Here's a story I heard two times last week, once in tafseer class by Mufti Ebrahim Desai saheb, and once last night in a talk by Shaykh Zulfiqar Ahmad Naqshbandi saheb Daamat Barakaatuhum. So decided to share it.
Once upon a time, a king asked his servant to go into his apple orchard to pick the best fruits he could find. There was, however, one condition. Once the slave passed through one garden in the orchard, he was not to return to it. Once he passed one garden, the only way to go was forward, not back.
So the servant took his basket and off the the orchard he went. He entered the first garden. There the fruit did not look nice at all, they were unripe. Not wanting to fill his basket with such, he entered the second garden.
The apples in the second garden were a bit better than the first garden, but still not the kind the servant wanted to present to his king. So on he moved once more to the third garden.
In the third garden, the servant was happy to see that the fruit were ripe and beautiful. However, a thought came to him. As he passed the previous gardens, he noticed that the quality of the fruits were becoming better! So why not skip this third garden and go to the fourth?
In the fourth garden his thoughts were not disappointed; the apples were at their prime, bigger and more beautiful than even the apples in the third garden. Again the thought came to him, if the fruit here is so nice, then the fifth garden must be even better! So enter the fifth one he did...
Only to find it completely devoid of fruits. And the dismayed servant could do nothing but exit the orchard from the fifth garden with an empty basket, as he was not allowed to return to the previous gardens.
Imam Ghazaali Rahmatullahi 'Alayhi explains that the King symbolizes Allah, and the servant symbolizes the slaves of Allah, ie us. The orchard symbolizes our life, and the apples sybolize our virtuous deeds. The gardens are our passing days.
The moral of this story is that Allah has ordered us to obey Him, so that our basket will be filled with good deeds. We pass through the days of life, each day thinking, tomorrow I will make tawba, tomorrow I will do so and so good deed, tomorrow I will stop comitting such and such sin.
However little do we realize that one day, there will be no tomorrow left. On that day, what should happen if our basket is empty of good deeds just like the servant's basket was empty of apples? We will not be allowed to turn around and go back in time, just like the servant was not allowed to go back into the previous gardens. The fact is, every day we have to fill our baskets with good deeds and make tawbah and leave sins, no matter how small and insignificant they are, because that is what will fill our baskets Insha Allah so that we do not end up empty handed before Allah the Almighty.