Loving Those Who Don’t Belong

pureloveblogWhen a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

What happens when our boundaries are breached? People get into our territories and create inconvenience, chaos, or hurt. It’s like a house invaded by ants or a single pesky fly that always seems to find right where we are and buzzes around us but never seems to be quite within our reach.

When something doesn’t belong where we think it belongs, we don’t like it. We get annoyed. We might try to ignore it for a while, but at some point, we just can’t take it anymore. It draws our focus, and we strike with a vengeance. We will show it who is boss. We’ll rid our lives of what doesn’t belong.

While there are definitely some things in our lives that don’t belong and God intends for us to get rid of them, there are other times we assess something as not belonging simply because we don’t like it. It doesn’t fit into what we view as the picture of what our lives should be, and if it doesn’t fit, we decide to get it out.

But everything we decide doesn’t belong doesn’t necessarily not belong. It’s only when God says something doesn’t belong that it really doesn’t belong. We take action because God says, not because we say. When we weed out what’s supposed to be in our lives for a season and purpose, we miss out.

 

When God directs us to deal with a difficult person or issue, He usually has a blessing attached. We might not always recognize it. We certainly won’t always acknowledge it. But it’s there, because God blesses our obedience. We can learn something from everything and everyone around us. There’s always something to learn, not just what to do but what not to do, not just who to become but who not to become.

God doesn’t protect us from everything that’s inconvenient, chaotic, or hurtful. Blessings aren’t just the things that go well. Our most loving, growing relationships aren’t the ones we always enjoy the most. God doesn’t build a fence around a beautiful pasture and say, “Here you go. Live here. I’ve given you everything you need. All you have to do is stay in these boundaries and enjoy life.” That was the garden of Eden. We don’t get to live in, or even access, it anymore.

We live in a messy world with messy people, including ourselves. We don’t belong in this world; we belong in eternal heaven. But this world is part of the journey. God has a plan for us here on earth, including the mess. When we mishandle those people and situations we believe don’t belong, we forget we don’t belong either. Yet God continues to love us. He continues to provide for and invest in us. He continues to sift through the things of the world and use the details of our lives for His purpose.

Not everything or everyone fits, including you. And many things and people fit in ways you can’t imagine because you don’t see the reality of the shape and size of each piece of the puzzle. See it God’s way by trusting Him. He knows what He’s doing. He knows the territory, and He covers every inch.

Dear God, change my perspective. Replace my vision with Yours. Consume my desires with Yours. Refine my life with the people and the circumstances You allow into it.

All We Want Is Love

pureloveblogLeah conceived and bore a son and named him Reuben, for she said, “Because the LORD has seen my affliction, surely now my husband will love me.” (Genesis 29:32)

We want love at (just about) all costs. Isn’t it our “right”? Surely God wants us to be loved. He doesn’t want us to be alone, rejected, hurt. He wants us to be happy, and happy and loved go hand-in-hand. Oh, the slippery slopes we venture onto because they look right, and others say they’re right, so we’re convinced they are right.

Wrong.

God does, indeed, want us to be loved. There is no question about it. But we will never experience a love that rivals His love for us. He provides other love relationships for us throughout our lives: through a spouse, child, parent, friend, sister, and the list goes on. When we don’t get them all, especially the ones we most want, it doesn’t mean God is cheating us out of something. When we don’t get what we think is the “best,” it doesn’t mean God is cheating us out of something. We cheat ourselves out of God’s love when we choose to define His love based on our experiences of love. We take the quality of what we think He’s giving us and decide that’s the best He has to offer. We cheapen the truth of His love.

Leah connected Jacob’s love for her to the children she was able to provide for him. We get it. What we do or provide for someone doesn’t create love where there is none. Love can certainly grow through circumstances, but there’s no a magic equation of “Do this=Receive love.” Even if it seems such an equation works for a situation, it’s conditional. There is another equation that follows: “Do this=Lose love.”

Not with God. God says…

“I created you. I love you.”

“I am God. I am love. I love you.”

“Trust me. Rely on Me. I provide the love you need.”

Take a cue from Leah. Not only does she believe that she’ll be loved because of something she has done, but she makes sure to pull God into the equation. She knows God well enough to know that He sees her and He cares. But she takes a dangerous leap from “God sees my hurt” to “Jacob will now love me.”

How many times do we say something to the effect of “I know God loves me and wants the best for me, so He’s going to work this all out.” And it’s true. He will work all things out. But we need to be careful what we assume when we claim He works all things out. Like Leah, we can claim a truth about God but take a faulty step into assumption because we mix what we want into the equation. We can easily take a step from the truth and trust of “God will work this out” into “and I know how He’ll work this out.”

Our will isn’t the same as God’s will. How we prefer to see something work out isn’t how it may work out. God works all things to His good. When we yield, He gets the glory. When a relationship doesn’t go the way we want, we can say, “God is God, and I’m going to trust and follow Him through this journey.” When we look back at a painful or confusing experience, we can say, “God is God, and I’m going to let Him speak His truth into me about this. I’m going to let Him use it in my life however He wants.”

When we trust God, He gets all the glory, regardless of the circumstance. When we know God and His love, we see everything else in light of it. When we filter all the love in our relationships on earth through the truth of God’s love, we see situations from God’s perspective instead of seeing the distortions through our own eyes and hearts.

Dear God, please help me to know Your love, not only with my head but with my heart. Help me not to wait until You’ve healed all my wounds and fixed all my hurts before I truly accept Your love for me.

What We Do For Love

pureloveblogSo, Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her. (Genesis 29:20)

We do a lot in the name of love—even for the possibility of love. Perhaps you’ve gone out of your way to make sure you “accidentally on purpose” crossed paths with that cute guy. You spend extra time on your hair or wardrobe choice. You took an interest in sports you’d otherwise ignore.

Some things we do for love are unhealthy. We sacrifice what God never intended us to sacrifice. Other times, what we do for love is just plain silly. We look back and giggle, especially at our rationale of why we chose to do what we did for love. We probably didn’t really give it much thought at the time.

Sometimes what we do for love is really more about acceptance than love. We say we want someone to love us, but when we sacrifice what God didn’t direct us to sacrifice, we’re not really sacrificing at all. We’re trying to please someone other than God. We’re trying to please someone without filtering it through God. We want to be accepted, and we’re willing to give what God tells us to keep or keep what God gives us to give.

What Jacob did for Rachel was for love, and it was sacrificial. Jacob had traveled to the land of his mother’s family to find a wife, and he found one right away. He kissed Rachel upon meeting her (Genesis 29:11), then asked for her father to permit the marriage. The personal cost to him? Seven years of labor.

Done. He was willing to give those seven years. And at the end of the seven years, the marriage celebration followed. But after spending the night with the veiled woman who had become his wife, thinking he was with Rachel, the love of his life, he found out he had actually married Rachel’s older sister, Leah. Their father had been deceptive, yet he played it off as cultural practice. “It is not the custom in this place to give the younger daughter in marriage before the firstborn.” (29:26)

Jacob didn’t give up. He pursued Rachel. He agreed to serve yet another seven years for Rachel. He didn’t have to wait this time; Rachel became his wife right away, but the sacrifice of the years was a daily choice.

When Jacob’s father-in-law said, “It is not the custom in this place…” he put the ways of the world above God’s way. Whatever the custom of the world is doesn’t eclipse God’s way. Just because it’s the custom to give the oldest child in marriage first doesn’t make it okay to deceive a man for seven years. And just because the world says it’s okay to do something doesn’t mean it’s okay by God’s standards.

The world says, “Don’t lose yourself in a relationship.” God says, “Lose yourself to Me.” The world says, “Make sure you can stand on your own two feet and not have to rely on anyone.” God says, “The only one you can truly rely on is Me, and I will provide people in your life.” The world says, “Do what makes you happy.” God says, “Do what pleases Me.”

When we do life God’s way, it’s going to stretch us. We’re going to try some things that seem like a reach to us. They’re outside our comfort zones. And there will be times we want to reach outside our comfort zones and God says, “Stay. Wait. Be patient. Don’t push.” God decides what we do for love. If we let the world decide for us, we’ll quickly get off track.

Dear God, I want to accept Your love for me so that I can live out that love with those around me. Help me weed through what the world has taught me about sacrificial love to fully see what You have taught and shown me. I want to trust You not only in words but in how I live love out loud.

Invest in Your Legacy

29861“Here the saying is true, ‘One person plants, and another harvests.’ I sent you to harvest a crop that you did not work on. Others did the work, and you get to finish up their work.” Many of the Samaritans in that town believed in Jesus because of what the woman said: “He told me everything I ever did.” (John 4:37-39)

Bill Gaither wanted a piece of land to build a house in Alexandria, Indiana, the town where he had grown up. He noticed a piece south of town where cattle grazed and learned it belonged to a 92-year-old retired banker named Mr. Yule. Mr. Yule owned a lot of land in the area, but he wasn’t planning to sell any of it. Bill and his wife Gloria decided to personally visit him. Bill shares the story in I Almost Missed the Sunset.

“He looked at us over the top of his bifocals. I introduced myself and told him we were interested in a piece of his land.

“Not selling,” he said pleasantly. “Promised it to a farmer for grazing.” Then he said, “What’d you say your name was?”

“Gaither. Bill Gaither.”

“Hmmm. Any relation to Grover Gaither?”

“Yes, sir. He was my granddad.”

Mr. Yule put down his paper and removed his glasses. “Interesting. Grover Gaither was the best worker I ever had on my farm. Full day’s work for a day’s pay. So honest. What’d you say you wanted?”

I told him again.

“Let me do some thinking on it, then come back and see me.”

I came back within the week, and Mr. Yule sold me the property.

Three decades later I said to my son Benjy, “You’ve had this wonderful place to grow up through nothing that you’ve done, but because of the good name of a great-granddad you never met.”

How did people who came before you prepare the way? Consider more than your biological family.

How are you preparing the way for those who come after you?

My parents grew up in a small farming community in central Illinois. They built relationships because people in the community relied on each other. They trusted each other, watched out for each other, and helped each other. They worked fields side-by-side, lent and borrowed equipment, and lived through trials and tragedies together.

When my parents had been married for 45 years, my sisters and I planned a surprise party. It was a wonderful party. They were thrilled to see so many friends from their decades together. They hadn’t seen some people in years. Others, they lived alongside daily. With each turn, as they looked around the room, they were greeted by another smiling face full of memories.

After the celebration had been going for a couple hours, a friend and I were talking. He and I had been friends since birth, because our parents were friends, as well as our grandparents. The family farms were only a couple miles from each other. We shared weddings, births and funerals. Looking around at the multitude of friends, circles overlapping circles, my friend reflected, “You know the sad thing is, we – our generation – probably will not get to experience this when we’re our parents’ age. We’re too busy to make the depth and extent of friendships they have.”

I’m not saying it’s impossible. In fact, if anyone will have a 45th anniversary celebration with extensive circles of friends, it will be this particular friend, but I completely understand what he was saying. In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we often skirt around and skim over the importance of long-term relationship-building. Our relationships can use more intention and attention. Our relationships can be bumped up on the scale of priorities.

Who are you investing in, and who are you allowing – even inviting – to invest in you?

It’s not just about who you’ll call in the best and worst times of life. It’s about who you’ll call, drive to, sit with and sacrifice for during daily life.

Consider the people surrounding you.

Are you focused more on short-term benefits or long-term investment?

Are the people by your side going to be by your side in 10, 25, 50 years?

Life changes. People move. Interests change. Transitions are part of every person’s life. But you might see life as so transitory that you’ve become comfortable in the transition instead of investing in the long-term possibilities.

Many people avoid investing money because they’re overwhelmed with the amount they’ll need. They can’t fathom such a sacrifice.

Are you doing the same with relationships?

Investing even the smallest amounts of money will accumulate into a growing investment.

Surely, you have time, energy and resources to invest in growing relationships.

Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Why Are You Standing Here?

29861Jesus said to them, “The Father is the only One who has the authority to decide dates and times. These things are not for you to know. But when the Holy Spirit comes to you, you will receive power. You will be my witnesses—in Jerusalem, in all of Judea, in Samaria, and in every part of the world.”

After he said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud hid him from their sight. As he was going, they were looking into the sky. Suddenly, two men wearing white clothes stood beside them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing here looking into the sky? Jesus, whom you saw taken up from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you saw him go. (Acts 1:7-11)

It’s easy to get caught up in the moment – or season. God gives us Scripture to reveal himself to us, teach us his principles, and equip us to live in his will. God speaks to us in many ways through his Word.

He gives us facts. The Father is the only One who has the authority to decide dates and times. These things are not for you to know. We can try to figure things out for ourselves. We can try to analyze the times and reasons for seasons and situations in our lives, but only God has the authority to decide such details. It’s clear we’re not to know everything that he knows. He gives us what we’re supposed to know. We should always be open to him giving us knowledge and wisdom and readily accept and apply what he gives us. What he doesn’t give us, we’re not supposed to have.

He gives us instruction. But when the Holy Spirit comes to you, you will receive power. You will be my witnesses—in Jerusalem, in all of Judea, in Samaria, and in every part of the world. God tells us what we’re supposed to do. He gives us direction in and toward our purpose. God wants our steps to fit into the ones he has planned for us. He wants us to desire his will so intently that we will look for the way he has prepared and be bold enough to follow regardless of our trepidation or preferences.

He gives us reassurance. After he said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud hid him from their sight. As he was going, they were looking into the sky. We’re not perfect, and God knows we need his reassurance in our humanness. He provided many accounts of people who have been deeply devoted to him but not always responded in model ways. The apostles knew Jesus personally as a flesh-and-blood man. Jesus looked into their eyes, touched their shoulders, and taught them with his words and actions. He told them multiple times what would happen to him, yet their focus wasn’t on what he had just directed them to do. Their focus was on the immediate. We can relate. We want to see and touch proof. We don’t want to feel isolated. God knew we’d need reassurance.

He gives us conviction. Suddenly, two men wearing white clothes stood beside them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing here looking into the sky?” God knows we need him to speak authority into our lives. Left to ourselves, we might think we can come to the right conclusions, but we’ll usually get off track, stay in one place, or run in circles. When God speaks through his Word, angels, visions, teaching, and prayers, he always speaks with authority. The Holy Spirit shares God’s truth with us. He speaks to us internally, so we don’t have to rely on external influences. He challenges us through difficult questions that help us realize where we are spiritually and what we need to do to grow into a better place. We can ignore the God’s voice, but we can never avoid his presence.

He gives us promise. Jesus, whom you saw taken up from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you saw him go. We can have hope because of God’s promises. We never need to doubt what God says will happen, because he doesn’t contradict what he says and what he does. God’s promises might not be fulfilled in exactly the way or time we expect and want, but our expectations don’t change God’s promises. God will do what he says he will do – every word and every detail. When we are faithful, we will see the fulfillment of God’s promises, either on earth or in eternity.

We need God to accept the spiritual seasons in our lives. Only God has the perspective to give us exactly what we need when we need it. Only God knows how our past season has prepared us for this one. Only God knows what’s necessary in our present season to prepare us for the next one. Only God knows the details of people’s lives who prepared a legacy for us and those for whom we’re preparing a legacy. Only God knows how the details we know of and those we don’t are weaving together for his purpose.

There’s much that only God can do and be, but there’s much expected of us as well. We must seek him. We must trust him. We must know him. We must accept his guidance. We must wisely use his provision. We must love as he loves. We must serve as he models. We must become less so he can become more in our lives. We must accept that our lives here on earth are brief, and they are pointless without a relationship with him.

May you continue to recognize and accept your journey of God’s pure purpose. Jesus prayed for his followers before he was arrested and crucified for you and me. Let his words soak into you today. Let his words challenge you to live today giving all glory to God.

After Jesus said these things, he looked toward heaven and prayed, “Father, the time has come. Give glory to your Son so that the Son can give glory to you. You gave the Son power over all people so that the Son could give eternal life to all those you gave him. And this is eternal life: that people know you, the only true God, and that they know Jesus Christ, the One you sent. Having finished the work you gave me to do, I brought you glory on earth. And now, Father, give me glory with you; give me the glory I had with you before the world was made.

I showed what you are like to those you gave me from the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have obeyed your teaching. Now they know that everything you gave me comes from you. I gave them the teachings you gave me, and they accepted them. They knew that I truly came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for people in the world but for those you gave me, because they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And my glory is shown through them. I am coming to you; I will not stay in the world any longer. But they are still in the world. Holy Father, keep them safe by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they will be one, just as you and I are one. While I was with them, I kept them safe by the power of your name, the name you gave me. I protected them, and only one of them, the one worthy of destruction, was lost so that the Scripture would come true.

I am coming to you now. But I pray these things while I am still in the world so that these followers can have all of my joy in them. I have given them your teaching. And the world has hated them, because they don’t belong to the world, just as I don’t belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world but to keep them safe from the Evil One. They don’t belong to the world, just as I don’t belong to the world. Make them ready for your service through your truth; your teaching is truth. I have sent them into the world, just as you sent me into the world. For their sake, I am making myself ready to serve so that they can be ready for their service of the truth.

I pray for these followers, but I am also praying for all those who will believe in me because of their teaching. Father, I pray that they can be one. As you are in me and I am in you, I pray that they can also be one in us. Then the world will believe that you sent me. I have given these people the glory that you gave me so that they can be one, just as you and I are one. I will be in them and you will be in me so that they will be completely one. Then the world will know that you sent me and that you loved them just as much as you loved me.

Father, I want these people that you gave me to be with me where I am. I want them to see my glory, which you gave me because you loved me before the world was made. Father, you are the One who is good. The world does not know you, but I know you, and these people know you sent me. I showed them what you are like, and I will show them again. Then they will have the same love that you have for me, and I will live in them.” (John 17)

But Now You Know

29861But now you know the true God. Really, it is God who knows you. So why do you turn back to those weak and useless rules you followed before? Do you want to be slaves to those things again? You still follow teachings about special days, months, seasons, and years. I am afraid for you, that my work for you has been wasted. Galatians 4:9-11

But now you know…

These four words seem so simple, but they cause pause. Faith changes things. Knowing God changes perspective, priorities, and behavior. Knowing God realizes God knows you. Knowing God involves moving forward.

In these verses, Paul is warning followers to not turn back.

What is behind you that you need to refuse to return to in order to move forward?

Our pasts brought us to our presents, but we need to fully live our presents in order to get to our futures. The past might be comfortable, because we established habits – and those habits have not always been healthy. We might have even thought they were helpful and productive at the time, but once we assume God’s perspective through our faithful relationship with him, we don’t need the old assumptions, excuses, and habits. We need to invite God to transform our lives.

Paul refers to “special days, months, seasons, and years” because many of the people to whom he was speaking were trying to revert to the old laws and traditions by which they had once adamantly lived. Those laws and traditions served a purpose. In fact, they were biblical. The issue is they were remnants. They had been replaced with the new covenant of a personal relationship with Jesus. It was no longer essential to live under the covenant of the Old Testament, because since Jesus came to earth and died, making the way for the Holy Spirit, helping us with life on earth in preparation for eternal life, the new covenant prevails.

Without intentional effort, we will not grow forward. We will default to what is comfortable to us. We gravitate to what we know. When we begin a relationship with Jesus, even when we want to leave our former lives behind, even when we have a burning desire to continually seek and obey God, we will struggle in at least some areas of life. What we’ve been taught and have practiced our entire lives up to the point we begin a relationship with God is difficult to reverse or replace.

In what areas do you most struggle to grow spiritually?

Perhaps you can think of people who seem consistent in their faith in many ways, but there’s that one area that doesn’t seem to fit. You don’t understand how they haven’t grown in that one area. It’s so obvious to you. It’s not an area in which you struggle. You likely have your own.

We can easily compare ourselves to others and rationalize that “at least I’m better than _______”! (We can also compare ourselves to others and rationalize that we’ll never measure up to someone.) But God doesn’t measure you against anyone else. You have a purpose to fulfill in this season of life as well as in life overall, and only you can fulfill the specific purpose he has for you. He brings people into your life not to compare yourself to but to walk alongside you. And everyone will not help you grow. Consider several verses further along in Galatians 4:

Those people are working hard to persuade you, but this is not good for you. They want to persuade you to turn against us and follow only them. It is good for people to show interest in you, but only if their purpose is good. This is always true, not just when I am with you. My little children, again I feel the pain of childbirth for you until you truly become like Christ. (Galatians 4:17-19)

Consider who is in your life who pours into you in ways that pull you away from God. (Keep in mind anyone who is not intentionally helping you grow toward God is pulling you away from God. There is no neutrality.)

Consider who is in your life who pours into you in ways that help you grow toward God.

Who are you pouring into right now, helping her grow toward God?

How might you be pulling someone away from God?

Don’t simply skim over these questions. Be honest with yourself. Let God reveal the reality of your relationships. Let God reveal the reality of your priorities. Let God reveal the truth of your faith. He longs for you to long for him in this season – and in every season of your life. Your enthusiasm will ebb and flow, but your commitment to God isn’t about feelings. God is passionately pursuing you. Who or what are you passionately pursuing?

Feasting on Figs

29861As Jesus and his followers were coming closer to Jerusalem, they came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany near the Mount of Olives. From there Jesus sent two of his followers and said to them, “Go to the town you can see there. When you enter it, you will quickly find a colt tied, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here to me. If anyone asks you why you are doing this, tell him its Master needs the colt, and he will send it at once.” The followers went into the town, found a colt tied in the street near the door of a house, and untied it. Some people were standing there and asked, “What are you doing? Why are you untying that colt?” The followers answered the way Jesus told them to answer, and the people let them take the colt. They brought the colt to Jesus and put their coats on it, and Jesus sat on it. Many people spread their coats on the road. Others cut branches in the fields and spread them on the road. The people were walking ahead of Jesus and behind him, shouting,

“Praise God! God bless the One who comes in the name of the Lord! God bless the kingdom of our father David! That kingdom is coming! Praise to God in heaven!”

Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the Temple. After he had looked at everything, since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve apostles. The next day as Jesus was leaving Bethany, he became hungry. Seeing a fig tree in leaf from far away, he went to see if it had any figs on it. But he found no figs, only leaves, because it was not the right season for figs. So Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And Jesus’ followers heard him say this.

The next morning as Jesus was passing by with his followers, they saw the fig tree dry and dead, even to the roots. Peter remembered the tree and said to Jesus, “Teacher, look! The fig tree you cursed is dry and dead!” Jesus answered, “Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, fall into the sea.’ And if you have no doubts in your mind and believe that what you say will happen, God will do it for you. So I tell you to believe that you have received the things you ask for in prayer, and God will give them to you. When you are praying, if you are angry with someone, forgive him so that your Father in heaven will also forgive your sins. (But if you don’t forgive other people, then your Father in heaven will not forgive your sins.)” Mark 11

Jesus checked the fig tree for figs, despite figs not being in season, and cursed the fig tree to unproductiveness. Doesn’t that seem odd? First, why would Jesus even have to check the fig tree? Surely he already knew there were no figs on the tree. Second, why would he curse something for being unproductive when it wasn’t the season for being productive? It might be tempting to look at these verses and assume Jesus is being selfish, because he is hungry and cannot satisfy his hunger with figs, and unreasonable, because he shouldn’t have expected the plant to be productive in the current season. But Jesus is neither selfish nor unreasonable.

I’ve kept the verses about the fig tree within the context of Mark 11 in its entirety for a purpose. It’s essential to keep Scripture in the context in which it is found.

Consider the timing of Jesus cursing the fig tree. He had entered Jerusalem to recognition, praise, and fanfare. He then entered to the Temple. Matthew 21 provides more details about what happened:

Jesus went into the Temple and threw out all the people who were buying and selling there. He turned over the tables of those who were exchanging different kinds of money, and he upset the benches of those who were selling doves. Jesus said to all the people there, “It is written in the Scriptures, ‘My Temple will be called a house for prayer.’ But you are changing it into a hideout for robbers.’”

The blind and crippled people came to Jesus in the Temple, and he healed them. The leading priests and the teachers of the law saw that Jesus was doing wonderful things and that the children were praising him in the Temple, saying, “Praise to the Son of David.” All these things made the priests and the teachers of the law very angry.

They asked Jesus, “Do you hear the things these children are saying?”

Jesus answered, “Yes. Haven’t you read in the Scriptures, ‘You have taught children and babies to sing praises’?” Then Jesus left and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night. (Matthew 21:12-17)

After the exultation of followers praising Jesus as the Messiah, he encountered people going against his will and disrespecting God’s house. Jesus was displeased with people who should have known better and been more faithful to keep God’s Word.

The fig tree often represents the nation of Israel in God’s Word. The curse for unproductiveness indicates a displeasure in Israel’s spiritual state. The nation of Israel as a whole was not recognizing Jesus as the Messiah. It was not going to produce fruit through a season of unbelief. Therefore, it’s growth would be stunted.

This came as no surprise to Jesus, of course. Jesus was God in flesh, so he still knew all even when in human form. However, he would still be disappointed to personally encounter wickedness, betrayal, and faithlessness. It wouldn’t have been unreasonable for the fig tree to be productive, because from a distance, Jesus saw a fig tree “in leaf.” Leaves grow prior to the fruit, and figs are actually a similar color to the leaves until they completely ripen, so it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to assume a leafy fig tree would have figs on it. Obviously, this was not the case. Jesus stated the fig tree wasn’t in the right season to produce figs. In other words, the nation of Israel will not be productive in this season. Jesus already knew what he would encounter while on earth. He would encounter a nation who would refuse to welcome him and grow in faith. Faith among the state of Israel would be stunted.

With God, there is always hope. When Peter speaks to Jesus about the dead fig tree the following day (a fig tree would typically take longer than one day to be completely “dry and dead”), Jesus in essence says nothing is impossible with God, including healing and productivity. Israel can still become a faithful people. Anyone, despite a rejection of, failure to recognize, or disobedience to God, can be restored to God. Faith, prayer, and forgiveness is all that is required to reestablish healthy, productive, fruit-producing spiritual growth.

What do you need to do to increase spiritual productivity in your life right now?

Matthew 21 and Mark 11 are not the only places in Scripture where figs are mentioned.

What do you learn from the following verses that mention figs?

Jesus told this story: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard. He came looking for some fruit on the tree, but he found none. So the man said to his gardener, ‘I have been looking for fruit on this tree for three years, but I never find any. Cut it down. Why should it waste the ground?’ But the servant answered, ‘Master, let the tree have one more year to produce fruit. Let me dig up the dirt around it and put on some fertilizer. If the tree produces fruit next year, good. But if not, you can cut it down.’” (Luke 13:6-9)

Then Jesus told this story: “Look at the fig tree and all the other trees. When their leaves appear, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, you will know that God’s kingdom is near. I tell you the truth, all these things will happen while the people of this time are still living. Earth and sky will be destroyed, but the words I have spoken will never be destroyed.” (Luke 21:29-33)

“At that time, the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky. Then all the peoples of the world will cry. They will see the Son of Man coming on clouds in the sky with great power and glory. He will use a loud trumpet to send his angels all around the earth, and they will gather his chosen people from every part of the world. Learn a lesson from the fig tree: When its branches become green and soft and new leaves appear, you know summer is near. In the same way, when you see all these things happening, you will know that the time is near, ready to come. I tell you the truth, all these things will happen while the people of this time are still living. Earth and sky will be destroyed, but the words I have said will never be destroyed.” (Matthew 24:30-35)

Be faithful. Be attentive. Be productive.