Lessons from the Berry Patch: Lesson 5 ~ Don’t Waste Time Searching for Spilled Berries

Lessons from the Berry Patch

It’s one of those things that just happens, sometimes.  You’re working along picking berries, filling your bucket and having a good day at the berry patch.  You’ve reached your hand in through a wall of thorns, carefully selecting one big ripe berry after another while avoiding pricks.  You draw back your hand, now full to overflowing with carefully cradled juicy ripe berries, to make another deposit into your berry bucket. Unexpectedly, your shirt-sleeve snags on a thorn, and the carefully cradled berries spill out of your hand to the ground, below.

What a disappointment!  What do you do now?  Those are your berries!  You have already invested all the work of extracting them from their thorn-laden vines, to gather them into your bucket.  You have fought thorns, heat, sunburn and insects to gather those berries! Right now, they seem to you like the very biggest and juiciest berries you’ve picked all day.  You had them in your hand, and now they are gone.

Your first instinct will be to drop to your knees and begin gathering those dropped berries back up.

My advice is to resist that instinct.  Just leave those dropped berries on the ground, and move on to more berries hanging on the vine.

Now, this advice probably sounds odd coming from me.  Up until now, I have advised always pursuing the gathering of more berries, pushing past every obstacle to fill your bucket with those juicy black delectable delights.  Now, I am advising leaving perfectly good berries to rot on the ground, berries that you have already gone to the trouble of picking.

It does run counter-intuitive to much of my other advice.  In fact, this is one of the lessons I have the most trouble following myself.  By the time I’ve retrieved a handful of berries from the thorny vines, I have an emotional investment in those specific berries.  They are no longer just berries in the patch that I would like to gather. They are now mine!  They are berries I have already gathered and that I am prepared to defend, in order to keep.

To make matters worse, some of the spilled berries may be laying where I can easily see them, still supported by thorns, and not yet hidden in the brown leaves and grass of the berry-patch floor.  I’ll just reach back through the thorns, and pick them up again…

The problem is, it doesn’t work that way.  As soon as you touch one of the vines supporting a fallen berry, it drops on down to be hidden in the grass and leaves on the ground.  Normally, when you pick a berry, it stays attached to the vine until you slip your cupped hand beneath it and tug gently with your fingers to drop it into your hand.  With the spilled berries, there is no support and no room to get your hand under them. The more you try to retrieve them, the further they burrow into the carpet of grass and leaves.

Now, I’m not saying they are impossible to retrieve.  If you work hard at it, you will likely recover some of them. If they were the last berries on earth and you were starving, you would probably find a way to retrieve all of them.

However, they’re not the last berries on earth.  In fact, there is a multitude of more berries waiting to be picked, right here in the same berry patch!  And with the ratio of time spent to berries picked, it just doesn’t make sense to waste your time trying to retrieve spilled berries.  You would spend at least ten times longer retrieving the dropped berries than you would moving on to pick an equal number of berries off the vine.  See, the time and effort you invest in trying to retrieve the lost berries directly detracts from the time and energy available for picking new berries.  The spilled berries are just not a good investment of your time, with so many other berries available for picking.

Moreover, continued pursuit of spilled berries takes your eye off the goal. Perfectly good, ripe juicy berries are hanging right in front of your face, and you are ignoring them while continuing to pursue the lost opportunity of the dropped berries.

My advice is to stop thinking about the spilled berries and immediately move on to picking more berries from the vine.  At the end of the day, those fallen berries won’t make any noticeable difference in how full your bucket it is…but time wasted trying to retrieve them would.

Life Application

Life includes many disappointments and many lost opportunities.  There are many things in life that just don’t work out the way we hoped they would.

Relationships, ministries, employment opportunities, career paths, and a multitude of other activities are all investments we choose to make with our time and resources, anticipating some sort of return.  Some work out well and some don’t.  Some exceed all our expectations, while others just fizzle.

Don’t waste time continuing to pursue lost opportunities.  Whether a job opportunity that took an unexpected (and undesired) turn, a relationship that did not work out as you hoped, or a ministry that never developed, let it go and move on to other opportunities.  Life is too short and too full of opportunities to waste time pursuing what you should already have learned hasn’t worked.

Thus far, in the previous Lessons from the Berry Patch, I have encouraged going for the gold, putting your fears behind you and giving that new ministry, new relationship, or new opportunity all you’ve got.  With this lesson, I am not changing direction.  Rather, I am pointing out that giving that new opportunity all you’ve got sometimes means first letting go of a previous lost opportunity that did not work out.

The more time and effort we invest in a given ministry or relationship, the greater our emotional attachment.  We stop seeing it as an opportunity and start seeing it as a part of who we are.  Which means it is really hard to let go and walk away, when it fails.  We tend to continue pursuing that same lost opportunity far past the time it makes sense, when we should let it go and move on to new opportunities.

In Isaiah 43:18-19, God told the prophet, “Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.”  Note that it is necessary to forget the former things in order to receive and embrace the new things God has in store for us.  This does not mean erasing all memory of any lessons learned, but it does mean letting go of emotional attachment and ceasing to dwell on them.

For the believer in Christ, the primary goal is to be conformed to His image, to glorify Christ in how we live our lives, and to fulfill the destiny for which He has predestined us before the foundation of the world.  In reference to pursuing this goal the author of the book of Hebrews encourages us, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Note that single-minded pursuit of the  goal requires first that we “lay aside every encumbrance.”  In the second chapter of his letter to the  Ephesians, Paul reminds them where they came from, who they now are in Christ,  and of how little value are those things they once held dear.  Then he goes on to say “in reference to your  former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth”(Ephesians 4:22-24).

In the berry patch, the difference between lost opportunities and fresh prospects is fairly clear cut.  My rule is simply that once a berry has been dropped, it is no longer worth pursuing.

In life, the differences are often much more difficult to discern.  It is much more difficult to tell, in a relationship, whether it just needs more tending and nurturing, or whether it is time to let it go.  We don’t want to be guilty of being too scared of thorns to wade in and do the necessary hard work.  Neither do we want to continue wasting our time on a relationship or ministry that is simply over.

This is where we have to rely on God’s wisdom, spending time in Bible study and prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to show us the right path.

There will be times, though, when the right path is to let go and move on. When those times come, stop wasting time and effort on the lost opportunity, and start focusing on whatever new opportunities God may lead you toward.

(please add your comments to this post):

What are some examples from your life, in which you had to recognize that it was time to let go of something in which you had invested a great deal of time and effort?

Are there any things in your life, now, that are an encumbrance to pursuing the goals God has placed before you?  Is it time to lay them aside?

Lessons from the Berry Patch: Lesson 4 ~ Always Kneel to Pick Low-Hanging Berries

Girl Picking Grapes

Always Kneel to Pick Low Fruit

While picking blackberries, you will encounter some berries hanging low to the ground, just peaking out from beneath the leaves.  Your natural instinct will be to reach down, pluck the low-hanging berries, glance around for any other fruit, then move along to either left or right in search of more berries.

Resist this natural instinct.  Rather than reaching down to pick the low-hanging berries, kneel down.  I know, it sounds crazy.  You’re in the middle of a berry patch, with thorns, weeds and mud.  Why on earth would you want to kneel down on the ground, when you can just as easily reach all the berries by simply stooping down?

Here’s the thing.  Kneeling changes your perspective.  If you see three or four low-hanging berries and reach down to pick them, you wind up with what you expected, three or four berries.  However, if you kneel to pick them, you gain a new perspective that often reveals more berries.  Often, some of the juiciest berries are tucked back, concealed in the shade of the overshadowing leaves, and you simply cannot see them from a standing position. Where a few berries are visible, more are likely hidden, and kneeling gives you the necessary perspective to see and harvest them.

Also, kneeling slows you down and helps you focus.  You may not even realize that you’re rushing, when you stoop to pick, but you are.  Your mind has already started moving forward to the next stop; your eyes have already started glancing in search of the next pocket of berries; your feet have already started to shift your weight.

Kneeling, on the other hand, says you’re ready to stay awhile.  Rather than focusing on the next little pocket of berries, the portion of the patch right in front of your eyes has your full attention, and you have no plans to move forward from that spot, until you have found and picked every ripe berry within reach.

By kneeling, you will often pick a dozen or more berries, where you had originally seen only three or four.  The difference is in the new perspective gained, and the focused attention of staying put for a while.

Life Application

In life, in general, it usually pays  to take the time to search for hidden treasures.  We tend to get so busy rushing about the business of life that we forget what life is all about.  We’re so busy earning a living for our family that we forget to take the time to enjoy them, and to let them know we  appreciate them.  We’re so busy trying to please our boss that we forget to take the time to listen to our boss’s priorities and needs.

We’re all guilty of it at times, and that’s a real shame, because it is to our own detriment.

Take the time to enjoy a child’s comment on their day, or your spouse’s tender heart.  Take the time to notice when a coworker is having a bad day or appears upset.  Take
the time to notice a beautiful sunrise or a night sky full of stars.

I know it may sound trite to talk about stopping to smell the roses, but it is still true.  These are the real treasures of life, magic moments where God is either revealing His glory to you, or giving you the opportunity to reveal His glory to others, by simply taking the time to notice.

Just as kneeling to pick berries yields the change of perspective necessary for spotting hidden berry treasures, kneeling in prayer, before God, yields a new perspective on life.

I cannot tell you how many times I have come before the Father asking for His help, and walked away with a completely different perspective on the situation and my role in it. My focus is usually on changing the situation and changing other people’s actions. God’s focus seems to usually be on changing my heart and my perspective.

I approach God, feeling frustrated, and I leave the conversation feeling motivated.
What a change!

And it would not be possible without the change of perspective that kneeling provides.  There is simply something about physical posture that changes our ability to listen.
Kneeling, or bowing my head, says that I am in need of help, that I am ready for a new perspective, and that I am ready to sit and listen, rather than rushing off.

Right after explaining the need for wearing protective armor, Paul tells us, in Ephesians 6:18, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit…”  Clearly, “praying at all times” means having an attitude of prayer all day long, and asking God for guidance as we go about our daily business.

However, it is all too easy to let this slide into simply casting up God-help-me’s throughout the day, without taking the time to actually listen to God. The focus of prayer should be less on my telling God my needs (which He already knows) and more on my listening to God and allowing Him to change my perspective.  That requires a change in posture with time to listen.  If the situation does not permit kneeling, then at least find a place to bow my head and listen for a moment.

So, take the time to kneel…and plan to stay put a while.  You will likely walk away with treasures that were previously hidden.

(please add your comments to this post):

Can you tell us of a situation you have faced, where you went before God asking for his help and walked away with a different view of the situation?  How was your attitude changed by that time kneeling before God?  What new treasures were you able to see that had previously been hidden from your sight?

Lessons from the Berry Patch: Lesson 3 ~ Always Pursue the Big Juicy Black Berry in the Middle of the Patch

Hand victoriously clutching gold medal

Go for the Gold!

Any time you pick berries, you will always see a handful of extra-large, juicy ripe berries just out of reach in the middle of the patch.  They hang there teasing you as you search the perimeter for berries that are easier to reach, but probably smaller and less scrumptious looking.

You want to reach those big juicy black berries in the middle, but it appears impossible.  The vines are thick, forming a seemingly impenetrable wall of thorns.  There’s
just no way to reach them, you tell yourself.  You would like to pick them, but with no way to access them, you’ll just have to focus on picking what berries you can reach near the edges of the patch.

My advice, at this stage, is to believe that the seemingly impossible is possible.  Remember those boots, jeans, and long sleeves you put on before heading to the berry patch this morning? This was the reason for them.  Raise your left foot high, press it against the nearest vines, and crush them underfoot as you wade on into the thick of the thorny vines.

Then stay put for a while.  Yes, you’ve only taken one step, so far, and you have several more to go.  That’s okay.  See, you want to make sure you’re not crushing perfectly good berries underfoot as you proceed toward your goal.

Stop and look around you.  You are now inside the berry patch.  You have gained a new perspective of the situation.  Berries that were previously completely concealed from sight are now visible and within reach.  Pick every ripe berry that you can reach before taking another step.

When no more ripe berries can be reached, then return to your earlier goal of pursuing those delectable delights hanging high in the center of the patch.  Raising your foot high, again, take another vine-crushing step toward the middle.  Then pause, again.

Take time to search for, and pick, other berries as you gradually make your way to the middle.  Each step you take toward the middle of the patch will require either pushing past thorny vines, or pushing vines down to walk over them.  Inevitably, that process
reveals, with each step, new ripe blackberries that you could not previously see.  Take the time to look for and pick all of those berries revealed as you make your way toward your goal of those giant luscious berries out in the very middle.

Eventually, you’ll come within arms-reach of those big, luscious, ripe berries hanging high in the middle.  So, go ahead and make the reach to pick them.  Stretch out, laying
yourself over the thorns, as you fully extend your reach, grasping those huge, luscious, ripe blackberries!

Did they fall apart as you touched them?  Yes, that’s to be expected.  They were  beautiful, but over-ripe from over-exposure to sunlight.

Do you feel a little disappointed at finding the goal you so relentlessly pursued, with tenacious single-minded focus through an array of thorny obstacles has turned out to be of little value?  Of course you do!  It’s a bit anticlimactic, to say the least.

Now, at this point, you may be wondering why I encouraged you to pursue that goal with such enthusiasm.  I, as an experienced berry picker, knew the big berries in the middle were likely over-ripe.  So, why did I encourage you to pursue that goal?  Why didn’t I tell you, up-front, that they were probably over-ripe, and save you all that trouble?

It may surprise you to know that I, an experienced berry picker, make it a rule to always pursue the big ripe berries in the middle of the patch.  Yes, I know they are probably over-ripe, but I pursue them anyway.  Why?  Well, for one thing, sometimes they’re not over-ripe.  Sometimes, they’re perfect!

But there is an even better reason for the pursuit of such a worthy goal.  Take a look in your berry bucket.  See how many berries you’ve collected?  Do you see how many more berries you have now than when you were hovering around the perimeter of the patch?  Those berries you picked up along the way, as you worked toward your goal…those berries are the real reward for your efforts!

Life Application

The true benefit of pursuing a goal often has more to do with what we see, experience, and learn along the way than with attaining the goal itself.  It’s not the diploma, but the education, the knowledge, the relationships built, and the benefit of learning to appreciate hard work.

If God gives you a heart for a given ministry, wade on in and give it all you’ve got!

Sure, it may turn out to be less successful than you had hoped or envisioned.
That’s okay!  If you take the time to enjoy the many little treasures along the way, you will be richly blessed, as well as a blessing to others, regardless of the final outcome.

And look at the company you’ll be keeping!

Abraham, to whom God promised a vast estate as an inheritance for his multitude of descendants, never owned any land beyond what he purchased as a family cemetery.
But look at the rich blessings he gained along the way, and the legacy he left behind!  That legacy led directly to the fulfillment of messianic prophecy with the birth of Jesus Christ, Abraham’s descendant.

Moses, who spent 40 years working toward entering the promised land, and was only able to see it from afar before his death.  But look at the blessings along the way.  He led God’s people out of the bondage of Egypt, and taught them to follow God.  Moses spoke with God face-to-face, and saw God carve His commandments in tablets of stone!

What a blessing!  What a legacy!  For someone who relentlessly pursued a life goal that was never realized in his life-time, Moses sure did experience a lot of blessing and a lot of achievements along the way.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul opens the letter with a picture of our ultimate goal, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the
foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.  In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:3-6).

What a mouthful!  What a promise!  As we read these words of promise, we have to
stop every few lines to digest it.  The promises are so rich that we cannot absorb them in full sentences!

Paul is showing us both the goal and God’s promise of accomplishing that goal in our lives.  He wants us to have a clear vision of the goal and a deep desire to pursue the goal with unrelenting tenacity.

Then, in the following chapters, Paul gets into the nitty-gritty details of what it means to walk in godliness.  These are thorny issues that have to be dealt with.  There is going to be some pain, and it will require a lot of effort.

We’re talking about changing ourselves…becoming different people with different hearts.  Of course God does the changing, because we can’t.  However, God does not wave a magic wand to change our hearts.  Rather, he works through our own life experiences to accomplish His will and purpose in conforming our hearts to His image.

Then, in the final chapter, Paul reveals the armor of God, explains the purpose of each component, and advises its constant use.

The opening chapter sets the goal (berries in the middle of the patch) of fulfilling the destiny God established for us before the foundations of the world. The middle chapters explain the obstacles (seemingly impenetrable wall of thorns) between where we are now and the attainment of that goal.  The closing chapter tells how to prepare for overcoming those obstacles (proper attire).

Will we see the complete fulfillment of that final goal?  Yes, of a certainty, we will see it…but probably not in this lifetime.  Which means it is easy to get discouraged, as though the fulfillment of the goal is always just out of reach.

The important thing, now, is to take one step at a time, stopping at each step to enjoy God’s blessings and gain a new perspective, before taking another step, always in relentless pursuit of the final goal.  It is through those changes in perspective, those blessings along the way, those lessons learned in each step, that God is accomplishing His will in our lives.

Always pursue what goals God has placed in your heart.  Always take the time, with each step, to stop and learn from the new perspective gained.  Remember that those thorny issues standing between you and your goal are more than just obstacles to be overcome…they are also important steps in the fulfillment of your ultimate goal.

Don’t get discouraged when goals seem not to reach the expected fulfillment…check your bucket…it is now fuller than when you started!

(please add your comments to this post):

What goals have you pursued that led to disappointing results?  What did you learn along the way?  What relationships were built during the process?  Are you glad, today, that you made the effort to pursue the goal, even though the outcome was not what you hoped or envisioned?

What godly goal has been set before you, today?  Are you whole-heartedly pursuing it?  If not, why not?  Is fear of thorns holding you back, or fear of disappointment upon attaining the goal?

What about the ultimate goal of being conformed to the image of Christ?  Are you still whole-heartedly pursuing that goal?  What discouragements have you faced along the way?  How has God used those disappointments to further mold your heart to conformance with His image?

Lessons from the Berry Patch: Lesson 2 ~ Make Sure You are Properly Prepared and Attired

Drawing of the Armor of God

Roman Soldier Protective Clothing

There are lots of potential dangers in the berry patch.  Sure, it looks and sounds peaceful enough…pastoral even.  You can bring your kids with you and visit while picking a bucketful of juicy berries.  What a nice, safe, productive, enjoyable way to spend some family time! And it’s true!  The berry patch is all of that and more.

However, it is also full of potential hazards…hazards that are relatively easy to protect against if you take the time to prepare, but that can cause significant discomfort if not properly prepared for.

First, there are the thorns.  Blackberries are protected by long, sharp, hooked thorns that seem to always find a way to prick, no matter how carefully avoided.  Long sleeves, blue jeans and boots will greatly aid in reducing your number of pricks and scratches.  They will also help you to be less timid in your pursuit of berries.  Berry pickers who go to the patch attired in shorts, tank top and flip-flops invariably wind up skirting the edges of the berry patch, looking only for the berries within easy reach that don’t require any real effort. Sure, they’ll find a handful of easy-to-reach berries, but they’re not properly attired for pressing in to where the majority of the berries may be found.  These unprepared pickers usually wind up eating the few berries they picked at the edge of the patch while the properly attired pickers finish filling their buckets.

Then, there is the sun.  Blackberries like to grow in areas with lots of sunshine.  So, while picking you will be exposed to direct sunlight most of the day. Fortunately, the same clothes that help protect from thorns also help protect from sunburn.  However, you must still address any areas remaining uncovered. You should wear a hat or cap, to help keep the sun off of your face, and you should apply sunblock to the back of your neck, your ears, and any other exposed areas, to prevent sun burn.

Then there are the insects.  Chiggers in particular seem to abound in areas around a blackberry patch, although there may also be ticks, mosquitoes or horse-flies.  None of these is very difficult to avoid, but can seem downright unbearable if not planned for.  Fortunately, the long sleeves, blue jeans and boots that protect against thorns and sun also make a good barrier against insects.  However, a good overspray of insect repellant is a must to keep the chiggers out.  Personally I recommend Deep Woods Off, or something similar.

Spray a light spray over all your clothes, then a very heavy spray around your waist line and ankles, where insects are likely to try to find a way past your protective clothing.  Finally, apply a light spray over your exposed face and back of your neck.  This final spray is easiest done with someone else’s assistance.  Be sure to close and cover your eyes and hold your breath while your assistance lightly sprays your facial area.

Finally, there is the heat and dehydration to be concerned about.  Early morning is the best time for picking, before the full heat of the day.  However, plan to potentially be out in the heat for an extended period.  Carry plenty of Gatorade and water, and be quick to use them.  Although heat is uncomfortable, it is seldom truly dangerous so long as you keep your fluid levels up.  However, dehydration can come quickly and is potentially fatal, if you fail to replace expended fluids.

Life Application

Many things in life require proper preparation and planning.  In fact, life itself requires preparation.  The whole purpose of childhood is to provide for a child’s protection and provision until the child has matured enough to be prepared to protect and provide for himself.

Likewise, education is preparation for future ability to perform in a career or trade, in order to be able to care and provide for oneself and one’s family.

The same is true of the Christian life.  Too often, we view the Christian life as simply a matter of faith and forget the faith must be put into practice, much less that we must make appropriate preparations.

In Ephesians 6:10-11, the Apostle Paul tells us, “Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might.  Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.”

Paul is telling us that the Christian walk is full of hazards, and that we must make sure we are properly prepared.  If we are not properly prepared and attired we will be ineffective and exposed.  Like the berry pickers who circle the edges of the berry patch selecting a handful of easily picked berries, if we are not prepared for the Christian life, we will skirt the edges picking up a few encouraging motivational ideas, but will fail to fully embrace the Christian life with our complete enthusiastic trust. As a result, we will not see the life-changing heart-molding blessings that the Father has prepared for us.

Worse, we may fall prey to “the schemes of the devil.”  Like the berry patch, the Christian walk appears very idyllic and pastoral, where we walk with Jesus and all of our cares are provided for. And that is all true.  However, it is also true that the Christian walk is full of hazards which are dangerous, potentially fatal even, to those who are unprepared.

In Luke 8:5-15, Jesus tells the parable of the sower and the seed.  In this parable, Jesus describes three ways that the Word of God may be ineffective in a person’s life, and only one way in which it is effective.  The difference between the effective and the
ineffective is the preparation of the soil.

In the passage in Ephesians 6:10-18, Paul goes on to discuss the Christian walk in terms of warfare, telling us “Put on the full armor of God,” and providing detailed instructions on how to prepare for battle:

“Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.  Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace, in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:13-17).

Having detailed the protective equipment necessary for daily spiritual warfare, Paul goes on to emphasize the need for constant prayer, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit…” (Ephesians 6:18).  Prayer is our access to Christ, the Living Water.  Just as we must constantly consume fluids to stay hydrated in the heat of the berry patch, as we go about our daily business in this world full of hazards, we must
constantly replenish our reliance on God, through prayer and Bible reading.

So, before you enter the berry patch, today, first make sure you are prepared.
Put on the full armor of God. Fill up on the word of God.  Then carry Christ with you, praying constantly for replenishment of His life-giving essence.

(please add your comments to this post):

What examples do you have, from your own life experiences of times where being prepared allowed you to be more effective in glorifying Christ?

What examples do you have of times when being poorly prepared resulted in loss of effectiveness?

In what area of your life have you been skirting around the perimeter of the berry patch, avoiding wholeheartedly plunging in to deeper commitment and greater effectiveness?  What is keeping you from a deeper commitment?  What can you do, today, to either take the next step deeper into the berry patch, or to prepare for taking the next step?

Lessons from the Berry Patch: Lesson 1 ~ Wild Blackberries are Free for the Picking


Lessons from the Berry Patch

Wild blackberries are free for the picking!

Blackberries grow wild, in Arkansas, and throughout most of the South. They grow anywhere they can get plenty of sunshine and water, and haven’t been regularly mown down. Wild berries don’t require planting or tending. They don’t require pruning, watering, fertilizing, mulching, hoeing, or weeding.

Wild blackberries are simply “brought forth” from the earth, as nature’s bounty, of tasty, refreshing, sweet, juicy berries. You can take any open field in Arkansas, stop mowing it or tending it, and within two years, wild blackberries will be growing in any low spots where water collects, and where there is plenty of direct sunlight. They just grow, whether you want them to or not, unless you are putting specific effort into keeping them from growing.

Wild blackberries don’t have to be bought or paid for. Yes, some farmers charge people to pick berries on their farms. However, generally speaking, anyone who lives in rural Arkansas, and likes to pick blackberries, knows where they can find plenty of wild berries free of charge. You just have to be willing to look.

Wild blackberries are simply God’s free gift to us, a juicy, sweet, delicious gift he makes available to anyone who wants them, with no charge, and no need to plant, water or tend. They are a completely free gift, already made available, with no strings attached, and nothing you can do to earn them or pay for them!

Harvesting wild blackberries requires a lot of dedication and hard work! Yes, they are free for the picking, but the picking includes many trials. If you want wild blackberries, you must be prepared to invest a lot of time, effort, and inconvenience harvesting them.

Blackberries like to grow in areas with lots of direct sunlight. So, you will be exposed to the sun the whole time you are harvesting them. They ripen during June and July, two of the hottest months in Arkansas. It is hot, sweaty work, with lots of potential for sunburn or dehydration.

Blackberries are defended by thorns. No matter how hard you try, it is impossible to harvest wild blackberries without acquiring a substantial number of pricks and scratches. Then, your sweat from the heat runs into the scratches, making them burn with salt. By the end of a day of picking, your hands and forearms will be a mass of pricks and scratches stained dark by blood and berry juice, and caked with salt from your sweat.

The places that blackberries like to grow are the same places that are likely to be inhabited by parasitic blood-sucking insects, such as ticks, chiggers, horse-flies, and mosquitoes. It is best to protect yourself with insect repellant, but you will still end up with some itchy insect bites, by the end of the day. Of course the insect repellant washes with your sweat and sunblock, into your eyes, making them burn, and into those scratches on your hands and forearms, making them sting.

And, because blackberries like lots of water, they tend to grow in marshy spots that hold moisture. So, there is a reasonably good chance your shoes will get so soaked and muddy that they will squish as you walk. And, of course, between the berries and the water, you have to keep a sharp eye out for snakes and other critters.

Picking wild blackberries is not for the faint of heart. It is a project that requires commitment and dedication. Many people will start out for the berry patch, thinking it sounds like fun, just to tire of the effort within the first 15 minutes, and head back to the cool comfort of an air-conditioned living room, with little to show for their effort, beyond a need for a good shower and change of clothes.

Before you start out to the berry patch, you need to count the cost. You need to know what you’re likely to be facing and make sure you are prepared for the trials likely to be encountered. You won’t get a bucketful of berries in a casual 15 minute walk-by. You’ve got to be ready to get hot, tired, sweaty, sun-burned, bug-bitten, and thorn-pricked, if you want a good day’s berry harvest.

Life Application:

Many things in life that are freely given still require a lot of work before we can benefit from them.

Consider a full academic college scholarship, for example. It is a free gift! Yes, the student probably had to keep their grades up in high school and do well on the college entrance exam, in order to qualify. Still, though, nobody owes the student that money. It is made available to them as a free gift that they can either accept or not accept.

However, if they choose to accept the scholarship, it is just the start of all the hard work required to make full use of the gift. The scholarship covers the monetary cost of the education. However, in order to appropriate that gift of an education, in order to own it and make it theirs, they must commit to regularly attending class, to listening to lectures and taking notes, to reading assignments, to doing their homework, to studying hard for tests, to completing projects, and to asking questions when they don’t understand. Without all the hard work of actually partaking of the education and making it a part of themselves, the free gift of the scholarship is of absolutely no benefit to the student, whatsoever.

The scholarship is a completely free gift providing an educational opportunity that otherwise would not exist. Appropriation of that free gift and actually gaining benefit from it requires a lot of hard work and discipline.

Like the wild blackberries, God’s grace is made available to everyone, free of charge. It has already been made available to everyone, and there is absolutely nothing we can do to earn it or deserve it. It is already made available whether or not we choose to accept it, and is there for the accepting. “For by grace you have been saved, thru faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

We tend to think that because it is a free gift that it requires no effort, but this is not the case. Yes, God’s grace is offered as a free gift. However, having chosen to accept the free gift, in order for us to benefit from it, for us to appropriate it and make it a part of ourselves, requires a good deal of hard work and discipline, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). The purpose of the free gift of God’s grace is to enable us to do “good works” we would not otherwise be capable of doing. Having now the ability to do good works, we gain the responsibility to carry them out, and good works are…well…work! Hard work!

Jesus did not come so that we could keep living in the blindness and darkness of sin, while still hoping to escape Hell. Jesus came to transform us, from children of darkness to children of light! “…for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light” (Ephesians 5:8).

Having begun his epistle to the Ephesians emphasizing that God’s grace is a free gift, not of works (Ephesians 2:8-9), Paul goes on to say, “For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolator, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:5-10).

Sounds like a lot of hard work, doesn’t it? Harder, even, than picking wild blackberries on a hot summer day…or studying for an exam! It sounds like hard work, because it is hard work.

Paul explains in Ephesians 4:22-24, “…in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you may be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”
God’s goal, in our salvation, is for our very natures to be changed, from desiring and pursuing self-serving sinful desires to desiring and pursuing righteousness, godliness and holiness. God does not force that new nature on us; He never violates our free will.

Rather, he teaches and guides us in the paths of righteousness, as we are daily transformed into His image. That requires a lot of hard work on our part…but would be completely impossible without the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts. Without the Holy Spirit, we would not even desire to be transformed, but would be content to remain in the blind darkness of our sin nature.

The free gift of God’s grace is not to keep us from having to work. Rather it is to instill in us a desire to work and to enable us to work effectively. With the free gift of God’s grace, we can be transformed into the image of Christ, something which would have been completely impossible apart from that grace.

So, accept the free gift of God’s grace, so that you can effectively begin the hard work of appropriating (harvesting) the truth of His word, so you can partake (eat) of His goodness, making it a part of your nature!

It is time to start picking!

Questions (please respond with your answer):

Are we, Christ’s church, sometimes guilty of misrepresenting God’s grace in how we present the gospel?  Do we either over-emphasize works or over-emphasize grace to the exclusion of the other?

How can we better present the gospel to give a clearer undertsanding of these points?

Note:  The idea for this series of lessons was conceived several years ago, while picking blackberries one hot summer day, with my sister Melody, on her farm in Bee Branch, Arkansas.  Thank you, Melody, for the memories, the visiting, and the thought-provoking discussions!