How Does your Garden Grow?

By Ron Wood

The Lord is a fruit inspector! When Jesus found a fig tree barren of fruit, he cursed it and it died (Matt 21:12-19). Jesus had a lot to say about the right kind of fruit in our lives. He said it is possible to be religious, even to display gifts that exhibit power, yet still lack good fruit in our personal character (Matt 7:15-23).

Fruit is the result of Christ’s Spirit abiding in us. And it’s the result of the word of God working in our souls. Fruit also grows as we fellowship with other Christians over time. Fruit comes in two basic kinds: the internal fruit (initially invisible) of abiding in Christ and letting our inner man be changed. Then there is the external fruit everyone sees that is measurable. An example of this is faithfulness at work, or fidelity in marriage, or other visible tokens of a transformed lifestyle. These actions and attitudes testify to genuine repentance and real faith in God. Another form of fruit is when salvation occurs and more people are added to the church. People can be counted when they show up as part of the group, the redeemed community.

In Isaiah 5 the Lord examined his field where he had labored to bring forth a crop. It was time to see the harvest. The result, even after a great deal of effort and expense, was a very sad report. “He expected it to produce good grapes but it produced only worthless ones.”

Hear the Lord’s anguished lament: “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?” Judgment was rendered against the fruitless field saying, “So now let me tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard…” He proceeded to list destruction and devastation. The Lord quit investing in a field that consumed more than it was producing. God is a good steward, a good businessman.

The bottom line is fruit. Where is the increase, the harvest? Let’s make this personal: What does the Lord have to show for his attention and investment in the soil of our lives? Jesus said if we would follow his words and if we love each other we would bear much fruit (see John 15). Has that been happening yet?

One of my favorite TV characters is Dr. Phil, the counselor. A line I’ve often heard him say as he interviewed people was, “So how’s that been working for you?” To an objective onlooker, the answer is obvious. If a person keeps on doing the same thing and keeps on having a bad result, you’d think they’d wake up and realize, “It’s not working!”

Sadly, we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are fruitful when in reality we are barren. The artificial Christmas tree is a good example. It looks very pretty, it may even sparkle and glitter, but the color is phony, the limbs are not alive, and the ornaments are not real fruit. It has no aroma, no taste, and no ability to reproduce. It makes us feel good but it’s all show.

Appearances can be deceiving. In the church world, activity does not equate with spirituality. Just because there are many meetings does not necessarily translate into a lot of fruit. In fact, busyness hinders fruitfulness. God’s kingdom grows best when we do two things: honor the Lord’s presence and develop sincere relationships with people. Cultivating a relationship takes time whether it is with God or with people. If we spend all of our time with saved people, it seems logical we won’t be leading many sinners to Christ.

I remember a season a few years ago when I was one of several leaders in a church where we had grown rapidly and bought land to build a facility. Prior to that time, we had majored on relationships and had many meetings in homes. As a result, a lot of people discovered they had a ministry of caring for others, bringing lost people to Jesus, and successfully leading their family. It seemed like the Lord showed up in power all the time, especially in small gatherings and informal prayer meetings.

But as we grew and built and gathered centrally, the emphasis shifted from “out there” to “in here.” The ministry focus shifted from the people to the professionals. As a result, the level of fruitfulness drastically declined. We went from fulfilling the Great Commission to maintaining the status quo, from celebrating Jesus in one another to raising money for buildings and programs, from having no reputation to having a high profile. Outwardly, we were a success.

I grew dissatisfied with this state of affairs and began to point out the dilemma. I said, “We’re cutting off the tips of the vine!” I meant our focus on administration and organization was absorbing all of our energy. We started to model a message that said only “approved leaders” were qualified. I knew, being familiar with grapevines, that the new growth was where the grapes would appear. Cut off the tender shoots and you get lots of leaves… but no fruit.

I saw that if we didn’t trust the grace of God to be effective in young believers, we would prune the branches too severely and thereby limit God’s crop.

The momentum of fruitfulness started to slow. We discovered that a big ship was hard to turn after it had glided to a dead stop. Hungry for more, I sought the Lord, laid down my ministerial privileges, and turned my attention away from the house toward the field. Where was Jesus in all this? What was he looking at? I discovered he was looking at my neighbors!

My wife and I began to invite our upwardly-mobile burned-out cigar-smoking multiple-marriage unruly-kids un-churched neighbors to come over to our home. I didn’t let them know I had ever been “in the ministry.” I literally sat where they were sitting. Lana began to prayer-walk the streets around our home. She talked to God about our neighbors before we talked to our neighbors about God. The atmosphere slowly changed. Neighbors started asking us about God, church, and family. Before long, we had a house full of new friends seeking more of God. Nobody sent us, nobody trained us, and no church council authorized us. We just did what was natural for Spirit-filled believers and as a result, we bore much fruit.

When you’re testifying about Jesus and modeling his marvelous kingdom, God is your covering. Evangelism produces its own seal of approval. Love can’t be bound.

Isaiah 5 goes on to say, “Woe to those who add house to house and join field to field until there is no more room.” Then it predicts, “Surely many houses shall become desolate.” We can add our man-made ideas of effectiveness to the organic model given us by Jesus and thus thwart the fruitfulness we expected. We can become too smart for our own good.

As Dr. Phil says, “How’s that been working for you?” When we expend thousands of dollars to gather hundreds of people once a week and then have only one or two people saved, we may celebrate their salvation, but it is low-level fruit. It is a testament to our poverty. Is this how the Lord measures success?

Surely the Lord’s vineyard ought to have more grapes than just a handful! Where’s the abundant harvest? We know the seed of the Word is good since it came from God. Maybe part of the problem is where we are planting it. Jesus said “the field is the world,” not the house where we worship. Or maybe the problem is that we don’t know how to release the workers who ought to be tending the field. Where are the laborers? I can tell you where they are: they’re in the house, sitting on the pews, passive and waiting… and bored. They’re sitting there because we trained them to sit there.

I’ve been deeply repenting as I consider these things. I’ve been opening my heart to the Lord for him to judge my thoughts, my ways, and my motives for ministry. More and more I see that it isn’t about me and it never was. It’s all about Jesus and his marvelous inheritance being realized through the amazing deposit of his grace among the saints. If this grace ever gets deployed, it will spread salvation to a multitude and glorify God.

© 2006 by Ron Wood. Used with Permission.

7 comments, please add yours.

  1. Lisa Snow says:

    I so appreciated what you shared. It is such a blessing to hear. Thank you so much for sharing your heart. It brought much more encouragement and edification to a part of the body, such as myself, today.

    We must embrace Him in this hour, and be open and honest with ourselves ~~~ are we bearing fruit for our King ~~

    I am loving this place of honesty ~~ it is a key~~ to bearing much fruit.

    Be blessed a 100 fold!
    May love be our highest goal.

  2. malou says:

    I really appreciate your sharing.As what the book of John 15;16 You have not choosen me but I have choosen you and appointed you to go and bear fruits and that fruit should be permanent ;To God be the glory!Amen ,Say Amen ,As long as we are obeying God!s command no matter what the whole world would say to us .Go………and preach the gospel .For I!m not ashame of the Bible it!s the way to salvation .Thanks for the encouragement and enlightenment of our daily life.More blessings and to God be the glory!!!

  3. Taiwo says:

    Glory be to God for such a write up. May the Lord bless the writer. Personally I have been challenged. My eyes are widely opened again to the great commission. May more eyes be opened.Thanks.

  4. Thomson says:

    Ron’s Title of the message is in itself a soul-challenging sword of the Spirit.
    A candid exposure of the darker side of missions, the Lord spoke to me instantly and I am impelled to measure my fruit of the ministry in terms of quality & not quantity. I am going to share this well timed injunction with the beloved around me.
    May the Lord raise many such prophetic voices for deep insignts!


  5. Awah Delight says:

    I bless the name our Lord, for his mercies that endures forever. God has spoken to me this night on how far I have failed Him and have wasted his grace over my life.
    I have a problem now, and that is how to be effective again in winning souls again for my LORD.

  6. Delyle says:

    Yeah… Good article. It was pretty well written.

  7. Lexine says:

    You hit the nail on the head with this one! I pray My husband and I will bear more fruit for our wonderful saviour.
    This was truly provocative and requires action.

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