My family has an old tree in the front yard that grows some of the sweetest, crunchiest apples I’ve ever tasted. It was planted long before we ever bought the house, so we are just the grateful recipients of a previous owner’s forethought. Every year we seemed to pick enough to enjoy with our family and to share with friends and neighbors.
A few years ago, the tree was getting a little tall. We decided it needed to be pruned back and thinned out. The next spring, we were dismayed when not a single blossom sprouted in the tree. That fall, our tree was bare. Not a single apple. “What have we done?” I thought to myself. Sure we’d ruined it for good, I lamented the loss.
The next year, a few blossoms appeared on the branches in the spring and we actually picked a small crop of apples that fall. I was relieved, but not entirely convinced the tree would ever return to its former glory.
Last spring the tree was bursting with blossoms and so laden with apples by this fall that one branch actually cracked away from the trunk. Every weekend I would pick apples to thin out the huge amount of fruit and lighten the load the branches were bearing. I could work steadily for an hour, filling several bags, but when I’d look up at the tree, I’d barely made a dent.
There was no way our family of four could possibly consume all the apples the tree was producing. Earlier in the fall, I’d come across information about an organization called Urban Farmers that uses volunteers to harvest fruit trees at private residences. All the fruit is taken to local food banks and places that provide meals for the hungry. A few of the places mentioned were ones I recognized like the Contra Costa Food Bank and Loaves and Fishes. I decided to sign up and see how it worked.
This past Saturday, the founder of Urban Farmers arrived on a sunny morning with fruit picking poles, crates and buckets. He worked alongside our family to harvest the apples weighing down the branches of our tree. He was delighted by the taste and smell of the apples and worked cheerfully alongside us filling the crates.
At one point as we were talking about feeding the needy he asked, “What makes you want to do something like this?” I paused, weighing what kind of answer I wanted to give and finally decided to let go of my usual restraint. I responded: “Because I love Jesus.” He remained quiet and I continued: “Last year I read a book called The Hole in Our Gospel and it helped me understand our responsibility to help the needy.”
The conversation continued, becoming richer and deeper as we shared more.
When all but a few apples were picked, the man asked if he could take our picture with all of the apples. He said it was unusual to have a whole family participate in helping with the harvest.
Later that day, he sent us an e-mail telling us we’d donated 310 pounds of apples that would be enough to feed 62 people for a day. I was astounded realizing the decision to register with Urban Farmers and a few hours of harvesting was helping so many people in need.
It also got me thinking about a conversation I’d had in Bible Study a few days earlier. We’d been talking about Jesus’ teaching on the vine and the branches from John 15. In the passage He says: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful…I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:1 & 5)
God’s pruning process in our lives can be incredibly painful, but if we’ll wait for his timing, we can see amazing results and bountiful fruit. Just like my tree.
The word “fruit” appears numerous times in the Bible and has many layers of meaning, depending on the context. The Greek word is “karpos,” which literally means: “fruit produced by the inherent energy of a living organism.” Metaphorically, it is the visible expression of Christ’s power working inwardly and invisibly. When we are brought into union with Jesus by abiding in Him, His fruit shows in our lives. He produces the Fruit of the Spirit in us described in Galations 5:22. When we display this fruit, it draws others to Him who become His followers as well. These new disciples are yet another kind of “fruit.”
What I’m learning is that I have no power to produce fruit on my own strength. I might be able to muster up some love, joy, peace and patience for a little while. Flurries of kindness, goodness, faithfulness and gentleness may breeze through me periodically. I can even demonstrate self- control once in a while, but none of these things can be sustained in me if I’m not abiding with Jesus throughout the hours every day.
The apple tree appears passive as it sits in one spot absorbing nutrients from the soil, water and sun. We only see what has been going on inside it when the blossoms appear and the fruit grows. Like the apple tree, we can absorb every moment with Jesus and produce such an abundance of fruit that our branches sag under the weight. Love and good deeds flow from us as we abide in Him and draw on Him for strength. The best part is, He does all the work and just asks us to share the fruit with others. Lives are touched and even more fruit is produced as other people come to know Jesus.
Take some time this week to think about your spiritual garden. Are you in a phase of being pruned? Are you blossoming and growing fruit? Are you abiding in Jesus or trying to produce fruit on your own strength? How can you apply this metaphor personally? How have you seen its truth?
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