“It is said that in some countries
trees will grow,
but will bear no fruit
because there is no winter there.”
Leave it to Bunyan (1628-1688) to make what appears obvious into something so much more. I’ve had such a tree. An apple tree. Two years in a row with record warm winters meant there weren’t enough necessary chilling hours to produce fruit. Still looking every bit like an apple tree, it didn’t yield anything. It never broke dormancy.
Confession: I’ve been that tree as well. What is it about times of abundance and ease (let’s clarify; there’s nothing wrong with either) that can cause our hearts to slip into spiritual dormancy? Times you’d think would naturally produce a bumper crop of mature fruit as temperate goodness characterizes most days, are instead often marked by stunted growth.
Have you noticed this one and, it would seem vital characteristic to avoiding an unbroken cycle of spiritual dormancy? Those who have journeyed long and well, through seasons of ease and brutal winters too, grow up into a perpetual dependence on their Heavenly Father (John 15:1). It appears to be an upside-down truth, right? Spiritual growth and maturity result in becoming even more dependent! This dependence is called “abiding” (John 15:4-5). Translated, it means “to dwell; to remain under, patient toward things and circumstances”. No matter the weather or season in life, day by day and year by year, they abide. But, check out verse 2: “… every branch that bears fruit, He prunes so that it may bear more fruit”. Winter is coming.Consequently, these experienced travelers know perspective is key to thriving in the chill. The transformation taking place out-of-view; what will eventually be the first blush of spring, and later a bountiful harvest; must sometimes take place under the deep freeze of winter. Not only is it necessary, it’s inevitable. When testing comes, instead of focusing on all that winter feels like, they focus on all that winter produces. R.C Sproul reminds us of this:
“I don’t always feel His presence.
But God’s promises do not depend upon my feelings;
they rest upon His integrity.”
With God, saying and doing are the same thing! So, when James 1:2-4 says the testing of our faith (when what we believe collides with real life) produces the fruit of endurance, we can be certain He will use adversity to train and strengthen us as we run the race set before us (Hebrews 12:1). Similarly, when Romans 5:3-5 tells us that “tribulation brings about perseverance, and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope”, we can keep looking forward with absolute confidence in the fullness of His promises because this hope is all about knowing with certainty and not just wishful thinking.
Most of us may not think of testing as a direct conduit to hope; at first glance it seems an unnatural path to take. But when we look closely, there are a couple of stepping stones that can’t be skipped over. First, perseverance. This is the same word translated as “endurance” or “steadfastness” and comes from two words — “abide” and “under”. To abide under testing with steadfastness; not just human grit, but dwelling firmly in who God is while under the weight of adversity. What does this produce? Proven character. It means “proof of genuineness, trustworthiness” and in this verse reads as “prove yourselves true“. The authenticity of our faith is revealed in testing — we come through it knowing all we possess in Him is both certain and everlasting. What He’s done for us and in us He’ll continue to do to the end of our journey. And because His grace has secured our eternity as well, there is nothing left to fear. This is true hope.
Galatians 5:25 tells us how to abide: live and walk by the Spirit. In this verse live translates as “under His constant guidance and influence” and walk as “follow”. In other words, submission to and being led by Him produces fruit. Not only perseverance, proven character, and hope but these virtues as well — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22) Distilled in a one-sentence prayer, abiding looks something like this: “Direct, control, suggest this day; all I do, desire or say; that all my pow’rs with all their might, in Thy glory may unite.“*
So, thank you, John Bunyan, for this enduring reminder. When winter comes ’round again, will I already be abiding? Here there is shelter from the storm and provision for what is needful. Everything for our good is found in Him and any good we can offer is only through Him.
Friend, if you are knee-deep in the cold of winter, He’s got this. He’s got you. Keep on abiding, knowing that winters cannot last forever. Spring will come. And, in its time, how fruitful your harvest will be!
*”Awake, My Soul, and With the Sun” (Thomas Ken)