I was wrangling my overgrown tomato plants back into order the other day. It involved pruning off the unruly lateral shoots and, given that it’s mid-summer (and it had been a while…), some were HUGE. Many had unripe tomatoes on them.
Rather than be concerned at ‘losing fruit’ I knew this pruning would improve the health of the plant, and ensure its ongoing fruitfulness. As I considered the pile of trimmings overflowing the wheelbarrow, it occurred to me how disposable fruit is. The hard pruning was removing the excess, the clutter. Fruit, yes. Essential, no. There’ll be more fruit to come, better fruit, because the source of it remained intact - the roots.
As I chewed over this thought I could see how backwards it is that we/the world/the church so highly value what’s above the surface, fruit and gifting even, when the true value, the source of all of it, is in the unseen. Why do we so honour productivity over process, striving over stillness? For a plant to truly be fruitful, what matters are the roots. And so it is with us.
Growth is not getting bigger, it’s going deeper
In the parable of the sower in Matthew 13 Jesus explains why the seed sown on rocky ground withers and dies. “…since he has no root, he remains for only a season. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.”
Without good roots plants, and people, suffer in hardship. They’re at the mercy of the elements - vulnerable to being burned, drowned, or dry. Deep roots ensure survival, because they are not directly exposed to those threats. Their hiddenness affords them great protection, support, and ongoing nourishment. Quick growth might impress, briefly, but it’s not sustainable without roots that go deep.
Plants don’t strive to produce fruit
Fruit is a natural byproduct of a healthy plant. In Ephesians 3 Paul prays over the Ephesians that they may be “rooted and grounded in love…and to know this love that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” The fullness comes from being rooted and grounded in a good place. Trees don’t strain to produce fruit - they draw from their source, and growth and fruit is the result.
Fruit is seasonal, roots are not
Plants would not survive long if they fruited constantly, it takes a lot out of them. They operate in seasons, taking time to rest and strengthen and absorb nourishment to grow and produce the next crop. Through all seasons the roots grow deeper and stronger. We don’t chop trees down in winter because they’re bare. Their life is not over, they just look different in different seasons. So do we, and that’s ok too.
You can’t bear anyone else’s fruit
It would be ridiculous for an apple tree to envy a peach tree. But how often do we covet the fruit or gifting of another? We must ditch comparison, and simply value our own personal connection with the source of all life. Whatever fruit results is ‘according to its kind’ and completely unique to us. Something we can offer to the planet that no one else can.
You are created to thrive
Bonsai trees aren’t tiny because they are a special kind of tree, they are tiny because they are ROOTBOUND in a small container. Rootbound: having roots formed into a dense, tangled mass that allows little or no space for further growth.
Lies we believe about ourselves, and God, can severely stunt our growth, like a small container restricts a bonsai. Externally, superficially, we might look good. But underneath there is no depth, no strength, a fragility that renders us susceptible to harm. Roots aren’t meant to be restricted, they are designed to continuously go after what they need, to seek out a deeper supply, to be ever expanding and provide the best nourishment for the whole plant.
A more excellent way
In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul spends the chapter talking about gifts and their importance, but he concludes by saying “I will show you a still more excellent way”. The chapter that follows is the famous ‘love chapter’, and he makes the case that the gifts he’s just lauded are hollow, meaningless, pointless… without love.
As we begin this new year, I find myself on a new path, many of us are. But I’m learning that the path I’m on matters less than the WAY I’m travelling it. Rather than focusing on productivity and outcomes, I’m burrowing deep into God’s heart to discover more about His ways. Relationship over circumstances, the eternal over the temporal. I’m not sure what it’s going to look like ‘above ground’, but down deep I find I’m loved, safe, nourished, watered, and less impacted by the external elements.
Maybe this little revelation doesn’t seem so profound, but for me it speaks to a lifetime of striving and failing under religion. Being good. Doing good. The ‘appearance’ of good. But I have now found ‘a more excellent way’, and it’s being rooted and grounded in love. That’s it. The rest all grows from that hidden place.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
John 15:4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
By Sharleen Bailey