward to it. I feel like my life has way too much stuff in it, much of which takes energy away from the fruit of making disciples and the fruit of character. I’m looking forward to the Wise Master Gardener examining each branch in my life and making a judgment call: does this one stay or does it go? I need some stuff to go.

Heart’s Desire

It would be easy enough to look at this as “something God’s doing to me in order to accomplish His plans for me” and feel backed into a corner. Most of us (the healthy ones among us, anyway) prefer to avoid pain when we can.

But think about it: who among us aspires to meaninglessness? Who wants to look back from the end of their life and boast, “I had absolutely no effect on anyone!”? If we were to look at fruitfulness as God’s issue for us, as His plan for our lives, that would be correct, but it would be correct only because it’s really our own heart’s desire. One of the most desperate searches of any human being, and that would include you and me, is the search for significance; God is – yet again – making plans to fulfill the deepest longings of our heart.

How Do I Avoid Troubles?

So given that we’re facing three painful options, how do we go about avoiding hurting in this process?

The short version: Give up. You can’t. Any way I live my life, I’m going to find that God is doing something toward the goal of making my life count for more than it does now. If I bear fruit, I get pruned to bear more. If I haven’t borne fruit for a while, I get manure dug into my life so that I can bear fruit. If that doesn’t work, he cuts me off at the ground and takes one of the branches that grows up from the roots in the spring to train into a new tree, and the process starts all over again.

It seems to me that the “pruning” of fruitfulness is a lot less troublesome than is “cut it off and start over” of fruitlessness. But that’s not really the main reason I want my life to be fruitful: I have a Master Gardener who loves me. I want to please Him. I want to introduce others to His faithful work. I want Him to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” not just to me, but the ten thousand wild fig trees that I’ve introduced to His masterful care. And I want the fruit from my branches to feed thousands of others who need nourishment.

Oh yeah, and His pruning knife hurts less than the chainsaw. That’s good too.

3 comments:

tim prussic said...

Interesting analysis of the "cut down" aspect of the para-bole. I've not run into that cut down as anything but (Calvinistically) being cut out of the covenant or (Arminian-ly [?]) to lose Christ when you just had him a while back. The idea of cutting down for a new sprout seems like the pruning idea in hyperdrive. If the shite don't work, the pruning shears will. If the shears don't, then we're gunna build 'er up again from the ground up. Interesting. How does that (if I've understood you correctly) square with unfruitful branches being cut off (John 15 and Rom 11)?

Also, I don't think shit is a bad word. I've spent some time with dairy farmers. With them, you step in shit and a spade is a damn shovel.

McPilgrim said...

I see the main story here as, "Let me help you fulfil your destiny!" as nobody intends for their life to be meaningless or without impact. The spade or the chainsaw (fertilizer or cutting down) are options when we are fruitless.

In the parable with the unfruitful branches, I'm aware that Paul was speaking of lives. However, in this context (which is certainly not the only context for those parables), I look at aspects of my life as branches: they'll get judged in three ways:

a) is this part of my life "in Him"?
b) is this part of my life fruitful?
c) am I wasting sap? (In the vocabulary of the fig tree, am I using up the ground?)

Those aspects of my life that pass the test get by with minor pruning. Those which fail some part of test get more aggressive pruning, or will be removed altogether.

So in the bottom line, God is helping me reach my goal of significance. Ultimately, I have the choice of whether He will help me with a pruning knife, with a shovelful of crap, or with a chainsaw.

I choose the pruning knife, and it's OK with me if He sharpens it before He cuts in.

the rose among lillies said...

i like this one