I know many northern gardeners probably don’t grow much okra, but in the southern part of the U.S. here in Alabama we grow a lot of it. Hailing from the continent of Africa, in the late summer it is a staple when other plants have given up in our southern heat. Picking can be quite the chore (the pods grow so fast you have to pick every other day) and it is normally a relief when the first frost puts an end to their generosity.
Several seasons ago I had an okra patch that was looking great. The plants grew large and had lots of healthy looking foliage. But even though they were growing well they lacked something. Blooms and okra pods! Since I had planted them for food and not just for looks I wasn’t exactly pleased.
The Unfruitful Fig Tree
Jesus once told a parable about a fig tree with a similar problem. “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any . Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” (Luke 13:6-9)
As Christians we should all want to mature in our walk with Christ and bear fruit. We want to get a ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’ at the end of our life. But how do we measure maturity? How do we know if we are being faithful so we can bear fruit? Here are three things I would encourage us to monitor if we want to grow spiritually.
1. How much we Know of what God tells us.
One area we need to monitor in our life is how we are progressing in our knowledge of who God is, what He has done, and what He requires. If we love him, we will want to hear from Him, especially through the Bible, God’s love letter to us. The more we grow in our relationship with Him, the more we will know about Him and the more we will want to know. One way we can evaluate this in our lives is by measuring how familiar we are with the Bible and the stories of how God has worked throughout history.
2. How much we DO of what we know God tells us.
Another area we need to monitor in our lives is our level of consistent obedience to what we have learned about what God requires of us. How well do our lives reflect what we have been learning about who God is? Just like with my okra or the fig tree in the parable above, just being a good looking plant isn’t enough, we have to bear fruit. Jesus said his disciples will be known by their fruit. We can’t just say “But I am a Christian! I know a lot about the Bible!” My okra plants could claim, “But we are okra plants!” But we can claim to know God and deny Him with our actions. (Titus 1:16) We are told that even the Demons believe in God. The evidence of our faith comes when we act as if the knowledge we claim is true.
3. How much we SHARE with others of what we do (of what we know God tells us).
In Matthew 5 Jesus tells us, “Whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”(emphasis mine) If we have learned something from God and found it to be true as we have lived it out, then we will want to share it with others! Sharing is both evidence that we really believe something and a way that we can find out how well we really do know something! As a father there have been many things I thought I knew until my sons or wife asked me to explain it to them. To obey Jesus’ great commission to make disciples we must be progressing in our desire to share with and model for others in our lives.
Often I fall into measuring my maturity in Christ in just one of the areas above. In the Church especially we often tend to use knowledge of spiritual things as a measurement for how spiritually mature someone is. But that means nothing because Satan probably knows more Scripture than any Christian alive. Instead, our maturity is measured wherever our knowledge, application, and sharing have all reached the same level. It is the balance of the three. Sometimes a newer Christian can end up maturing beyond an older one even if they have less knowledge because they are actually obeying and applying the little they do know.
Basic Faith in Action
The balance of knowledge, application, and sharing is just basic faith. It is evidence that we believe in something. If I say I believe that heirlooms varieties produce the best vegetables, but I grow hybrids, do I really believe it? If I really believe that Brandywine tomatoes are the best, then I will not only know why, but I will grow them and encourage others to do the same! Why do we think it should be any different with our faith in Jesus?
Without balancing these basic areas of faithfulness we can’t expect to see fruit in our lives. With my unfruitful okra plant I eventually ‘switched’ them with a stick which shocked them into producing fruit. Sometimes God, in His mercy, brings trials in our lives to help us wake up to the reality of what we are actually putting our faith in. Other times He gives us time, just like in the fig tree parable. But may we all be motivated out of love and fear of God to be faithful and produce fruit so we can bring Glory to the One who has saved us.
What about you? Is there something that has been particularly helpful to you in growing as a Christian? How have you tried to find balance with these three things in your spiritual growth? Do you have a point of disagreement? I welcome any feedback or discussion in the comments below!