I’ve never planted an orchard, but I did plant a large garden once. The first year was mostly a learning experience, since I’d never gardened before, but the second year my garden bore about 1,000 pounds of potatoes, hundreds of pounds of zucchini, and large quantities of artichokes, corn, lettuce, beans, tomatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, radishes, and other vegetables. It was a lot of work, but it was fun and fulfilling and made for some healthy eating.
Compared to my friend’s fruit orchard, my garden produced quick results. However, my garden had to be replanted from scratch each year, but his orchard will bear fruit for the rest of his life. I admire his commitment to work seven years with no tangible results in order to reach his long-term goal.
When I had my garden, I was living in Canada, in the western province of British Columbia, and I read about the Canadians who had pioneered the apple industry there. They spaced their saplings far apart to leave room for growth. During the seven years before the trees first bore fruit, they used the open spaces to grow vegetables, which they ate or sold for income. Once the apple trees started bearing fruit, they were able to phase out the vegetable patches and live from the profits of their apple orchards.
They had found a way to balance working for short-term survival with working toward a long-term goal. This is a challenge that is common to most new business ventures: doing what is necessary to survive today, while also making progress toward a future goal. Both short- and long-term goals and plans are necessary. It takes time and effort to both manage on the short term and work toward a fruitful future, but it pays off.
Something else I learned from growing my garden in Canada was that I needed to tailor my work and goals to the local conditions and to the crops themselves. The weather and type of soil were factors beyond my control, and they determined in part what I could grow. If I tried to grow vegetables that weren’t well suited to that region, the plants wouldn’t flourish, no matter what I did.
I also needed to take into consideration the various vegetables’ planting and growing times. I could plant some vegetables when the weather was still quite cold, but I had to wait on planting others until the soil had warmed up. Some grew quickly—radishes, for instance. Those could be harvested within three weeks of planting, but then they would need to be replanted. Others, like tomatoes or green beans, took months to mature but kept producing for the rest of the summer and into early autumn. And with some, like lettuce, I learned to stagger planting times in order to always have some available. Some plants were attacked by pests or disease, while others were hearty enough to withstand just about anything. I had to learn to deal with a number of factors in order for my crops to grow well.
Life is a lot like that. Some things we try are fruitful, and others aren’t. Some ideas work out well in certain circumstances but not in others. Sometimes long-term goals must be put on hold until short-term needs are met.
We also go through our personal seasons—our own versions of spring, summer, autumn, and winter. There are times when all we can do is plant, water, and nurture, putting in lots of time and hard work with nothing to show for it yet. Then there are the first fruits, followed by times of harvest and times when the land lies dormant, when nothing will grow. Seasons come and seasons go. They are part of life, and we must adapt and change with them as best we can.
I recently spoke with a mother of three who had decided to become a nurse. Once she finishes her studies and training, she will have new skills for helping others, doing something that is both personally rewarding and a good source of income. In the meantime, however, it will probably be difficult for her and her family to make ends meet on her husband’s salary alone. Her change of direction will mean sacrifice, but like my friend’s orchard, it will pay big dividends later.
I know others who took low-paying jobs in order to survive while they gained experience that eventually made it possible for them to move on to higher-paying work that was more fulfilling—like planting quick-growing crops to sustain themselves until their longer-term crop came in.
Whether you’re just getting started or have been working at the same job for years, it pays to stop from time to time and take stock. What are your goals in life? How does what you do for a living relate to the things you want most from life? Are your goals in sync with your abilities, personality, and experience? Do you find fulfillment in pursuing those goals, or do you only hope to find fulfillment once you achieve them? How does God fit into the picture?
Jesus gave us the key to happy, fruitful, fulfilling lives when He said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.”1 He also said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth.”2
If you have Jesus abiding within you, you will bear fruit. If you are following the leading of the Holy Spirit, you will be fruitful. God will help you find your place. He will give you guidance that is tailor-made for you. He will lead you according to what He knows is best, if you are willing to follow. As you do, the fruit will come. It won’t necessarily come quickly, but it will come.
If God should lead you to take a new direction in life, it may be like the first few years of an orchard, which will bear much fruit in the future but require a prolonged period of preparation and early growth. Or He may lead you to invest your time and energy in a variety of things, some of which will bear quick fruit for a season, and others that will bear fruit later for a long time. There may be some seasons of all work and no fruit, followed by seasons of abundant fruitfulness.
Some key elements in doing what God shows you to do are faith, trust, and patience—faith to follow where He leads; trust that when you do, He will come through; and patience to wait for the fruit-bearing season.
Abide in Him, and your fruit will come.
1. John 15:5 ESV
2. John 14:16–17 ESV