Over the last few weeks at the Hixon home we witnessed the arrival and the departure of plum season. It's a pretty exciting time of year, for me, when I can just walk into the backyard and acquire free, delicious food. It's also an exciting time of year for the squirrels.
And this year plum season got me thinking about the Bible.
You see, the scriptures were written for people who knew about agriculture and husbandry first hand. Unfortunately, for most of us reading the Bible in the US today, all of that work happens out of sight, without ever intersecting our lives (except as fresh veggies, sticks of butter, and packages of bacon at the store), and so we don't always hear all the resonances of the images and metaphors that the Bible is using. Paul talks about the "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal 5:22-23), and I know a lot about eating fruit, but I don't know so much about growing fruit, which is the whole point of the image. This is fruit that the Holy Spirit plans to 'cultivate' inside of me. But the image doesn't mean as much to me as it could, because growing fruit isn't a part of my life.
Except during plum season.
So this year, as we picked and gathered our fruit, I was thinking about how this plum tree and this time of year might add to the meaning of those passages in scripture. Here are three things that struck me:
- There's a lot of waiting, but then, suddenly, you may find all kinds of fruit. After you notice the first buds and flowers on the plum tree, there are months of waiting when it seems like nothing is happening. Maybe there are some baby plums on the branches, but they aren't good for anything. Until, it seems like overnight, they ripen and you have more fruit than you know what to do with. But growing fruit isn't quick. And that's also true of the fruit of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit works in us with the patience of a farmer. Love, joy, peace, and all the other virtues God would cultivate in our hearts develop over time, sometimes very slowly. Eventually, though, maybe without you even realizing what's been happening, you may find yourself radically transformed by God's Spirit, with all kinds of fruit. You may suddenly find that God's been nurturing within you compassion, generosity, patience, or self-control that you've never known before. One day that fruit is going to be ripe for the picking.
- Fruit is meant for sharing. I was reminded this year that you simply can't keep all these plums to yourself - the tree is just too fruitful, the yield's just too abundant - you have to share! The fruit on our tree wasn't meant for one person (or even one household). It's meant to be spread around and to bless others too. And of course that's also true when it comes to the spiritual fruit in our lives. God does care about our hearts and minds, and God wants to make us new and whole for our own sakes. But God also wants us to make us a blessing for others. Remember what the Lord told Abraham: "I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing... in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen 12:2-3). If the Holy Spirit has raised up joy in your heart, or kindness or love, how are you using that fruit to "be a blessing"? Have you looked for someone to share it with, someone who could use a fresh encounter with God's grace in their lives? Well God's grace is active in you, growing that fruit - so go be the blessing they need!
- It's so easy to waste your fruit. The ground around our tree is covered with rotten and split and smashed plums, like the day after some grisly plum warfare. And even if you pick as many as you possibly can, if you don't have a plan it won't be long before so much of the fruit has gone to waste - in a bowl waiting to be eaten or to be turned into jelly. It feels awful to watch all that fruit spoil, thinking about all the things you could have done with it. Don't waste your fruit. That's not why God gave it to you. The Lord has a purpose for it. Try to discern how God wants to use you and the person you're becoming. Is there a need in your church, in your community, in your marriage–is there some need around you that God might be preparing you to meet? Don't wait until the opportunity is wasted and all you can do is look back with regret. Use the fruit you've got while you can. Don't let God's timing pass you by.