In Part One, we began to dig into the biblical metaphor of producing fruit and the importance of the root to that process. In John 15, Jesus teaches that God wants us to produce much fruit, but we can do it only if we continue in Him, the Vine, which is an extension of the roots. As Colossians 2:7 says, we are "rooted and built up in Him." Christ, along with the Father in heaven, is our source of strength, stability, and every resource we may require to produce fruit.
We also found in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23) that roots are necessary to keep us viable and growing during adversity. If the roots are not strong and deep, blazing sun or violent wind or excessive rain will make quick work of a weak plant. Instead, we want to be like the deeply-rooted tree described in Jeremiah 17:7-8, a metaphor for "the man who trusts in the LORD."
We can combine this with another biblical principle, that fear and love are opposites (II Timothy 1:7; I John 4:18) and counteract each other. If we, then, eliminate fear and anxiety by putting our trust in God, we will be able to love without the fear of being vulnerable or without the fear that we will not have enough for ourselves. When we are confident that God will make it right if we do our parts and trust Him, we will not fear the heat of adversity, as in the Parable of the Sower. We will not panic when drought strikes and everything is drying up around us because we will be tapped into the Source of living water. But it all comes back to the roots—to the growing connection with God.
It takes time for this to develop. Sometimes we get discouraged because we fall short, and perhaps we just cannot seem to produce the right kind of fruit, even after years in the church. But fruit is not produced overnight. We must remember that producing godly fruit is part of a larger overall process, one that takes time.
Years ago, I read about a variety of Chinese bamboo that exhibits a growth pattern that should be encouraging to us. Shortly after this bamboo is planted, a small shoot with a leaf emerges from the ground. The diligent grower persistently waters it, weeds around it, and cares for it. At the end of one year, there is still nothing more than the small shoot, so the grower must keep watering and tending it for a second year. At the end of the second year, it still has nothing to show for itself, except the tiny shoot—which frankly tells the grower little more than that the bamboo is alive.
The grower needs to resist despair and care for the little shoot for a third year and then a fourth. Still it displays no other sign of visible growth. The process must be continued for yet one more year. The grower has cared for this bamboo for five years, and he has nothing more to show for his time and efforts than the little shoot he started with! Discouragement is bound to set in.
But after the five years have passed, one day the grower will visit the bamboo shoot and find that it is almost two feet tall—essentially overnight! When he returns the next day, it is nearly four feet tall, and over the span of the next six weeks, that reluctant bamboo shoot grows to be over 80 feet tall!
During those years, when no one could discern that anything was happening, the root structure was being developed underground. There was no visible growth, but growth was nonetheless taking place. When the time was right, the little bamboo plant came into its own in a dramatic way.
God is always working, and what He is working on is us (John 5:17; Genesis 1:26; Ephesians 2:10). We may get discouraged when we stumble, feeling cut off and despairing that we are not making any progress. Yet, if we are still abiding in Him and continuing in that relationship, growth will be taking place. And when the time is right—no matter how long we must diligently persevere in cultivating our relationship with God—we will bear fruit, and God will be glorified.
If we are intent on bearing fruit, we can do some things to make sure that we are not inhibiting the process. We can see this in another of Jesus' parables:
He also spoke this parable: "A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?' But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.'" (Luke 13:6-9)
In this parable, the owner represents the Father. The keeper represents Jesus Christ, the Advocate and Intercessor. The tree, in the context, probably represents Israel, but it certainly applies spiritually to individual Christians as well.
The tree should have been producing fruit, but it was not. It had the roots, and it was basking in the sunshine, receiving the rain, and using up ground, but it was not giving anything back. It was just existing. The parable relates a decision point, where the owner is ready to cut it down, just as John the Baptist and Jesus spoke of. But the keeper asks for, and apparently is granted, a little more time.
In Part Three, we will contemplate the steps the keeper of the vineyard takes to spur the fig tree into fruitful productivity.
- David C. Grabbe