The Hungry Fruit Picker

Bible Book: Micah  7 : 1
Subject: New Year; Hardship; Trouble; Faith
Introduction

Today we begin a New Year. Most of us ate far too much between Thanksgiving and Christmas and many of us will be going on a diet starting this week. I feel like the man who said that he didn't believe in exercising by bending down to touch his toes. The man said, "If the Lord meant for me to touch my toes, he would have placed them closer to my hands!"

A lady went to the doctor asking for some pills to lose weight. The doctor gave her a very large bottle of pills. She asked, "Will these help me to lose weight?" The doctor said, "Yes, but I don't want you to swallow them. I want you to open up the bottle and pour them on the floor three times a day, and then I want you to bend over and pick them up one at a time and put them back in the bottle." I don't know about you, but if I were that woman, I would change doctors!

You would think, however, we would learn that no matter how much we eat, we still want more. But, I am not going to talk about the physical food we all need and we all eat.. We are going to look at the barrenness of this world in meeting our innermost needs. We can make this New Year more satisfying to our lives if we will turn from the barren fruit trees the world offers and dine at the table that contains the Fruit of the Spirit.

I want to speak to you today on a subject of great importance regarding our pilgrimage through the New Year before us. If we don't enter the New Year in the right way, we will end up at the end of it as hungry fruit pickers. We will be disappointed and dissatisfied. I want us to turn back to a time long ago, and see the kind of world God's servant faced and the way he found victory in difficult times. I want us to learn from an illustration he used regarding The Hungry Fruit Picker.

In Micah 7:1, we read an interesting statement about how hard life is when one concentrates on problems, disappointments and hardships. Micah said it is like a fruit picker going out to pick fruit after the harvest is over. All the fruit is gone. You have high hopes when go out into a field or orchard where you have been told or think there is a harvest of fruit. But, what sadness and depression you feel if you find that not a single piece of fruit is left on the trees or vines. You end up as a hungry fruit picker.

People have such high hopes in life. Then, suddenly, their dreams are crushed by circumstances, events and things outside their control. This is especially difficult for Christians who expect life to be bowl of delicious fruit everyday. Much preaching today concentrates on kingdom wealth and kingdom healing, but one cannot read the Bible without noticing that God's greatest servants suffered in many ways. They faced hardships, trials and difficulties even though they were chosen of God to be among His most useful and productive servants.

Life can be very hard for Christians who don’t understand this world from a Biblical and Spiritual point of view. For those who don't grasp the way God works in and through their lives, defeat can follow. The dreams of what one can gain from this world will end up coming so short of your expectations and despondency and dejection sets in very quickly. It is easy for a person to become cynical when looking at this world only through human eyes. The Christian must be careful not to become downhearted in this sinful world. This is especially true of the young Christian who thinks that being a believer will insulate himself or herself from the awful experiences of life.

I led a man to the Lord a number of years ago while pastoring in South Carolina. He had lived a criminal and very rough life before I met him. He had already straightened up his behavior and had gained some financial success by the time I witnessed to him, but he was not a happy man. I spent time with him explaining how Jesus could give him the joy he had been looking for all his life. He had a glorious salvation experience and immediately began to serve the Lord. He came to every service at the church and wanted to know what he could do to assist the ministries of the fellowship. A short time later he was in a Bible study when someone mentioned that divorce was not God's will. The statement was not made in judgment or anger, but was made as a simple fact that divorce is not God's best for us and not His will. Since this man had been divorced, he took the statement as a condemnation. He was very upset. I had to spend some time with him trying to explain that no one was trying to condemn or reject him and that he needed to learn to trust God in all matters related to life. You see, this man came to Christ, but he mistakenly thought that once he made this decision his path would be strewn with rose pedals. He never thought about the fact that he would get his feelings hurt, even in church, and that he would be required to always put God and God's Word first in his life. So many Christians fall by the wayside because they want God to keep their fruit bowl full all the time. When Isaiah was volunteered to answer God's call, the Lord told him that he would preach but the people would not listen. Isaiah was going to work in an orchard that had no fruit. So, how does a person serve God when life doesn't give you want you want? How do you remain faithful when the fruit trees are barren? How do you give your best when you feel that people are hurting you with words and actions? Is there fruit that the human eye cannot see in the orchard of your life?

I want to share with you today how to keep an uplifted spirit in the downtrodden world. Micah lived in difficult times and, interestingly, the times he lived in were a lot like the times we are living in today, as we shall see in this message. Micah had an answer for times like these, and so can we. I want us to look at two things today: (1) The Depressing Situation; and, (2) The Delightful Expectation that Micah experienced.

I. The Depressing Situation

Micah expressed his sense of depression by explaining the circumstances he saw around him. To read what Micah penned about 2,700 years ago is very analogous to our own times. We think of the people in Bible times as being ancient, but they lived in this world where man’s nature has not changed since Adam fell into sin in the Garden of Eden. When you read Micah's words, you see modern day life in many respects, and it can be a bit depressing.

Just think of Moses for a moment. He lived on the backside of the world for 40 years because he had killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave. Then, God miraculously called him to go back to Egypt and lead the people out of slavery. Wow! What a challenge and what an opportunity. When Moses led the people out through the Red Sea, he most have thought that a new world order had begun. Things would be different now! But, it wasn't long before the people started to grumble. They wanted to go back to Egypt. They even made a golden calf to worship. They grumbled and complained all time. When they finally reached the Promised Land, they refused to go over and take it. Moses was a hunger fruit picker. He was working in a orchard that appeared to have little or no fruit. But, Moses, like all of God's faithful servants, had fruit from God that the world could not give him and that people in the world could not see.

God leads us in His path, but that does not mean that the path always leads downhill, with the wind. Those who want an easy path will never be true followers of Jesus. Church members who will quit the church because they don't get their way are not serving for the right reason and with the right spirit from the beginning! God does not call us to sit around and eat fruit, but to be faithful in the vineyard where we are planted. The Lord will take care of our souls and feed us on the things that bring real joy, if we will follow faithfully in all the seasons of life.

A. The Dishonest Leaders

Micah lived in a time when dishonest leaders were common - of course, dishonest leaders have existed in every generation and they exist in government, business and even in Christian work to this day.

Micah reviewed the leadership of his day and revealed a horrible lack of godliness. He stated that leaders weave a net in which they catch the unwitting citizens. These leaders were so adept at setting up a system for robbing the people that they could have been considered  criminally ambidextrous – that is, they are equally good at robbing people with both hands (read 7:3).

The "prince" mentioned in our text was much like a political leader today, and the text tells us that the prince was only looking for what he could get out of every decision, rather than what was best for the people. This problem exists in every area of life. Some people in a marriage do not think of their spouse but only of self. In the churches, there are those who think the church is there only to serve them. The same is true in business and government. That is what Micah saw in his day.

In Micah's day, even the court system was infected with this disease. The judge, Micah tells us, was seeking a bride. His point was that everyone was out for himself or herself. Love was absent and materialism reigned. He reveals in this passage that the political leaders and judicial leaders of his day got together to work out their schemes so that the people had no recourse. Normally, if someone is acting illegally in places of leadership, a person or the people can take the leader to court, but if the judicial system is in bed with the political system the people have nowhere to turn in society for relief. In fact, Micah goes so far as to say that the very best of these leaders were like briers! Ouch! I suppose everyone here has had a brier or splinter in your hand or foot at one time or another. It is amazing what pain can be caused by so small an object. The best of the leaders in Micah’s day, even if they didn’t kill him, made him miserable – like a brier in the hand or foot.

Can you look at our society today and see some similarities? I don’t want to paint those in leadership today with a broad brush, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that we are living in very corrupt times. It is fascinating to me that people in the White House and Congress (the House of Representatives and the Senate) in America do not have to abide by the laws they impose on the citizens. And, of course, people in the legal system enjoy incredible protection. But, this is the way it has always been. This kind of situation depressed Micah when he looked at in his day, and it can do the same to us if we think about it too much in our day.

Micah said that looking for wholesome and unselfish leadership in a society that is corrupt is like going out into a vineyard and looking for grapes after the harvest has already been picked. You end up as a hunger fruit picker.

Unless you have been living in a cave or on Mars for the past few months, you know the story of Gerald (Jerry) Sandusky, the former defensive coach for Penn State University. Now, we cannot convict someone without a fair trial, but his story is like so many others we have seen played out recently in our society. People in authority, leaders, so often take advantage of children, the weak and the poor who have very little power. Sandusky is accused of molesting young boys while working at Penn State University and while working in his private organization “The Second Mile.” A recent suit has been filed in court accusing him of over 100 separate incidents of molestation. Micah, no doubt, saw such things in his day. He saw political, community, judicial and religious leaders who were corrupt. It was, and it is today, a depressing situation. Sadly, many of these people are above the law, or think they are. For years they get by with their behavior because they are protected by other leaders who are part of the “scheme.” They have, to use Micah’s word, produced a “net” in which the weak are captured and ill-treated.

B. The Dysfunctional Family (verses 5-6)

Micah explained in our text today that the family in his day was totally dysfunctional. He said that a person was taking a great risk if he divulged feelings, ideas or secrets with those closest to him - even those of his own household. Look at verse 5 – he shares that one must guard his or her mouth from everyone – wife, husband, and friend. He speaks of children, parents and in-laws being against each other. About 700 years later we read the same warning in the New Testament, and that warning states that it will be like this when Jesus returns. If you watch a little reality TV, one of the people’s court type programs on television or just read your daily newspaper, you can see that we have not changed much since Micah’s day. Micah wrote, “A man’s enemies are the men of his own household.” (verse 6b)

The culture in Micah’s day was falling apart. The systems that God established for the welfare of humanity had been abandoned. Does anyone doubt that we are living in exactly the same kind of society today? You know we are! Even the basic cultural norms have been forsaken by many people in our day.

All of this can be very depressing, especially if you're living in circumstances that relate directly to these kinds of problems. Many people are struggling today with what they see as a collapse of Christian values, but you must note that the situations we face today are the same circumstances that were being faced by people long before Christ was born. And they were around when the New Testament was written. And, they will be around till Jesus returns.

Dear friend, don't expect the fruit trees of this world to be laden with good fruit. The world is fallen and corrupt. When you become a child of God, you are still living in a fallen world. God has food for your soul that the world cannot give.

Jesus sat down by the well at Sychar while the disciples went into the city for food. You remember the event and how Jesus led the Samaritan woman to come to believing faith in Him as the Messiah. When the disciples commented that Jesus had not eaten anything, Jesus said, "I have food that you know nothing about." If you expect this world to feed your innermost needs, you are going to be a very hungry fruit picker! The situation that Micah recounted from his day is the same today. We must remember that the only thing that truly satisfies the soul is that which God provides. And, be sure, the world will not be like it was in Micah's day or our day forever. I want you to lift up your head today and think about how to overcome the depressing nature of our times.

II. The Delightful Expectation

Let’s turn to a delightful expectation which Micah shares with us. If we are not careful, we can become so disturbed with the status quo that we forget where our eyes and hearts must be focused. Micah reveals that we must turn our attention to the Lord. He has a plan that the corrupt world cannot see or will not accept.

A. The Focus Fixed

Micah had his focus fixed in the right place. In verse 7 of Micah chapter 7, the prophet speaks of his point of focus, “Therefore I will look to the Lord…” Yes! That is what we must do. We must not allow ourselves to become depressed by circumstances. Vance Havner, the late, great preacher, once said, “We should not be living under the circumstances but ‘Standing On The Promises.’" That’s it!

I don’t know what you are going through in your life but if you are a child of God, your are just “going through.” You are not going to stay where you are. God has plans for you. He has plans for you in this life and the life to come. You are not alone. It may be a boss, institution, governmental agency, spouse, child, parent, or someone else who has let you down, but you cannot and must not let that become your focus. Lift up your eyes to the hills from which your help comes; your help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth! Read Romans 8:28 again and again. Remember that God is working through all things for those who love Him and serve Him according to His will. Remember that His will does not always lead down a pleasant path but His path always leads to the right destination.

Remember the Apostle Paul this morning. He suffered many things, including a thorn in his flesh, but he had a focus that helped him maintain a joyful heart and an obedient life. Even in prison he wrote the great joy letter to the Philippians. Read Philippians 4 and note the uplifting nature of those words. As you read those words, remember that Paul was under Roman guard at the time he penned those words. How could Paul be so joyful at such a difficult time in his life? He had his focus fixed on the Lord - the presence of the Lord - the work of the Lord - the promises of the Lord - the love of the Lord - his future with the Lord.

In verse 9, Micah said he would bear the indignation he was going through. Micah recognized that he, himself, was a sinner. Micah knew he was a sinner in a sinful world. But, Micah fixed his focus on God’s goodness and grace. That is what every believer must do! After all, you should not expect perfection in others since you are not perfect either. Our only hope is in the Lord. Micah was not going to allow his focus to be fixed on this world, nor was he going to allow the devil to accuse him to a point of depression; but rather, he chose to keep his focus fixed on the One who made this world, rules this world and is one day coming to straighten out this world!

B. The Faith Kept

Throughout this section of Micah’s prophecy he continues to keep his faith in God. He does not allow the problems he sees or the problems he is experiencing to sour his trust in God.

Recently I read some of the writings of a well known atheist. One of his books was a best seller and I wanted to see how such a book could be accepted by so many readers. I got the book from my local library - I didn't want to support the author by buying the book. After reading the book, I was not surprised to see why this man did not believe in God. The author is an intellectual and has studied the Bible exhaustively. So, why would he doubt the existence of God? This man stated that when he saw the suffering in the world, along with war and natural disasters that bring so much suffering to human life, he just could not believe in God. His thinking centered around the idea that a loving God with all power would not allow such suffering among humans. Poor soul! He has fixed his faith on what he can see rather than on what God tells us. Jesus Himself said that there would be wars, pestilence, earthquakes and natural disasters all the way to the end of the age. After all, this is a sinful world. The sorrows we face have been brought about by the fall of mankind into sin. Even the earth groans for redemption by the Creator. For a true child of God, these sorrows are not surprising. They may be disappointing but they do not weaken our faith. If we look at the sad things in our world, and take our eyes off God, we will succumb to doubts and distractions. But, when we know His Word and trust His heart, we can keep the faith through every situation. Micah was not moved to desert God just because evil, hardship, corruption and death were all around him. He kept the faith. That is what you and I must do.

C. The Future Assured

Micah explained that God had a plan. In the end, God's plan will break forth on this earth and bring about justice to those who have abused and used others.

Micah also assured us that there is none like our God. Look at verse 18 of chapter 7. “Who is a God like you, Pardoning iniquity, And passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?” How wonderful. God will not forget you – you who belong to Him. Sure, I know you have sinned. So have I. But, God pardons the iniquities of His heritage. Micah reveals that God delights in mercy. Aren’t you glad? Yes, and so am I! He forgives sin. He gives us what we do not deserve. He gives us grace and peace when our focus is fixed upon Him! How does God deal with our sins? Let’s face it, even God’s people sin  - though we take no joy in it. Someone once said that the difference in a non-Christian and a Christian is that the Christian can’t enjoy sin. That is true. The wicked will face a terrible judgment, but what about those of us who have trusted Jesus Christ to be our Lord and Savior? Look at verse 19b, …”You [God] will cast ALL our sins Into the depths of the sea.” Yes, yes, yes! And, how does He do that? He does that through the sacrifice Jesus made on the Cross for us. He bore our sins in His own body. He who knew no sin, became sin for us. Thank God daily for the blood of Jesus. Keep your focus on what He has saved you from and not on what you are going through!

Conclusion

The times are tough. Things are not what you or I want them to be. But, Jesus is coming. The Lord will keep His word. You are not a hungry fruit picker. God has food for your soul that the world knows nothing about. The world's fruit will not satisfy you, so don't look for it in the world. You will find joy only in Him. The things of this world are passing, but all that God gives us is eternal. To trust the things of the world to satisfy you is like looking at a mirage. It looks good from a distance, but once you get near it, you discover that it is nothing but an empty promise. Keep your eyes on Him who never promises anything that He cannot and will not deliver.

Beyond all this, there will be fruit growing in Heaven unlike anything you have experienced here. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t try to get revenge on those who have mistreated you. Don’t decry every bad situation. This will only serve to depress you even more. Fix your focus on Him and trust the future that He has assured!

Look up! Stand up! Don’t give up! Speak up for the Lord. Soon, He will take us up to live with Him. This is not a fairytale – it is a fact!

So, enter this New Year with one resolution - keep your eyes on the Lord. Serve him with gladness. Let Him feed us with the fruit of the Spirit and turn our backs on the barren fruit trees of this world.

Invitation

If you have never trusted the Lord, come to Him today. This world at its best is like a brier in your hand or foot. But, God will give you joy unspeakable in this life and joy forever in a place where the cares of this world cannot approach.

If you know the Lord, today is a good day to rededicate your life to Him. Trust Him more. Love Him more. Serve Him better.