Maybe you’ve heard a shorter version. “The successful will be punished.” It’s usually said by someone who’s done their work so well that they’re given even more to do. No break. No promotion. Not necessarily even a “thanks”. Just more.
And most understand. The person’s unusual competence, enthusiasm, loyalty, or other admirable traits earned others’ respect and trust. So, when crunch time comes (and there will always be crunch times), they become the go-to person to get it done. It’s a strange badge of prestige.
But it can be a target, too.
Last week in this series, “Fruitful Fridays”, we considered Joseph’s fruitful vine: planting, pruning, and plans at the end of Genesis. The Lord had greatly multiplied His people in number, safety, privilege, and more. Now fast-forward one chapter and about 400 years to Israel’s insufferable punishment for those same blessings by a Pharaoh who neither knew what God had done nor had any regard for His people. This new ruler’s only concern was that their overwhelming population might one day overwhelm his kingdom. Thus, he enslaved those who were once privileged guests and even ordered the death of all newborn boys to slow the Israelites’ fruitfulness. (Exodus 1:8-16) But, of course, the Lord have none of that.
You know the story.
God goes on to use Pharaoh’s hard heart to prove His complete power (Exodus 7:3, 10:1, 14:4 and 17) by rescuing His helpless and undeserving people. We can see that they were undeserving by how virtually all of them quickly and consistently complained, blamed, and rebelled from the time God promised deliverance to the time they came to the border of the Promised Land (Exodus 5:1-22, 14:11-12, 15:22, 16:1-4, 17:1-4, 32:28, Numbers 11:1ff, 12:1-12, 13:32-33, 14:1-10, 16:1ff, 20:1-5, 21:4-5, etc.). Yet, the Lord was gracious to protect, forgive, discipline, restore, and purify His people until the remaining faithful came into their new home (Deuteronomy 8). Let’s summarize a few key points, though, just to be sure we get some of the key messages. After all, it’s becoming increasingly clear: bearing fruit for God brings blessings and hardships, right?
The following are certainly not all of the key points, but they’re some we might overlook or need to hear again because our many hardships can shift our focus and fog our memories of God’s goodness and purpose for His fruit.
- The Lord doesn’t merely react to the hardships of His people. He ordains or at least allows them (Genesis 15:13) to foster even more fruit of our trust in Him alone, growing holiness, genuine joy in Him, and praise of His goodness to others (Genesis 50:20).
- The Lord almost never tells us every present reason He has ordained or allowed the “manure of the moment” to foster our future fruit. Rather, He calls us to look back on the many ways He has proved His goodness (Exodus 3:6-7). Even simply referring to Himself as “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” reminded them that He is the God of the impossible, the insignificant, and the undeserving.
- His timing is not necessarily what we may want for our fruitfulness, but His timing is always perfect in judgment (Genesis 15:16) and grace (Romans 5:6-8 and Galatians 4:4). We are to wait on Him (Lamentations 3:25-26), especially in times of hardship. In Exodus 12:12, the Lord decreed that “on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgement. I (in other words “and no other is”) the Lord.” It may be that the Lord took His time to show His complete rule over ten alleged gods of Egypt.
- The intensity of God’s “gardening” may sometimes seem harsh, but that may be necessary to prod His people to sow seeds of faith in Him (Jeremiah 4:3 and Hosea 10:12) or to reveal or break up the hard ground of hard hearts (1 Samuel 6:6, Ezekiel 36:26, Matthew 13:5, etc.). After the ten plagues, His people certainly had more than ample reason to trust that He was willing and able to provide for them and would differentiate between them and the Egyptians (Exodus 8:22 and 9:26). The Lord’s ways may seem slow to us, but He will bring about His good will in His good timing (Isaiah 55:10-11, Habakkuk 2:3, 2 Peter 3:8, etc.).
And He still calls us to wait in faithfulness, “For yet a little while, and the coming One will come and will not delay.” (Hebrews 10:37) God the Father has promised the return of the Lord Jesus for the “fruit” of His garden: all who follow Him by faith (John 15).
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Unless otherwise indicated, Jeff Dillard is the author of all posts in this blog, the goal of which is your greater joy in Christ through leadership and counseling. Jeff and his wife, Lauren, have been married since 1995. By God’s grace, they have four wonderful children and two grandchildren. Jeff was ordained by the Presbyterian Church in America and commissioned as an Army Chaplain in 1998. He has Master’s degrees in Divinity, History, and Counseling. Since 1998, he’s had the privilege of equipping and encouraging others’ faith and service to the Lord Jesus by leading congregations and counseling in multicultural settings across the United States. Seven of those years have been in Germany, Korea, and Iraq. For leisure, Jeff enjoys simple time with his family, exercise, playing guitar and trumpet, and trying foreign foods with friends.
Please note that the contents of tools4trenches do not necessarily reflect specific beliefs or practices of organizations in which Jeff works or worships.