“Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ “ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’ ”” Luke 13:6-9 NIV

There’s a great need in our lives to always inspect what you expect. If you’ve made an investment in something or someone you should expect a return on your investment. Relationships are no different. They should bear fruit, but if after three years there is no fruit, you need to re-evaluate.

Jesus tells a parable of a man who had a vineyard. He went to check on a tree he planted three years prior and there was no fruit on it. He told the gardener to cut it down. There was no need to continue investing in this tree if it’s not bearing any fruit.

It’s amazing that Jesus told this parable because he walked with his disciples for three years. There were times that Jesus grew frustrated with his disciples and basically said, “Y’all still don’t get it do you?!” But Jesus continued to cultivate them just like this tree.

Before we cut unproductive relationships let’s make sure we do the following:

  1. Set a time limit on the relationship to see if there is going to be any significant changes. Unproductive relationships suck up valuable resources and take up precious space where otherwise productive people could’ve been planted. Some relationships need to be put under strict observation to see if they are going to be fruitful or remain stagnant. Don’t go longer than another year with people who are unproductive. You even need to put them on notice that this relationship is approaching an expiration date if something doesn’t drastically change.
  2. Dig around it. The gardener would dig around the roots of an unproductive tree to give the roots more oxygen. Sometimes you need to dig a little deeper to uncover the dysfunction in existing relationships to see if they are worth keeping. Once you dig up stones in existing relationships around the roots will they be able to be productive after some significant digging? One thing is for sure, if you don’t dig, you wont get any fruit and the relationship remains unproductive. Digging is equivalent to probing with deep questions on the viability of the relationship.
  3. Fertilizing the relationship. Fertilizer stinks! It’s made from manure. This is where you have to speak truth in love and administer tough love in an effort to salvage the relationship. This is where you have to apply counseling, continued education and intense performance plans as a last resort. 

It’s possible to save friendships, marriages, partnerships, employment relationships with some intentional evaluation, agitation, deep conversations, and practical applications. But if the person(s) are not open to the process you need to cut it so you can plant something new in its place.

For more advice on developing deeper relationships pre-order my new book that comes out next month: 3-Dimensional Relationships: Three dimensions necessary for healthy relationships at stacyspencer.org.

Dear God,

Help us to discern what relationships are still beneficial and which ones have died but are still taking up needed space. In this season, I only want people in my space that are bearing fruit and we make each other better, not bitter. Help me to do the necessary work to make them better and give me enough courage to cut it when they don’t want to do any better.

In Jesus’ Name,