‘When you come into the land, and have planted all kinds of trees for food, then you shall count their fruit as uncircumcised. Three years it shall be as uncircumcised to you. It shall not be eaten. But in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, a praise to the Lord. And in the fifth year you may eat its fruit, that it may yield to you its increase: I am the Lord your God. Lev 19:23-25 (NKJV)
Early in my fifth year of pastoring, my friend Dr Bill Phares was preaching at ConnectPoint and used this verse in his message. As it turned out, the Lord had given him a prophetic word for me from this verse – but I wonder how many “fruit-growers” out there could benefit from it as well… After all – it’s the Bible – a Word for everyone!
Everyone involved in ministry is in the business of growing fruit trees. Is there a principle of timing here that applies to ministry?
For me, the first three years at ConnectPoint were fine… We grew, we learned. But the fourth year was entirely different. It was rough. The crowd thinned. Criticism was plenteous. I almost quit.
But beginning with the season in which my friend preached this message, things began to change. We had lost the last of our critical spirits. We started having visitors again. And they came back!
The truth is – we weren’t really doing anything different. As a matter of fact, I can’t put my finger on one thing that changed between the fourth and fifth year – except that all of us began to refocus and redouble our efforts. Attitudes changed – hopes rose. I’m really glad I didn’t quit in the fourth year!
The Law of the Fruit Tree
In looking back at it – I realized that the growth that we experienced in the first three years may not have been all that it seemed. While many translations describe fruit in the first three years as “forbidden” – the Hebrew word is “uncircumcised”. If it is forbidden, it is forbidden because it is not yet pure – not yet set apart as the distinctive fruit that God ordains it to be.
By the end of the fourth year – all that was left at ConnectPoint was the pure fruit. I don’t mean pure as in holy, more spiritual, or more noble in any way (I say that for all of those that left during the fourth year that may be reading this). What I mean by pure is those who would become the fruit that God intended this ministry to produce. You see – we’re not the same as every other fruit tree.
I’ve talked to a number of pastors since “discovering” this verse, and have found an interesting pattern. Most of them I talked to have identified their fourth year in their current ministry as their toughest!
I suppose this goes for anyone in ministry – but particularly pastors. If you’re just getting started in a particular ministry – make sure that you have at least a five-year commitment. And if you’re going through a particularly rough season, and it is your fourth year – don’t quit! This is not your year… it is God’s. Just keep tending that tree lovingly and faithfully – the coming year will be different.
I would like to hear your story!