Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained…. (Proverbs 29:18 NASB)
My parents had the best orange tree I have ever seen. When in season, the bows of that tree were quite literally loaded down with an abundance of the sweetest oranges I have honestly ever tasted. When they would send us home with two giant bags full, I would protest, not wanting to take all their oranges. They would laugh and say they had more than enough to spare.
My mom was a larger than life character. She came from the South where big hair was king. In fact, everything was big: big nails, big rings, gaudy furniture, and more. “Go big or go home” was evidently her moto! So, when that orange tree was looking full and leafy in that backyard it looked just right to her. The problem was, the higher the branches reached and the fuller the tree looked, the smaller the oranges became. I don’t know much about horticulture, but it was as if the life of the tree was being diffused into those smaller, non-fruit-bearing branches way up in the top of the tree, leaving little left over for the fruit that had once been so large and sweet.
My dad had the answer. He would take his pruning shears and go after that tree over the protests of my mother, yelling at him from the kitchen window. When he got done it looked as though that tree had gotten a really bad haircut. However, my dad was not worried so much about how the tree looked as he was about the quality of the fruit. With the smaller branches gone, the life in the tree could be focused into the larger, fruit-bearing branches. Once again, the bows would sink low, filled with the largest, sweetest oranges I’ve ever eaten.
I believe this true little tale of my parent’s orange tree is an applicable parable about many believers’ lives today. We live in a culture that values industry. In fact, we see being busy as a mark of importance and value. If we’re really busy, we must be valuable, even indispensable, to those around us and the world in general. We hear it all the time: “I’m just so busy!” I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of saying it recently ourselves, as though we’re afraid to admit we ever take a moment to relax from the endless monotony of driving demands on our time.
However, there is a big difference between busyness and fruitfulness. Too often, our lives are like my parent’s tree before being pruned. They are full and our energies going in all sorts of directions, but they are not directed toward real fruitfulness. Instead, they are being diffused by mere busyness, much of which has little to no real value. Yes, we all have real responsibilities that we cannot, should not, neglect, but that does not account for all the exasperating activities that drain the life right out of us, leaving little left over for the more weightier matters of life. Many are running on fumes, and yet, were they to really think about what they had accomplished of significance, little would come to mind.
The writer of the Proverb warned, “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained.” In other words, when there is no divinely directed vision or purpose for our lives, our time, and our energies, they will be spent wastefully, on things that have no real value. We’re all going to do something with our time, but the question is, “Are those activities intentional? Are they focused on matters that have eternal significance, or are they just routine activities designed to wile away the hours or meet the demands others have placed upon our time?” God has a purpose for each and every one of us, and if we are not intentional about seeking Him and getting His plan and purpose for our lives, they will indeed be spent doing something, but it may not amount to anything of real, lasting value.
Busyness is not fruitfulness. Fruitfulness comes from connection. Jesus said it this way: “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 NASB). Real fruit does not come from great effort so much as it comes from genuine connection. That connection with Christ is maintained by a vital communion and fellowship with Him. If He is directing our steps, we’ll be both fruitful and efficient. He is not a slave master. Rather, He said, “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). I ate a lot of oranges from my parent’s tree and picked many of them myself over the years. I never once heard that tree groaning with effort or saw it sweating! Rather, the fruit that grew on those branches was the result of an organic process sustained through the union between the branch and the tree, whose roots went down into the rich soil from which its nourishment came. The same will be true of us. Fruitfulness will not come from great self-effort or from exhausting ourselves with a lot of busy activity. It will come from time spent in God’s presence, receiving His direction for lives and walking in obedience to His will.
There will always be time enough for necessary responsibilities, but it wouldn’t do any of us harm to let God do some trimming among our all-too-busy branches. One person has said, “God loves you, and everyone else has a wonderful plan for your life.” Don’t let others dictate how your life will be spent. They will do well effectively managing their own lives without cluttering your tree with extra foliage. Rather, stay connected with the One who gives life to your fruit-bearing capabilities so that others can be benefited by the rich produce your life brings.
A couple of years ago, my wife and I were privileged to have a rare dinner with my sister and brother-in-law, both of whom have spent their lives in service to the Lord. As we spoke about that tree in my parent’s backyard, my brother-in-law told me something I hadn’t known. He had traveled widely in his capacity as a minister, and when the Berlin wall came down in 1989, he was there. Those on the communist side of that wall had gone without some of the basic necessities that we in the West have long taken for granted. Among the things that had been rare in East Berlin was produce of any kind. My brother-in-law told me that he had traveled to be there at that ground-breaking moment, and under his arm was a bag of my parent’s oranges. So, somewhere in the world today are East Germans who can testify with me about the incredible sweetness of oranges produced by a tree trimmed down to its optimal fruit-bearing potential.
I share that to say that none of us know just how far reaching our fruitfulness will be or how many will be blessed by the things that come out of our union with Christ. If we’ll allow Him to direct our steps and exchange an overly busy life for a one that is God-directed and Christ-connected, we too can be fruitful. Not only that, but we’ll last a lot longer as His life sustains us and carries us at a pace we can keep for a lifetime of fruitfulness.
Dr. Randy Bunch is the pastor of West Kern Christian Center, located at 1000 6th Street in Taft, California, as well as a graduate advisor and adjunct professor at Summit Bible College in Bakersfield, California. He is the author of several books, including his new devotional, Immutable: Changeless Truth for a Changing World. For more information, or to purchase your copy, go to randylanebunch.org. For more information on the ministries of WKCC, you can go the ministry’s website at wkcconnect.org.