John 15:4-6 New Living Translation (NLT)
Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned.
I was walking around our church property the other day. We have 8 acres of land in the heart of Franklin, TN, and I sometimes get lost in the scenery. We have a huge field, lots of trees, and a random community garden. A few years ago, our church community wanted something to do together, and we decided to do a garden. We cleared the space, set up the sprinkler system, brought in some good soil, set up paths between the plant beds, built a fence to keep out predators…we did a lot to get this garden up and running.
And it really worked!
We had families participating in our community garden, taking turns to weed and water, and it was a general success. People were growing amazing fruits and vegetables (my favorite were the gargantuan cucumbers), and it was a success.
But the momentum started to die down. People were getting tired of maintaining the garden, picking up shifts from people that weren’t pitching in, and it became a hassle. We actually had a mole or gopher that kept showing up and eating all of our produce. We felt like, as a church, we were ready to “shut it down.”
So we did.
We stopped caring for our garden. And that was about three years ago? So as I was walking around our property last week and noticed the garden, I obviously wasn’t expecting to see anything actually growing in it. I, of course, thought that there would be weeds and thistles (I changed the order in case Mumford and Sons decides to sue me for copyright infringement), but I never imagined that there would still be some semblance of life in that garden.
So it got me thinking, which is what I’m doing here…a garden can still produce fruit even if it’s left to its own devices. There’s fruit in that garden, but there’s also things that shouldn’t be there.
I’ve been a follower of Christ for a really long time…I grew up in the church, and I accepted Jesus as my Savior probably around the same time I could start speaking. I’ve been “tending my garden” for as long as I could remember. I’m all about spiritual exercises, and I’m a huge fan of the Daily Examen. I’ve read the Bible through multiple times. And I’m a pretty avid churchgoer (mainly because I’m a youth pastor and that’s part of the job).
I’ve worked on my garden my entire life.
But there’s still things, thistles and weeds, that still pop up. And maybe this is representative of some blindspots in my own life. Maybe I’m not taking care of my garden enough.
Fruit-bearing is one of the biggest litmus tests I hear for those that are following Jesus. People use this language to defend theologies, practices, and attitudes. Jesus himself said this in Matthew 7…but gardens can still produce good fruit and bad fruit (thistles and weeds). Just because someone is bearing (visible) fruit doesn’t mean that their inner garden is being completely cared for. Look at all the countless church leaders that are being exposed for not caring for their gardens well enough.
The very first command that God gave to Adam and Eve was to care for the garden.
That’s what following Jesus is all about. Take care of your garden. Paul talked about the fruit of the flesh being obvious…you don’t have to think too hard about it. And the real fruit that we see borne in those that follow Jesus: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are the types of fruit you need in your life.
If you’re not bearing these types of things in your life, maybe stop to ask Jesus what you need to weed out.