Lessons from a Kiwi Vine

On January 15, 2009, the world witnessed the “Miracle on the Hudson” as Captain “Sully” Sullenberger glided his disabled plane onto the frigid waters of the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 aboard. The plane’s two engines failed because of a “bird strike,” an unfortunate scenario in which a flock of birds unexpectedly flies in a plane’s path. Captain Sully had only to rely on forty-two years’ worth of experience to land the plane on the water’s surface so carefully that not one life would be lost.

That all 155 souls survived was Sully’s main concern upon landing. As the stewardesses are ushering people into life rafts, Sully wades into the flooding cabin to ensure that everyone has been evacuated. Even after everyone is safely in the harbor, he courses through the crowd to convince himself that everyone is okay. It isn’t until he’s left the scene that he hears that all 155 passengers are alive and well.

Sully did not become a hero overnight; instead, he became a hero over time through practice and discipline. In his book “After You Believe”, former Anglican bishop and leading New Testament scholar N.T. Wright says: “Virtue is what happens when someone has made a thousand small choices requiring effort and concentration to do something which is good and right, but which doesn’t come naturally. And then, on the thousand and first time, when it really matters, they find that they do what’s required automatically. Virtue is what happens when wise and courageous choices become second nature.” Through Sully’s training, discipline, and learning throughout his flying career he found himself prepared for a potentially disastrous event. This training is underground like the roots of a large tree. It is the unseen growth under the surface that prepared him for such an event.

As I think through all the decisions Sully must have made in a few short seconds, my mind goes to David. A young boy that would run out to meet a massive human being with only a sling and a few stones. What kind of underground training must have David gone through to prepare for such an event? The answer is found in the lifestyle of connection and intimacy he built with his God while tending the sheep in a vast wilderness. His underground equipping was fashioned through worship and praise in the what could otherwise be considered mundane. It was the unseen place, the hidden place, that David’s virtue was grown.

We all desire to have a visible, lasting impact in the world. This gets birthed in us once we believe the gospel. According to Romans 1:16, once we are saved, we don’t want to just see that power at work in our lives but the lives of others. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” This desire for lasting impact is not our idea…it’s Gods. According to John 15:4-12, God has created us to be people that abide in Him. Abide simply means to, “remain or stay in.” Those that abide in the Lord are ones that allow their roots to go deep in the Lord.

In 2005 my dad gave me a kiwi vine to plant in our backyard. Once I found a place for it and put it in the ground, I expected it to start bearing fruit. Call me impatient but I thought, “I did my part now you start doing your part.” The first year came to a close with very little growth on the vine, let alone fruit. I found myself having a conversation with the vine in my head. “Jesus gave the tree one more year to grow so I will show you grace and give you one more year. If you don’t produce, you’re going to be thrown into the lake of fire.” Well, that is how I remember it anyway. As you can imagine, the second year I saw some growth but no fruit. Instead of casting it into the lake of fire, I decided to do some research where I realized that it could take up to another 5 years before I saw any fruit. I also learned that, in fact, the vine was growing rapidly but all the growth was underground…the place I could not see.

It makes me think of how many Christians get discouraged by the lack of fruit they see in their lives when they are actually growing very rapidly “underground”. The place of underground training must be deep and vast to prepare you for fruitfulness. Whoever makes their home in the Lord and cultivates a life of intimate connection with Him will produce fruit. Here are a few thoughts to consider regarding God’s great call over your life.

  1. If you are a follower of Jesus, then your calling and destiny is to be fruitful.

Fruit means that when people taste your life, you taste like Jesus. We are appointed to produce much fruit (John 15:5,8) and fruit that lasts (John 15:16). He doesn’t say “some” fruit, but “much” fruit. He is not looking for minimal results…conservative estimates…safe results. He expects to see much and so should we. He is looking for a lifetime impact, a generational impact, and an eternal impact. Abundant, enduring fruitfulness is the mandate on your life. This will only happen if we “abide in Him”.

My kiwi vine needed to have a deep root structure to prepare for all the fruit that was going to be produced. The roots had to take up more space underground than the plant took above ground. Just like the tallest building in the world in Dubai, the Burj Khalifa (2,717 ft. tall), the foundation always has to be bigger than the thing it is supporting. First a deep foundation than a tall building. Fruitfulness in our lives comes about through a similar process. God plants the seed of His word inside you and waters it with the Holy Spirit, bringing it to life. He begins to give you insight into who He created you to be in Him and what he is calling you to do with Him. He stirs up that desire in you to have a lasting impact in the world. He starts to build a root system for that seed in your heart, your internal world.

Your heart is your point of connection with Jesus…the place where you become rooted in your relationship with Him. He wants to develop His heart to heart connection with you to the point where you become fully united with Him, where you think as He thinks, want what He wants, speak like He speaks, and do what he does. This is what it means to remain in Him. Only when you remain in Him will you produce fruit that lasts. For you to bear abundant, enduring fruit, God needs to make you bigger on the inside than you are on the outside. You have to let Him build your root system in secret before He leads you into making a visible impact in the world.

All of this takes time. Joseph went through 13 years of “root growth” while it took Moses 40 years. David had 17-20 years of transformation, testing, trial, and training while Paul disappeared for 3 years after his conversion to be “taught through revelation of Jesus Christ” in Arabia (Galatians 1:12, 16-17). Lasting fruit only comes through the long journey of putting our roots down in Jesus. Without deep roots, there is no fruit, and if there is fruit, it’s not the kind that lasts.

  1. Many start fewer finish!

I read an article recently of a news reporter that went to the finish line of the TCS New York City Marathon after 7 p.m. on race day. This is the time when most people are going the other way. The participants still going at this point were at eight hours or more into the 26.2-mile course through all five NYC boroughs, and the crowd is thin. I found myself reading multiple accounts of endurance in the face of wanting to give up but they persevered to the end. One of the late finishers, Denise Rodriguez, said,“I just kept thinking about my family. I was on the fence about doing it, because I injured my knees. And then I decided to walk the marathon. At one point, when the buses came by – they pick people up – to be honest, I had a thought, should I just give up? And I said no. I’m just going to keep doing it.”Amazing, isn’t it? There are many that start races but there are far fewer finishers. Finishers are impressive…even if they don’t have a record-breaking time. Finishing is impressive!

Many believers today don’t think about finishing the race. We easily get caught up with short-term success but that doesn’t impress the Lord one bit. We are created to live for the eternal according to 2 Corinthians 4:18, “…as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”Where are your eyes set? Are you prepared for the long obedience in the same direction? If you want to be one that wants to live eternally focused, you must be like one of the five wise virgins (Matthew 25:1-6). The five wise virgins were the ones that had oil in their lamps in preparation for the bridegrooms’ return. The five foolish took no oil with them. The oil represents the regular intimate connection with the Lord in three core areas.

  1. Root in the Word, Service, and Community.

To be on that is rooted in the Word means prioritizing our reading of the Bible, regularly meditating on its truths, and living a life that obeys what it says. When we regularly feed on the Word of God our minds become more renewed and transformed. We will find ourselves depending more on the Lord and trusting His guidance in our lives. The Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. Don’t try and live life without it.

Many secular studies show that the happiest people are those that serve others. This is because we are created in God’s image and the essence of love is others-oriented. You will never be happier that when you are serving others with your spiritual gifts. To be rooted in service means you trust God to promote you rather than taking matters into your own hands. Serving others builds humility in our hearts and roots our value in God’s great word over us.

Imagine a large bonfire with many pieces of wood in it. If you take one piece of wood out and place it 30 feet from the fire that piece of wood will slowly start to smolder and eventually stop burning at all. This is how God has created us. We are created to be rooted in authentic community and relationships. We all need others in our lives to help us when we are down, to lift us up when we become tired, and to walk through difficult seasons together. Being rooted in community we learn to trust our friends, inspire others, learn to take hits, and live in honor toward others.

The root growing process takes consistent time in the presence of the Lord. Resist the urge to compare yourself with others, rush the process, and skip steps in the process. The Lord starts the process right where we are because He has planted you there. God can grow roots of trust in you at whatever job you have, at home raising children or preaching to the masses. He already has positioned you to meet with him by being rooted in the Word, serving, and authentic community. Even if you are have missed past opportunities, or if you have wandered far from God, you can start over right now, wherever you are, to let God begin to cultivate in you the strong root system He wants you to have.