I am the vine, and you are the branches. Remain in me and you will bear fruit.
There are a lot of metaphors about vines and fruit in the New Testament. Jesus was a master at such a story. He's always talking about how good trees bear good fruit, bad trees bear bad fruit, vines that remain in Him bear fruit, those that don't, can't, and how useless it is to even have a vine that won't bear fruit. So most of us that spend any time at all around the word of Jesus start thinking we're supposed to bear fruit.
And we are.
Then Jesus goes on to say that trees bear fruit according to their kind. You get an apple from an apple tree. You get a pear from a pear tree. You never get a banana from an orange tree. So most of us that spend any time at all around the word of Jesus start trying to figure out what kind of fruit we're supposed to bear. (And if we're honest, most of us aren't fruit trees; we're nut trees.)
But we generally come to settle on what we think we're supposed to bear. And for those of us with a heavy sense of calling, it's perfectly clear.
Me? I'm a practical theology tree. The fruit I am supposed to manifest is God's presence. That much, I know. And yet, it is not every day of my life that I am manifesting this. It is not every day that I am bearing fruit. It is not every day that people are coming to me and finding this nourishment, so what gives?
I'm not alone in this; I'm merely using myself as an example. There are so many among us, as Christians, that wonder why they seem to be doing everything right, seem to be obedient and faithful and patient, and the fruit is not coming. We read our Bibles. We go to church. We serve our neighbors. We love our communities. We humble ourselves. We pray. We thirst. We hunger. We long to bear fruit. It looks like we're doing what needs to be done. The only thing missing is the actual fruit.
It's frustrating. This is the thing that causes people to question their calling, their ministry. It causes them to question themselves, their God. It causes them to question the value of faithfulness and righteousness, the benefit of integrity. It makes a man stop and think about whether he's doing the right things, even when the whisper in his heart says that he is. It makes a man wonder if he's hearing the word of the Lord correctly, and sometimes, he changes his entire routine trying to find new fruit. It makes a man question if all this God stuff can even be true. Since it doesn't seem like, right now, it has any worth at all.
Just hold on. It's not your season.
Take me into any produce section, and I can tell you about seasons. Strawberry season has just begun, although the best crop won't come for a little while now. Apples are still quite a ways off. Pumpkins? Farmers will start planting them soon, but none of us are thinking pumpkin pie for another half-year! We know all about seasons. Then when Jesus tells us that we are to bear fruit, we forget all we know.
Let's go back to Psalm 1. (I scribbled this thought on my bulletin yesterday when this verse popped up on the screen at church.) David talks about this very thing. He talks about doing the right things. About being diligent. About being disciplined. About being faithful. About staying near what God has for you. Here we go:
Blessed is the person who does not follow the advice of wicked people, take the path of sinners, or join in the company of mockers. Rather, he delights in the teachings of the Lord and reflects on his teachings day and night. (1-2)
Good start. Blessed is the man who delights in God, who keeps himself close to what God is doing, who distances himself from the bad things. Or we might say, blessed is the branch that remains on the vine, to put it in Jesus' terms. David continues:
He is like a tree planted beside streams - a tree that produces fruit in season and whose leaves do not wither. (3)
There we go. Every time I have ever read this verse, I think I have missed those two words: in season. I read this verse and picture a sprawling tree, green as could be, unmoving near the stream. It's planted firmly and big and beautiful. (Perfect for climbing, for hanging out and reading a book on a warm summer's day.) And you know, I never imagined it was a fruit tree. Just big and green and beautiful. And....everlasting. But David tells us it was a fruit tree and that it bore fruit...in season.
Its roots are firmly planted; they never change. They never move. They are soaking up the good things God promises by being grounded in Him. Its leaves do not wither; it always has a supply of fresh living water to run through its veins. It's always green. It's a healthy tree in all senses of the word.
But it only bears fruit in season.
That's a comfort to me. I don't know about you. That reminds me that on the days when it doesn't feel like I'm bearing the fruit God wants in my life, maybe it's just not my season. Maybe my time is coming, but it's just not now.
That doesn't mean this all is wasted. This doesn't mean it's not worth it to do what I'm doing, to stay rooted in God, to plant myself in the stream of His living water. This doesn't mean that righteousness and integrity and faithfulness don't have their pay-off out of season. I mean, it's still a tree, right?
It still provides shade on a hot summer's day. It provides a great place for a picnic. Leaves to look up through and see the sun. A strong trunk to lean against. Branches to climb. There are lots of benefits to having a strong tree, even when it's not harvest season.
It's too easy for me to forget that. All this emphasis we have on bearing fruit, this profound calling God has on my life to bear fruit, the constant metaphors about bearing fruit...and all I can think about is bearing fruit! The hard truth to swallow is that this is simply not my season. Not yet, anyway. I think it's close.
People aren't coming to me right now and finding the abundance of the presence of God that I know He's called me to bear. But they come and find something formidable, firmly rooted. Something with leaves spread out and inviting shade, a place to rest or to come and have a picnic. Branches to climb that might get them away from this troubled earth for a few minutes, a few feet closer to God. I'm good for a lot of things as merely a tree. A great many things.
And if this is what I'm good for today, just wait until it's my season.
Just wait until it's your season.