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  • Writer's pictureRalph Felzer

of Roots and Fruit


"Waybread" is food designed to strengthen travelers on a long journey.  This little weekly column is intended to offer reflections that will strengthen and encourage you in your own long journey in following Christ.


OF ROOTS AND FRUIT

"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 

gentleness, and self-control" (Gal. 5:22-23).


The human soul is more like a plant than a product.  We often talk about personal spiritual growth as if we were manufacturing a soul in a workshop: we draw up an idea of what we're aiming to build, then we gather the necessary materials and resources, and lastly set to work to put it all together.  In the end, we hope to have a "self" that will look more or less like Jesus and be pleasing to God.


Or perhaps we consider that the whole process is really more organic than that, so we plant seeds (think daily devotions, prayer, service, giving, ministry involvement, church attendance, etc.), cultivate spiritual disciplines (fasting, sacrifice, simplicity, solitude, Bible study, etc.), and form relationships (friendships, discipling, evangelism) that in the end we hope will grow into a plant that reflects Christ.


But I think the best analogy for spiritual growth goes deeper still–the soul is more like a garden than a single plant or a manufactured product.  The garden analogy takes so much more into account.  Every garden might contain daisies or roses, but every garden with daisies and roses will look different.  Every patient soul withstands a different storm.  Every generous soul gives with a different hand.  Every joyful soul exudes a different light.  

You see, the fruit of the Spirit doesn't depend on our own diligent efforts.  It truly is fruit, the evidence of an indwelling Presence who enables us to be and do more than we could ever do in our own feeble and feverish efforts.

The soul is more like a garden than a single plant or a manufactured product. 

All this to say that fruit won't grow without roots.  No fruit can ever be borne unless the tree sends its roots down into fertile soil first.  Roots first, then fruit.  Fruit-bearing cannot happen any other way.  And the funny thing about rootwork is that it happens invisibly.  The same is true of soulwork–it happens invisibly; it happens in times and places no one else sees.  If you want to live a life that blesses others, that life can only be cultivated in the secret places of the heart.  But don't misunderstand me.  Part of the mystery of this soulwork is that, although it happens secretly, it doesn't happen privately, all by ourselves.  We all have a part to play in each others' becoming.  We are all created to become Great Souls, but none of us can become great without the others.


So what is this mysterious work that happens so secretly?  What is the it that bears fruit in us?  Well, Paul tells us in Galatians 5 that the it is not a thing but a Person, the Holy Spirit.  When we invite Him to plant Himself in the soil of our hearts, He lives and grows in us. He is the source of all that "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control," so that wherever He is they also are.


This is precisely the same image Jesus gives us in Matthew 13:  

“Hear, then, the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and 

does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this 

is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet such a person has no root but 

endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, 

that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one 

who hears the word, but the cares of this age and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word 

and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty” (vv. 18-23).


It falls to us, then, not to work at making fruit appear, but to make sure that the soil of our hearts is such that the Holy Spirit can take root in us and bear His own fruit.


Again, fruit won't grow without roots.  What then characterizes soil that can give rise to such abundant fruit?  Not work.  Not effort.  Not diligence.  As important as these are in their own place, what precedes them is quite simple:  delight in God and His Word.  The soil of our hearts will only be receptive to the Seed of the Word when we delight in His dwelling within us.  When we long.

It falls to us, then, not to work at making fruit appear, but to make sure that the soil of our hearts is such that the Holy Spirit can take root in us and bear His own fruit.

If you wish you delighted in Him but you don't, act as if you did.  I told a seriously ill friend the other day to direct, even command, his body to fight his disease.  David directs and commands his soul to praise the Lord in numerous places, Psalm 103, in particular.  Take a cue from David:  Don't delight in God the way you wish you did?  Tell yourself to.  Do it regardless of how you feel, and you know what?  Before long, you will indeed delight in the Lord.  David says it again elsewhere:  "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will grant you the desires of your heart" (Psalm 37:4, emphasis mine). 


In Psalm 1, David describes what a person looks like who delights in the Lord this way:  

"But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law will he exercise himself day and 

night.  And he shall be like a tree planted by the water-side, that will bring forth his fruit 

in due season.  His leaf also shall not wither; and look, whatsoever he doeth, it shall prosper."

(vv. 2-4, Coverdale Psalter).


Delight is the root of the Spirit.  Delighting in God's truth and His abiding presence (John 15) is true soulwork.  Delighting in Him tills up the soil of your heart so that the Holy Spirit can take root.  Delighting in Him moves us beyond making a mere decision for Christ.  It takes us beyond seeing the Christian life as something to be manufactured like a vegetable rack from IKEA.  It takes us into the realm of the Garden, where a whole variety of good things grow–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control.  Wouldn't you just love to wake up every morning and live a life that bears fruit like this?  


But remember, a Christian garden-soul thrives in community, in relationship, like the Church was designed to thrive.  We eat together, we serve together, we worship together, we study together, we just live together and rub off on one another, like iron sharpening iron.  I said earlier that we can't be what we're designed to be apart from each other.  Plants in a garden nourish one another, even as they share the same soil and nutrients.  And on top of that (I know this sounds a little odd), gardens also have worms and bees and dew and all sorts of forces that foster growth and cross-pollination.  To think we could do it all by ourselves, or to think that it's sufficient just to be a single isolated daisy or rose, is such a small, cramped vision of what we are made for!  


Remember, you don't have to figure this all out on your own!  Centuries and centuries of godly men and women have walked this garden path before you.  Paul says, "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope" (Romans 15:4).  We don't have to re-invent the wheel–God's Word gives strength and nourishment and hope to our souls.


Let me close with a passage from Proverbs that I love (and I highlighted a few words you might want to linger over):

My child, if you accept my words

    and treasure up my commandments within you,

making your ear attentive to wisdom

    and inclining your heart to understanding,

if you indeed cry out for insight

    and raise your voice for understanding,

if you seek it like silver

    and search for it as for hidden treasures—

then you will understand the fear of the Lord

    and find the knowledge of God.

For the Lord gives wisdom;

    from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;

he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;

    he is a shield to those who walk blamelessly,

guarding the paths of justice

    and preserving the way of his faithful ones.

Then you will understand righteousness and justice

    and equity, every good path,

for wisdom will come into your heart,

    and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;

prudence will watch over you,

    and understanding will guard you.

~Proverbs 2:1-11


Be encouraged, friend, for God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, who spoke all worlds into being, is both with you and for you.


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