One Way to Look at It: Trees

Imagine if you described a tree to someone who had no knowledge of them before.  You might sketch a picture or use your hands to indicate its form.  You could wrap the details of leaves and branches in words and leave them inspired.  And then imagine that they decided that they needed a tree, and proceeded to build one.  They bought wood, cut it out, maybe bought some fake leaves and affixed them throughout the carved boughs.  They could do a masterful job of making a copy of a tree.  But you can’t build a tree.  It has to grow.  
Sometimes we do this with our faith.  
The Bible is chock-full of stories.  Some describe truly heroic people.  Some describe bumbling idiots who happen to do something heroic in spite of themselves.  Some describe rules for life, either for a particular people or in principle.  Some are letters sent directly to a church in a city in which we glimpse one side of an ongoing conversation and relationship and are blessed by the wisdom we can glean from it.  Some is meant for beauty, to express something of the writer’s experience of God and give Him glory.  God’s work is the theme throughout and Jesus the most important character in the broader narrative.  We learn from Him both by example and teaching, and watch how those who knew Him best went to work on His behalf.  It’s an intimidating conglomeration of words and meanings and what-do-I-do-with-this-little-piece moments.
But it is not a list of instructions on how to build a tree.  Or a faith.  
Simply put, faith has to grow.  It has to start with what little bit we have to put in and the seed God gives and let it take root.  We are familiar with the teaching the parable of the sower, but we often misinterpret it.  We kind of have a mentality that says, “Oh, well.  If so-and-so is having this specific response to it all, they must not have been good soil.  Too bad, so sad.  At least I’m good soil.”  But the response is always a choice.  Not for dirt, but for people.  The path is too hard?  Loosen it up.  The rocks prevent roots?  Get rid of them.  The thorns choke the plant?  Clear them away.  Think you’re good?  Check again; you will probably find that, on your bad days, the thorns sneak back in.  Work the soil to make it good.  Do whatever it takes to encourage (not demand) growth in your own life, then let God to the God part.  He will grow the tree.  He doesn’t ask us to build it.  
If you’re thinking this is not a struggle for you, consider this: When you read the fruit of the Spirit passage, do you hear it as a checklist of things you should be?  If you find yourself thinking, “This is an intense list, but at least I’m naturally self-controlled and gentle.  So what if patience and joy are slower to come? I’ll get there. One thing at a time.”  Or do you recognize a list of descriptors of what happens when the Spirit leads a life?  As in, “Well, I know these things don’t come naturally, but I can tell that when I am more connected with God, patience and faithfulness come much more easily, so I want to stick even tighter so all these descriptors can start blooming in my life. That’s exciting.”  
Think about it.  You can no more demand an apple of a tree that is unhealthy than you can demand kindness of yourself when you are spiritually unwell.  If our lives right now don’t reflect that list, it’s an indication that it’s time to get to work clearing out whatever is hindering the growth that the Spirit brings.  We cannot just choose to live better.  That’s kind of why we need Jesus in the first place.  Otherwise we risk carving wooden fruit to hang on our fake tree and remain baffled as to why things don’t quite feel whole. And let’s face it:  A handmade tree looks a little silly and outsiders aren’t drawn to having one of their own.
The bottom line is: This is all God’s thing.  It’s His tree growing in us.  It’s His kingdom growing into a forest.  It’s not about merely understanding what that should look like so we can try harder.  It’s about bringing everything under His rule so that He can infuse it with what it needs to bring Him even more glory.