I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow…For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.—1 Corinthians 3:6-9
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.—John 15:5
Spring is upon us. This means that some people, who have a lot more patience than I have, are getting excited about gardening. They are buying mulch and planting seeds and feeding their lawns, and looking forward to a season of being down on their knees, pulling up weeds and tending to their plants. I cannot relate to these people, although I can appreciate the finished product. God didn’t make me a gardener, but I know that gardening is something we all need to be grateful for, and to pay attention to. Not only does it add beauty (and food!) to our lives, but there are principles we can learn in gardening that apply to all of life.
Throughout the New Testament, when God uses word-pictures to describe His Church, he consistently uses images from the world of agriculture. He doesn’t say that His people are like a business or a machine, He says we are like a grapevine, or a field of wheat. In other words, the best way to understand the church is that it is a living thing. And the best way to understand our spiritual lives is that they are meant to be fruitful, and that fruitfulness comes when we care for our souls like a gardener cares for her garden.
A beautiful, productive garden, whether it is full of vegetables or flowers, doesn’t simply happen. In the same way, a healthy spiritual life has to be cultivated. We have to be intentional about it. Just as an empty plot of land left to itself will produce less beauty and more weeds over time, our spiritual health will go from bad to worse if we don’t pay attention to it. In this fallen world, there are forces that are constantly working to tear down beauty and goodness, so we have to push back against them if we want our lives to be fruitful in the ways that matter most.
So how do we cultivate a fruitful soul? Here are some things gardeners might tell us about raising healthy plants, or spiritually healthy people:
Get rid of the weeds. Weeds choke out whatever you are trying to produce in your garden, because they compete for water, sunlight, and nutrients. In our spiritual lives, there are different types of weeds: sin is a weed, but so are the good things that steal our time, energy, and attention away from God. So pursuing spiritual health means being willing to uproot anything in our lives that is depriving our souls of what they need to thrive.
As any gardener will tell you, weeding is a never-ending process. You can’t weed at the beginning of growing season and then assume you’re done. New weeds crop up all the time. When we first become believers, there are often sins that obviously need to be removed from our lives. But we’re not done weeding at that point. Over time we discover that this time commitment or that relationship, this habit or that TV show, is keeping us from thriving in our relationship with God, and it has to be rooted out. Right now, are there any obvious weeds in your life? What needs to be removed so you can keep growing?
Feed your plants plenty of the good stuff. Plants need water, sunlight, and nutrients from the soil. Good gardeners in Susanville know that our native soil doesn’t have enough water or nutrients, so they use sprinklers and store-bought topsoil to supplement what the plants are getting from their environment. Likewise, our everyday lives don’t provide us with everything our souls need to thrive. Our busy schedules don’t just hand us times in the Word or in prayer. Our household routines and workplaces don’t automatically offer us quiet spaces to reflect and hear the voice of God.
Everyday life, for most of us, is spiritually draining, not spiritually refreshing. So we have to go out of our way to give our souls what they need. We attend church on Sundays; we carve out time to read and pray; we seek out others who speak words of life and encouragement to us. Sometimes people will complain about feeling like God is distant, when the reality is they aren’t doing anything to draw near to Him, they’re just hoping closeness will happen in the regular course of life. It won’t. If you want your soul to thrive, feed it the good stuff. What is one thing you could do to start feeding your soul this week?
Pay attention to the fruit. When Jesus was warning His disciples about false prophets, he said this: “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit” (Matthew 7:16,17). In other words, there’s no secret to evaluating the health of a plant. When a plant is healthy, you can tell by the fruit it produces. When a plant is unhealthy, everyone can see it.
So what kind of fruit are you producing? If you’ve been especially grouchy with people, or you have habits you wouldn’t want your church friends to know about, or you make excuses not to be involved in ministry to others, these might be signs that the tree is not healthy. Sometimes people try to assess how they’re doing spiritually by looking at feelings and emotions: Do I have warm feelings toward God, or a strong sense of His presence? These are good things, but according to Jesus there’s a better way to take stock of our spiritual life: We simply look behind us and see what we’re leaving in our wake. As you look back on the last 6 months, what is the fruit of your life recently? What does this tell you about the state of your soul?
Finally, gardeners would tell us that healthy plants reproduce. They don’t just produce fruit, they produce more of themselves. As nature takes its course, healthy plants make baby plants, healthy sheep make baby sheep, and healthy humans make baby humans. So we can expect that healthy churches, and healthy believers, will naturally reproduce. In Matthew 28, Jesus tells his disciples to make more disciples. When we are doing well in our spiritual lives, God uses us to draw others to Himself. This will look differently depending on our gifts and calling, but if we’re not a part of the disciple-making process in one way or another, it’s a reason to ask how healthy we are. So ask yourself: would it be a good thing if there were more people around whose relationship with God looked like mine? What am I doing to join the church in its mission to reproduce disciples of Jesus?
So how are you doing at the start of this growing season? Are you spiritual thriving, poised to be highly fruitful for Jesus? If not, what do you need to do to get your soul healthy?