I am someone who is reluctant to throw anything out that has sentimental value to me. Nor do I quickly throw out a plant even though it appears to be dead . I need to be absolutely sure.
Last year we bought a gorgeous Mandevilla plant. Being a tropical plant it must be kept as a patio plant and brought inside to wait out winter in a semi-dormant stage.
I brought it in before the frost last year and hovered over it all winter willing it not to die. But the leaves turned yellow and fell off. The stems lost their green color and turned dead brown.
But I hoped.
In spring we put it back on the patio and I watched... searching every day for some sign of life. I saw none. After a couple of months we broke down and went to the nursery to buy a replacement plant -- but they did not have the variety we wanted, Moonlight Parfait.
I continued to examine my plant daily until one morning , I called excitedly to my husband. "Look, look, I think that tiny bump is a little bit green!" My husband bent down for a closer look but he saw nothing that looked like life.
I watched ... day after day ... until there was no doubt that indeed my Mandevilla was growing, There is definitely life and fresh growth, as my above photo proves. I will enjoy the incredible blooms again this summer, and my joy will be heightened because I thought the plant was dead.
I thought of the parable that Jesus told in Luke 13:6-9
A man had a fig tree in his vineyard, that for some reason was not healthy. It bore no fruit when it was expected. He had been patient with the tree long enough.
He said to his gardener, "Look, enough is enough .. for three years this tree has born no fruit. Cut it down, it is taking up space that could be given to a more fruitful tree!"
But I identify with the gardener who pleaded, "Please, wait a little longer.. just one more year. I will dig around it and fertilize it and if it then bears fruit , wonderful!! If it fails again .. then you can cut it down."
Jesus told the story to reveal that He Himself has the heart of the gardener. He is reluctant to give up even if there is no sign of life. He will wait, patiently looking for that tiny spark. He will do all He can do, in whatever way He can to encourage life to flourish once more. He will guard carefully that nothing hurt or hinder the fruitful life He seeks.
We all have had times in our life where we have died or almost died. Times where we were so discouraged or downcast that we could barely hang on to life, bearing fruit was beyond our strength. Times where circumstances were such that death seemed imminent. Yet the Gardener was waiting, "digging around us and fertilizing" - perhaps we were not even aware until we could look back with hindsight.
We are not told, in the parable, whether the tree bore fruit the next year - it was up to the tree to respond to the care it was given.
So also we must respond to God's Spirit -- with whatever strength we have , it will be enough.
Did you notice the last detail in the story?
The Gardener's heart is so tender toward the tree that even though the vineyard owner told HIM to cut down the useless tree, the Gardener responds that if the tree does not bear fruit in spite of all my care , YOU cut it down."
Such is the loving heart of the One who calls us His own.