I’ve been ill since April — deep, persistent pains in the chest and extreme difficulty in breathing and a tenacious weariness. They thought at first it was my heart but after a zillion tests concluded that it was not. I ended up in the hospital three or four more times, leaving each time with conflicting diagnoses. Then a month ago while in a meeting in Albany, Georgia, I once again found myself in the hospital. But this time I had a determined set of doctors who pledged to find out what was wrong.
I stayed there for four weeks. After numerous tests, they said I either had cancer or pneumonia. I opted for pneumonia. And pneumonia it was. But it won’t go away, so I’m still going to the doctor and taking tests.
Two things about this deal disturbed me. One, I had to cancel a number of meetings; two, the “c” word. Cancer. They said that my cat-scans were so bad that if I had had bacterial pneumonia or TB I would already be dead. Well, already being dead would not be so bad, but facing death of cancer was another matter. The chilling thought that I might die in the near future (chilling, not because of the destination, but of the process) reminded me forcefully of the uncertainty of our existence. I thought about all the things I still wanted to accomplish — had I made “full proof”, as Paul calls it, of my ministry?
Then I recalled a passage in Luke 13, where God is disgusted with a fig tree and gives it “one more year” to bear fruit, then He will cut it down. “And He began telling this parable: ‘ A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. “And he said to the vineyard keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’ “And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; “And if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not cut it down.’” (Luke13:6-9).
I thought about how many years I have put off some of the things I felt God wanted me to do — after all, I am a very busy guy. And the idea began to nag me — what if I have only one more year?
I’m afraid many of us are like that fruitless fig tree — we’re just taking up space and have no idea that God is about to cut us down. The fans of the Baylor University football team have, through years of defeat, developed a motto: “Wait til next year!” How many of us have said the same thing: “wait till next year.” But we may have only one more year to do what God expects from us.
1. Notice the Prerogative of God: He demands fruit from His trees. That is His right because (1) we are His, (2) He created us to bear fruit, (3) that’s all a fig tree is good for. If it doesn’t bare fruit, it is worthless and is only taking up valuable space.
2. Note the Patience of God: Three years He has been expecting fruit, always disappointed, but gives it one last chance to produce.
3. Note the Promise of God: If it bears fruit, fine, but if not, He will cut it down. I don’t know what this means, but I don’t like the sound of it.
Right now I believe I have many more years left, but I’m going to live as if He has said, “One more year.”