This was today’s picking of Concord grapes from my garden. When I tell people in Niagara about my bountiful harvest, they simply nod, smile, say “that’s great” and wander off.
Great? It’s amazing! You do not understand what this means to me.
For most of my life, I lived in regions where the climate was too cold to grow grapes. But here in the wine region of Niagara, this is a common back yard hobby.
Growing something I’ve never grown before is awesome.
But this means even more to me.
You see, I didn’t plant these grapes. The previous homeowner did. And he never received any harvest. Instead, I was the one who reaped this harvest.
There were no grapes last year or in 2015, the year we moved in.
But this year I have more fruit than I can eat.
I have planted plenty of seeds in my day. I’ve had good harvests and bad harvests. Sometimes the plants don’t grow because the summer weather is too hot or too cold, too damp or too dry. Sometimes the crops fail because of disease or insects. Sometimes the harvests are small. But this year, the harvest is huge.
In the natural world, there are a number of truths around good or bad harvests. If you take care of your crop, water it well, fertilize it well and protect it from insects, this should almost guarantee that you will have an adequate crop at the end of the summer. But since we cannot control the weather, it’s the way we work with the weather that encourages our crops. If we ignore this mighty factor, we can end up with either a bad harvest or none at all.
I had no idea how to care for my grapevines. I pretty much left them alone to see what they would do. It was this year’s weather that encouraged them. A hot, humid summer with plenty of rain. I was unable to enjoy the swampy weather that awaited us almost every day. I escaped to my air conditioned house during those hot afternoons. But apparently the weather that I didn’t like was perfect for the grapevines.
We all need different growing conditions to produce the best fruit or to become the best that we can be.
In the gardening world, some believe that a harvest of plenty will eventually follow multiple seasons of drought. This is the eternal hope of the gardener. However, an overabundant harvest can also be a foreboding sign of a harsh winter to follow.
These principles are also applicable in the spiritual world.
In my spiritual life, I’ve applied gardening principles as I’ve watched for evidence of growth or harvest in the lives of others as well as my own. I’ve planted seeds, cultivated, tilled the soil, and fertilized many gardens only to wonder whether I’ve been any help or encouragement to them. With no evidence of fruit or harvest, I’ve walked away discouraged and disheartened. Often, I’ve felt completely useless as a spiritual gardener, thinking that perhaps I should give up trying to be one.
I’ve plucked fruit from branches of great spiritual leaders. But that same fruit ended up rotting in my own life. Much of that rotting fruit was inadvertently dropped into the gardens of others, discouraging their growth, or making them work twice as hard to get rid of the disease or bad seeds that I left behind.
Over the years, God has pruned me, shaped me, and fertilized me. And yet, I still wait for evidence that my branches are bearing fruit.
I’m encouraged by my grape harvest this year. There are also spiritual promises inherent that I can apply to my life.
Some of the lessons I am gleaning from this:
1) The previous homeowner planted the grapevines and never saw a harvest, but I did. I reaped what he sowed.
So too, the spiritual seeds that I plant in someone’s life may never bear fruit in my lifetime. But that shouldn’t stop me from planting. I can be encouraged by this principle. I may sow, others may reap. There may be times when I will reap what someone else has sown, just like my grapevines.
2) We all need different things to grow. Some need more or less heat, some need more or less water, or different types of fertilizer. Perhaps some of us need more pruning than others. Then again, some of us just need to be left alone while we grow silently without being disturbed. We need to recognize that our idea about what healthy growth looks like, might look very different to someone else.
3) A healthy plant will always produce a bountiful harvest if it has received the right nourishment. We simply have to wait.
In our spiritual lives, sometimes we need to practice patience and wait. If we’ve done all the right things, the harvest will happen.
4) A healthy harvest is often the signal of the end of a drought. But that doesn’t mean we celebrate the harvest and quit taking care of the plants. The care continues each year, with hope for an even greater abundance of harvest next year.
In our own lives, we should never take a harvest for granted. The work must continue. There will always be room for a greater harvest. “The harvest is great, but the labourers are few.” (Matthew 9:37)
5) A bountiful harvest can signal a foreboding of a harsh winter. Nature has a way of supplying us with extra food exactly before we need it. The old methods of preserving our excess is a tried and true method that ensures that we have food later when we need it. We need to pay attention to these natural signs.
So too, in our lives, when a spiritual harvest happens, things can happen that may threaten to steal our hard work. Our worst enemy can often be ourselves. We procrastinate and don’t protect the spiritual fruit at our doorstep. We get lazy and complacent. Then we complain when we see all our hard work go right out the window.
6)Preserving is hard work. Ripe fruit demands immediate attention. Otherwise it will rot on the vines. Rotting fruit is waste and benefits no one. Even the plant doesn’t like it. If you don’t pick the fruit, the plant will diminish it’s harvest in future years. It’s almost like it knows when it’s not needed or wanted.
Are we paying attention to the fruit in the lives of others? What about the fruit in our own lives? Are we encouraging spiritual growth in ourselves and in those around us? Or are we ignoring it, making others feel that their gifts of contribution are unnecessary or unwanted?
7) Ripe fruit often gets picked at by birds or stolen by rodents. It must be protected by netting, fences or other natural means until is ready to be picked.
In our spiritual lives, there is an enemy that is watching to steal our fruit, our hard work. How are we protecting it? What are you doing to make sure your fruit is growing safely in a protected environment until it’s ready to be shared? Are we surrounding ourselves with others of like minds to encourage and support each other? The more we grow, the more we need to do. If we want the harvest to happen, we must dig in and do the work.
6) THE HARVEST WILL HAPPEN. THE HARVEST IS COMING. MAYBE THE HARVEST IS HERE? Will you recognize the harvest when it arrives? Will you know what to do with the bounty that you will be receiving? It’s great to dream, but when the time comes, you will have to do something with that fruit. Don’t let it rot on the vine.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”John 15:1-8 (NIV)