Day Twenty (Time) — (January 25th)

684 456 Bridge Church NYC

All things are working for my good, yeah

‘Cause He’s intentional

Never failing

I know that all things are working for my good, yeah

He’s intentional

Never failing

–  Travis Greene, Intentional

In the parable of the fig tree, Jesus points to an authentic experience: frustrations over the process and passage of time.

And he told this parable: A man had a fig tree that was planted in his vineyard. He came looking for fruit on it and found none,” He told the vineyard worker, ‘Listen, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it even waste soil?” But he replied to him,’ Sir, leave it this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. Perhaps it will produce fruit next year, but if not you can cut it down.” (Luke 13:6-9)

We tend to expect the sacrifices we make to yield rapid results. Fast food drive-thrus, same-day service, and quick downloads may be a part of everyday life now, but meaningful spiritual growth necessitates a meaningful long-term investment. It takes time.When we allow ourselves to get frustrated because we don’t see change, we run the risk of cutting off potential opportunities prematurely.

The vineyard owner in Jesus’ parable had much to gain–and much to lose–from the trees in his soil. He had a profit to turn and fruit to enjoy. But after three years, “He came looking for fruit on it, and found none.” Have you ever experienced such disappointment in your life?

The vineyard owner decided to chop the tree down believing that it was a waste of space and time, saying, “Cut it down! Why should it even waste soil?” We can point to similar situations in which we invested time, money, heart, soul and energy into a relationship or endeavor, and found nothing to show for it. In the moment we may have even said, “Cut it down!” While ending things can be best for everyone, without an appreciation for the necessity of time, we can also opt out of growth prematurely.

Frequently, we need to reply like the vineyard worker in the parable:

Sir, leave it this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. Perhaps it will produce fruit next year, but if not you can cut it down.”

The worker, who sweat in the vineyard everyday, believed this tree had potential to produce fruit. He concluded this tree just needed more care. He shared his plan to improve the tree with the vineyard owner–and he also made provision in case the tree did not bear fruit like he anticipated. When we look at the vineyards of our lives, how do we know when to “cut it down” and when to invest more?

The fig tree in Jesus’ parable may have simply been rotted out. In that case, more time in the vineyard would not have helped the tree, but the rot would have hurt the other trees in the vineyard, and subsequently the worker and the owner. The same is true in our lives. If we remain committed to dysfunctional relationships and endeavors, the dysfunction spreads an infectious deficit to other areas of our lives over time. How can we move forward, assessing risk against potential growth?

The vineyard worker likely noticed that weeds surrounded the tree and choked out its nutrients. He literally looked to the root of the problem. His plan would clear the brush, giving the tree an opportunity for restoration. He would also replenish the soil with nutrients from fertilizer to create an environment that could encourage the tree to grow.

That’s the difference between how we invest our time. When we stay in environments and situations that are not filled with both grace and truth, they will eventually drain us and ultimately limit our growth.

To mature holistically, we need to invest time with others for the nutrients of grace and truth to restore us. tweet

We need time filled with life-giving things and people–time spent with those who extend compassion and mercy, as well as biblical truth and honesty.

Like the vineyard owner, we must sacrifice to bear this kind of fruit, investing time in a community where we can be fully known, loved, and challenged. The results are not instant, either. It can take months and years to cultivate the type of spiritual intimacy that produces the fruit of spiritual growth. God can use our current relationships to provide the nurturing we didn’t receive as children.

If you have yet to experience growth in your community, the vineyard worker’s response gives us insight about how to move forward.

Sir, leave it this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it.

The worker didn’t give up on the tree after three years of fruitlessness. But he also didn’t settle to let it continually drain the vineyard. He went to work to cultivate an environment that would benefit the vineyard as a whole. When we invest our time and allow ourselves to be shaped by others, we bear fruit we didn’t know was possible. But it takes time, and fruit goes in and out of season. To bear fruit, we must remember growth does not happen in a linear way as we practice this idea: Grace + Truth + Time = Growth

The Urgency of Now

While time is a necessary ingredient for growth, it is also an urgent reality to which we must respond. Paul writes:

Pay careful attention, then, to how you live- not as unwise people but as wise- making the most of the time, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15)

We have a tendency to procrastinate instead of being proactive. Were we to add up how much of our time has been spent on things and people that do not advance our personal growth, the sheer amount would probably makes us wish for our time back. Therefore, Paul expresses urgency in this text. He pleads “make the most of the time”. This echoes both Joshua when he challenged the people of Israel by saying, “Choose today whom you will serve,” and the writer of Hebrews warning:

As has just been said: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts,’ (Hebrews 3:15)

Putting things off often results in putting them away.

  1.     Who are you more like: the vineyard owner who said “Cut it down!” or the worker who said “Leave it”? What kind of circumstances cause you to consider cutting people off or remain in unhealthy situations?
  2.     What are some reasons why it’s important to invest time in a community like (City Groups or serving teams) even when that investment may come at significant cost?
  3.     What is one way you can cultivate community? (It might be a place where you have identified a need for fruitfulness.)
  4.     How can you make the most of the opportunity you have now to grow with community?

Suggested Meditation: Timothy Brindle, The Preciousness of Time

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