Back Home Up Next

 

Don’t Just Survive - THRIVE!

 

By Bart Nelson

 

 

 

Copyright ©2003 – All rights reserved

 

Copying and translation authorized for free distribution. 

 

If you translate any of my work, I would ask for a copy of anything you translate, preferably electronically. Thank you!

 

Not for sale or offering except with author's permission.

 

For more information please contact me:

 

Phone – 253.564.3261

 

Email – etsministries@yahoo.com

 

 

I want to give credit to Mike Fenton for the inspiration of this teaching. He was sharing in a men’s group about a horticultural class he had taken and the instructor had told of the difference in raising plants that survive or that thrive. They both live, but one is able to produce luscious, abundant fruit. The other produces sparse, puny fruit. No fault of the plant itself, it is the fault of the care it is given. Most of us have either had some 'house-plant' or yard/gardening experience of our own or have seen others do it, whether in person or via media. Hopefully this study will be something that all of us can relate to. The Bible was written to an agrarian/shepherding society who knew how to work the earth to produce what they needed to survive. Again, if they didn't have personal experience, someone they knew did. That is one reason the Bible is filled with agricultural object lessons. We will draw from many of them here.

 

I believe one of the main reasons God resorts so often to analogy, parable and metaphor is so that we can look objectively at a situation before we have the opportunity to get defensive. Like Nathan did before David, with his parable of the rich man with the many sheep stealing the lone lamb from a poor man, David reacted quite strongly, just before Nathan pointed his prophet's finger and said, " You are the man!" (2 Sam. 12.1-7.) So, in the many object lessons from scripture here, let's think about the plant before we get defensive. Some sections are going to hurt, but if we react properly we'll say, Thanks, I needed that!"

 

I have to confess that in my horticultural experience, my plants are lucky if they survive. Few thrive, and that not because of anything I have done. Likewise, in life many times, we are content to survive. Often, we think of that as the goal in the midst of difficult times. Indeed, that can be a worthy goal when times are truly tough. In the midst of a forest fire, drought, severe storm or freeze, survival of the plant is what is hoped for. But that is not to be the norm. I have found myself, having weathered the struggle, to remain in the survival mode out of habit. Or, I fall into that mode, even though the struggle is not that intense. Putting up that wall of protection is a comfort zone. It is more difficult to get hurt badly when the defenses are up. Unfortunately, it is also more difficult for God to get through as well. And that’s the problem!

 

This idea of a plant thriving, producing abundant fruit isn't just imagination. The scriptures are full of such references. Ps. 92.12-13 The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. Gal. 5.22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. Col. 1.10 that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. 2 Thes. 1.3 We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other. 1 Pet. 2.2 as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, 2 Pet. 3.18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen. The word grow or flourish in the Hebrew means:  Strong's 6524 to bud, sprout, shoot, bloom, send out shoots, blossom, to break out, to fly, spring, break forth, abundantly, spreading, climb. Strong's 5927 ascend, to spring up, shoot forth (of vegetation), go up over, rise, extend, to excel, be superior to, climb, train, to rouse, stir up, offer, come, go, offering, increase, raised, arose. In the Greek Strong's 837 to cause to grow, augment, to increase, become greater, intensive, to grow luxuriantly, as a good and healthy tree in a good soil; and, if a fruit tree, bearing an abundance of fruit to compensate the labor of the husbandman.  

 

I often tell a parable of my own (actually, hopefully, of Holy Spirit) origin. I feel like when we become Christians it is like turning a vacant lot over to the Lord to cultivate. Now, when I grew up, vacant lots were plentiful in Tacoma and they made wonderful imagination-filled play areas for my friends and I. The vacant lots I grew up around had rocky, hard soil, loads of weeds, scotch broom, thistles and stickers as well as a scrub tree or three. Nothing worthwhile or productive as far as adult eyes were concerned, but lots of room for camps, forts, hide and seek, well, you get the picture! If someone were to try to plant flowers, veggies, or trees of any worthwhile kind, it is extremely doubtful they would grow. There was hard ground, no water in the summer, no cultivation, etc. It is a miserable place for any well respecting plant. But turn that lot over to the Master Gardener, He would have a plenty of room for everything. He might start by burning what was there, because it was literally good for nothing. Then He'd probably till the soil, perhaps with a roto-tiller and rake out the rocks. He'd probably have to add some mulch, compost and maybe manure to enrich the land. Then He'd plot what was going where and plant seeds.

 

The Master Gardener's work would be done, right? What do you mean, no? We all know that the only thing that grows without much attention are weeds and thorns. But our Christian life is much like that parable. God cleans us up, gives us a new heart, and plants some incorruptible seed in us. Eze. 36.1 “And you, son of man, prophesy to the mountains of Israel, and say, ‘O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord! 3 therefore prophesy, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Because they made you desolate and swallowed you up on every side, so that you became the possession of the rest of the nations, and you are taken up by the lips of talkers and slandered by the people”— 4 therefore, O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God! Thus says the Lord God to the mountains, the hills, the rivers, the valleys, the desolate wastes, and the cities that have been forsaken, which became plunder and mockery to the rest of the nations all around. 8 But you, O mountains of Israel, you shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to My people Israel, for they are about to come. 9 For indeed I am for you, and I will turn to you, and you shall be tilled and sown. 11 I will multiply upon you man and beast; and they shall increase and bear young; I will make you inhabited as in former times, and do better for you than at your beginnings. Then you shall know that I am the Lord. 22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. 23 And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord,” says the Lord God, “when I am hallowed in you before their eyes. 24 For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. 25 Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. 28 Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God. 29 I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. I will call for the grain and multiply it, and bring no famine upon you. 30 And I will multiply the fruit of your trees and the increase of your fields, so that you need never again bear the reproach of famine among the nations. 31 Then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good; and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight, for your iniquities and your abominations. 32 Not for your sake do I do this,” says the Lord God, “let it be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel!” 33 ‘Thus says the Lord God: “On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will also enable you to dwell in the cities, and the ruins shall be rebuilt. 34 The desolate land shall be tilled instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass by. 35 So they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the Garden of Eden; and the wasted, desolate, and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’ 36 Then the nations which are left all around you shall know that I, the Lord, have rebuilt the ruined places and planted what was desolate. I, the Lord, have spoken it, and I will do it.” 37 ‘Thus says the Lord God: “I will also let the house of Israel inquire of Me to do this for them: I will increase their men like a flock. 38 Like a flock offered as holy sacrifices, like the flock at Jerusalem on its feast days, so shall the ruined cities be filled with flocks of men. Then they shall know that I am the Lord.” ’ ” 1 Pet. 1.23-25 having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because “All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you. As we shall read, it is up to us to cultivate, continue planting, allow the Master Gardener to prune us, water, and even warm and fertilize the lot until it bears luscious fruit, fragrant, beautiful flowers and trees to provide shade. The goal of this study is to help us learn how to get the most out of our revamped vacant lot.

 

Our study begins with Gen. 1.11-13 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth”; and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. So the evening and the morning were the third day. Gal. 6.7-10 adds: Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. One of the first laws of horticulture is plant what you want to harvest. Begin with the seed of that which you wish to produce. No farmer plants orange seed and expects to harvest apples; neither does a wheat farmer plant corn. There are no real surprises when we go to harvest our crops. If we follow the rules of good horticulture and if no disasters occur (flood, freezing, fire, draught, extreme winds, etc.) we will have a bumper crop of whatever we planted. If we are planting the wrong seeds, don't be asking for crop failure! The bottom line is, if you don’t like the crop you have been reaping lately, try sowing different seeds!!

 

Mt. 7.15-23 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn-bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. In Israel there were thorn bushes that produced an inedible 'fruit' that looked like grapes and a thistle that produced an inedible 'fruit' that looked like figs We must check out the words, the actions and the results of both to determine if they (or we) are good trees or not. The exterior is often not a clue, as the following verses show us... “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you (same word is used for Adam knew Eve, meaning intimate knowledge or relationship); depart from Me, you workers of iniquity!’ (Iniquity implies doing one's own will, not following the will of the Lord.) Mt. 13.24-30 Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’ ” Wheat and tares look quite similar, however the fruit of the tares is poisonous. The only way to tell the difference is to wait for the harvest. At that time, the heads of wheat bow with humility, while the tares, which have no fruit worth harvesting, stand tall in pride. Having the supernatural gifts of the Spirit is part and parcel of the abundant life God has for us. But gifting and anointing do not equal character. God is seeking intimacy with us and longs to see us surrendered to His will, rather than willfully doing our own thing. 1 Cor. 3.11-15 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. Paul here presumes we are all working for the Lord, that there are fruit and gifts in our life. The thing that is tested here is motive, what type of fruit or gift is it. Were we motivated by selfish things, or was God's glory our chief end? If it had to be tested by fire, the outside had to look similar, it was what was beyond view that had to be revealed.

 

Ps. 126.5-6 Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him. I heard a missionary share on this verse from real life in Africa. The farmers there must save some seed from their harvest in order to plant the following year. Harvest time was a real celebration, for there was plenty to eat. But when planting time came, they were down to 1-2 meals a day. The farmer's kids were literally crying for more food. He knew he had stashed some seed for planting time. It was a true temptation to feed his crying children and wife, but if he did, there would be no food the following year. Truly, he was sowing in tears, but he knew the reaping with joy would come! 2 Cor. 9.6 But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. This scripture is specifically applied by Paul to finances, and much of what we will share here can apply to that, but all of it has a much broader scope to include all of life, health, finances, relationships, our walk with God, literally everything. The principle here is. "Don't eat your seed! Whatever that seed may be, given time and proper care, will produce an abundant crop. The more we can set aside to plant, the more we will have for harvest next year.

 

Speaking of seed, there is a principle here that is crucial for a seed to germinate: Jn. 12.23-28 Jesus answered them, saying,  “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor. “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.” In this particular analogy, we are the seed. We, like Jesus, must fall in the ground and die, literally lose our identity as seeds, in order to bear fruit. The outer, tough coating of the seed must rot away in the moist, warm earth for the inner seed to be able to germinate and grow. Is the picture graphic enough for you?

 

There are areas in each of our lives that need to die in order for the incorruptible seed to bear fruit. It may be part of our identity, plans, dreams, visions, etc. that may need to be done away with or put off so that Jesus may be fully manifest in us. Often, there must come a death to our vision, so that God can resurrect it, like in the case of Abraham offering up Isaac. Only Holy Spirit or the word can reveal what that is, and often it is revealed via trials and tribulation. That outer part of the seed actually becomes food for the rest of the seed as it deteriorates and the inner part sprouts. So it is something that is absolutely necessary, but if it remains in the same condition, it will keep the inner seed from doing what it was created to do. Jesus, in this passage, shows us the proper attitude to have. This one might hurt a little bit. He was facing torture and crucifixion and anyone's natural reaction, even Jesus in the garden, was, "Deliver me from this". In this passage, He said, " But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name." 2 Cor. 12.8-10 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me,  “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. Col. 1.24 I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church. Heb. 12.3-4 For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. 1 Pet. 4.1-2 Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. Did you know one of our purposes is to suffer? No, I don't like it either, but we'd all be a lot happier if we would embrace this truth and quit trying to run from suffering. I told you this might hurt. The purpose of our lives is that the Father would be glorified in and through us. That requires death to me, so that He can resurrect me to His purposes. Rom. 8.28-30 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. If we have been a Christian for a while, we will be familiar with Rom. 8.28. What often aren't quoted are verses 29-30, which show the purpose of what we go through and how God will work it out for our good. God uses the trials of our life for out good as He conforms us into the image of Jesus so that Father can be glorified.

 

The next thing we need to consider is soil. Hosea said: 10.12 Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord, till He comes and rains righteousness on you. Jesus addressed it in Mk. 4.1 He began to teach again by the sea. And such a very large crowd gathered to Him that He got into a boat in the sea and sat down; and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land. 2 And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching, 3 "Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow; 4 as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 "Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. 6 "And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. 7 "Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. 8 "Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundred-fold." 9 And He was saying, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." 13 And He said to them, "Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables? 14 "The sower sows the word. 15 "These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them. 16 "In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; 17 and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 "And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, 19 but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 20 "And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundred-fold." Who wouldn’t want to have the blessings and fruitfulness mentioned in these verses? The key, then, is how do we receive them? All of life comes from the heart (soil). Changing the outside won’t help, won’t work. It has to happen on the inside!

 

First of all we want lots of contact with seed. Reading, hearing, memorizing, studying, singing, quoting, meditating are all obvious ways of obtaining seed (the word). In addition, God is always talking to us, but are we listening? This scripture doesn’t limit the seed to what we can read (in fact in those days, there was no ‘Bible’ and many couldn’t have read it if there was). God talks to us through our friends, creation, circumstances, etc. in addition to His word. We need to be open to all of these sources. They are actually part of the softening process.

 

You see, the responsibility to prepare our hearts (soil) for the word (seed), i.e. keeping it soft, is ours. Part of that preparation is to be open to receiving the seed. As I was meditating on the idea of preparing our hearts to receive the word (i.e. being soft), I came up with these ideas. I don’t claim to have the corner on this. I think there should be much discussion as this is such a key topic. Worship, forgiveness, waiting on God, confession, giving, and intercession are all keys to soil preparation.

 

Let’s look at forgiveness and confession first. I heard an illustration more than 20 years ago that changed my life and has stuck with me ever since. The pastor used the scripture from John 7 about how rivers of living water were to come from us. This abundant flow of life, love, peace and power were to be the norm of the Christian life. He said that stuff in our lives can block this river, slow it down to a trickle, and eventually dam it altogether if we are not careful.

 

Any time someone hurts us in some way and we don’t deal with it correctly, a boulder is thrown in the river. Until it is dealt with, it stays there. Each time it happens (potentially many times a day), the boulders mount up. The same thing happens with unconfessed sin. The longer we wait to deal with these things, the more the flow gets blocked. Another way to look at this is the soil illustration. The longer unforgiveness, bitterness, resentment, or unconfessed sin stay in our lives the harder the soil becomes, the more rocks abide in our field – Heb. 3.12-13 and 12.14-15.

 

Recently, I have begun doing something different. When I get hurt, in addition to forgiving the person, I lay my hand on my heart and ask God to heal any hurt that may be there. I may not feel anything wrong, but I don’t want my river dammed. I don’t want rocky or hardened soil. I also try to keep short accounts with God. Waiting until bedtime or morning devotionals doesn’t cut it. That means a major chunk of the day can go by without a soft heart or free-flowing river. One of the main issues involved here is that the more time passes the worse the issues are. The hurts and sins become imbedded and the soil becomes much harder the longer we wait. Human nature is such that once the rocks or hardness come, it doesn’t seem to matter much if additional rocks or hardness come. This also applies to the weeds that come up in our 'lot'. Weeds rob nutrients, space, water and light from the seeds we want to reap from one day. As we confess and repent, we pull the weeds up by the roots. If you've ever done much weeding, damp soil (Holy Spirit and the word) allows the weeds to come up much easier. Also, by not waiting long, the weeds also come up quicker. Have you ever tried to get the roots system of a full-grown dandelion or blackberry vine?

 

Just being in this world tends to harden our hearts as well. Its hardness just seems to rub off on us at times. This is where worship and waiting on the Lord come in to play. As we are grateful for everything, praising God for who He is regardless of circumstances, and worshipfully loving Him in reckless abandon, our hearts are softened. In this process we accept with openness whatever He sees fit to ordain to our lives. He never changes and is always worthy, regardless of what is going on around us. It is too easy to harden our hearts when every little detail doesn’t go our way. This process of worship leaves us in the presence of the Lord. If we follow this time by waiting on the Lord, He is allowed to talk with us. There, our hearts open to Him; He is allowed to deal with anything that may be amiss. I believe this helps our soil to be plowed deeply; avoiding the scorching that comes with shallow soil.

 

How do we determine the state of our hearts? Jeremiah 17.9-10 states, "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?" I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds." For a long time I would try to figure out what was going on inside of me. Then I finally realized the truth of this verse. I can't figure myself out. As a good friend of mine preached that our hearts will either berate us or inflate us that is telling us we're worse off or better off than we really are. Only Holy Spirit can reveal what state our heart is in. That's why David prayed (and we would be wise to do this daily) Ps. 139.23-24 Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way. Follow that with another of David’s prayers, once Holy Spirit has shown us what is going on in our hearts – Ps. 51.10-12 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

 

We've dealt a lot with the rocky and hard soils. It is time to look at the thorn-filled soil. If we have become self-centered -- i.e. greedy or worried, confession is an obvious help. That will get the thorns out. But more importantly, how can we keep them from growing in the first place? This is where giving, intercession and ministry come in. Giving sacrificially to the Lord, pouring our hearts out in intercession and spirit-led ministry are some ways to help us combat thorny soil. As we are pouring out to others, it is more difficult to be swallowed up in being self-centered and self-seeking. There are always others who are much worse off than we are. Focusing on meeting their needs helps us from not focusing on our own. The river illustration comes in here as well. If the river has no outlet, it becomes stagnant like the Jordan River flowing into the Dead Sea. If those rivers of living water are not flowing out to others in ministry, it is like having a dam of another sort. That flow is essential for life. (See also my teaching 'The Importance of a Softened Heart, portions quoted here). Certainly we have all seen plants overcome hard soil, some even growing in cracks in the sidewalk or out of a rock, but this is not the way for a plant to THRIVE!

 

Warmth is another thing plants need to grow. Plants sprout and bloom in spring, grow and produce fruit in the summer, and are harvested in the fall, but in the winter, nothing grows. I propose that the warmth that we need is passion for the Lord. Mt. 24.11-12 And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. Acts 18.24-25 Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. Rom. 12.11 not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. Jms. 5.16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. We are to pray fervently. 1 Pet. 1.22 Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart. We are to love each other fervently as well. Rev. 2.4 Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Is our love for the Lord as hot as it ever has been? If not, according to this verse, we have left it behind. We need to go back and live that way again for good crops. Rev. 3.15-17 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. Some of our fervency for our Lord comes from recognizing our desperate need for Him. If it weren't for Him, where would we be? If we notice a lack of warmth for the Lord, in our prayers, and/or in our relationships with one another, we need to confess it to Him as sin (notice how many of the verses above were commands?) and ask Him to make us white hot, to light the fire, so to speak, in our souls. Fervency means: to boil with heat, be hot, used of boiling anger, love, zeal, for what is good or bad etc., said of zeal for what is good. To be fervent in prayer means: work, show forth (one’s) self, wrought, effectually work, effectual fervent, be mighty, from the Greek word where we get energy, to be operative, put forth power, to display one’s activity. Don't neglect this, or any need that a plant may have. To neglect one area will lessen fruitfulness of any plant.

 

Light is a definite need of plants. Without it, they cannot make food (photosynthesis=made from light). How does this light relate to us living thriving lives and having luscious fruit? Light is a picture of truth in general, but I would define it further to revelation and guidance from our Lord. Holy Spirit dwells in our lives to show us the way we are to travel in our life. It is interesting that many plants will grow toward a consistent light source or actually physically follow the sun as it travels through the day. Leaves turn to follow the sun, one plant even closes its leaves at night when there is no light! Ps. 23 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul: he leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies: you anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. The Lord is our shepherd, He will lead us exactly where we need to go, exactly when we need to go there. Jn. 14. 26 But the Comforter, who is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatever I have said to you. Jn. 16:13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all the truth: for he shall not speak from himself; but whatever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. Holy Spirit helps us understand the Word He has inspired. Rom. 8:14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. 1 Cor. 2:9-16 But as it is written, Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him. But God has revealed them to us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searches all things, even, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man, except the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knows no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God; that we may know the things that are freely given to us by God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ. Holy Spirit reveals to us what we need to know, when we need to know it. Col. 3.15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. The word rule in this verse literally means umpire. God's peace tells us if we are 'safe' or 'out', 'in or out of bounds', able to 'keep playing or not'. The analogies are obvious. 2 Tim. 3.16-17 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished to all good works. 1 Jo. 2.20 But you have an unction from the Holy One, and you know all things. 27 But the anointing which you have received from him abides in you, and you need not that any man should teach you: but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it has taught you, you shall abide in him. God guides us by His Word, peace in our hearts, authority over us, circumstances - even nature and media, and by words from Him either directly to us or via another person. It is up to us to be ready to listen, discern His will and way and obey.

 

Every plant needs water to grow. Ps. 1.1-3 Tells us that being founded in the Word of God (meditating in it day and night) is the key to a flourishing, thriving tree. Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper. The Bible, itself, tells us of its nature to nurture and nourish us. It calls itself bread or manna, water, milk, meat, and honey. Psalm 119 says over and over of the word’s ability to revive or quicken us. In Psalm 19 we are told that it is better than honey. As we ‘chew the cud’, meditating on the word, playing it over and over in our minds, singing and praying it, quoting and hearing it, studying, memorizing and reading it, we are nourished. We are supplied with what we need to prosper, to promote robust growth in our lives. Hos. 6.3 Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of the LORD. His going forth is established as the morning; He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth. Is. 55.10-11 “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. Jer. 17.7-8 says something extremely similar about trusting in the Lord: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit. Is. 44.3 For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, and My blessing on your offspring. Jn. 7.37-39 On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying,  “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

 

One of the reasons my times of dabbling in horticulture are not successful is my sporadic watering habit. I would often get sidetracked, undisciplined in watering plants, and they would show it. Or I might remember too well and over water, even trying to compensate for my lack earlier. When I am consistently, abundantly giving what my plants need, it is amazing how well they do.

 

Have you ever gotten too busy to eat or drink, or know someone who has? I am one who can stand to miss a few meals. But most of our metabolisms will not allow this kind of abuse for long. There will be consequences. We will not be thriving. We may even end up sick, even in the hospital if we aren’t careful at times. When I have had health issues, one of the standard questions asked is, "How is your appetite?" If all is well, my usual response is, "too good", but when I am feeling out of sorts, my appetite usually wanes. Our spirits are no different. Often, they don’t have the reserves our bodies do, because we don’t feed or water them as well as we do our bodies. Spending times in the manifest presence of God, soaking up the Holy Spirit, meditating on the word, and trusting in the Lord will water and feed our spirits. This needs to happen consistently, even several times a day in order to thrive.

 

Similar plants need to grow near each other for prime growth. Many plants need the pollen from another plant to be able to produce fruit (cross pollination). It is easier for the master gardener to provide the specific needs of each plant when they are together as well. Similar plants need similar amounts of water, sunlight, pruning, fertilizer, etc. Ps. 92.12-13 The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. If you have ever visited a farm, orchard or vineyard you will notice that each field has its own type of plant. Likewise, we need each other's fellowship, living in close relationship with each other to flourish and be fruitful.

 

Plants also need fresh air. Jn. 3.8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Acts 2.1 When the Day of Pentecost had fully come; they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Eph, 5.17 Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit. If plants are in an enclosed container, without an animal to produce carbon dioxide, they will die. For the most part, plants breathe in carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. If they are exposed to open air, where the wind moves the air around, they will flourish. Like plants, we need our 'sails' continually filled with Holy Spirit in order to flourish and produce the fruit we want. How do we receive the infilling of Holy Spirit? In addition to the concepts mentioned in the section on abiding, we ask for it and wait in the Lord's presence to fill us, like the disciples did in Acts 1 and 2. Lk. 11.9-13 “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

 

A plant that is only watered and never fed fertilizer will grow weak. Likewise, a plant that is fertilized too much and not given enough water, will burn. We need a healthy balance. Lk. 13.6-9 He also spoke this parable:  “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’ ” Fertilizer provides specific nutrients that promote growth that are not automatically found in the soil and water. Plants can grow and produce without fertilizer, but not nearly as well. This aspect took some thought. I believe fertilizer is tied to the Word, but I believe it is more, that is, specific scriptures that we need as individuals. For example, some plants need more nitrogen, while others produce it. As we partake of the word, there are going to be specific promises, commands and direction that apply to us directly. You might even mention it to a friend and realize it doesn't impact them the same way. That may be because it is for you specifically. Other times we might receive a 'word' of wisdom, knowledge, faith, prophecy or discernment. Those are like the fertilizer I am speaking about. 1 Tim. 1.18 This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare. 2 Tim. 1.6 Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. Paul charged Timothy to wage war and stir up things in himself that he had received from others. That's what this fertilizer can do for us. Certain scriptures can help us fight temptation. Some promises come against those voices from our past that proclaim our lack where GOD has declared our abundance in Him! Fertilizer is released over time and the best ways to partake of these specific words is to do deeper study on them and/or memorize them. Those two methods allow us to meditate (mutter aloud/chew the cud) on the words over and over again in order to get 'all the flavor' out (like chewing gum).

 

I've talked about chemical fertilizer, but what about the natural kind? There are many kinds, like: manure (we won't mention where that comes from), compost -- from decomposed vegetative waste, fish, and mulch -- again partially decomposed vegetative matter. The sources for all of these would normally be thrown way, left alone, burned, or used in another manner. So how do we apply this to our lives, you may ask? I believe there are things in our lives that God allows to stay there, even things we'd like to get rid of as quickly as possible, that fertilize us as 'plants'. Frankly, some of them stink to high heavens (as my mom says). You would never put them on fruits or veggies just incase they might cause them to smell or taste bad. However, the worse it stinks, the better the ability to fertilize, it seems. I have more knowledge of this than I'd care to admit. I have dealt with all kinds of it, and only the mulch is tolerable, trust me (mulch helps control weeds, protect from frost, and conserve moisture -- all great benefits to healthy plants). So we need to tolerate and be grateful for some of these stinking things, so we can flourish and so the fruit will be tremendous!

 

Did you know that stress is good for plants? If a plant lives in a hothouse all its life, it will not be strong. Winters with their cold, wind bending the stalks or trunks, drought forcing the roots deep all strengthen plants and force them to be tough. It is the same with Christians. If we never are tested, tempted and disciplined, we grow as we want, not as God wants. Gen. 8.21-22 And the Lord smelled a soothing aroma. Then the Lord said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done. “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease.” There are seasons to our lives, times when the light shines bright and times when there is dark. Horticulturists will tell you that plants need all seasons and light AND dark to grow best. If it were up to many of us, it would continually be summer with its heat and long days causing visible growth. Those ARE good times, no doubt about it! However a healthy plant needs it all. We need to learn the valuable lesson of contentment and gratefulness whatever the season of our lives. Paul said it best in Phil. 4.12-13 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. If you aren't seeing visible signs of growth in your life, check out the basics in this study. If you are doing what you need to, you may be in a season other than summer. Just keep on taking good care of yourself spiritually, and leave the rest up to God. Like Habakkuk said, 3.17-18 Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls— yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. If we are sensitive to the season, we can realize great benefits. Winter is for planning (seed catalogs!), care for frozen things, maintenance, etc. Spring involves planting, pruning, cultivating, fertilizing, etc. Summer demands watering, perhaps more fertilization, some harvesting, more cultivation, etc. Fall is definitely harvest time, but it is also time to prune (yes, again!), mulching, preparing for the coming frost of winter, etc.

 

One of the worst enemies of plants, and most worrisome thing to gardeners (other than human negligence) are pests. These run the gamut from most insects, mold, fungi, animals, etc. The farmer must be vigilant in watching for these vermin, and taking preventative measures before the damage is done if at all possible. Speaking of being vigilant, that reminds me of a verse (surprise, surprise), 1 Pet. 5.8-10 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. I'll not take the time to go into detail about spiritual warfare here. That's a book in itself (literally, Heart and Soul of a Warrior). However, some agricultural similarities do exist. Both scenarios have a variety of weapons available, as well as a host of enemies. Often you have to be creative in the warfare, since the enemy is deceitful. You also need to be more tenacious that the enemy is, because trust me, they are VERY tenacious, they never give up! You have to diligently fight until you get the last one, because they multiply faster than lightning. But, if we are vigilant, creative, tenacious and diligent, our victory in the battle is sure. We have already won the war, but each battle is up to us!

 

Have you ever paid attention to the different shapes of the same species of trees, how they vary depending on where they grow? Trees at the ocean's shore have very short branches on the windward side and long branches on the leeward side. They also tend to be short. This is all due to the strength of the wind. Tall trees with long branches facing the wind will soon break off. Trees high in the mountain tend to be tall and skinny. They need the height to get as much sun exposure as possible and they are skinny due to the weight of snow on their branches. In similar ways, we need to learn to adapt to where God has planted us. We may want height or breadth that won't work where we are. The key is not to grumble and complain, but to accept and be grateful God can use us where we are, to 'grow where we are planted', so to speak. Speaking of that, most of us enjoy the mountain tops of life, when all is going well, the sun and wind are at our back, and the road is smooth. We don't tend to enjoy the valleys of life nearly as well. Anywhere we look is up; the days don't tend to be as long because of the mountain walls, etc. Guess what? Plants grow much better in the valley than on the mountaintop. On the mountain, the weather is much cooler, the soil sparse and the air thin. Not good conditions for plants. So, if you find yourself in a valley -- smile, you're in a good place for growth! While the next verse doesn't directly apply, it does seem to relate. 1 Kings 20.28 Then a man of God came and spoke to the king of Israel, and said, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The Lord is God of the hills, but He is not God of the valleys,” therefore I will deliver all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’ ” God is Lord of the hills and the valleys. We would do well to remember this and embrace the valley if we are in one!

 

Jam.5.7-8 Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Our time of harvest is coming. Rom. 5.1-5 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. 1 Pet. 6-9 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. We may have planted a seed for fruit trees or for squash. Squash grows quickly and is harvested quickly, whereas a fruit tree takes much more time to produce its harvest. However, that one seed for a fruit tree will provide years of return! Patience is the key for a harvest. We can't dig up a seed very much to see if it has germinated without damaging the newly formed plant. Likewise, we can't slice open buds to see what the new growth will look like without ruining the results. Green fruit never tastes as good as fully, vine or tree ripened fruit does. BE PATIENT! I have discipled various folks who wonder why God hasn’t' blessed them financially yet or why they can't quote scriptures like I sometimes am able to. I give them the vacant lot parable and let them realize I have been a Christian well over 30 years, reading, memorizing, singing and studying scripture. I should be seeing some harvest, no? We all long for an instant or drive-through Christianity, but that is not what our Lord promised us!

 

Speaking of harvest, Mt. 3.12 is an interesting verse: His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” When harvest-time comes, often a time of separation also comes. The grain grows full and fat and to be valuable for the market, the chaff needs to be separated from it. If the grain could talk, it might say something like this, "But that chaff has served me well, it has done nothing wrong. Why does it have to be removed? I liked its protection." All of this would be true. Chaff does protect the grain while it is growing. Without it, the grain would likely be damaged beyond repair. But the time comes when the separation is necessary. With the chaff, the grain would not sell nor be suitable for seed. This is true with our lives as well. There may be things God want to remove from us that once served us well, but now only hinder us and lessen our value. If this occurs, we must be willing to let go and allow Him to do what He wants with us because He knows the very best for us!

 

We want good, wholesome, luscious fruit from our tree, don't we? Rev. 22.2 In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. Eze. 47.1 Then he brought me back to the door of the temple; and there was water, flowing from under the threshold of the temple toward the east, for the front of the temple faced east; the water was flowing from under the right side of the temple, south of the altar. 7 When I returned, there, along the bank of the river, were very many trees on one side and the other. 8 Then he said to me: “This water flows toward the eastern region, goes down into the valley, and enters the sea. When it reaches the sea, its waters are healed. 9 And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes. 12 Along the bank of the river, on this side and that, will grow all kinds of trees used for food; their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail. They will bear fruit every month, because their water flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for medicine.”

 

These verses show what a fruitful, flourishing, thriving tree will produce. Not only will there be fruit of the Spirit: Gal. 5.22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. But there will also be gifts of the Spirit. 1 Cor. 12.7-11 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. There are nine of each, and God's desire is for all to be evident in every Christian as the need arises. Like the following verses all state, we are to seek both fruit and gifts, not just one or the other.  12.1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant: 31 But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way. 13.1-3 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. 8-9 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 14.1 Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. Eph.  3.17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love. Like Paul says, 2 Thes. 1.3 We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other. 1 Pet. 2.2 as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby. We're to long for the pure, unadulterated word of God that we may use it to grow!  Likewise, 2 Pet. 3.18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen. Pr. 4.18 But the path of the just is like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day. 19 The way of the wicked is like darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble. If we find we are not growing, we need to see if we are following the principles of this study and as well, see if there is sin in our lives. Hos. 14.4 “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him. 5 I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall grow like the lily, and lengthen his roots like Lebanon. 6 His branches shall spread; his beauty shall be like an olive tree, and his fragrance like Lebanon. 7 Those who dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall be revived like grain, and grow like a vine. Their scent shall be like the wine of Lebanon. Mal. 4. 2 But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings; and you shall go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves. Eph. 2. 21-22 in Whom (Jesus) the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. Eph, 4.15-16 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. Col. 1.10 that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

 

Not only are we to supply good fruit and leaves, we supply beautiful flowers with fragrance and shade or protection. Song 4.12-14 A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse, a spring shut up, a fountain sealed. Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates with pleasant fruits, fragrant henna with spikenard, spikenard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices. 5.1 I have come to my garden, my sister, my spouse; I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk. Eat, O friends! Drink, yes, drink deeply, O beloved ones! This is how our bridegroom Jesus, describes us.

Eze. 17. 22-24 Thus says the Lord GOD: “I will take also one of the highest branches of the high cedar and set it out. I will crop off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and will plant it on a high and prominent mountain. On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it; and it will bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a majestic cedar. Under it will dwell birds of every sort; in the shadow of its branches they will dwell. And all the trees of the field shall know that I, the LORD, have brought down the high tree and exalted the low tree, dried up the green tree and made the dry tree flourish; I, the LORD, have spoken and have done it.” Dan. 4.12 Its leaves were lovely, its fruit abundant, and in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, the birds of the heavens dwelt in its branches, and all flesh was fed from it. Mk. 4.30-32 Then He said,   “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade.” We provide fragrance and beauty to our Lord, that is, we bring pleasure to His heart. At the same time, we provide protection and refreshing shade from the blazing sun for others.

 

One of the ways we bring pleasure to the Lord is through our thanks, praise and worship. Yes, the trees and all creation praise Him…. 1 Chr. 16:32-33 Let the sea roar, and all its fullness; let the field rejoice, and all that is in it. Then the trees of the woods shall rejoice before the LORD, for He is coming to judge the earth. Ps. 148.7-12 Praise the LORD from the earth…fruitful trees and all cedars…Let them praise the name of the LORD, for His name alone is exalted; His glory is above the earth and heaven. Is. 44.23 Sing, O heavens, for the LORD has done it! Shout, you lower parts of the earth; break forth into singing, you mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the LORD has redeemed Jacob, and glorified Himself in Israel. Is. 55.12 “For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing before you, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

 

Like all metaphors or analogies, this one has broken down in a few places. We've gone from being a vacant lot and soil, to plants of various types and soon we will see ourselves in scripture as a branch on a grape vine. All of these have served us to look at our Christian life from a viewpoint where we might not get as defensive and be more objective. Just before we move to the grapevine analogy, I would ask your forbearance in one more transformation. It is equally important and vital for us as Christians, and we would do well to examine our lives to see if we measure up. It is the metaphor of a sower. You see, not only is our life ground to be sown into; we are also to be sowers who sow into other's lives. 1 Cor. 3.5-9 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. As we think about what Paul and Apollos did in the Corinthian church, it encompasses all forms and levels of Christian ministry. It started with evangelism, miracles, deliverance, discipleship, and it continued with church discipline, intricate teaching and training, etc. We never quit being 'plants', needing all that spiritual plants need. But just as plants in themselves become sowers, by dropping their fruit and seeds, as well as leaves and branches for mulch and providing protection for the seedlings, so we do the same, by becoming sowers in other lots, ministering in every imaginable way to others. I am not going to go into detail here about ministry; there are other materials detailing that. But just as the life cycle of a plant is not complete without sowing into another, likewise, we must be actively involved as God gifts and directs, in sowing into others lives.

 

Abiding in the Vine

 

John 15.1-11 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.

 

When I used to read about pruning, I related it to the many times I had seen my Dad pruning the fruit trees at home. (My brother and I were 'yard-slaves' growing up.) So when I thought of pruning, I thought about trimming off suckers, shaping the tree or plant, etc. Then I moved to Eastern Washington. One of my best friends at the time worked as a mechanic for a vineyard/orchard. When I saw grape vines pruned, these verses took on whole new meaning. The branch that was anywhere from five to twenty-five feet long was pruned to two to five inches long. On my Dad's trees and bushes, the branches still maintained much of their 'identity'. For a grape vine, a stub was left. Wow, what a difference. When the Master Gardener comes to prune us, we dare not run the other way, whine and complain or start crying. We need instead to yield, submit and surrender to His will, for He always knows best and knows what will ultimately produce the best fruit. Identity, hard work, pride are not factors for Him, fruitfulness is. If we want to thrive, flourish and be fruitful, pruning is in our future! Dead wood (which will not produce new growth nor fruit), rotted ranches (which can break and ruin the whole plant) and suckers (which will sap everything from good branches) need to go. Is there any of that in your life? Allow the Master Gardener to prune that away. His timing is best, because only He knows when it will cause the least damage to the main plant.

 

There is another practice used in agriculture that is similar to pruning, and that is thinning. Farmers often plant too many seeds, because one never knows for sure how many will germinate. When this common practice is done, once the seeds begin to sprout, a thinning process begins. It is difficult, because perfectly good plants are thrown on the compost heap to make room for fuller, more abundant fruit later in the season. The farmer tries to discern which of the plants looks hardiest, biggest, healthiest, etc. We need to do the same in our lives. Often we may have too much of a good thing going on. Ministering in too many areas, too many friends, too many church services, etc., etc. We cannot be effective aiming in so many directions. Many times Holy Spirit will tap us on the shoulder and let us know we need to thin some things out of our lives. He knows us the best, knows exactly our optimum functioning level. The focus of this study has been more, more, more, simply because that is where most of us are at in our walk. But, lest we get out of balance, Holy Spirit, our Helper, comes along and lets us know what is best. It hurts to thin, but it is for the best!

 

What is abiding? It is being present with the vine, not leaving (because He isn’t going to move).  Definitions from the Greek: remain, dwell, tarry, endure, to sojourn, not to depart, to continue to be present, to be held, kept, to last, to wait for, await one.

 

Why abide, what are the benefits from being in God's presence? See the words in bold below and above in John

¥        Ps. 16.8-11 I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; my flesh also will rest in hope. For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

¥        2 Cor. 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

¥        Ex. 33:14 And He said, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

¥        Ps. 65:4 Blessed is the man You choose, and cause to approach You, That he may dwell in Your courts. We shall be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, of Your holy temple.

¥        Ps. 89.15-17 Blessed are the people who know the joyful sound! They walk, O Lord, in the light of Your countenance. 16 In Your name they rejoice all day long, and in Your righteousness they are exalted. For You are the glory of their strength, and in Your favor our horn is exalted.

¥        Isaiah 61.3 To console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”

¥        Acts 3:19 19 Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,

¥        Gal. 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. The fruit of the Spirit develops as the branch abides in the vine, no other way.

¥        2 Cor. 1:20 For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.

 

In John 15 we are told that if we don't abide, we can do nothing, we will bear no fruit. Jesus said the same thing about Himself. (All references are in John) 5.19 Then Jesus answered and said to them,  “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. 20 For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel. 30 I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me. 7.16 Jesus answered them and said,  “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. 8.28 Then Jesus said to them,  “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. 29 And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.” 38 I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father.” 12.49 For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. 14.10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. 24 He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me. 17.7 Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. 8 For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.

 

Then He shows us what we are to do 14.12 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. – even GREATER works -- the definition for greater is: greater, larger, elder, stronger, more.

 

Lastly He shows how we have the same source that He did. We will bear fruit just as He did. 14.13 And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask anything in My name, I will do it. 16 And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. (See the verses from John 15 listed above) 15.16 You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. 16.7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. 8 And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9 of sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; 11 of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. 13 However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. 15 All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you. 26 In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; 27 for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God.

 

How do we abide? Keys: all, always, day and night, continue, etc. are italicized and underlined. The action is in CAPITALS.

¥        Josh. 1:8 GOD’S WORD is not to depart FROM OUR MOUTHS, we are to MEDITATE on it day and night.

¥        1 Thes. 5:17-19 REJOICE evermore. PRAY without ceasing. In every thing GIVE THANKS: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. Prayer is, among other things, committing, asking, intercession, confession, plus many of the other things listed here. Zeph. 3.14 SING, O daughter of Zion! SHOUT, O Israel! BE GLAD AND REJOICE with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!

¥        Prov. 23:17 Let not your heart envy sinners: but be in the FEAR OF THE LORD all the day long.

¥        Ps. 34:1 I will BLESS the LORD at all times: his PRAISE shall continually be in my mouth. Ps. 86.12 I will PRAISE You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, And I will GLORIFY Your name forevermore.

¥        Ps. 25:5 Lead me in Your truth, and teach me: for You are the God of my salvation; on You do I WAIT all the day.

¥        Mark 12:30 And you shall LOVE the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength: this is the first commandment.

¥        Ps. 105:4 SEEK His face continually.

¥        Ps. 62:8 TRUST in him at all times; you people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Selah. Prov. 3.5-6 TRUST in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways ACKNOWLEDGE Him (intimately), and He shall direct your paths.

¥        Joel. 2.12 “Now, therefore,” says the Lord, “TURN TO ME with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”

 

So as we meditate on the word and not let it depart from our mouths, rejoice, pray, give thanks, fear God, bless God, praise, wait on God, love God, sing, seek his face, and trust we abide. Depending on your occupation, you may have to actively engage your mind at all times to be faithful to your employer, etc. The idea, then, is to make God a part of your work, asking for help, thanking Him for things, etc. Include Him in the conversations in your mind.  When you have a break, discipline yourself to focus on one or more of the activities above.

 

Suffice it here to say that a branch separated from it’s life-giving source may look fine for a while, but it is dead, even while it looks alive. Even the hardiest branch will die if it is away from the vine for long. So why be separated at all? Stay in the closest, most continuous contact possible.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t know about you, but I can be a wandering vine at times. I think I can make it. So, I make short jaunts into the unknown. Don’t look at me in that tone of voice. Don’t make me feel like the only one who has ever ventured away! If I am really bad, I will try to stay away as long as I can, almost tempting God by seeing if He can revive this wilted branch. Again, don’t look at me so piously! In the end, though, I come running back to be close, wondering why I ever left in the first place. There is nothing like the presence of God. Other times, thank goodness, I am not nearly so willful. I find myself disengaged from God by the busyness of this life. Though not as bad as doing it willfully, it is equally dangerous. Sometimes, it is worse because I am not aware of what I am doing. One day I just look down and wonder why I am so dry and hungry. Well, if you’re not eating and drinking….

Verse six was a stumbling block to me. I always used to think of it as God's judgment and it seemed so final. It does imply both of those things. But if a branch decides not to abide in the vine, it will wither. The decision isn't whether to whither or not, it's in whether to abide or not. If we as vines decide NOT to abide, we WILL wither. Then, the ONLY thing to do with a dried out branch is to burn it (or in modern days, to make a wreath, but that's no life for a vine). The key here then is not move away from God, either purposely or neglectfully. It takes effort for a human vine to stay attached. We tend to wander!

 

As I mentioned earlier, our role in these analogies has changed. Don't let that get in your way. Whether we are a vacant lot, a seed, a plant, a sower or a branch on the vine, just focus on what our part is in producing as much for the Lord's glory as possible. Let's make sure we provide soft soil, lots of good seed, warmth, light, water, fertilizer and weeding out the weeds and all the other applications taught above. Then we will have as a result, the goal of this study, lives that THRIVE, and not just survive!