Growing up in a church environment I was told time and again that Christians are appointed to bear lasting fruit (John 15:16) and I dreamed of the kind of fruit I would like to bear: shiny great apples that testified to God’s glory. I wanted to help people like Jesus did so I aspired to be a paramedic and spend my working days (and nights) soothing the pain of other people’s hurts. I was so certain that God would want what I wanted that I tried to grow those apples myself, pruned with academic choices, fed with years of study and watered with bucket-loads of prayer. Despite my best efforts the apples grew pear-shaped.
Then I saw that other people had the apples I wanted; a family friend sold his business to become a paramedic, a school friend joined the London Ambulance Service and I envied their apples in paramedic-green so I tried even harder to make my pears grow apple-shaped. I looked for distance learning courses in anatomy and physiology, and tried to force my broken brain to memorise paramedic manuals in the hope that if I wanted it badly enough I might convince God to give me the miracle I was looking for. The miracle never happened, the apples never grew and the pears, left untended, withered on the tree.
Then I heard stories of people in similar circumstances who’d grown fruit they’d never expected, through art, music, preaching, jewellery making, web-design and home-based businesses. Surely I could manage to do at least one of these? So I tried to borrow other people’s apples, turning my crippled hands to arts and crafts that no one wanted, composing songs that no one would hear and writing sermons that went unspoken. I thought if God saw how hard I was trying he would honour the effort and graft the borrowed fruit to my barren branches but the apples grew rotten as they were never really mine to own.
But I knew of housebound Christians who’d become formidable prayer warriors and I figured that if they could do it, so could I. I assumed that ALL housebound Christians are called to amazing prayer ministries (because that’s what other Christians were telling me) so I tried to imitate these fruits of intercession like paper apples glued to the tree. I used Google Street View to prayer walk the streets of my old life and visit homes of friends I no longer heard from, but as months became years it grew ever harder to know what I ought to pray for a church and community I was no longer part of. The sweat and tears of my own difficult circumstances slowly dissolved the glue that held my paper apples in place and one by one those poor imitations blew away.
Finally, when every conceivable plan to artificially propagate apples had failed I reached the hard-won epiphany: what’s wrong with pears? Surely any fruit is better than no fruit? It takes more than apples to make fruit salad. If I stopped obsessing about the apples in other people’s orchards (paramedic-green or otherwise) perhaps God could finally get on with growing some fine organic pears in my own. Apples, pears or gooseberries, it really doesn’t matter, so long as God is the gardener.
“I am the vine; you are the branches.
If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit;
apart from me you can do nothing.”
John 15:5 (NIV 2011)