My garden is reminding me that fruitfulness is a process, one with stages that must happen in a particular order. Jim and I have looked for weeks for some fruitfulness from our tomato plants. We started them from seeds, and they have grown into nice plants, with lots of blooms, but no tomatoes. We finally spotted some marble-sized green tomatoes last week.
As a Christian, I am called to bear fruit. Paul even describes some of the fruit I am to bear in Galatians 5. Yet, just like the fruit in my garden, there is a progression that is necessary for me to be fruitful. First of all, the seed of God’s word must land in the right soil. In other words, I must be receptive. I have to want to hear God’s word for me. Seeds must get the right amounts of water and sunlight and have the right temperature to grow in. Likewise, I have to be watered and nourished by regular and daily Bible reading and devotional time. I have to be around others who encourage my growth as they are growing themselves. I need to be in worship regularly and in an attitude of expectancy and attentiveness. If I do these things with discipline and regularity, fruit will begin to appear.
The fruit I’ve seen on my tomato plants is not yet ready to eat. If I picked the tomatoes now, they would be hard and sour. If I go out to serve before God has prepared me, I will also be hard and sour. I will resent serving, viewing it as an obligation rather than a gift of love. There have been times when my attitude while serving was like my green tomatoes. I served, but I did not exhibit any love, joy or gentleness! I was self-focused and more interested in my own self-promotion than in serving Christ. I needed more time to grow and I needed to receive my nourishment from the body of Christ.
When my tomatoes are ripe, three things can happen to them. I can pick them and eat them. They can fall off the plant and the seeds can make more plants. Or they can remain attached to the plant until they rot. The least desirable option for a tomato is to cling to the plant until it is completely useless. If it falls to the ground, at least it will produce seed, which will produce more plants for a greater harvest. If it is picked and eaten, it provides sustenance and strength to the one who eats it.
It is here that the comparison of my spiritual life with a tomato makes me uncomfortable. For me to be fruitful, I can’t just stay ensconced in the church. If I do that, I will eventually rot and be useless fruit. Fruitfulness for me as a Christian involves letting go and surrendering to God’s will for me. His will could be that I remain close to the plant while producing seeds. Or his will could be that I am consumed for the sake of others. Both require my surrender, my obedience. God chooses the nature and type of service. My role is to be spiritually ready and joyfully obedient—ripe, juicy and sweet for God!