I have made mention in the past that I grew up in South Alabama next to a full acre which my grandfather had planted in peach and pear trees. It truly was a fun way to grow up, walking out into that field and picking ripe peaches still warm with the heat of the sun. It was almost like eating warm peach cobbler straight from the tree. Living next to those fruit trees year after year growing up, I noticed something interesting that, upon reflection, has helped me a bit in viewing my Christian walk as well.
Growth takes place over time
You know, with planting fruit trees you can’t just put a sapling in the ground and expect fruit the next day. Sometimes you even have to wait a season or two before a planted tree begins to bear edible fruit. That doesn’t mean that the tree is not alive and growing, that it’s not doing what it is supposed to do. It is simply that, growth takes place over time. Patience, it would seem is after all, a virtue (as well as being one element in the “fruit” of the Spirit).
Growth is inevitable
Secondly, not only is our growth gradual, but it is also inevitable. Growing up next to that orchard, I noticed something interesting about those trees. Fruit trees…. you ready for this? They produce fruit. It’s in their DNA. It’s what they are created to do. If you plant a peach tree, chances are, you’re not going to end up with gerbils. You just don’t have to convince a peach tree to grow peaches. It knows what to do. It is designed to absorb the energy of the sun through photosynthesis, to soak up water and nutrients from the soil and to convert this energy and these nutrients into an edible fruit that brings life to those organisms around it.
Growth doesn’t provide life, it is evidence of life
When I would walk out into my grandfather’s orchard and see fruit on the tree, it would have been absurd for me to believe that the fruit is what gave life to the tree. No the fruit was simply evidence of life, proof that the tree was healthy. The water, the nutrients, all those life giving elements came from elsewhere, from soil, from water, from sun. The tree didn’t provide any of those resources. It was being fed entirely from a source other than itself. The fruit was the result of life, not the source.
Tall tales and old oaks
My grandfather used to tell a story of when he was a little boy. As he would tell it, there was this young oak sapling in the front yard of the old home place where he grew up. He used to tell me how his sister loved that little tree and how he, being obligated as a big brother to aggravate his sister, would straddle that young, oak sapling with the wagon every time he would pull into the yard, running over the tree and sending his sister into a flying rage. Brothers.
It’s funny to think about, but that scene of wagon versus tree was being played out almost 100 years ago. Today if you were to leave my parent’s driveway, take a right and walk for 5 minutes up Beaver Creek Road you would come to that old home place just there on your left before you get to the Uncle Hen Road. The house is long gone, lost to fire years ago. The chicken coop, the out house, the dog yard, all faded into the deepest memories of my oldest relatives. But that young oak sapling is still there, though it’s not much of a sapling any more. What stands in its place today a huge, 100+ year old white oak tree that you couldn’t push over with a bull dozer, much less run over with a wagon.
So what happened? Well, it would seem that time passed and that young oak sapling simply did what it was designed by its Maker to do. It “be’d” a tree. The growth was slow to be sure, but inevitably it did grow.
As I come to passages in Scripture like Galatians 5 and the apostle Paul’s word picture of “fruit” of the Spirit, I often return to that orchard and that oak tree there on Beaver Creek Road. I remember how trees grow over time. I look at my own life and I am reminded that slow growth is not the same as no growth. I am reminded that my growth in Christ is inevitable, that it is the result of His work in me rather than my own self sufficient striving. I am reminded that my own process of growth and sanctification actually depends more on the divine Gardner than it does on my abilities and efforts. And rather than a life characterized by stress and striving, I am able to simply “be” what my Creator is making me into, day by day in response to His faithful purpose.
In the end, frantic and frustrated trying is replaced with trust, running is supplanted by rest, and worry is mercifully replaced by worship. And ultimately, any glory that comes from evident growth goes to Him who is ultimately responsible.