I remember the first time my parents took us to the summit of Pikes Peak in Colorado. At 14,000ft +. I knew the views were spectacular, even as a young elementary student. Several things I remember about that trip: the cold thin air, the colorful windbreakers we put on as we climbed closer to the top, the winding narrow roads up the side of the mountain, and the rails that kept us from falling down the steep side of the mountain overlook. I don’t so much remember being scared of the edge. In fact, I think we have several pictures of us standing right up next to the rails with the spectacular Rocky Mountain views behind us. I was young and I was fearless.
Flash forward to the summer of 2016 in Pittsburgh, PA. We went up the Monongahela Incline with our kids and Bart’s parents to take in the skyline of Pittsburgh below. However, the scene played out much differently on this cliff. My legs were paralyzed from moving closer than 15 feet from the edge. I simply could not walk my toes up to the edge like I had done at Pikes Peak. My imagination only had room for one view: a tumble down the edge of the cliff. As my palms got sweaty, I became more and more ready to gather my chicks back into the incline to go back down where my footing was sure- back to my comfort zone. Clearly, I was no longer the same young and fearless girl.
Unfortunately, this contrasting image of me at the peak of a cliff is telling of another story inside of me as well. This time it is a story of unseen glories, views into the supernatural wonders of God’s kingdom being built in us and all around us, True Beauty for our souls to behold, a story of abundant and lasting prosperity, and fruitfulness. It is a question being asked inside every person’s soul every single day: Is the risk of stepping outside of my comfort zone to see the possibility of glories unseen worth it? Or am I content to risk missing out on the unknown glory for the sake of what I know to be comfort?
It’s noteworthy how many times the Bible uses agriculture to teach us eternal truths about how the Kingdom of God works. I often tease because Bart is an Ag-wannabe, but I too have become captivated by the lessons to be learned via study of the laws of growing things. The growth of trees from tiny seeds has become a peculiar source of interest to me in recent months.
In the middle of the Bible is the book of Psalms- a book of poetry, songs, and prayers to God. The very first chapter of this beautiful book eludes to the fact that mankind has some similarities to trees. And not only that, but He uses trees to instruct us on how we can yield fruit and be prosperous in our earthly lives:
“Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.”
God is the Ultimate Gardener with more than just a green thumb. His desire is to bless us, in Christ, with His divine favor and show us the way toward true soul prosperity- the kind that lasts all the way throughout eternity.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. ” -John 15:1
Any gardener knows that to grow a plant, you first have to put a tiny seed into the ground. In time, with patience and proper care, under the dark covering of the soil the seed starts to germinate and then sprout. Eventually it pops through the soil, displaying the evidence of what has been happening underground. Once a seedling emerges from the soil and begins to show signs of maturity and growth, experienced gardeners recognize it is time to transplant the young plant into a more spacious place to encourage healthy growth.
When I became a believer in Jesus, I was like that tiny seed underground. God was doing a very significant work in me under the cover of the dark soil. In His time, as I stretched up towards the Son, I began to emerge up from the hidden place. My Gardener was good to tend to me with the ingredients that are just right for a tender seedling. However, at the proper time, it was time for a transplant. In my story, this timing coincided with the time I left home and went off to college.
In some ways, when we are transplanted, we are like Abram:
“The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.”
In order to make our lives fruitful for His glory, there comes a time we have to be uprooted from our comfort zone and planted into a rich bed of soil that He prepares specifically for us. If we stay planted where we’ve always been, we risk stunting our growth and missing out on the fruitfulness and prosperity God wants to produce in and through our earthly lives.
When I look back at my college years and early years of marriage, I cannot help but be filled with overwhelming gratitude. At the time Bart & I knew that we were blessed, but I’m not sure we knew the extent to which God was pouring out His goodness and grace over this particular season of our lives. We attended a secular college, but God made sure to plant us in rich, fertile soil that was fed by streams of Living Water, where our roots could grow strong in Him. For a few years it was as if we were enrolled in God’s greenhouse of growth alongside numerous other believers who became dear friends. Our Gardener had provided a perfectly diverse blend of people and opportunities to help us mature in the ways of His Kingdom- and often way outside of what was normal to us. At different occasions, I wondered if our greater purpose during this season was to behold the glory of our invisible King and less about gaining any kind of worldly progress. And yet, without us noticing, He was causing a different kind of progress to take place.
Many times when you are planting a plant or a tree in a new place, you will break up the “root ball” with your hands. This may seem like you are harming the plant by tearing a bit at that established root system, but in reality, you are preparing the plant for optimal growth and nourishment in a new environment. We are often so afraid to branch out and reach for the godly relationships that would help prosper our souls. Sometimes even as believers we are afraid to tear away at the root system that we have grown comfortable with for so long, not recognizing that the soil we are currently planted in is stunting our growth and is causing our branches to be dry and fruitless at best…..producing bad fruit at the very worst.
This is where the cliff analogy is helpful to me. I fear that there are many of us who profess belief in Jesus but very few who are willing to risk the scary uprooting to be planted in more fertile soil. We may have had moments in our youth, like my Pikes Peak moment- fearless of stepping past the threshold of our comfort zone. At one point in our story, maybe we were a young plant, popping through the soil, growing up toward the Son. And we were comfortable, safe in that place.
Until the Gardener started shifting things around a bit. We enjoy this little pot we’ve grown into. We like this soil and the pieces our roots have attached to. This is a safe place to stay. The thought of being uprooted- whether physically going somewhere new, or being replanted relationally with a lifestyle shifting toward those Living Waters- all of it makes your hands sweaty. All we can imagine is a tumble down that cliff. So, like I did in Pittsburgh, we reject the uprooting. We close ourselves off from the possibility of beholding greater glories, growing deeper roots, and more abundant fruit on our life branches. NO, we reason: a quick glance at a safe distance is best. Control is best. Moving any closer to the edge is dangerous and won’t people just think I am foolish if I change NOW? And so the Gardener lets us stay in the plastic pot when He created us to be planted by streams of Living Water.
Each and everyday the invitation comes from deep inside of our souls. We know we were made for something more. But as we “grow up” we suffocate that yearning. We stop growing altogether. The risk seems too great, too far outside of our comfort zone, too far removed from the visible kingdom we’ve built around ourselves. We stifle the questions stirring in our hearts. We like the way we’ve always done things. We often get so filled up with superficial glories and busied with earthly routines that eventually we don’t even remember what it feels like to behold the One and Only Glory that can take our breath away. And so we live the days and seasons of our lives mostly fruitless in regards to God’s kingdom and pleasure. We are given this one mist of a life and, for fear of stepping over our threshold of comfort, we waste it away on earthly checklists and temporary treasures.
But to those that can find the courage to say “yes” to the possibility of seeing greater glories, more abundant fruitfulness, and deep soul prosperity- these tender plants will surrender to the uprooting and replanting. And these “will be called the trees of righteousness [strong and magnificent, distinguished for integrity, justice, and right standing with God], The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:3)
And everyday, the choice is ours.
We would be wise to heed to the warning found in first verse of Psalm 1: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers.” In contrast, we are counseled that if we want to be a tree planted firmly by streams of water, yielding fruit in season, and prospering in all we do- we will be people who, “delight in the law of the Lord, and on His law he [habitually] meditates day and night.“
When we allow our Gardener to replant us, opening ourselves to new relationships and new experiences that might help us to find greater delight in God’s Word and ways, we are blessed. Our souls begin to breathe fresh life, yielding good fruit, and naturally producing green leaves to the glory of God.
After the replanting in my own life, God was so faithful to surround me with people who were several steps ahead of me in their walk of faith. These were people who sincerely loved God, loved His Word, loved to worship Him in Spirit and truth, and who made themselves available to mentor and disciple me in my own faith walk. They helped me understand God’s Word and lived so rooted in Him that I could easily see the good fruit it was producing in their lives. It made me yearn for this soul prosperity in my own life and open myself to the vulnerability of asking questions of how to get on that path for myself. God used these more mature believers as stakes around my trunk to help me grow stronger as I was just beginning to see the blooms of fruit in my own life.
In God’s economy, this fruit comes by way of the inner man, the spiritual unseen part of who we are in Christ. As we are surrendered to the process of being re-planted near streams of Living Water, a very natural process of health and growth begins to take place from the inside out, producing the fruit of the Holy Spirit flowing through us: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23) He displays within us and through us the beautiful character of God through daily life situations that normally would’ve led us down a path below our new identity in Christ.
Another aspect of the fruitful life is the reality that fruit contain seeds that produce even more fruit in time. It multiplies. Jesus says that when the seed fell onto good soil, “It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.” (Luke 8:8) Last time I checked, a hundred times more than what was sown is extremely prosperous. God is pleased to bring multiplication to our life in Him as we grow into a mature tree with the sap of His Spirit pulsing through our branches. He wants to use us to be a blessing to others, which is for our joy and His glory. He told Adam and Eve to, “be fruitful and increase in number.” (Genesis 1:28) The final instructions Jesus passed onto His disciples was, “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations….” (Matthew 28:19) And then we see the beginning of the church experiencing the fruit Jesus spoke about- “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42, 47)
God measures fruitfulness in both our inward life of molding us into the image of Christ; and also by way of allowing the sharing of our faith walk with unbelievers or younger believers to multiply the fruit around us. When we are not walking with the wicked, standing with the sinners, or sitting with the mockers; but rather planted by streams of water, delighting in His Word, we should live with an expectancy of yielding fruit in our lives. Our daily life may not necessarily be easy, but it should be characterized by this ongoing natural harvest of fruitfulness and soul prosperity.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
So often we are deceived to think of God as this mysterious Being sitting on a throne with a long list of requirements, just wanting to take from us all the time. After the Lord replanted me into a different bed of soil, surrounded by growing believers who readily poured into my life, and began to illuminate the beauty of living according to His Word, I wasn’t tempted to think of Him in this way any longer. I experienced firsthand the ways He was causing my soul to prosper and be fruitful. And little by little multiplication was happening. Discipleship was happening- both in my own maturity and allowing me to take part in others’ maturing process. I was becoming a tree firmly planted and growing stronger and taller in Christ. Staying planted by that stream of Living Water each day was allowing me to remain in Him which led to regular answered prayers. The invisible Kingdom was growing around me everyday- more expansive and more beautiful. It was and always will be worth the risk to step up to the edge, heart racing & palms sweating- because it is only in that place that we can behold His glorious works on the earth!
“They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”