Examples from nature often are the best sources of God’s simple” wisdom that we human beings can apply to our “complex” lives. Every Jew for Jesus missionary has had some experience in discipling new Jewish believers. Each of us have made some mistakes as we helped others to grow, but even in these we have also gained new insights. And just as we can observe the growth of God’s green earth, so, too, we can find lessons and truths to apply to our own work in His harvest of souls.
The vineyard, a metaphor often used in Scripture, is a common sight in the land of Israel today, just as it was in ancient times. It is one example of an earthly phenomenon from which we can gain heavenly insight.
The vineyard represents a particular “breed” of Christian. In Isaiah 5, we read the Song of the Vineyard-how the Lord, the keeper of the vineyard, provided for the growth of Israel, the vine, that she might grow and be fruitful. We read that God was disappointed to see wild grapes growing in this well-tended place. He sorrowed that it ought not to have been this way.
A vine is an adaptable plant which flowers quickly. Just as the blossoms exude a freshness, a vibrant fragrance, so the atmosphere surrounding a new believer also speaks of the excitement and vibrance of his new faith. His zeal for the Lord, his hunger for the Word, and his joy in fellowship are contagious.
In Israel, at the time of Christ, vines were allowed to run freely along the ground. But to prevent their becoming tangled and weak, sturdier fig and olive trees were planted amidst the vines. In this way, the young branches could wrap themselves dependently around the strong trunks and grow.
So, too, it is good to let a new believer “grow freely” and express his joy in the Lord, but it is likewise important that the new disciple not stand alone. Every new “sprout” in Christ requires the sturdy “trunk” of an older, more secure Christian to grow around, to lean on when questions of faith arise and when crises threaten to shake his new-found belief. We must be available to provide answers or to help the new believer find answers for himself. We must be quick to recall our own first doubts and to reassure the new disciple that God is stronger than his weakness.
Another lesson to learn from the vineyard is the principle of pruning. This act of love, which is often mistaken for rejection, is the only way to make a branch (or a believer) more fruitful.
In John 15, Jesus stated it plainly: it is the job of the branch to bear fruit. Every branch that does not bear fruit, the vinedresser-God the Father-prunes further. This is not a punishment, for it will make the branch even more fruitful. We need to teach the new believer that this discipline from God is a sign of His deep love, and not one of rejection.
It is not the blossom, but the fruit, that is God’s desired product. The blossom must give way, and through a long, hot summer, fruit will steadily grow and ripen. The first blossom of a new believer is pleasant and refreshing, but God is truly looking for mature disciples to serve Him. This maturity can only develop in a believer’s life after he has passed through long, dry periods of “normalcy” and routine. That dry spell is what will ultimately separate the new recruits from the proven veterans.
One does not grow spiritually only on the mountain top or in the valleys of deep crisis, but through steadily serving, learning and proving oneself daily. The Israeli summer is a long stretch of five rainless months. But the long-awaited grape harvest is reaped at the end of that summer. We must teach the new disciple that living the Christian life means enduring through the long dry periods, being true to Christ’s example of patient waiting.
Harvest, on the other hand, is a cheerful time of singing and celebration. It will also be so when the Lord returns to gather His vineyard. But know too, that He will examine the fruit to see if we have produced good grapes, sweet wine for the Father’s tasting. In Isaiah 5, God complained that Israel had produced “wild grapes.” True, Israel had produced fruit, but it was not the Lord’s work, the expression of the vinedresser’s care. He had made every provision for a successful harvest, and yet there was no singing and celebration when He saw what had grown. As we disciple others, and as we ourselves grow in God’s grace, let us remember to allow the Lord to plant us and prune us. Let Him tend and use us, that we may bring a smile to His lips as He tastes the wine of who we have become in Him.