“And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” (Luke 8:14 ESV)
As long as I have been a Christian I have feared this part of the parable of the sower, anxious that this is the most likely way in which I’d become entangled by the cares of this world and lose my passion for serving God.
While young, single, self-righteous, with a stable income and no responsibilities, I watched others get married, buy houses, enter mortgage enslavement and become focussed on providing for their new families. Friends with seemingly boundless energy for church ministry seemed to have that sapped out of them by settling into middle-class expectations. For some a previously ‘clear’ call from God appeared to be suffocated by the cares of life.
Eventually my turn came around, within a year of getting married we had a baby, mortgage and house. The previously stable employment degenerated into a series of short contracts, forcing me to obsess over finding the next job, a more stable job. My naïve arrogance was shattered by responsibilities, working extra hours to pay the bills and the sleep deprivation that goes with babies.
Weeds were growing not only on our back lawn but in my soul, and fruitfulness withered.
Sometime in the decade since then, a pinch of maturity crept into my life. With the wisdom of experience and simply plodding along, variously straying from and returning to Christ, fresh buds grew on the twisted limbs of my life. The first fruits were small, meagre offerings but after some pruning even this is increasing in yield.
Being pruned hurts, trees like to grow towards warmth, sunshine and water, away from wind and cold. A good gardener knows which branches need to be trimmed to straighten things up and keep the limbs open to increase their yield. If disease is setting in a severe prune back may be needed to prevent it infecting the whole tree. It feels painful to have an external force lop off a rapidly growing, leafy bough that seems full of promise – even if the gardener says he knows what he is doing.
Under God’s hand life can shape us and draw forth fruit.
All of us make mistakes, wrong turns, get stuck in ruts at various times through our lives. From one perspective this is due to our own doing and allows weeds and cares to grow up to choke out gospel fruit. Yet apparently there are olive trees near Jerusalem that were in the garden when Jesus cried out for strength and blood ran from his brow. That is over two thousand years of bearing fruit. That must be a lot of olives! If a Christian consistently walks in Christ even through the cares, stresses and worries of this life, that person will bear fruit.
As you bear fruit through many seasons of life, the overall yield will be much more than you can currently see or even imagine.