In Minnesota, Fall is the season to transition from boating, camping, and catching fireflies to snowmobiling, ice fishing, and catching snowflakes.
It’s one of my favorite seasons because it’s a total package: Football, quilts, and apple cider; campfires, colorful leaves, and cooler temperatures; layered outfits, scarves, and cute boots.
But it wasn’t until I met the apple tree that fall began to mean so much more.
This tree’s seasonal cycle gives a powerful illustration of life’s various stages of activity and the need for rest. However, in our task driven society, I have to force myself to employ these lessons all year long, through every season of life, and for each cycle of ministry and writing. It’s these practices that make the difference between finishing strong and burning out; between focusing on God’s purpose and calling on my life rather than the current task at hand; between seeking His glory and my own; between enduring to the end or quitting part way through. I promise not to get too technical, so stick with me. I’m confident you’ll glad you did.
In Spring the tree wakes up. As the sun warms her bark, water begins migrating back into her cells; creating a suction to draw up the nutrients that were stored in the roots last fall. Like our pre-breakfast coffee, these nutrients infuse the tree’s limbs with the energy needed to open the mixed buds (flowers and leaves) before photosynthesis takes over. After these physiological changes occur, the leaves unfurl, and the flower buds swell until there’s an explosion of color and fragrance! Then there’s a flurry of activity as bees flit from tree to tree pollinating the blossoms to ensure fall’s harvest. Then as the rest of the leaf buds open, the petals drop, signaling the arduous summer task of developing the seeds and fruit.
Summer is where the hard work happens. The tree is now in full leaf; it’s actively photosynthesizing while mining for moisture and other nutrients in the soil. There’s a lot of growth needing to happen: The seeds need to develop and mature, and the fruit needs to expand and sweeten. Much of this work is behind the scenes, in the cells of the plant. There’s little to nothing to show for its efforts as time marches on. To the trained eye, however, there’s tremendous progress; but to a layperson, it’s a waiting game to see anything significant.
But Summer is also the time when the tree is the most vulnerable. Storms can be merciless, threatening to strip off her leaves, crop, and branches. Inadequate fertilization and hydration cause stress, inviting insects and diseases to endanger the fruit quality if not the tree herself. Animals and lawn mowers can damage the trunk’s cambium layer, disrupting the flow of nutrients not only needed for the growth and development of the crop but also needed to sustain her vitality. It takes determination and fortitude to see the crop through to harvest as she fights off enemies seen and unseen. But she doesn’t give up. She trusts her Lord to give her the strength, to see His purpose fulfilled.
Finally, it’s time for harvest! The seeds are mature, and the fruit is ripe. All her hard work has paid off. Persevering through the storms and overcoming her enemies has rewarded her with a great bounty. And she begins to shut down and prepare for a season of rest once all the apples are gathered: Photosynthesis slows, she stores nutrients in her roots for the next Spring’s growth, and her leaves turn vibrant colors before becoming a blanket tucked in around her feet. Lastly, the water migrates out of her cells, and she sleeps.
Winter is a time for rest, but not idleness. Many physiological things are happening to rejuvenate her before her next season of exertion. One of the primary passivities is accumulating chilling hours. She needs to spend a minimum of 750 hours between 32-45 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure bud set for the next season. If she doesn’t get it, she won’t bloom. And without blossoms, there’s no fruit. No fruit means no harvest. So she must wait to be fully rejuvenated before she starts laboring again.
Beloved, we are just like the apple tree!
When we start something new, we’re excited! It doesn’t matter if it’s a new semester, job, or calling from God. The possibilities are endless. Our dreams are huge; our goals are lofty. Everywhere we look we see beauty exploding! It’s a fantastic time of rebirth. We’re full of purpose and drive. Our energy seems endless. The fact that our new calling is light years outside of our comfort zone only adds to the adventure. And with God on our side, we feel invincible.
But after some time, we’re discouraged and weary. We’re making progress, but it’s not going as quickly as anticipated. We’re so overwhelmed by the To Do list we neglect feasting on God’s Word and asking His Spirit to fill us. We do enough to get by, but not enough to sustain the increasing needs developing behind the scenes. That’s when Satan attacks. He mercilessly ushers in storms, trying to shake our faith and strip away our confidence. He stirs up our insecurities and questions our calling. He casts seeds of doubt and confusion, tempting us to quit. His distractions slow progress and disrupt plans. But when we join others in prayer he’s exterminated, the damage is repaired, and we can see snippets of growth and change again. And our resolve is fortified.
Finally, the fruit ripens, and the harvest begins! All our hard work has paid off. There’s so much joy in the bounty God has provided that the summer’s storms seem insignificant. As we look back, we can see how God has sustained and blessed us beyond what we could hope or imagine; how He has multiplied our efforts for His glory. Then we fall to our knees, awestruck; and our faith explodes. Once we’ve gathered the harvest, it’s time to wind down; to tie up all the loose ends and prepare for a season of refreshment and rejuvenation. It’s time to rest.
However, in our task-driven society rest has become a four-letter-word. So we tend to ignore our exhaustion and say, “What’s next?” We neglect our time of restoration. We reject our Sabbath and lose the opportunity to be rejuvenation with Scripture and prayer. Thus impairing our ability to set blooms for the next season of ministry, classes, and projects.
Beloved, if the apple tree didn’t rest, her years of production would be dramatically reduced. Likewise, your time of effectiveness for God will be abbreviated if you choose not to relax.
Just as Jesus rested (Mk 6:45-46) and encouraged His disciples to rest (Mk 6:30-31); He invites you to do the same: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NLT)
These verses are my battle cry during the times of intense labor: