© 2009 David’s Harp and Pen
This blog is based, in part, upon actual events and people. Certain actions and characters have been dramatized and fictionalized, but are inspired by true events and real people. Certain other characters, events, and names used herein are entirely fictitious. Any similarity of those fictional characters or events to the name, attributes, or background of any real person, living or dead, or to any actual events is coincidental and unintentional, so I better not hear from any agricultural groups or apple growers. I didn’t invent the laws of nature. I am merely obliged to obey them.
*All Scripture is quoted from The Amplified Bible
When I was eight, I wrote a list of things I wanted to accomplish by the time I was eighteen. Even though I was young, I had a very definite idea in my head of what it meant to be successful: I should be independently wealthy, start a successful career as an international supermodel, and marry Han Solo (yes, that’s right. Han Solo. Please remember I was only eight.). By the time I reached 12, however, I realized my vision of success would be more difficult to attain than I thought. First of all, the child labor laws in the State of New Jersey wouldn’t allow me to get a real job until I was at least 14, and at the interest rates at the time, there was no way the money I saved would break the million dollar point by the time was I was 18. Secondly, to my horror, the school nurse, during those torturous annual school weigh-ins, told me I would never again weigh below 100 pounds. So much for super modeling. Finally, the news leaked that Han Solo had “boldly gone where no man had gone before” with Princess Leia both on screen and off screen. I would have to find success another way.
At age 13, I became a Christian, and so my goals and ideas about the future naturally changed. As I began to run in different circles, my vernacular began to change, too. I no longer ate. I “fellowshipped,” for example. Kids my age didn’t date. They “went to youth group,” or, if they were a little on the naughty side, “had devotions together.” When it came to what one accomplished in life, it was no longer “being successful,” but “being fruitful.” Therefore, as I had changed, so did my list of what my life would look like when I became an adult: I would go to a Christian college and graduate by age 21, become a Christian rock star by age 22, helm a multi-million dollar ministry by age 23, and end world hunger by age 24.
Fast forward to age 29. My college education was ship wrecked, so to speak, so no degree, nor multimillion-dollar Christian ministry. No career in the Christian music world because, I was told, I was not little, cute, and perky, which has been popular for far too long if you ask me. As for world hunger, I had a hard enough time in my efforts to end my own hunger. (I used to have a Coke bottle change bank at my door with a little sign that read, “Please contribute to The Feed the Sharon Fund, because my life would be a terrible thing to waste.) What made matters worse was I had developed severe arthritis in my both my hands and wrists, so I wasn’t even able to find anything that remotely resembled gainful employment at the time.
One Sunday morning, as I frustratedly pondered my lack of productivity, I thought to myself, “I’ll get a job as a driver of some sort. Yes, that’s it! I can drive a cab or be a courier. I may have two bad hands, but I’ve still got two good feet, right?”
No sooner had the thought materialized in my head then the inevitable happened. I walked to my front door to fetch the Sunday paper and rammed my left foot full force into the titanium and concrete doorpost. I spent the next four weeks hobbling around with a foot the color of a pomegranate while wearing one of those platform medical boots that looked like a fashion reject from the 70s.
I had reached a breaking point. I was almost 30 years old and felt I had nothing to show for it. Worse yet, I felt that I had failed God somehow. I whined and cried to Him, “God, I have never been less fruitful, or functional, in my entire life. I’m doing absolutely nothing for You. You must think I’m a big fat loser, like that fig tree that doesn’t grow figs.”
God responded, “Sharon, a fruitful apple tree doesn’t have full-grown edible apples on it all year round. Those seasons during which the apples aren’t there, though, are just as important to the life of the tree as the seasons when the apples are.”
I must say, this revelation was mind-blowing, especially given the consideration that I was, at the time, a type-A, driven sort of person who needed to see things happen in front of her face all the time in order to be convinced of their existence. It was then that I was reminded of a familiar Scripture, except now God was speaking to me through it in a new way:
Psalm 1:1-3 –“BLESSED (HAPPY, fortunate, prosperous, and enviable) is the man who walks and lives not in the counsel of the ungodly [following their advice, their plans and purposes], nor stands [submissive and inactive] in the path where sinners walk, nor sits down [to relax and rest] where the scornful [and the mockers] gather. But his delight and desire are in the law of the Lord, and on His law (the precepts, the instructions, the teachings of God) he habitually meditates (ponders and studies) by day and by night. And he shall be like a tree firmly planted [and tended] by the streams of water, ready to bring forth its fruit in its season; its leaf also shall not fade or wither; and everything he does shall prosper [and come to maturity].” (emphasis added)
“Bring forth its fruit in its season”? That didn’t make sense to me. I had walked with God long enough, though, to know that when what I read matches what I hear, it’s a sure bet that it’s God speaking. So, what was God trying to tell me about the fruitful season? I decided to do some research about the seasons in the life of an apple tree, and this is what I found:
WINTER-since nothing much is going on, the orchardist, as he’s called, will dedicate the colder months to the task of pruning. He carefully chooses limbs and branches to be cut off, which thus allows more sunlight to be absorbed by the tree so that in warmer times bigger, better, and more flavorful fruit will be produced. The pruning process for the apple tree is mirrored by Christ’s Words in John 15:1-3 : “I AM the True Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser. Any branch in Me that does not bear fruit [that stops bearing] He cuts away (trims off, takes away); and He cleanses and repeatedly prunes every branch that continues to bear fruit, to make it bear more and richer and more excellent fruit. You are cleansed and pruned already, because of the word which I have given you [the teachings I have discussed with you].”
Now, if apple trees had feelings, the amputation process and the resulting emotions probably wouldn’t be high on their list of favorites. We as children of God don’t like those times of pruning and refinement, either. However, these times are absolutely vital to the trees’, and to our future fruitfulness. God wants to remove anything from our lives that keeps us from producing, because we’re not only the Work of His Hands, we’re His children. In Hebrews 12:5-11, it reads, “My son, do not think lightly or scorn to submit to the correction and discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage and give up and faint when you are reproved or corrected by Him; For the Lord corrects and disciplines everyone whom He loves, and He punishes, even scourges, every son whom He accepts and welcomes to His heart and cherishes…For the time being no discipline brings joy, but seems grievous and painful; but afterwards it yields a peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it [a harvest of fruit which consists in righteousness--in conformity to God's will in purpose, thought, and action, resulting in right living and right standing with God].”
Pay special attention to the agricultural language in these passages and how they tie in with Psalm 1. Pruning and discipline are ongoing things, but sometimes we experiences definite seasons when they are the focus. Notice, though, that these times aren’t only for the betterment of what we produce for God’s Kingdom, but the good things they produce in US: joy, gladness, the peaceable fruit of righteousness, and ultimately, maturity.
SPRING-The buds on the tree start to grow noticeably. The buds will eventually bloom into flowers, which will finally give way to fruit. Something curious about spring is how it is the culmination of the winter pruning. Oftentimes, the dead limbs and branches cut from the tree during the cold are left where they lay. In spring, that same dead brush is then mulched and worked into the soil around the orchard to serve as fertilizer. The very things that would’ve been lifeless for the trees in one form are now the catalyst for growth in another. How much is that like our walk with God. When we let Him take from us those hurts, those idols, those distractions, all those things which keep the light of His Word and the life of His Spirit from maturing us, He transforms those things into agents of change and for our good. In Jeremiah 31:40, Jeremiah says, “And the whole valley [Hinnom] of the dead bodies and [the hill] of the ashes [long dumped there from the temple sacrifices], and all the fields as far as the brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be holy to the Lord. It [the city] shall not be plucked up or overthrown any more to the end of the age.” Everything fully surrendered to God, whatever it is, He will metamorphize for His Glory.
SUMMER-With the opening of the biggest and best blossoms, the apple trees are buzzing with activity. One main sign of the season is pollination. Bees are brought in from local beekeepers to cross-pollinate the trees because the desired fruit can only be attained by multiple varieties of pollen. Oh, how we need that input from our fellow “trees”: our brothers and sisters in Christ, our leaders, and those who have gone on before us but still pour into us through their legacy. The author of Hebrews, in chapter 10, verses 24 and 25, reiterates this point: “And let us consider and give attentive, continuous care to watching over one another, studying how we may stir up (stimulate and incite) to love and helpful deeds and noble activities, not forsaking or neglecting to assemble together [as believers], as is the habit of some people, but admonishing (warning, urging, and encouraging) one another, and all the more faithfully as you see the day approaching.”
FALL-Harvest time has finally come. Because of the delicacy of most apples and their propensity to bruise, they must be picked by hand. The orchardist will hire workers from all over to come and help with the harvest. Isn’t it nice that we’re not in this process alone? Our fruitfulness is a concerted effort on the part of the entire Body of Christ, always under the watchful eye of the Vine keeper who is with us always and has groomed and pruned us to be holy, mature, and complete! And even when we finally see the fruits of our labor, when we are mature, we are promised the loving, tender care of our Father, who hand-shapes us into vessels used for His honor, just as Isaiah says so eloquently in chapter 64, verse 18: “Yet, O Lord, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You our Potter, and we all are the work of Your hand.”
I now have an editor. For the sake of his privacy, he requests I merely refer to him as Peter. Peter is truly a Godsend to my writing and to me. However, he is way too intelligent and scholarly for MY own good. One day we were discussing God’s Will in our lives, and I said that I needed to be writing, and since I was not writing, I was like a leaf-blower that didn’t blow leaves. In other words, I was not being productive or fruitful. He disagreed, but not about my similarity to a leaf-blower. He said he believed that the only thing all of us are born to do is worship God (and all that entails), and the rest isn’t quite the crisis others and myself were making it out to be. A heated discussion ensued, and by heated, I mean Peter used a lot of really big and colorful words and I, though I tried to make some sort of case, was left uncharacteristically speechless and in great pain from just having my toes stepped on and steamrolled. The truth of the matter was, we had both hit a sore spot. However, Peter was right. I am in a winter-type season. I am being pruned and I don’t like the way it feels as it happens. Another unpleasantry is that there are all sorts of voices out there that would say to me that because I do not have a successful writing career, I am not a Christian rock star, etc., that I am wasting time or falling behind or not being fruitful. If I look at it, though, like God looks at the apple tree, there is no room for condemnation, because my “fruit” is the glorification of God, and anything I do to that end, provided it is done from a heart of worship, whether it be writing, waiting tables, cooking for my single male friends, or rescuing a very naughty dog (see Proverbs 12:10), is pleasing and valuable to God. Not only that, but each season is purposeful and absolutely necessary to growing visible and harvestable fruit. So, I will not spurn this season, but embrace it as given and orchestrated by God. The truth is, whether one believes or not they are “born to write/act/sing/twirl flaming batons/fill in the blank,” we will wear more than one hat in our lifetime. Worshipping God means doing all things set before us as if we’re doing them for Him, which we are. Paul drives this point home in Ephesians 2:10 and Colossians 3:17: “For we are God's [own] handiwork (His workmanship), recreated in Christ Jesus, [born anew] that we may do those good works which God predestined (planned beforehand) for us [taking paths which He prepared ahead of time], that we should walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us to live]...And whatever you do [no matter what it is] in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus and in [dependence upon] His Person, giving praise to God the Father through Him.”
God wants us to be fruitful, but we must be faithful to do the things to which He’s called us. I’m not just talking about individual visions; I’m talking about the basic things He assigns to everyone in His Word, such as loving Him with everything, loving our neighbor, etc. We make fruit bearing a lot harder than it should be because we try to do the things only God can do and put on God what we should be doing for ourselves. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God [all the while] was making it grow and [He] gave the increase. So neither he who plants is anything nor he who waters, but [only] God Who makes it grow and become greater. He who plants and he who waters are equal (one in aim, of the same importance and esteem), yet each shall receive his own reward (wages), according to his own labor. For we are fellow workmen (joint promoters, laborers together) with and for God; you are God's garden and vineyard and field under cultivation, [you are] God's building.” I am guilty of trying to make things grow, which is clearly God’s job, while neglecting the planting and watering, which are clearly my responsibility.
I personally have never seen any fruit tree moan, groan, or strain as it goes through the fruit-bearing process. However, most of my life I have looked at being fruitful for God not like the apple tree producing fruit but more like a woman giving birth. From all the videos I’ve seen of childbirth, there’s nothing peaceful about it, only pain and exasperation, not to mention some spouts of sheer lunacy. If I were indeed a spiritually pregnant woman, I would sound something like this:
“God, this thing You planted in me is never going to happen! I strain and push and nada, nothing, zilch, bupkis! I swear God, if You ever try to do anything through me again…oh crap! Where’s my epidural?”
I want to be that fruitful tree and do only what I’m supposed to do, for it is God in me Who wills and works His Good Pleasure in me.
I will close with this. Even in the dead of winter, when the apple tree shows no signs of life and can only try to survive, there will always be one bud on one branch, a foreshadowing of a harvest that is to come. Even in the winters of my life, I have the Holy Spirit, the Presence of God Himself within me, and He reminds me that though I may sow in tears, I will reap in joy, and it will be a bumper crop!
Take heart, my fellow apple trees, for He Who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it, for He Who called you IS faithful…and fruitful.