I still clearly remember the first time I was able to eat fruit from my own tree. Having been raised in a suburb of London I had only ever really experienced fruit that had sat upon a grocery store shelf for a week. Then in my late twenties I moved out to a more rural area to a house with five fruit trees. We moved in June and after a few days to settle in I began to explore the garden and found that there were literally hundreds of plums and pears ripening.
Plums are ready to pick in the first or second week of September in that latitude so I had plenty of time to wait. However the wait was enjoyable. Every morning I would go out in the early sun to look at all the fruit growing. A couple of times I sprayed an organic soap solution to ward of pests. From the third week of August I started giving the plums a little test squeeze to see if they were ripe yet.
Finally in the first week of September the fruit passed the test. The plum was immediately taken from the tree and bitten into. It is hard to describe but the flavor of a fresh plum plucked warm from the tree is completely unlike anything your local grocery store can manage. It has firmness yes it full of juice, both go within the first couple of hours of picking. It has a sweetness but without being sugary. In short it is incredible. Within a very enjoyable hour a good couple of dozen plums had migrated to my insides. Which is impressive given I hadn't really liked plums until that point.
After a couple of days it became clear that treating this tree as my morning breakfast was a waste. There were way too many plums for two people. So we got out baskets and began to pick them. For curiosity we weighed them too. We took 25lbs of plums to our church that Sunday which were gratefully received. The second 25lbs went too. The next 25lbs didn't find any takers.
It was time to start making jam. We also had some friends travel down to help us pick the fruit; we had taken less that a quarter from the first tree and the next one was beginning to ripen. Six solid hours of plum picking yielded another 200lbs of fruit. But it was now getting ripe; very ripe. If you grabbed a plum too quickly the juice went everywhere; and that began to attract the bugs. We finally gave up on the first tree and moved to the second. By the end of the season we had over a hundred and fifty jars of jam and our friend would run if they saw us carrying a bag.
Yet for all the plums we ate and handled there was nothing to compare to the memory of that first hour when I ate plums from my own tree. There was no thought of the work ahead, of the heat, of the insects. There was no stress, no planning, no organization. There was no real thought of anything other than how blessed I was to have a fruit tree in my garden and a creator God that provided the sun and water to produce the plums. Just sixty minutes during which a couple of dozen plums got picked.
The challenge is that what God requires from us is the firstfruits of our labors. It can be a challenge enough to 'fit' God and work for God into our program. The brutal truth however is that God doesn't want to be fitted into our program. Our service to and for Him is supposed to come out of the very best that we have. God isn't interested on being on the ToDo list. He expects to be the ToDo list.
The lesson of Malachi three is that 'OK' really is not 'OK'. The people there were poor. They were offering of their substance to God. The thing they were offering was about to be incinerated. What harm could it possibly do if they used an animal that was less valuable to them than the others? After all surely it was about the ritual and the participation. God is God; He cannot possibly need the best animal to be sacrificed. Isn't it supposed to be the thought that counts?
Looking at my own life the truth is that theory and reality are so far apart that the distance between them is almost impossible to quantify. When I look ahead to a new week the first things that get inked onto the calendar are my work schedule and the times I am (single) parenting the children. Once a day comes around I try to start with prayer which works unless the smallest wakes me with a diaper leak. Then I am into a round of emails, ablutions and breakfast preparations before commencing on the daily work schedule and helping the kids with their home-school. Sometime before lunch I normally manage to do a ten minute study and take some scripture into my mind to ruminate upon for the day. Then comes lunch, more work, more school, then dinner and quality time with the kids.
Then when the house goes quiet and I have done the daily clear-up I get to have my 'quality' time with God. But the fact is the quality that is left at the end of a busy day is minimal. Sometimes I don't even have the resolution to execute on the little part of my day that is left. I'm in too much pain, or am too tired or am just too self centered and decide I need a break.
I believe that a careful reading of Malachi three reveals a similar cycle; it is extremely clear in Haggai one. If God doesn't have control of our lives then He won't fully bless it. And a less blessed life is harder to live that a blessed one. We then respond to the lack of blessing by working harder and allocating less time to God and the cycle continues. It is interesting that in Malachi God specifically states that if they serve Him fully He will bless them abundantly. The text also makes clear that the people would have been surprised at being told they weren't serving Him properly. This wasn't idolatry or outright backsliding: it was misplaced priorities perhaps couple with lack of faith.
I would love to close this paper detailing the miraculous solution I have found to the problem. But I haven't found it yet. There are times when I can get my focus in the right place and things begin to click. Then problems arise or the workload increases. I get behind and then it is a struggle to catch up. Php 4:13 states: "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me". What I try to do is take hold of that verse and believe it. We are able to do all of the things that Christ wants us to do. Thus if we genuinely can't do something then we're not supposed to do it. There is thus never an excuse for doing a second rate job. The issue of course is ensuring that none of the things we do should be outside of His will; or we may be burning resources we need.
So as I cannot close with the solution I will close instead with a thought. A decade later the thought of those first plums can still bring a smile to my face. It wasn't a lot of plums in the scheme of things; but they were precious. When we do take the time to offer the first fruits of ourselves to God then I believe He appreciates them and He remembers. Our actual labor may not mean much in the grand scheme of things; but that is not the point. I hope that as the days and weeks hurtle past that we will each get opportunities to taste those first fruits ourselves; but more importantly that we will prioritize so that they are shared with God too.