Jeremiah stared at the angel in bewilderment. “Am I dead then?”
“Oh no, not at all,” replied the angel.
“Then where am I? The last thing I remember was snuggling up to my wife in bed.”
“Don’t worry, Jeremiah, you’re having a vision.”
“I don’t believe in visions. My pastor says that they are for flaky Christians who haven’t the discipline to study the Word.”
“Then how’s about we call it a dream. After all, you were asleep, weren’t you?”
“I suppose so, but …”
“No need for buts,” interrupted the angel. “Dreams are very Biblical: Abraham, Joseph, Daniel, even the apostle Paul.”
Jeremiah shrugged and looked around. Nine fruit trees were surrounded by a stone wall. A stream flowed in from under one of the walls and watered each of the trees in turn. There were no other openings in the wall and no obvious way out.
“This is a sacred place. It is where the Holy Spirit cultivates the fruit of Christlikeness in your own life. It is a private place. No one else can add to or subtract from what is grown here. Is this clear?”
Jeremiah scratched his head. “Not exactly, but then I guess a lot of weird things happen in dreams.”
“Jeremiah O’Connell, are you being deliberately obtuse? This is not an ordinary dream. This is a God-dream. Did you eat any cheese last night? No, you did not. Are you running half-naked down some long tunnel? No, you are not. You are experiencing this dream because the Lord God has an important message for you.”
“Now you’re starting to sound like my pastor. He’s always scolding me as well. Are you sure you’re really an angel?”
“One, two … nine, ten. Exhale slowly; resist temptation to strike down human with sword. Right, where was I? Come here!”
The angel walked over to one of the trees. It was bursting with fruit and its leaves looked green and healthy.
“Do you see that lovely red fruit? Looks like an apple but the taste is much sweeter. This tree produces the fruit of kindness – its abundance shows that your godly reputation is well deserved. And look over there at the trees of faithfulness and gentleness. You, Jeremiah, are a genuinely good man.”
“I, I don’t know what to say.” Jeremiah gazed at the branches laden heavily with different varieties of fruit. “Of course I try my best, but if you really knew my heart you wouldn’t say such things.”
“Oh, Jeremiah, if you could only see yourself as the Lord does. He has been moulding you into something truly beautiful.”
“But my pastor says that I am wretched …”
“I’m not interested in what your pastor says. I work for a higher authority. Tell me, does anything strike you as odd about this orchard?”
Jeremiah looked round again. Then he pointed to a tree in the corner. Unlike the others, only a few fruits hung from its branches and even these looked small and shrivelled. “What’s wrong with that tree?” he asked.
“That is the tree of joy. Sad to say, joy is somewhat lacking in your life.”
“That’s not right. I do have joy. It’s just deep down. You need to be very careful when it comes to emotion. God wants us to be serious and sober-minded.”
“And I suppose your pastor said that too! Listen, Jeremiah, I have see diamonds mined out of the ground that were not buried as deep as that joy you have hidden in your heart. God wants you experience his joy welling up within you and overflowing in praise and thanksgiving. That’s why you’re having this dream.”
“So what should I do?”
“Laugh. Smile. Giggle. Rejoice … loudly. You have bought into a straitjacketed form of Christianity that is more comfortable in a funeral home that it is in the pages of the New Testament. The Lord has so much more that he wants to do in you, but he needs you to stop bottling up all that joy. That’s it – message delivered. Got it?”
Jeremiah sat up suddenly and exclaimed, “Hallelujah!”
Martha turned over and peered at her husband in the half-light of dawn. “Are you alright, dear?” she asked.
“Never felt better, my love, never better.” And Jeremiah began to laugh, long and loud, a roar that echoed through the house, as joy filled his heart and burst out in a crescendo of jubilant praise.
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