By Janice Teo
I have a lemon tree at home. To all who know it, it is a superstar. First of all, it is of the Meyer variety, which I understand is the Wonder Woman of the lemon tree world – strong, beautiful and able to cheat death at every turn (a necessary quality because until my mother-in-law came to live with us, I had to take care of it).
Secondly, for all its star quality, it is no diva. Some plants require more attention than an octopus going through a clingy phase; my lemon tree on the other hand is happy with regular watering and the occasional squirt of fertiliser.
There was one time when it had scale (scale are tiny, sap-sucking insects) and my heart stopped thinking we had lost it, but my mother-in-law, armed with lemon oil – kryptonite to scale – smothered the life out of the bugs we already had as well as all their future generations.
I can’t even claim any credit for planting it. It was already in the garden when we bought the house 15 years ago. In all that time it has never faltered, fruiting twice, sometimes even three times a year. Its fruit never varies in quality – always juicy, luscious and unblemished. It is so bountiful that the question is never ‘will we have enough?’ but ‘what do we do with all the excess?’
One evening I was struck by the thought that my lemon tree was the perfect metaphor for some aspects of what it means to be a Christian.
The Bible draws many parallels between the life of the Christian and life in the garden. In John 15, Jesus says: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit”. In verse 16 He says: “I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.”
And in Galatians 5: 22-23, the apostle Paul writes: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
Good fruit symbolises abundance, plenty, health and harvest; it means your plant is in the right environment and has all the nourishment it needs. Bad fruit or worse, barrenness, mean the exact opposite. The quality of your fruit in other words, is a reflection of your root system.
What kind of fruit would I be producing if Jesus had not come into my life; if Jesus hadn’t been my gardener, tending to me, pruning me, nourishing me? I shudder to think. My root system would surely not be as healthy as it is and it is all thanks to the love of God and His transforming work in my life.
I’ve been a Christian for more than 40 years. That does not make me perfect though, as I have had moments when the scale of sin has infested my life because I have disobeyed God. So I required copious amounts of Holy Spirit lemon oil to get me back on track. Thankfully the soil and environment I grew up in have been immensely helpful in keeping me faithful in my walk with God.
So I asked myself: Have I been bearing good fruit? Am I strong, steady and happy to give of my own harvest to others? Am I also a low-maintenance ‘plant’, more concerned with blessing others than my own comfort? I pray that is the case.
I also think about the time we almost gave up our lemon tree for dead, but my mother-in-law refused to give up. Today it is flourishing thanks to the fact that someone cared enough to nurse it through the storm. In God’s family too, nobody is a lost cause. Whether you need lemon oil or pruning, the Master Gardener has the skill to restore your life. He did that with me, He can do it with you. My lemon tree and I are living proof that anything can grow and blossom in the hands of the One who nurtures us all.
By Janice Teo