We close out the year by saying this memorable phrase, “Happy New Year!” Surrounded by confetti, music, food and friends, most of us celebrate the incoming new year surrounded by the people we love and with an anticipation that this year will be a “happier year.”
What does it mean to have a “happy” year? Or better yet to be happy? Disney is known as “the happiest place on earth.” For some of you, that means your hands in the air on Space Mountain screaming it’s a small world at the top of your lungs because you’re too macho to scream like a little girl or perhpas it’s singing “Let It Go” in your best Elsa voice with your Mickey “ears” on as you spot one of the Frozen princesses at the autograph signing while licking a frozen Mickey popsicle. Finland is known as the happiest place on earth. Finland’s 5.5 million residents enjoy more forest per square mile than any European country, extremely high environmental standards, and a very low threat level making it one of the most peaceful places on Earth. Dr. Seuss’ take on happiness is to “Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened” and Abraham Lincoln says, “Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” We want our kids “to be happy” too.
I have deduced that how “happy” you view your year will depend on one key attribute: discipline. I have found I am most happy when I have built self-discipline in my life and forged some good habits for me to follow.
Happiness can veer you off course. It’s so easy to be distracted, to become lethargic, to drift into apathy, to dull in your senses (ever binge-watched a season and forgot what day it was…yeah me too.). Self-discipline is passionate commitment to a mission with an equal passionate commitment to resist and advance no matter what comes against you. Sometimes you prioritize what matters most by resisting or avoiding what matters less.
Biblically speaking, self-discipline is a form of self-control. It’s that fruit of the Spirit that restricts us from what is unhelpful or unproductive so we can focus on growing what matters most and becoming fruitful. Self-discipline is an act of cultivation-it’s the process of GROWTH. It requires you to connect today's actions to tomorrow's results. We know this as sowing and reaping. There's a season for sowing and a season for reaping. Self-discipline helps you know which is which. “Sowing” the self-discipline of no sugar for a month will result in “reaping” the benefits of feeling good and your clothes fitting better. This essentially works for every area of your life!
We are expected to produce fruit in life because God has given us capacity to grow. This growth of our spiritual lives is dependent on soil, roots and branches. Each of our lives are being planted, rooted and should be growing and bearing fruit. God is an “aggregate God” who uses the metaphor of agriculture as a means of seeing our spiritual lives be significant and have meaning by remain growing. The Bible indicates the following:
”I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. Ephesians 3:16-17
“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.“ Colossians 2: 6-7
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
The soil, roots, branches and fruit of your life are connected to specific areas of growth in your life. Let’s put these all into the metaphor of a tree. Think of a tree having roots branches growing in the soil and bearing fruit in different seasons. I had an apple tree in my back yard that I grew up with dropping apples all summer long. My brother and I would pick boxes of apples and my mom would make applesauce, jam, have apple fights (the more rotten the better), etc. We knew that every season that tree would grow fruit and we would enjoy the harvest every year. Without fail.
God wants you to grow and bear fruit year after year. That’s why we love new year’s resolutions. They are opportunities to inspect what we have grown this past year and see the fruit of our lives. Just as mom would look at the fruit of our apple tree, keep the good fruit and toss the bad, so do we every year around the beginning of January. We take careful inspection of the fruit of our lives and celebrate what’s been grown and you and everyone around you shares in the reward of your good choices.
We know the fruit by the tree. The Scriptures are clear on that (Luke 6:44). We can look at the fruit of our lives and we can follow the branch, connected to the trunk and down to the root. Your life is a tree bearing fruit. But not just one tree…but an orchard. Your life is not just a single tree but it is actually a grove of trees. Here’s what I mean: we tend to organize our life into different departments or domains like work life, school life, friends, home, church, etc. Some of these areas are interrelated and that’s obvious. But for the purpose of this content, I’m asking you to recognize them separately. This is a metaphor and ultimately an exercise to give certain areas of your life the attention they deserve. These domains dictate to us how we operate, succeed and grow. Each of these specific areas of our lives are expected to grow and prosper. No matter what season you are in, you are already rooted in these places and are bearing fruit whether you believe it or not.
We’ve identified these areas as “trees” and they collectively represent your life or in other words, your “Life Grove.” Each of us has a Life Grove we are in charge of and are to be growing fruit in and enjoying successes. These trees each have a specific purpose that ultimately make up your collective life in Christ and are rooted in Christ. The more we are aware of our Life Grove then the more we can set goals for growth and see our lives impact others in a greater way.
I’ve identified the most common domains or trees below as “The Seven Trees of our Life Grove:”
Tree 1: The Spiritual Tree
This tree represents our spiritual life and it’s connection to God. From our devotional disciplines, our Bible reading plans, our prayer lives...this tree is critical for all spiritual disciplines.
Tree 2: The Emotional Tree
This tree is significant for your soul’s health and prosperity. Our emotianal health is how we think and feel so we can process our own feelings and emotions with clarity and steward them well.
Tree 3: The Intellectual Tree
Our intellectual tree is being rooted and grounded in significant ideas, processes and order. It’s your capacity for understanding, thinking and acquiring wisdom and knowledge and how you process and order your wisdom. What we are reading, the topics of conversations we are having and the images we are interested in all contribute to our healthy and growing intellect.
Tree 4: The Physical Tree
Plain and simple, your physical health. How you take care of your body’s health and well-being is important for every human being.
Tree 5: The Relational Tree
This tree reflects the fruit of your relational health. The way you are connecting to your friends, your spouse, your children, your social life and all aspects of relationships are the fruit of this tree.
Tree 6: The Vocational Tree
This is the growth of your professional life. This tree reflects the fruit of your job, how you are influencing, the significance of your calling in your season of life, etc.
Tree 7: The Financial Tree
This tree signifies the financial successes, generosity and security in relation to your money.
Each of these areas of our lives are “producing.” Just as we see the fruit or the “produce” of a an apple tree for example, we see the fruit of what we are “producing” from each of these trees as areas of our life. in our lives as well. Jesus says it best,
“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.” Matthew 12:33
Jesus knew that our Life Grove needed to be attended to and each of these specific areas of our lives cared for so we can see growth in our lives. We are expected to be checking our fruit and seeing what is being produced from each of our trees in our lives. For some of us, we have noticed the relational fruit of our marriage slipping into a place of boredom. For others, we are enjoying the intellectual fruit of our lives as we have engaged in life-giving conversations obtaining wisdom and instruction on a difficult life topic. Some of us see the emotional fruit of our lives as we let our insecurities come to the surface causing us to believe the worst about that person and the situation or even ourselves. Others of us see the spiritual fruit of our devotional lives flourishing as we are devoting more of our time and efforts into reading the Bible and praying more.
We are expected to produce fruit in life because God has given us capacity for GROWTH. These specific areas are not just "supposed to grow" but they are to flourish. To flourish means to
"...to be in a vigorous state; thrive; to be in its or in one's prime; be at the height of fame, excellence,influence, to be successful; prosper." -Webster
When something is growing, it's vigorous development is not just hoped for but expected. When you are rooted in Christ, GROWTH is an outcome of your connection to the Holy Spirit (Galations 5:22). Your Life Grove is not supposed to be a struggling and languishing grove of sadness but an orchard of life where you and many are enjoying it's fruits.