“A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad.”
Matthew 12:33 NLT
For the past few months I have been obsessively craving oranges. I can eat six of them or more in a day sometimes. Definitely can eat several over the span of a week. But I’m a bit weird with how I eat them. I can’t peel just one and then eat it. I have to peel several at a time and store them in a dish so they’re readily available whenever my belly craves them. If I don’t peel them all at once, they tend to sit, rot and get wasted.
Tasting the juicy sweetness of a ripe orange and throwing away one that’s mushy and covered in a fuzzy green substance reminds me of God’s calling on all of us to be fruit bearers. In Galatians (Chapter 5 verse 22 and 23) we read about the fruits of the Spirit being love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentleness, kindness, perseverance and self-control. These are all characteristics God requires of us to display in our day to day lives. Reading the list sounds easy and I am confident there are many times practicing all of these have come natural to all of us. But what about the times when it doesn’t? Let’s look at some scenarios.
When a person cuts us off on the road it’s human nature to react in a harsh manner (not practice gentleness.) when someone wounds us deeply or continues to disappoint us, it’s human nature to stop loving them, maybe even feel hatred toward them. When we’re grief stricken if feels impossible to experience joy. Addictions make it incredibly challenging to practice self-control. When life feels out of control it’s easy to worry and be anxious instead of choosing to be at peace fully trusting Abba. If you’re a parent dealing with a toddler meltdown or a disrespectful know-it-all teenager it’s super easy to lose patience. On days when we’re just feeling grumpy it’s easier to lash out at others rather than practice goodness and kindness.
Then there’s the concept of being known by our fruit. If we are a person bearing good fruit we should be identified as such. But what about those who constantly bear bad fruit? What about the people who cross our paths who appear to be mean-spirited, toxic, hard-hearted or down right evil? What about those people who seem so hard hearted that no amount of prayer covering seems ever possible that they will ever change?
First and foremost if you’re a Christian who’s known for bearing bad fruit (maybe you hold grudges, is unwelcoming, always arguing, gossips, harbors hatred toward others, loses your temper easily, over spends/over eats or even over works) it’s time to take a long hard look in the mirror, confess these attitudes and behaviors and ask God to cut off the branches that aren’t bearing good fruit. Until you refuse to repent, you will be a tree that produces bad fruit and bears a false witness as to what being Christ like is all about. If you repent, God promises to prune you in a way that will make your tree overflowing with His fruit once again (John 15:2.)
Dealing with nonbelievers who bear bad fruit is a bit more challenging. None of us hold the power in our human strength to change a human heart, including our own. Part of bearing good fruit is being a seed planter for those who bear bad fruit. If you have any knowledge of botany (which mine is very limited) you know that some plants actually populate from having their seeds spread elsewhere. This happens in both plants and weeds which means Christians can plant both good and bad seeds in the lives of those whom we cross paths with. If we want to be good fruit bearers, we have to be good seed planters also (read Mark 4 regarding Jesus’ parable on seed planting.)
How do we do that? We practice the fruits of the Spirit at all times. Think about being a comedian performing on stage for the first time. Your audience boos you and throws rotten tomatoes at you. This is the epitome of being exposed to bad fruit bearers and toxic people. It’s also human nature to want to defend ourselves and to pick up those rotted tomatoes and throw them back. Instead, God calls us to give them good fruit. Sticking with this analogy let’s say when someone throws rotten tomatoes at you, you pull out fresh ripe ones and ask them to join you for a salad. If someone steals from your apple tree, bake them a pie with what’s left. By doing so, you will be planting seeds of the Spirit that God can use to grow your enemies into good fruit bearers also.
This is definitely easier said than done. Trust me-I struggle daily with practicing any of this. I tend to live out my feelings instead of practicing self-control. I lose my temper and throw gentleness, kindness and goodness right out the window replacing them with anger, harsh words and unforgiveness. I wallow in my sorrows and give the enemy my joy. When I try problem solving in my own human wisdom, I get engulfed in worry and anxiety which suffocates any ounce of His peace within me. There are days I make a conscious effort to choose His fruit instead though. Just like choosing healthy food gives your body more energy, choosing His fruit gives my spirit a supernatural energy boost that produces more fruit within me. The more we pour out into others, the more He pours back into us. To keep using a scientific analogy, this would be a spiritual osmosis!
Whether you’re in a season of seed planting or fruit bearing remember three things-one, just like growing a garden or planting trees takes a length of time before the plant is fully matured and fruit is produced, so it may take years before you see changes in those you are discipling to, including even your own children. That’s where consistency, perseverance and the power of prayer play their biggest roles. Just because you can’t see anything growing, doesn’t mean there aren’t roots forming beneath the surface. So don’t give up.
Second, you may not be the person God uses to fully change their hearts. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 3:6 that he planted the seed but Apollo watered it and only God actually made it grow. This verse reminds us that some hearts may take more than one person to soften and that no matter who God uses, He ultimately gets the glory. It’s His power alone that truly changes hearts. We are just His tools.
Lastly, and this part is a sad reality, some hearts will never change. Choosing the fruits of the Spirit is a choice. There are people who choose to be hard hearted and no effort will ever change them. (Matthew 21:19) I believe God will show you when it’s time to walk away from such a person and surrender them fully to the Lord. We can still pray for a miracle in them but walking away means protecting ourselves emotionally and avoiding getting spiritually burned out. You may not agree with this last concept but just remember Judas was a prime example of such a heart. He walked right beside Jesus and betrayed him. Jesus never pursued Judas after the betrayal because He knew there was no changing him.
Jesus forgave Judas and He calls us to forgive our enemies also-even if they refuse to change. Forgiveness is definitely a seed that when planted can produce amazing fruit in ourselves and in those we choose to forgive. Jesus modeled this as He was hanging on a cross enduring excruciating pain, pushing himself up just to take a breath, and said “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” So what seeds are you planting? What fruit are you producing? What is your spiritual tree bearing? Strive to plant seeds that inevitably produce trees that bear His fruit.