Since it is now Spring, gardening is on the minds of many people. I spent much of yesterday working on our yard. My amateur dabbling in horticulture suggests some parallels between gardening and our spiritual lives.
The Bible frequently uses metaphors from nature to help us understand the Christian life. The New Testament writers speak of our “sowing” and “reaping” (Gal. 6:7-9; 2 Cor. 9:6). Believers in Christ are likened to branches that must abide in the Vine and bear fruit (Jn. 15:1-8). Evangelism is described as planting and watering (I Cor. 3:6). According to Paul, we need to be “rooted . . . in love” (Eph. 3:17) and “rooted . . . in Christ” (Col. 2:7). We are to bear the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22; Eph. 5:9), the “fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:11; Jas. 3:18), “fruit unto holiness” (Rom. 6:22), and the “fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (Heb. 13:15).
I want to offer a few “tips” on what I’m calling “Spiritual Horticulture.” We all have a personal spiritual garden to tend, and if you are like me, you need all the tips you can get on how to make the garden flourish.
1. Break Up Fallow Ground. (Jeremiah 4:3; Hosea 10:12) Fallow means unplowed. Any farmer knows that you can’t sow a field that isn’t plowed up. The ground is too hard and seed will not penetrate deep enough to take root. I well remember when my Dad used to “break” a field with his breaking plow which went about eighteen inches deep into the soil. There are few things more beautiful to a farmer than a freshly broken field. We all have breaking to do in our spiritual lives. Sometimes our hearts get so hard that we lose our capacity to respond to truth. We are without the proper emotional response to truth. We shed no tears and feel no joy. We just feel dull and callused. If that is where you are, you need to break up fallow ground. How do you do that? By repenting of sin. You seek the Lord and ask Him to search you (Ps. 139:23-24). You examine yourself (II Cor. 13:5). And you repent of any and every sin that is hindering fellowship with God, especially the sin of pride. This is the first step.
2. Weed Out Worldliness. My yard is nice and green. It looks pretty nice - as long as it’s short. Unfortunately, most of the green things out there are weeds. They grow fast, and they take over. It’s bad in your yard. It’s even worse if you’re trying to tend a garden, because weeds choke out good fruit. Jesus used this as an analogy to those who fail to bear good fruit because the weeds and thorns choke it (Luke 8:7, 14). What are these weeds that choke out good fruit? Jesus tells us: cares, riches, and the pleasures of this life (v. 14). Mark 4:19 describes them as the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things. In other words, worldliness. When anxieties about the future, or love of riches, or delight in worldly pleasure, or desires for “things” (like lap-tops, palms, cell-phones, CD-players, motor boats, golf clubs, etc. - you know, “things”) take precedence over spiritual concerns, then it means our soul is overrun with weeds. They look nice and innocent at first, but when they begin to grow they get very, very ugly. Worldliness has to be weeded out of our lives. We must learn to set limitations on our desires so that we “use” the world, without “abusing” it (I Cor. 7:31). This is difficult - especially in our culture. It requires discipline and (often) accountability. But it must be done. To change the metaphor, we must “lay aside” anything that keeps us from running our race well (Heb. 12:1). The question is not what do we possess, but what possesses us.
3. Sow Seeds of Scripture. Let’s move from the negative to the positive. Once the fallow ground is broken and the weeds of worldliness are uprooted, we must sow good seed. That seed is the word of God (Luke 8:11). There are lots of ways in which the seed of the Word can be sown in your life. The most obvious way is through hearing the preached Word. This is one of the clear lessons in the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8, Mark 4, Matthew 13). Another way to sow seed in your life is through your own regular Bible reading and meditation. Psalm 1 describes the blessed man as one who delights in the law of the Lord and meditates in the law day and night. Such a man finds that he will be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, bearing fruit in his season, and having leaves that do not wither (Psalm 1:3). The Word of God is full of promises. When those promises are laid to heart (planted, so to speak) and trusted in, the result will be the fruit of obedience in our lives. One of the most important things I have learned is that the power of sanctification (holiness), lies in the promises of God. Just remember, the more seed you sow, the more likely you are to have a good harvest.
4. Fertilize in Faith and Water in Prayer. Perhaps more people go wrong in gardening here than anywhere else. They break up the hard ground, clear out the weeds, and plant their seed, but then fail to fertilize and water! Unfortunately, this is true in the spiritual life as well. It is one thing to plant, it is quite another to patiently tend the garden. We fertilize and water our spiritual lives by prayer. Fellowship with God and time in His presence provides both the sunshine and rain needed for our growth. There are different kinds of prayer that we should all pursue. We should spend regular time in prayer, during which we present our burdens and requests to the Lord with both thanksgiving and praise. We should also cultivate the habit of spontaneous prayer as we go about our day-to-day business. It’s been said that Spurgeon lived constantly in the presence of God, praying continually and never being out of fellowship with the Lord for more than ten minutes! Perhaps that’s fictitious or sounds unrealistic - but surely, that should be our goal. Sometimes its also helpful to set aside longer periods of time for more prolonged prayer. We all need occasional times of retreat and focused fellowship with the Lord.
5. Share the Fruit with Others. Don’t you love it when someone gives you a basket full of fresh fruit and vegetables from their garden? I do (especially strawberries!). But what I love even more is to see spiritual fruit in the lives of other people. But what do I mean by sharing spiritual fruit? I don’t mean that we should boast to other people about all of our religious good deeds of the week (“I read this book, I witnessed to this person, I gave this gift, etc.”) That is not necessarily fruit. What I do mean is the fruit of godly attitudes that become noticeable as a person grows in grace. When someone responds in meekness instead of anger after being provoked, that is fruit. When a brother quietly makes a loving sacrifice for somebody else (and I hear about it almost accidentally), that is fruit. When I see a person’s serenity and peace in the midst of trial, that is fruit. Or when I hear the unspeakable joy and excitement in a sister’s voice as she describes how good God was to her (attention on God, not her!), that’s fruit. And that is sweet to my taste - and more importantly, to God’s.