My wife is a wonderful gardener and she loves tending to her many plants. We live in a suburb, so there is not much space for a large vegetable garden, but last spring we set aside a small area on the side of our house and she planted tomatoes, green beans, peas, cucumbers, and squash. We had a bountiful harvest, beginning in mid-summer. And it continued all the way through Friday. In the past month, the plants produced less and less, until our cherry tomatoes were the only plants still producing. And, on Friday, from their drooping and brown stems, I harvested the last ones. The time had come to pull them out of the ground; they were not going to produce any more.
As I was cleaning up, I realized there are some spiritual lessons in this. We plant gardens to produce fruit. We tend to them and try to give them the care they need to do what they are supposed to do. And we are patient. In early spring, we plant the seeds or the small plants, and then we wait. We don’t expect results immediately. We expect growth, but not fruit. And eventually the fruit begins to appear. And then more waiting for the fruit to ripen. Finally, comes the first harvest! It may be one or two tomatoes, a cucumber or squash, but the numbers don’t matter. It is just exciting to gather some fruit. As the summer progresses, the harvest becomes more plentiful. We found ourselves giving away a lot of cherry tomatoes to friends and neighbors because we had much more than we could possibly eat. Then, late in the summer, the fruit starts to become less and less. Moving into fall, at least in our garden, only the tomato plants were still producing. Even as their leaves began to turn yellowish brown, they were still bearing fruit. In the past several weeks, they were looking pretty sad, becoming browner and more wilted. Still, they continued to produce a few tomatoes. I truly think our lives should be like these tomato plants.
It is clear from the teaching of Jesus that our lives are to produce fruit. “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.” (John 15:1-2) A life that is not producing fruit for the Kingdom, we are told, will eventually be cut off.
Yet, the Gardener of our lives is very patient. He waits for us to produce fruit, and he is patient to let us produce fruit even into the last stage of our lives. When I think of the former, I think of the parable Jesus told about the fig tree:
“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)
Of course, the caretaker is Jesus and he asks for more time on our behalf to produce fruit in our lives before we face the final judgment. He does not give up on us easily. And for those of us who are faithfully producing fruit for the Kingdom, even when we are old and reaching the end of our lives, he still is patient to harvest as much fruit as possible before the day of our departure arrives.
I find the implications of this so hopeful. For those who have wasted this life thus far and produced no spiritual fruit, there is still time. God has not given up on you. He can still use you and wants to do so. And for those who have been faithfully producing spiritual fruit, you are not done yet, even if you are feeling old and past your prime. He still desires you to produce until you can’t produce anymore.
We are each plants in God’s garden. His desire for each of us is to produce bountiful fruit until the end of our lives. Yet, he is patient and knows some of us will be far more productive than others. Still, he remains hopeful and patient with those of us whose lives bear nothing. He knows your potential and he will continue to do all he can to get you to produce something that will last beyond this life. But the truth is, for all of us, the time is coming when our opportunity to produce fruit will end. Let that be our incentive for how we live our lives.
© Jim Musser 2020 All Scripture references are from the New International Version, 2011.