We have five pecan trees on our property, but when we moved here four years ago, I knew nothing about them. They produce the most pecans every other year, and two years ago I sold eighty pounds of them to a place in town that purchases them. My husband and I shell them as we watch our favorite football teams play on TV, then we put them in Ziploc bags and send them to friends or family.
The problem with pecan trees is that the branches and limbs fall easily during a storm or when gusty winds roll across West Texas. I don’t know if it’s a pecan tree thing or the result of the drought from a few years ago, but I often see the branches scattered across our lawn. Our dog loves to drag them around and attempt to bring them into the house.
We collect the smaller branches and larger limbs for firewood when we go camping, and I’ve been thinking about how foolish it would be to go out to our woodpile in the late fall and expect to find pecans. After all, the limbs are detached from the source of their nourishment. It seems, though, that this is exactly how we live sometimes, expecting dead wood to bear fruit. We have high expectations, but we’re not living from our source of growth.
I learned this lesson the hard way. In my late twenties, when I had two little girls and some baggage from my past, I pleaded with God. Please just let me have one fruit of the Spirit: gentleness. Just one out of seven. I know now there are nine. I ugly cried this prayer alone in my car or in my closet more than once.
My theology was flawed. I viewed God’s fruit of the Spirit like going to the farmer’s market and being allowed only one item. But I felt his tender presence and comfort as he led me down a path that looked at hard realities I had pushed down most of my life, at deeply painful experiences that brought out anger, fear, and anxiety. I seemed to grow farther away from the hope of ever being gentle. As I look back, I think I wanted the fruit, even just the one, more than I wanted a relationship with Christ. I just didn’t know it at the time.
I’ve been reflecting on this part of my journey as I’ve been memorizing John 15 for SSMT, a Scripture memory program offered by Beth Moore. It has changed my life. It seems rote at first, but saying the verses over and over, building on passages, deepens my faith. God brings up verses from the past when I get anxious, in my prayer life, or when my thoughts turn to worry. Reciting the verses out loud gets my mind and heart back on track.
Most of this year God has been reminding me that I will flourish when, and only when, I stay focused on the Lord and stay in his Word. “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” (John 15:4 NIV).
When we try to do life apart from him, we will burn out. We will be like the branches whose leaves wither and bear no fruit. But Jesus said, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 NIV).
Christ’s desire and joy are to help us live our lives in a way that develops fruitfulness. It takes work and time, but our God tends his gardens faithfully. He prunes branches in us that bear fruit so they will be even more fruitful (John 15:2).
Friends, we can do this. Let’s encourage one another to remain in him, and to learn a verse at a time, word by word. Jesus said, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8 NIV).
The world needs to see the fruit Christ grows in us. People want to see “love, joy, peace, forbearance [patience], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23 NIV). When they do, they will be drawn to God.
Terri Fullerton is a wife, empty-nest mom, and mentor who loves stories of redemption and things that are funny. She is currently working on her first book. Terri longs to encourage others to find hope and freedom through her writing about faith, family, hiking, and mental health at Conversations at the Table.
Photograph © Bailey Norwood, used with permission