This is a Guest Post by Carlene Hill Byron

When Christians don’t see spiritual fruit quickly, we think something’s wrong. How does God see things?

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any.  So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” (Luke 13: 6-9)

You could call this the parable of the impatient vineyard owner. If he has been growing fruit for any length of time, he should know that it takes four or five years before a fig tree bears fruit. So what’s his problem?

You could also call this the parable of the wise gardener. He knows better than to challenge his boss on a day when maybe he had a bad night’s sleep, maybe he’s had a fight with his wife, but clearly something is making him irrational. 

So instead of offering a challenge, he offers an alternative. Let me try a couple of things over the next year. If those don’t work, then go ahead. Cut it down.

What non-gardeners may not know is that what he’s proposing to do is to probably to just continue what he’s been doing. Fig trees prefer two things for success: a constrained root ball and organic fertilizer. The gardener is saying he will dig around the tree to keep its roots from growing too large. That will keep the tree from growing too large. And he will continue to apply fertilizer, which in those days was exclusively organic, to nourish the tree.

If you’ve ever lived downwind of an organic farm, you know that organic fertilizers can have an aroma all their own. Things like manure and dead fish are rotten and they smell that way. And yet, they provide what plants need to grow.

Here’s my takeaway for the formation of spiritual fruit. 

  • First, it takes time. If you want sweet spiritual figs in the life of young Christians, expect to wait a while. 
  • Second, it may require constraints. We’re used to thinking about the constraint of pruning that strengthens the vine by limiting how many directions it grows. But this story describes strengthening a tree by a different constraint. For this particular fruit a smaller tree must be maintained by limiting the extent of the root system.
  • Finally, it requires a particular kind of fertilizer and this is still true today. The best fruit on a farm that will endure is nourished with organic fertilizer: dead, stinky stuff. If you’re keeping your young Christians out of the dead, stinky stuff – if you’re keeping yourself out of the dead, stinky stuff – you won’t see fruit. 

COVID 19, in the hands of our master Gardener, has the potential to bear tremendous spiritual fruit. As we try to keep safe from the virus, we experience unfamiliar constraints. We can’t go on “growing” in whatever way we might choose: we must focus on what God has given us the ability to do even now.

COVID 19 is also giving us time to live into this deeper focus. The more we know about the virus, the longer we seem likely to need to live under constraints. We’re being provided additional time to grow into the new habits that will generate better fruit.

And, unfortunately, the more people are infected with COVID 19, the “stinkier” the circumstances we’ll be living with. We are likely to live through times “stinkier” than most people living in the US today have known. 

In these “stinky” times, we’ll be re-learning to make peace with God during grief and suffering. We’ll be growing our hearts large enough to mourn with the many who mourn. And we’ll be growing our faith big enough to remain fixed on the hope we have, because 

“suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 5:3-5)

Time, constraints, and stinky stuff aren’t what we like to look for in our lives. But if we want fruit that will last, these are what we must choose. And at this moment, it appears God has done the choosing for us. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Carlene, we would like to thank you for such an awesome post.

About the Author:

Carlene Hill Byron is a fundraiser and communicator for nonprofits that serve people with disabilities and other profound life challenges. The former editor of New England Church Life and The New England Christian (publications of Vision New England and The Evangelistic Association of New England), she is a spiritual wellness volunteer in the Maine Health hospital system and active in her Lutheran church. She and her siblings own an organic farm in Maine. Find her online on The Mighty, Mad In America, The Redbud Post, and The Church and Mental Illness.

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