Matthew 12:33 (the message)
“If you grow a healthy tree, you’ll pick healthy fruit. If you grow a diseased tree, you’ll pick worm-eaten fruit. The fruit tells you about the tree.”
This morning, as Leah sits in my lap at the kitchen table and Rivers investigates the results of yesterday’s “how long will it take a bowl of water to freeze” experiment, I have my Bible open to Matthew chapter 12. Jesus has healed a demon-afflicted man who was both blind and deaf. The people were impressed but the Pharisees (religious leaders) were ticked. They accused Jesus of being in cahoots with Satan in order to pull off such a miracle (my words!). Jesus then begins to confront them and their slander of the Holy Spirit. Basically He tells them there is no sin that can’t be forgiven, but if you are rejecting the Holy Spirit, you are separating yourself from the very One who forgives!
As I reached verse 33 I experienced that “heart-pause” I have come to know and love about reading God’s Word. It’s when a scripture is tugging on my heart and even if I try to keep reading past I lose focus. I have to go back! A couple of thoughts come to mind as I ruminate on the words of Jesus. First, I whisper a prayer from my heart asking God to help me to be a healthy tree. I not only want to be a healthy tree but I want to grow healthy trees in my family, children, ministry, etc. So, first thought is about an honest look at the fruit of my life. Seriously, an honest look.
This short and simple verse makes it quite plain. If we are spiritually healthy, our lives will produce healthy fruit. If we are spiritually sick or “diseased,” our lives will grow unhealthy fruit. If we are unsure how to gauge where we are spiritually but we sincerely want to know, we need look no further than the fruit being produced in our lives. What does “fruit” mean in our everyday life? I believe it begins with motives of our heart, the secret thoughts we have about ourselves and others, the words we speak to and about others, our attitudes, our actions and behaviors, etc. When all of these things come from a healthy heart they will produce life and encouragement. They will produce freedom and passion for others. They will produce humility and a willingness to yield to God. When our most secret motives and thoughts are coming from a spiritually healthy heart, we experience peace and stability which can’t be explained. Our lives truly begin to affect others around us in ways that lift them up and Holy Spirit flows through us in ways that won’t happen when we are sick at heart.
As I pause to make a bowl of cereal, I consider how my life produced a lot of worm-eaten fruit for a while. The motives of my heart, my secret thoughts on how to accomplish those motives and the words and behaviors that followed produced a sick environment for my marriage and my children. I am most certain it bled into my relationship with my parents, also. I was quite the “needy” friend always with a phone call to be made about my life, my problems, me…me…me. I woke up most concerned with my needs and I went to bed that way, too. The fruit was not good. It was not appealing or enticing. No one would have wanted what I had. Was I an unhealthy tree just because I was self-centered? No. A valid and important point to make, actually. I was somewhat sick at heart because of holes in my heart and damage to my soul that I had no control over as well as my own wayward and sinful choices. The point, however, is that God was still calling me to spiritual health and regardless of how I became a diseased tree, I was still accountable because my Heavenly Father is an equal-opportunity healer and pruner, after all. The bottom line is that although I certainly delved deeply into the issues created for me earlier in life and for a time let those issues be my banner and even my excuse, in the end all it did was….well, nothing. Initially it was productive to let God show me the “why” behind my “what” but like we so often do, I wanted to be coddled and pitied, really. I wanted to lash out and spew my pain on my husband, my children, my parents. I wanted permission to hurt others because I was hurting. I wanted them to forever stand by and pet me and say it’s okay if you don’t get it together…it’s not your fault. I don’t believe that is why God walks us through the “why” of our lives. I believe He means for us to keep walking…experience freedom…grow into strong and healthy trees.
Thankfully, I have a mother who has never been known for sugar-coating things. That does not mean she is rude or unkind, it just means she will tell you the truth. Sometimes that can be so annoying! Smile…But truly, her truth-telling (coming from a heart of love, not judgement) was absolutely necessary in my life. When God gives us people, whom we know love us, and they are willing to risk our wrath and anger to tell us the truth about ourselves because they love us we hopefully will hold onto them! We might would much rather surround ourselves with people who will be fake and hide their real hearts toward us because that is more comfortable, but no one reaches health that way. I now would rather have a few people surround me that I know love God with all they are and will tell the truth than have lots of people in and out of my life because we can’t be honest with one another. Can’t tell the truth. Can’t say I love you but I think you have a worm!
My other thought regarding spiritual health and the fruit which tells the world what kind of tree I really am is how do we become healthy trees? Even though I was very sick spiritually, I really did not know just how sick I was! There is so much soul-sickness around us everyday that we just believe it is normal to be negative, gossipy, offended, angry grudge-holders, self-centered, prideful and obsessed with stuff and ourselves. But once our great Gardner begins to prune our lives, we take in oxygen like never before! The more He prunes, the freer we become. Our brown and crusty leaves begin to green up! Our roots, struggling for life in the shallow soil of self, begin to drink in the nourishment and water of God’s Word and His presence….if we’ll let Him transplant us! How do we become healthy trees? Check it out:
Psalm 1:1-3 (New King James) Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.
Healthy trees pay attention to where they are planted. We absorb the atmosphere in which we live and move and participate. A spiritually healthy person must be planted beside the water; not in the middle of a dry desert expecting to produce and not wither. A healthy tree does not “walk in the counsel of the ungodly.” I think that means if you want to be healthy you need to seek out the counsel, or wisdom and advice, of a Godly person (and be willing to walk in it). We cannot believe the lie that we can listen to and live like those who do not know Him and yet be spiritually healthy. We cannot expect our lives to produce good fruit if we are not planted in the rich soil of His Word, His presence, His love and truth. And we certainly can’t expect to grow other healthy trees in our lives if we ourselves are not growing into healthy trees. See, that last statement is what changed my life. I so wanted to grow spiritually healthy and luscious fruit-bearing children. And I knew I needed a healthy and stable marriage to start. Deep down I knew that truthfully, I was not healthy. Where to go? How to start? Oh, how I cried out to God…
I definitely still have some pruning going on in my life. Still have some areas of my tree that are not nearly what they could be! But I am not discouraged because I know and trust that as God deals with me and prunes me, I will just grow more healthy. Remember, I didn’t realize just how sick I was! But once I began to put down roots in a very real and honest relationship with my Savior, I became more stable and green. Now when I encounter spiritually sick motives and thoughts…when I speak words that are not life-giving or I choose to disobey God’s direction, I lose my peace and it stares me down! The contrast between spiritual health and disease grows more clear to me and evident in my life. Thank God! What a gift!
When the fruit is diseased, we take a look at the tree. When the tree is sick, we take a look at the roots. Where have I put down roots? Am I planted beside the river…absorbing the water of His Word and seeking His face? I can no longer fool myself into believing I am spiritually fit when my leaves are drooping and my fruit is withering. The evidence is there. I no longer wish to offer what I have to those around me when I myself am undernourished. But goodness, when I draw near to the Rivers of Living Water and I am healed, forgiven, invigorated…when I take His Word as the final authority on the way I live…when I become willing to truly hear what He has to say about my motives and secret thoughts…when I let Jesus prune the dead places with His gentle hands…life comes. Real life. Abundant life.
The sweetest fruit beings to grow…