John said to the crowds: ‘Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.’ ‘What should we do then?’ the crowd asked. (Luke 3:8-10)
Apologies to all those on a Fodmap diet who may find this reflection upsetting but the thing about good fruit, is that when you taste it, you can’t get enough. I wonder what type of fruit the ‘fruit of repentance’ is? Mass produced, cool stored for the export market? Or heritage variety, organically grown for the local market?
Our experience is that growing fruit is a tricky business. At last count we had over 65 fruit trees at our place, ranging from apples, peaches and apricots through to cherries and hazelnuts and some citrus too. There is so much to learn about the different needs of each species, when it needs pruning, what type and quantity of feed we need to provide for them, pest control strategies and of course watering.
Some of our trees have done really well, reminding us that when we get the conditions right, God’s abundance is extraordinary. On the other side, we have a few trees that just don’t fruit, no matter what we do. We’ve tried all the tricks but the conditions just don’t seem right. Maybe we need to bring the axe out!
John’s words to the Pharisee’s and crowds in Luke 3:8-10 are a stark challenge to my own discipleship as a middle class, well-educated Christian living in Australia today. John’s words are spoken in the context as crowds come to see and hear the latest teaching in the wilderness, to have the latest ‘religious experience’, but then keep living the same on return.
Too often I have failed to cultivate the fruit of the spirit in my own life, leaving me either barren, rotten or at best sour. Brought up in the middle class, white, evangelical church in Blackburn I’ve struggled to navigate my position of entitlement in this country as well the secular advance of our age, whilst at the same time holding fast to faith in the one who calls us to serve. I’ve struggled to again and again return to the place of recognising my own ‘need’ as one who is ‘poor in spirit’, and therefor blessed. Instead I’ve sought to find my own forms of ‘blessing’!
Over the years, I’ve had the joy of travelling for TEAR to visit the work of our Christian partner organisations around the world. What I find in many of these places are people whose faith is fruitful, whose faith is urgent, whose faith is costly. Those people, as well reading stories of the ‘Saints’ from previous generations, who courageously cultivated the fruits of the spirit in their own lives, are where I gain encouragement and inspiration. To keep asking the question – ‘What then should I do?’