We’ve recently been visiting my wife’s family in New Hampshire, and as we often do, we spent some time during our trip camping in the White Mountains. I’m always grateful to get out into nature for a bit (especially in a place that gets no cell service), so I can be removed from distractions and enjoy God’s creation.
As we were walking around our campsite, my wife pointed out the new growth on the trees in the area. Normally we go camping around July, so any growth for the year has already changed color and blends in with the rest of the tree. This year we went in June and, coupled with a delayed spring, that allowed us to see the new growth in all its glory. The header image to this post is a picture I took of what my wife pointed out. You can see how fresh the green is compared to the rest of the tree.
As I was thinking about the new growth on the trees, it occurred to me how good of an image this is for the growth God wants for his people. We are often content to rest on our laurels. We look at things we’ve done in the past – lessons we have learned, people we have helped, spiritual growth we have experienced – and we feel like that is enough to please God. Of course those things do please God, insomuch as they are true, but they are not enough anymore than new growth on a tree in a given year is enough.
The new growth on the trees tells us the tree is alive; it’s a sign that the tree is thriving in its environment. A tree that ceases to produce new growth year after year may not be dead yet, but it is certainly dying. If it doesn’t continue to produce new growth, eventually it will die and rot and become yet another lifeless stump on the floor of the forest. To the extent that the tree is healthy, it will be producing fresh growth in its season.
The same can be said of disciples of Jesus. Our Savior isn’t looking for followers who will have an early growth spurt, and then sit back and relax until he “calls them home.” Discipleship isn’t a cruise; it’s a lot more like growing a tree. Jesus expects us to be producing fresh growth on a regular basis.
You may have noticed the title of this website is “Kingdom Branches” and the logo is that of a grape vine bearing fruit. That imagery is taken from John 15, where Jesus tells us that he is the vine and we are the branches, and that he expects those who follow him to produce fruit – a task which cannot be fulfilled without him. “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Jesus then goes on to say that those who produce fruit are pruned so that they will produce more fruit, while those who continually produce no fruit risk being thrown into the fire. It should be clear enough – Jesus expects his disciples to be fruitful. Not just once or twice – the expectation is for regular fresh growth.
John 15 isn’t the only place we see this either. Jesus teaches the same message in Luke 13:6-9. There, the patience and care of the vinedresser are emphasized, but the point remains – if you’re in Jesus’ garden, he expects you to be fruitful.
So the question for us is simple: am I being fruitful? How am I being fruitful? What fruit can I present before Christ? What could I point to and say, “Jesus, thank you for helping me produce this”? It’s not that we are saved by this fruit, certainly. But our fruit is the evidence that we are disciples of Jesus. As Paul says in Ephesians 2:9-10, our salvation is “not a result of works” and, in fact, we are God’s workmanship in Christ. And yet, we have been “created in Christ Jesus for good works.” We are new creation not from good works, but for them.
It’s wonderful to reflect on the fruit Jesus has helped us produce in the past, but we must be careful not to believe such fruit is enough. Instead, let us search for the new growth. Jesus has promised he’ll help us do this, and the Spirit that dwells within us guarantees we have all that we need to fulfill that promise. So let us ask boldly, and expect God to give liberally, eagerly anticipating the new growth Jesus will give us through the Spirit.