Growth takes Time
A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, “For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?”
“Sir,” the man replied, “leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.” (Luke 13:6-9).
In this parable of Jesus, the owner of the tree expected fruit from his tree. When the tree bore no fruit for three years in a row, the owner was not only disappointed, he was furious. “Cut it down!” he ordered.
This is often what we do when we examine our own failures, our “fruitlessness” in light of reality. We look at ourselves (the tree), and we expect to be able to keep our marriages together, to raise perfect children, to make loyal friends, and to perform our work without error (the fruit). When we fail and then become depressed, fearful, or anxious (bad fruit), we cut ourselves down by saying, “I should be able to do that.” “I should be able to accomplish more.” “I should be able to be like so and so.” At this point, we are like a house divided against itself. Like the tree owner, we want growth, but we judge ourselves quickly and harshly without taking the time to figure out the problem. We operate with truth and no grace with disastrous results.
Sometimes we operate with grace and no truth. We say things like, “It doesn’t matter.” “That’s really the best I could do.” “I can’t help it that he reacted that way.” “I couldn’t help myself.” Dead wood (fruitlessness) takes up space in our lives (our vineyard). Either we allow our inability to relate to others or to control our anger or to discipline our children to go on as it has been, continually rotting our lives and robbing us of the delicious fruit God has in store for us, or we deny that we have a problem, with even more disastrous results.
To some degree, we all do both: sometimes we yell, “Cut it down,” and at other times we ignore it. But one thing is for sure: when we either ignore our failure to bear fruit in the image of God, or we judge its absence with an angry “Cut it down,” we end up either in grace or truth, and we do not grow.
In the last sections and in this parable, we see another option: graft grace to truth to stimulate growth. Grace and truth in this parable are symbolized by the actions of “digging around” and “fertilizing.” Using the trowel of God’s truth, we must dig out the weeds and encumbrances of falsehood, sin, and hurt that keep the soil of our souls cluttered. In addition, we must add the fertilizer of love and relationship to “enrich the soil.” Grace and truth give us the ingredients to head in the right direction and to provide the fuel we need to keep on growing and changing.
But the Bible tells us that in order for grace and truth to produce fruit, we need a third key element: time.
Look again at verses 8 and 9: “Sir,”the man replied, “leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.” The gardener, who certainly symbolizes our Lord, the “author and perfecter” of our faith, realized that his work and the fertilizer need time to take effect. In short, it takes time to grow. And time alone will not do it. Time must be joined by grace and truth. When we respond responsibly to these three elements, we will heal and bear fruit.
Time is not just an act of God’s grace to us, “giving us some space.” God is much too loving to allow us to continue in sin for one moment longer than necessary. Time is not a luxury, but a necessity.
Spiritual and emotional growth takes time. And often a transformation happens over time without the person knowing quite how it happened. I am reminded of Jesus’ description of the kingdom of God:
“A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts up and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.” (Mark 4:26-29)
This passage illustrates an important truth about the growth process. It cannot be willed. It can only be enhanced by adding grace, truth and time; and then God produces the growth. If we are depressed, for example, it does no good to try to be “undepressed.” It does help, however, to cultivate the soil of our soul with the nutrients of grace, truth, and time. Only then will we gradually be transformed to greater and greater stages of joy.
From Changes That Heal by Dr. Henry Cloud; Zondervan, 1990, 1992.
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