God put this in my heart a few weeks ago.
It is interesting that in the Bible we read that God has significant encounters with people in gardens. Creation (Adam & Eve walking with Him in the cool of the day), Gethsemane, and Jesus’ burial, and therefore also His resurrection, were all situated in gardens. Other scriptures give us a description of heaven with trees growing on each side of a river, producing fruit every month with leaves that are for the healing of the nations, (Psalm 1, Ezekiel 47:12, Revelation 22:1-2).
I recently read a What’sApp message from someone in Zimbabwe who said that although their health care system is in poor condition, many people are able to treat Covid-19 at home because they have fruit trees including Mango and Guava. They boil about ten leaves of the Mango tree and steam themselves then drink the tea that results. Apparently it is useful for things like respiratory problems and inflammation and is easily accessible. God’s provision is amazing!
In the Gospel of John, Jesus stated, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”John 15:121-2
Pruning comes first, before increased fruitfulness. With fruit trees, there are different reasons to prune them that will enlarge their yield:
1) Water shoots / suckers – these are branches that grow rapidly from the base of the tree or bush but never produce fruit. These need to be removed as they only drain the resources of the tree that could be put into developing the fruit.
In a similar way, we need to focus on our Source of life – and sometimes be pruned from distractions. Mary and Martha are some examples where Martha was busy ‘doing many things’, while Mary was engaged with being in Jesus’ presence and receiving from Him. A simple meal would have given them both a greater opportunity to invest the precious time they had left with Him. Many of the things that engage my time, energy and attention are not necessary or even beneficial, and use up what I could spend on other priorities.
Fruit trees have specific requirements to produce well. Delicious cherries come from inland in South Africa, where it is dryer and colder. Bananas grow well on the subtropical coast. If you plant a cherry tree here in KZN it will likely struggle and not bear well, and if a banana tree is planted in a dry, cold place it will also not be able to produce the quality of fruit it is designed to. Sometimes we are in the wrong place to really flourish and we try hard to be productive, but it is not where we are meant to be, or perhaps not what we are created to be doing. Now at the start of the year we need to seek God and prune the areas of involvement that are draining our energy and focus and rather do less, but accomplish more.
2) Disease – if fruit trees develop mildew, rust or viruses they can spread to the whole tree and it may die. These should be removed as soon as possible to save the tree.
There are often things in our lives that make us weak and ineffective. Common ones are taking offense and judging others. Unforgiveness can grow like a disease, filling our hearts with hatred, and causing gossip which spreads to others and infects them as well. Releasing those who have hurt us into God’s hands cuts off the disease before it can spread.
Bad attitudes are also very contagious! Being negative is actually a form of doubt, and the opposite of faith. It is easy to be caught up in anxiety and fear, especially with so much illness and death with the 2nd wave of Covid-19, and the uncertainty of what comes next. However, being stressed only lowers your immune system and is very counterproductive. There were twelve spies in the Old Testament that went into investigate Canaan, the land promised to the Israelites. Ten chose to dwell on the reality of being unable to fight the giants that lived there and let fear paralyse them, which also spread rapidly to the whole group. Joshua and Caleb, however, chose to focus on the larger reality of God’s ability to do anything, including defeating the giants. They were the only two of their generation to do just that, and receive the abundant inheritance that God had promised them. Gratitude, praise and worship are effective ways to cut off fear.
3) Insects – like with diseases, if left alone there can be an infestation that will either weaken the tree, strip off the leaves, or even cause it to die. When insects burrow into the branch it must be removed as you can’t see the damage they are doing internally as they spread.
We also may have habits and relationships that consume our time, such as too much TV or social media. They are not bad in themselves but can keep us from being productive. If we spend time in relationships where there is no positive growth, and especially if they are affecting us negatively, (friends who are not wanting to change) then those may need to be pruned as well. There are other habits that can keep us in bondage, such as addiction to drugs, alcohol, gambling and pornography. These are harmful to our bodies, minds and spirits. Like insects they weaken us and can affect our finances, families and the shame can separate us from our Heavenly Father. We don’t feel free to walk in the paths that God has for us and often miss out in fulfilling the destiny that God desires for us. Just like with our money, we are stewards of all our resources, including time and energy. Seek God about what things may need to end so that we can invest our resources wisely.
This kind of pruning may be difficult – we like the security of what is familiar even when it is toxic. Listen to God and trust Him when He asks you to change some things, and also to the advice of people who love you and are willing to tell you the truth, even when it hurts.
4) Overcrowding – when branches grow too close together, they sometimes rub and can even injure each other. There is not enough room for good air flow, often leading to mildew, and not much room for the fruit to develop.
2020 was a year of pruning.
We were unable to meet as churches for much of the year, and many people were isolated from others. When the usual routines and even relationships are removed or limited, we have the opportunity to draw close to God and spend time in His presence.
Christmas was also quiet as we were unable to celebrate as usual. This is sad as celebrations are wonderful, but it is actually similar to the original Christmas experience. Weary travellers, isolated from others, managing as best they can and giving birth in a draughty stable filled with the foul-smell of animal dung. Jesus gave up his glory and power and chose to limit himself as a tiny, vulnerable baby and even to be born into a desperate situation.
So often Christmas can become more about the traditions, food and family than recognising Jesus’ amazing love for us. When I first moved to South Africa, a picnic at the beach or braai (BBQ) by the pool did not feel like Christmas – I was used to sledding, stockings hung on fireplaces and roast turkey (with pumpkin pie!). It made me realise how much of what I enjoyed had little to do with the actual event of Jesus’ arrival, and that my focus was primarily on myself. Now I like to serve birthday cake at Christmas, complete with candles and singing to remind us that it is Jesus’ birthday that we celebrate.
Sometimes we also need to be opened up, to try new ways of living, to break out of our routines, and view the world differently – to see those around us who may need help or are longing for the hope of the gospel. There may be a sick or elderly neighbour who we can buy groceries or medication for, or colleagues who are grieving, and others who have lost their source of income.
It is difficult to find a balance between growing a strong, supportive community within a church, and focusing outwards on the lost and those in need. We are the salt of the world, but salt naturally clumps together, especially in humid climates like Durban! When change happens like lockdown, it shakes us up and can spread us out where we can benefit others.
This pandemic has made me realise that when I talk to people, it may be our last conversation, and I want to make the most of what time we have together.
Remember that pruning, while painful, results in more fruit!
Photo credit Bill Williams on Unsplash