Thursday, December 6, 2018

Thorns or no thorns?

My grandson and I built a deck on my workshop this past weekend. It was an undertaking - each of us learning something along the way. As we were working, I heard him ask if I had enjoyed any grapes from my vines this year. I told him I had not because it takes at least two years for them to begin to produce. I did not expect any this year - in fact, if I see them next year, that will probably be about as soon as fruit would be predicted. As a child, we had a home surrounded by citrus trees - 13 of them in our yard. Grapefruit and oranges abounded this time of the year, but in order to enjoy their sweetness, we had to do more than just stand under the trees and hope a fruit would fall off into our waiting hands. We could pick the low hanging stuff pretty easily, but we had to climb ladders and branches to get to the rest of it! Oftentimes the most prized fruit was up higher and more hidden from immediate view. That made the discovery of the fruit much more enjoyable indeed. It was Thomas Fuller who reminded us, "One that would have the fruit must climb the tree." I don't know about you, but there are times I would just like something to be as easy as the low hanging fruit!

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified. (Galatians 5:22-24 MSG)

When we live according to the plans and purposes of God, we can be assured of a couple of things. First, we will enjoy his company. While that in and of itself should be our ultimate satisfaction, his presence is certain to bring forth some fruit that we didn't even know was possible to stem from within us. It is kind of like that hidden fruit that has had the potential of developing all along, but it took the right season, the right tending, and the right 'discovering' to reveal it! Fruit can be both low hanging and then it can also be pretty well-hidden until there is a movement toward discovering it is there. Before the days of us owning one of those long handled citrus pickers with a little basket like device on the end, dad would gently nudge those fruit down with a broom handle into my waiting hands. Sometimes more than one would fall at a time - making it harder to catch them. Regardless of where they landed, we'd gather them all up - for their were our 'bounty' of harvest. At some point in the season, we'd believe we had harvested all the fruit that had been produced. You know what? Almost every tree had at least one more piece of fruit we overlooked - well hidden, covered with leaves, still developing in its hidden spot. 

There are times our 'life fruit' is like low-hanging goodness - it is just there, ready for all to see, and pretty easily enjoyed. There are also times when the fruit in our lives takes just a little bit more effort to see it produced, much less enjoyed. I imagine it comes as no surprise to most of us that there remains some fruit which must be sought out - discovered because we were actively looking for it. We wanted to get at it, but it was concealed by other growth in our lives - making it harder to see, but not negating its presence! In the 'climbing of the tree', we discover it. The revelation can be amazing, because it is that freshly discovered fruit that can be the most luscious of all! To climb the tree, one must be certain they want to make the discovery. If we climb the tree without attending to where we are placing ourselves, we can hazard a fall or even break a limb from the tree. 

My memories of the citrus trees is that they have an occasional thorn along the way. You may not realize it, but citrus trees have thorns! Today's citrus trees have been 'bred' to be thorn-free - at least those we buy from our local nursery. If you plant a citrus seed and await the growth that will be produced, you will likely find the tree produced will revert to its original state of being thorn-bearing. We are also kind of 'thorn-bearing' - we have a tendency to revert to our original state if not 'bred' correctly at the hand of someone who knows how to produce the branches of our lives 'thorn free'. Encounter one of those thorns and you might just realize not only the sharpness, but the lasting 'burn' of having been stuck. The purpose of the thorns is to protect the fruit from 'fruit-stealing' intruders. We might not realize it, but God doesn't always discourage the 'thorns' in our lives - because they actually give sufficient time for the fruit to be developed without being stolen away by intruding forces in our lives.

Did you know the thorns on the citrus tree are the most prevalent when the tree is youngest? This is because the tree needs a chance to develop without intrusion and the fruit needs a chance to set on the branches. In much the same way, we might be allowed a few thorns as the growth begins to occur in our lives in a spiritual sense, but as it comes time for the fruit to be fully developed and harvested, are those thorns still there? As the tree ages, the thorns are less and less necessary - because the tree has enough growth to conceal the fruit until it is developed. It is strong enough to resist intrusion. The younger tree is more vulnerable - the fruit is at risk. The thorns serve to afford time for growth. While none of us likes to think of ourselves as 'thorny', it is quite possible God has allowed a few thorns until the strength of our faith is increased - allowing for the fruit to grow without the need for those thorns. If the thorns seem to be his focus these days, it may just be a sign we are ready to produce the fruit 'thorn free'. Just sayin!