Pruning vegetable plants produces better yields, especially early in the season. The gardener pinches off early flowers, suckers, and leaves to force the plant to focus on building itself up so that it can produce and support more and better fruit during the season. For the novice gardener, pinching off those early fruits can feel somehow wrong and scary, but as the experienced gardener knows, it is worth it. The plant will be stronger for longer if the gardener does what is necessary, not what is easy.
The same uneasy feeling we may have pruning off early growth is only prologue to giving up our first fruits of the harvest for an offering to God. Recently, a priest friend of mine commented on a Facebook post in which I shared a photo from our family garden of our first strawberry along with the caption, “First fruits.” His comment was, “when can I expect them at the church? (Deuteronomy 26)” – referencing the Old Testament passage in which the people of Israel are told to bring a basket of our first fruits to the temple as an offering. Although I joked with him about being greedy, we discussed how the true intent of tithing the first fruits is not to fatten up the clergy or the church’s bank account (most pastors make little money and most churches are poor – the opposite is the exception to the rule), but as a personal exercise of faith. Further, we should entirely avoid guilt around tithing because guilt does not create lasting change in people’s lives; the practices of gratitude does.
We want God to fulfill the promise he made to our ancestors but sometimes it can take many seasons, even generations, to see any fruit at all. Take the olive tree for example. As they say: “The olive grove of your grandfather, the cherry trees of your father, and your grape vines.” Like clipping those first flowers, offering up our first fruits requires faith that the promise of a great harvest in our garden, as well as in our lives, is true even if not immediately obvious. Patience, consistency, and sacrifice pay off even if not in this life. The point is for us to understand that it is all a gift.
Our daily lives are full of other examples of how the pruning and first fruits principles apply. We know that cutting out inefficiencies and investing early gains back into the company rather than paying ourselves is critical for long term success. Ignoring the distractions, staying on task, and putting in our valuable time today will all pay off tomorrow. God wants our first fruit so that we learn to give to what builds and sustains us throughout the seasons of our lives and beyond, rather than scrambling at the end of the season to make good on our commitments. Remember, God doesn’t ask for the 10 percent once the season is over, or when the fields are almost empty. He asks before the season has even begun. By offering up our early wins, we demonstrate not only our faith in the fruitful life ahead, but also our gratitude for gift of life itself.