Fruit & Shade
I want to share with you one of my favorite Bible verses that the Lord showed me many years ago which was a source of great hope during a difficult time in my family’s life:
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD [Yahweh] and whose trust is the LORD [Yahweh]. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7-8).
My husband had just been laid off from his job for the first time ever, we were raising three small children, and I was a stay at home mom teaching a women’s Bible study class one day a week. We had been trusting the Lord throughout our marriage for our provision and now it seemed our provision was drying up! We were concerned but knew that God had a plan, a better plan in the end for my husband and our family. In the midst of “waiting” to see God’s plan unfold (as my husband was diligently seeking a new job) the Lord showed me this verse and I wrote it down and kept it close by to remind myself of God’s promise to provide. This was a "year of drought” for us for sure but the promise of fruit from the verse above is not necessarily a promise of material prosperity, as the world might imagine, but instead a promise that if we keep our trust in the Lord, during the good times and the bad, we can be sure that God will use us to bless others.
Thankfully the apostle Paul helps us to understand this concept of "bearing fruit"in his letter to the Galatians:
“But I say, walk by the spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh…Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. BUT the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:16-23).
So...,in our “year of drought,” we didn’t panic and wring our hands hopelessly but continued on day by day, trusting the Lord for direction, for a new
job for my husband, and I continued to teach the women in my Bible study, women of all ages and all walks of life, how to be fruitful themselves! As I remained faithful to the Lord in His calling on my life, I was bearing fruit to be nourishment for others. You see this is how the Christian walk is supposed to operate: we are called to trust the Lord, He will guide and lead us by His Spirit, through our obedience to Him we WILL bear fruit which helps others in their walk to also trust in the Lord and bear fruit. It should create a ripple effect, if you will, among the church body (our community of believers), but our fruit should also ripple beyond church walls and boundaries to all those that we encounter in our lives.
We have a beautiful illustration of a tree living up to its purpose for its creation in the book of Daniel of the Old Testament. In Daniel chapter 2, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon has had a dream that Daniel, a God follower, is asked to interpret. The dream is of an immense tree that was so tall its top reached to heaven. “Its leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, and the birds of heavens lived in its branches, and all flesh was fed from it” (v. 12). This tree was a picture of the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar which had been very successful; however, Nebuchadnezzar did not believe in or follow the LORD [Yahweh] but credited himself for his success. Accordingly, in the next scene of his dream, a proclamation from heaven was made to chop the tree down leaving only a stump. Nebuchadnezzar, who did not honor the one true God [Yahweh] would have his kingdom overthrown until he would acknowledge Yahweh as the Most High that rules the kingdom of men.
This tree is a picture of what is possible for those who trust in the Lord as the verse from Jeremiah explains above. If we, as believers, will put our full trust in the Lord, we WILL BE “like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” We, in every season of life, can be a refuge for others in the name of the Lord, providing life sustaining nourishment from our “fruit” (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control), as well as providing shade from our “leaves” (like Nebuchadnezzar's tree) in the form of encouragement, exhortation and hope.
Jesus uses this same illustration when speaking of the kingdom of God in the gospel of Mark chapter 4. He says the kingdom of God is “like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade” (v. 30-32). Followers of Christ should be the kingdom of God here on earth and thus our lives should represent this tree and its branches. We should be providing shade and rest for others as the ambassadors, the hands and feet, of the Lord.
As the verse in Jeremiah states, if we trust in Him, we will NOT wilt in times of drought or heat. However, it is a fact that times of drought and heat WILL come in all of our lives and in these times we are tempted to stop bearing fruit and simply look for shade apart from the Lord. We can become sullen and even angry with God for allowing the drought and the heat, even though He warned us it would come, “WHEN heat comes” and “IN the year of drought” (Jeremiah 17:8). These are recurring themes in nature (heat and drought) and they are recurring themes in our lives as well, whether we choose to put our trust in the Lord or not. So the question is, “What will we do WHEN we experience heat and drought?” Will we remain faithful to trust the Lord and seek Him for His will during these seasons or will we turn from Him and seek shade and rest from other sources?
We see a great example of this in the book of Jonah in the Old Testament. You may know the story of Jonah being swallowed by a whale but you may not know why! God had given Jonah an assignment to deliver a prophecy of destruction to a non-God fearing city named Nineveh. Jonah had no desire to obey the Lord in this but after three days in the belly of a whale, Jonah relented and went. He delivered the word of the Lord and the people unexpectedly and miraculously reacted with repentance and committed themselves to call out to God and to turn from their evil ways. God then, seeing the people’s reaction, “relented of the disaster that He had said He would do to them, and He did not do it” (Jonah 2:10). One would expect Jonah to be glad at this turn of events, but instead he felt defeated because his prophecy did not come true. It seems he even thought Nineveh deserved God’s wrath and judgement and was mad at God’s demonstration of mercy. Jonah was so frustrated and angry with God that he even asked God to take his life! Next, Jonah left the city and made himself a temporary shelter and sat under the shade of it to pout and sulk. Amazingly, God provided Jonah with shade of His own (in the form of a plant) but when God allowed this shade to go away, He taught Jonah a very important lesson about His desire to provide mercy (“shade”) to those who will put their trust in Him. He also taught Jonah to care more about others than himself, in other words, God taught Jonah to desire to “bear fruit” more than to desire to seek rest and “shade.”
If we aren’t careful, we, like Jonah, can let our expectations in this life, or from God, when unmet in the way we would like to see, lead to our complete undoing. Some of these expectations may come from our past experiences, some may be the result of false teaching, and others may simply be the result of the culture we live in which tells us that we deserve certain things in this life. However, the life God calls His followers to is one in which we simply put our trust in Him, remain close to Him and remain obedient to Him. Our lives are in the Lord’s hands and if we will remain close to Him, regardless of our circumstances or current trials, whatever “heat” or “drought” comes our way, we can expect to continue to bear fruit while He will remain faithful to encourage our hearts and be our “shade.”
Scripture tells us over and over again that the Lord is our “shade” and refuge:
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1).
“The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand” (Psalm 121:5).
“For You [Lord] have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm, and a shade from the heat” (Isaiah 25:4).
“Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 17:8).
This life is a challenge to be sure! It is not easy but we are not in it alone! God has great plans and purposes for this world and His desire is to use you and I to help accomplish those purposes. For us to be useful in this way, we need to be bearing fruit and providing shade to those in need, to those God has in our realm of influence or brings our way. The question is, “Will we trust Him, growing deep rooted faith in Him (the source of the water by which we are planted - Jeremiah 17:7) and bear fruit for Him, regardless of the circumstances and trials going on in our lives?”
In the last book of the Bible, The Revelation, we are given a beautiful picture of “the tree of life” in the New Earth of God’s great restoration. This tree of life has twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month, and its leaves were for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:2). This tree will never experience heat or drought and this is an ultimate promise of what we can expect with eternity with the Lord as well. May we yearn to bear fruit for the Lord all day, every day, here on earth and seek rest only in the Lord’s shade!
(And in case you are wondering, my husband found a new job of God's leading and continued also to bear fruit for Him as he continued to grow and trust God for his future and the future of our family! God is soooo good!)