From the very beginning of the beginning, the Bible points to his lush creation. In Genesis we see a fruitful tree and we see a fruitful tree again near the end of Revelation. And throughout this fascinating story, we hear God’s admonishment to be fruitful.
Fruitfulness is spoken of not just in producing children, but also in the New Testament we are commanded to be fruitful in relation to Christ-like characteristics. We are to be fruitful also in making disciples to follow this Savior and soon-coming King. The word fruitful appears three dozen times in scripture.
But what does being fruitful look like?
Does it vary in season for us?
Growing up in the Midwest United States on a farm gave me a front row seat at fruitfulness in the orchard, assorted other fruit trees, garden, and fields of my father. As a child it was so common to me that I did not even appreciate how “rich” we were around our table as a result of my father and mother’s labor. (In money we were not rich, but I did not yet know there were other ways to measure wealth.)
The apples, pears, plums, cherries, raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb, blueberries, and blackberries grew at various times on our 60-acre farm. There were vegetables and our own eggs, milk, and meat.
So many years later I can experience the sensory memory of my father’s smokehouse with sides of bacon and ham hanging inside or the sweet smells of cherries or peaches being canned by my mother in the kitchen.
In reading Margaret Feinberg’s new book, Taste and See: Discovering God Among Butchers, Bakers, and Fresh Food Makers, I learned about a tree that did not grow on our farm…the fig tree. Some of us may never have tasted a fresh fig and only know the taste of dried figs in various baked goodies. But discovering the individual qualities of the fig tree reminded me that my father handled each fruit tree and each thing planted in our garden according to its unique nature. Yes, there were similarities and some things were true for all of them, but one of the things I greatly loved about my father was the knowledge and respect he had for all living things he was stewarding on the farm.
That reminded me of my heavenly Father as I became an adult and understood more about growing things. You see I think it is quite apparent that God sees our uniqueness, our foibles and the gifts He has tucked inside. He stewards our growth over time knowing just what pruning needs to be done, what nutrients we need, and how we need to be tended to be fruitful and grow in his likeness. He is often referred to as a shepherd and He is that, but I also believe He is a gardener as well.
It can be easy when we have been a believer for a bit and know about fruitfulness to apply that old habit of comparison into our observations of others and ourselves. From Margaret’s book I learned some things about the fig tree that might rein in that habit.
“From a distance, the fig tree appears fruitless, only when we draw closer does the fruit appear.”
Tucked inside this sentence I see that too often we measure fruitfulness from a distance. That is a limited view indeed and one far too common. But when we get closer not only can we observe fruitfulness in others, they can observe ours as well. Perhaps that is what makes it easier to stay on the periphery of our relationships where we can talk about such matters with ease and yet not be seen for who we are or are not.
How quickly we forget that the Lord looks at our hearts and knows us intimately. He doesn’t look at the latest “headline” about us or check Twitter. He doesn’t count how many friends we have on Facebook or if we even have an account. He doesn’t consider us unfit for use if we are “too young” or “too old.”
Listen to something the fig tree can demonstrate for us:
“Unlike most fruit trees, figs are multi-cropping, which means they are harvested numerous times each year.” Margaret Feinberg
Never on our farm did we have a tree that produced multiple harvests each year.
There are other lessons to be learned from the fig tree:
- Figs ripen slowly (“so Scripture ripens with new discoveries as we study. The more one observes, the more one discovers.”)
- It was a sycamore-fig tree that Zacchaeus had climbed into to get a glimpse of Jesus (“The Hebrew name for the sycamore-fig is shikma, a word whose root means ‘rehabilitate.’)
- A wild fig tree can produce 10,000 figs a year, but a cultivated fig tree produce 50,000 to 75,000 figs
As I consider the fruitfulness of the fig tree, some of Margaret’s words linger in my mind, heart, and spirit:
“God isn’t waiting for one particular season in the distant future to yield fruitfulness in our lives. He’s working throughout every season and every harvesting cycle.”
“Sooner or later we’ll all be tempted to believe that our best days are behind us. We’ll measure ourselves more by what we can no longer do than by what we still can. We’ll feel washed up and washed out. But the fig tree challenges this expectation, too. One of the beauties of the fig is that, once planted, the tree will continue to produce fruit for eighty to a hundred years. That’s Christ’s vision for us: that we will continue to yield the fruit of Christlikeness and find our satisfaction in him long after gray hairs sprout and crow’s feet nestle near our eyes.”
How powerful are the lessons about fruitfulness we can glean that appears over and over again from the beginning of God’s story in Genesis to the very end of the book of Revelation.
Taste and See…