For a farmer there is nothing like the firstfruits of summer. In a vineyard, that’s when the grapes are turning ripe enough to enjoy. I was out in my four-vine vineyard this morning and looked among the leaves and the picture below is what I found! The first bunches are turning ripe and what a sweet treat it is to bite into the first grapes of summer and know that all the pruning, weeding, and nurturing have accomplished their work.
It’s a good thing a vine is bright enough not to judge its fruitfulness in winter, or even spring. It could throw quite a pity party when its branches don’t even have any leaves, or the bunches of grapes are small and hard. Fruitfulness is a process, not only for a grapevine, but for us. I wrote the book In Season: The Father’s Process of Fruitfulness to encourage people to get their eyes off of the results and embrace the process by which God invites us into himself and reshapes our lives so that the sweetness of his light and power can be shared with the world. We so easily grow impatient, don’t we? We judge ourselves by the fruit we think we should have by now and miss enjoying him while he’s shaping that fruit through the pruning of winter and the nurturing of spring.
For those who want to embrace that process in your own life, have made In Season our Featured Book of the Month, and reduced the cost to $9.99 plus shipping for as many books as you want to order this month. You can find it here.
You can also find quantity discount pricing for In Season and other Lifestream titles if you want to use one of them for a study this summer or fall.
Here is the chapter this morning’s walk in the garden reminded me of. It’s one of my favorites, demonstrating that our growth in his kingdom will make us softer and sweeter, and that’s what will make us fruitful in our relationships with others.
Softer and Sweeter
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest
for your souls.
In the last few weeks before harvest the grapes ripen rapidly. Two dramatic changes take place in these final weeks to make them the succulent grapes the farmer desires.
By early August the grapes have grown almost to full size. But if you pick one and bite into it then, you’ll be greatly disappointed. The grapes are still hard, and tart enough to pucker your lips. It is during these final weeks before harvest that the grapes fill up with sugar, making them soft and sweet.
The leaves are in full production at this time, pumping the grape bunches full of sugar. Almost daily you can taste the changing sweetness as the sugar content soars. This influx of sugar also softens the pulp inside the grape. As you bite through the firm outer skin, you’ll find the pulp has softened inside so it almost explodes in your mouth.
When the grapes turn soft and sweet, harvest is at hand. Today with special instruments farmers can measure the sugar content and know exactly when the grapes are fully ripe. Farmers of old, however, trusted their eyes and taste buds to tell them the same thing. Softer and sweeter. The same things that signal the maturity of a grape also signal the maturity of a believer. As God brings his promises to completion in our lives, one of the signs that he is about finished is the softness and sweetness that floods our demeanor.
Earlier, in the midst of promise and warfare, we might find ourselves a bit harder, full of arrogance, fighting and striving in our own efforts to accomplish God’s work. But the perseverance of summer shows the weakness of our own efforts.
By learning to trust God’s doing more than our own we become softened with humility and gentleness and sweetened with lovingkindness. All of the fruits of the spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—are expressions of a life that has been through the fire and come through with greater trust in the Father’s affection and his work in the world.
However, these are not the attributes most desired or generated by the world system. If you want to make it in this world, you have to be tough. Don’t show any sign of weakness (meaning kindness or goodness) because someone is waiting to take advantage of you the moment you do. Those are the rules. Everyone who succeeds learns them early and follows them adamantly.
Everyone, that is, except Jesus. In every conflict he faced, through every lie directed against him by those who sought to destroy him, he only demonstrated these incredible fruits of the Spirit. His authority scared many people, even though he held no political power or ever enforced his will on anyone. He went about doing good, but this only threatened those who would not allow God access to their lives. “We’ve never seen anyone like this!” the people gasped as they looked for ways to kill him. Softness is not weakness; in God’s kingdom it is the greatest measure of strength.
All too often I’ve seen people loaded with knowledge and zeal but still captives of the world’s system. They are harsh and their words are judgmental. In their wake are a lot of offended people—not by the gospel—but by the way they’ve been treated. They want to be somebody. But as long as they want to be somebody their ministry will be polluted. Even in places where God has genuinely called them they are defensive and easily threatened, and they compensate for that with aggression and manipulation. Where they don’t succeed, they are frustrated and bitter at those they perceive as impeding on their ministries.
Those who have lived deeply in Jesus reflect the same humility and gentleness that Jesus did. They no longer advance their own agenda, angry when they don’t get what they think God has for them. They are not pushovers because they will resolutely stand in the truth, and they do so with a grace for others. They don’t threaten to leave and go somewhere else “where their gifts will be appreciated.” They easily express the compassion and care of Father to those around them. With simple love and concern they are able to help people engage God. They know that God opens doors and shuts them, and when he does, no man stands in his way. They are content with their part and have no need to diminish others to make the light shine brighter on them.
Living in that reality shows us that the harvest is at hand. If we don’t live in that place, our misplaced passion can easily crush the very people we’re called to touch with his life. The end product of summer, for those who traverse it with perseverance and growing trust, is a gentle and humble spirit. There is no more accurate sign of maturity than those who treat others, all others, with kindness and gentleness. When that settles on your heart, you know that summer has come to an end.
Let the harvest begin!