Put up Your Axe and Plant Fruit Trees

It Is Time to Stop Trimming Evangelistic Efforts

Where have all of the orchards gone? I tell you, we have destroyed them! You and I are responsible. The fruit trees have been hewn down and destroyed, and we are suffering from malnutrition as a result.

We wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness. We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes: we stumble at noonday as in the night; we are in desolate places as dead men. We roar all like bears, and mourn sore like doves: we look for judgment, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far off from us. For our transgressions are multiplied before thee, and our sins testify against us: for our transgressions are with us; and as for our iniquities, we know them; in transgressing and lying against the LORD, and departing away from our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood. And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter. Yea, truth faileth; and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey: and the LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no judgment.—Isaiah 59:9b–15

For 150 years America has managed to live without a national revival. Had it not been for the first Great Awakening of the 1740s, America, as we have known it, would have never been born. The fearless preaching of evangelists in the early days of this country kept the nation on its knees before God in times of war, difficulty, corruption, and vice. In the darkest moments of our history, God has raised up mighty preachers to thunder His Word in church houses, barns, and town squares. In days of expansion and exploration the camp meetings, brush arbors, and tent revivals kept our focus on God. A couple generations ago, nearly every Christian would testify of a life-changing decision made in a revival campaign held in a local church.

But the orchards that teemed with fruit-bearing trees lie desolate today—a dinosaur spoken of only in the context of “the good old days.” We are advanced and sophisticated now. We have discovered we can exist without fruit in our diet. Fruit trees require too much work anyway, and we need the land for better and more desirable things.

Because fruit trees have been such an important part of our nation’s religious fabric, it has taken us many years to cut them down. In the March 1947 issue of The Evangelical Christian, an article appeared entitled “Urban Evangelism” by Robert E. Millard. He stated: “Evangelistic campaigns conducted by professional evangelists are, by and large, a spiritual extravagance. When results are tabulated, it is usually found that the conversions are very few and the cost per capita is excessive.” The axe had been sharpened and many took to the fields to begin the wicked deed of destroying the fruit trees.

I am told that there are just over 14,000 independent Baptist churches in America today. I wonder how many of them had a revival meeting in their churches last year with a God-called evangelist? Did they conduct a Vacation Bible School or take their kids to camp? When is the last time they needed or wanted to print some Gospel tracts or have a friend day to invite the lost to hear the Gospel?

The truth is, many churches have quit knocking on doors, running buses, printing tracts, and having revivals. Their tract racks are empty (if they exist), their buses have been sold, the baptistry is filled with Christmas decorations, and they cannot remember the last evangelist they heard preach! I guess there was not room for the mourner’s bench when we brought in the instruments for the praise band. The pulpit will be next since, if we’re not concerned about souls, we really don’t need to use the Bible. Thus, a stool and microphone is all we need to entertain the masses. We are still building a good crowd, but we have stopped building good churches because we cut down the fruit trees.

In Deuteronomy chapter twenty, God strictly forbade the killing of fruit trees! For the sake of context, think carefully about God’s words beginning in verse ten:

When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it. And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee. And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it: And when the Lord thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword: But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the Lord thy God hath given thee. Thus shalt thou do unto all the cities which are very far off from thee, which are not of the cities of these nations. But of the cities of these people, which the Lord thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth: But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee: That they teach you not to do after all their abominations, which they have done unto their gods; so should ye sin against the Lord your God.

A careful reading indicates that when the Israelites conquered a land, they were to spare nothing! It may seem unreasonable, but the annihilation of wickedness was to be complete. But notice the next two verses of this chapter (verses 19-20):

“When thou shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by forcing an ax against them: for thou mayest eat of them, and thou shalt not cut them down (for the tree of the field is man’s life) to employ them in the siege: Only the trees which thou knowest that they be not trees for meat, thou shalt destroy and cut down; and thou shalt build bulwarks against the city that maketh war with thee, until it be subdued.”

The Israelite army was instructed that if they needed wood for the battle (to build their bulwarks) they were to be sure that they were not cutting down a tree that produced fruit (or meat). Why? Because, as verse nineteen states in the parenthesis, that tree was a man’s life! He was to eat of them. During the battle and after, they were going to need these fruit trees to survive. No matter how skilled they were in battle, if they had no food, the battle would eventually be lost. It was indeed a sin for them to cut down these fruit-bearing trees for they would be violating the strict commandment of God.

What is happening in America today? Our nation is on the brink of self-destruction. There is no fear of God before our eyes—our foundation has been destroyed. Atheism grows while morality declines. Outside of our homes we are threatened by the mobs, and inside our homes we are threatened by the media. Our schools, shopping malls, and amusement parks have become crime scenes, and the church seems to stand on the corner powerless. Many are simply trying to hang on until the rapture. How did this happen?

Do you remember the article quoted earlier by Mr. Millard? He calls revival campaigns an “extravagance.” Do you see a word within that word? It’s the word extra. That is exactly what the devil would have us believe—that a fruit tree is an extra. It is not really needed. It is nice if you can afford it, but it is not a necessity. You can cut it down.

Our ministries face the constant challenge of determining what is necessary and what is an extravagance. God commands us to be wise stewards of our resources. We cannot do everything in ministry—decisions have to be made about how we are going to use the money that God entrusts to the church. It is an exercise that no godly pastor, staff, or deacon enjoys, but it is part of being in a leadership position. Often when faced with these crucial decisions it is easy to look at the budget and not take into consideration whether or not a tree is a fruit tree or one used for the bulwarks.

While I am sure that others are in better positions to make judgments, I have observed in thirty-seven years of ministry that when finances are the issue, it is often the fruit tree that gets hewn down. Evangelistic meetings are canceled or never scheduled. Buses are sold. Tracts are printed poorly or not at all. A trip to camp is canceled, and Vacation Bible School is placed on hold. Newspaper advertisements are too expensive, and a commercial spot on television or the radio is out of the question.

And what is more alarming is that while we wield our axes against these fruit-bearing trees, we protect the bulwark trees as sacred cows. Why, we would never attend a church without air conditioning, padded pews, and carpeted floors! How can we have church without a grand piano, a lapel microphone, and fresh flowers on the Lord’s Supper table (that is what that table is for, isn’t it?). Preachers cannot stay at a church if there is no housing allowance, car, cell phone, and retirement package, but God forbid that we should pay four dollars a gallon to put gas in a church bus! We do not mind spending hundreds of dollars a month to be on a radio program to which lost people never listen, but we will argue for hours about whether we can afford candy to get some kids together for a five-day club where dozens of children can be saved.

The answer to our financial problems is fruit-bearing trees! The more of these trees you plant and nurture, the quicker you will solve your financial dilemma. For instance, a church is coming up one hundred dollars a week short of its budget in the offerings. What is the answer? Cut out one hundred dollars a week worth of ministry? NO! A thousand times NO! Think about it in this realm: Suppose as an individual, you were not making it financially. You were working an eight-hour-a-day job and getting paid a good wage, but it just wasn’t enough to make ends meet. Would your thought process be: “I believe it would be wise for me to quit my job, because then I would not have to buy as much gas for my car, which will save me money. Since I will not be working, I will not be expending as much energy, and therefore, will not have to eat as much, which will save on grocery money.”

Do you see the point? You would not cut off the potential to the solution of your problem. Quitting work would only intensify the problem, not solve it. The truth is, you would consider acquiring another job, maybe even driving more miles and spending more money on gas, food, or clothes in order to make more money to meet the need. If a church is running a hundred dollars behind in their budget each week—what is the solution? Stop running the buses? Stop printing tracts? Stop having revivals? Absolutely NOT! The solution is seeing people saved, baptized, discipled, and taught how to give.

America is in trouble. Our churches are in trouble. The doors are closing on far too many churches. Too many others are steeped in apathy and fatalism. It’s time to put up the axe and get out the hoe and a garden hose. Let’s plant and nurture some fruit trees! We are going to need them to survive.

If this article was a help to you, consider sharing it with your friends.